Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Random Fact I

Having been tagged within this game, via this post, in this and following posts I shall be telling you 8 random facts about myself and tagging a further 8 bloggers. In the earliest play that I’ve found, the telling and tagging was done via 8 separate posts, so in this post I’ll also begin with just one of each, but I’m unsure that that’s playing the game (and if it proves too slow then I’ll lump the remainder together). My first problem, then, was to obtain just one fact about myself at “random,” and since I’m not even sure what that means I’ve settled for the following, pseudorandom system.
......To begin with, the “RAN#” button on my calculator gave me a 3-digit ‘random’ number, and doubling that told me where to open my 2,000-page dictionary. I then tried to pick words without looking at them, in various hopeless ways, before deciding that whatever fact occurred to me as I read those words would be random enough. So, I got 435 on the calculator, and the words on pages 870 and 871 were such as Judaic and July. And the first fact that occurred to me was that once, in the summer of 1994, I saw the word ‘RAN’ written (in capitals) in clouds in the sky.
......An odd sort of message from God, I thought to myself, why not something more imperative? But of course, the clouds had just formed that way at random, quasi-ironically... which makes me think of monkeys on typewriters. Suppose that a monkey called ‘George’ typed, “This was typed by George.” Anyone reading that might suppose that George had accidentally typed something that was true. But why would that typed ‘George’ refer to that monkey?
......If someone who did not know that monkey’s name, but who did know the President’s name, saw what that monkey had typed, she might suppose that the monkey had typed something funny but false. The reference, along with the meanings of all the words (since the monkey does not know English, of course), seems to come from the reader. So we might suppose that that ‘George’ refers to no one in particular, e.g. that names are indexical (that their reference is determined by speakers’ intentions and/or readers’ presumptions).
......We might instead suppose that that ‘George’ does not refer at all, but what if the monkey had typed, on its English typewriter, “This was typed by a monkey called ‘George’ ”? If it is sentences, and not propositions, that might be true or false, then that seems to be an accidental truth; but then why not the earlier one? I don’t know (and explications of the direct view of reference (which I think I disagree with) would be welcome). Anyway, I’m tagging La├»yna. And incidentally, something else that I was thinking about, in that summer of 1994, was that I finally knew the answer to a question that someone in authority had once asked me, 10 years earlier (to be continued).

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