Monday, July 19, 2010
A conversation with Patrick Chapin
The Magic Show had Patrick Chapin on this week, and it was a great episode. I had my own conversation with Patrick via text message that I thought was worth sharing.
Patrick often cites "The Universe" as if it were some entity and not simply a category of things somewhat equivalent to "the set of all things." I'm a reductionist, so I don't find it helpful when someone brings up categories that are too broad to be useful. "The Universe wants you to _____" is meaningless. More generally, "The Universe ______" is a sentence structure that is unlikely to contain any useful information to anyone not studying or discussing the cosmos. Could I be misunderstanding what Patrick and others mean when they say "The Universe"? Sure, but that's the problem, if you mean some subset of the Universe such as a local environment or some collective consciousness, don't use the broad label. Don't speak in the form "Animals _____" when you wish to discuss only Golden Retrievers.
If I didn't think Patrick was smart enough to know better, I wouldn't bother. But I do, and I did.
Here's what I sent to Patrick via txt message:
"If you ask someone where to look for something, the answer 'everywhere' is as useless as no answer at all. So I ask you, where should I look for truth?"
I was hoping to illustrate the relationship between specificity of language and its utility. People understand this concept when it comes to giving directions, so I figured I'd use "where do I look?" language as a cue.
Here is what Patrick responded with:
"Everywhere. :) seriously."
I smiled when I received that text. He knows where I want to go, but he isn't interested in going there himself. Well played.
I've spent tens of thousands of words having the same conversation with others (most notably my own mother), and I think it says a great deal about my relationship with Patrick that we managed to understand each other (at least as much as is possible given our dispositions) in 1 txt each.
Still, despite his conciseness and stick-to-itiveness, I can't help but think that Patrick, just like my less concise mother, walks around trying to navigate a wilderness using a globe instead of a map.