bald men riding camels in sandy places

"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is a question first asked and answered in the olden but not golden days of scholasticism: days of metaphysical nitpicking and hair-splitting. But modern schools of thought still are no less concerned with abstruse matters of dubious relevance, such as whether reality is continuous or discreet, smooth or lumpy, comprising waves or particles, real numbers or integers, as could be expressed as follows.

From being a man with a full head of hair to being a bald man is a process involving the loss of hairs over time. At what point can the label "bald" correctly be applied? If a full head of hair comprises, say, one billion hairs, does "baldness" apply at the loss of hair number 321,678? Or hair number 246,842? And let's throw in the issue of terms such as "thinning". At the loss of what number hair does "full head of hair" change to "thinning"?

Or, if you're loading straw onto the back of a camel, the addition of what number straw would break the camel's back? Or, if you are piling up sand in your backyard: what is the number of the particle of sand such that the addition of which turns a "pile" into a "heap"?

These are questions of transition from one state to another. Most if not all involve a paradox. Many of which have been wrestled with for thousands of years, eg the paradoxes of Zeno, for whom motion is an illusion involving insurmountable problems of definition and scope.

IMHO, these bogeymenlike paradoxes are superficial and lack substance. They emerge as a result of the inherent limitations of language, including Godelian incompleteness.Resolving them is a simple matter of definition.

So for instance we could say that "baldness" refers to headhairiness density of 0 hairs per square centimetre across 100% of naked headskull; "thinning" refers to headhairiness of between 1 to 10 hairs per square centimetre across at least 85% of naked headskull; "full head of hair" refers to headhairiness of between 300 to 400 hairs per square centimetre across at least 90% of naked headskull.

Another way of thinking about it is in terms of a process of loss. That the transition from "full head of halr" to "thinning" occurs with the loss of hair number 400,000; from "thinning" to "perceptually bald" at the loss of hair #1001'; "perceptually bald" to "bald" at the loss of hair #2; "perceptually bald" to "totally bald" at the loss of hair #1.

Similarly with grains of sand. We can define the range of "heap" to be [fewer than 1,000 grains of sand]; the range of "pile": [greater than 999 grains of sand].

Jeez! You'd think people have better things to do! Humble apologies but permit me one final abstrusity: that these issues highlight the fact that not only are all language statements metaphors, but that every aspect of reality is metaphorical too. Whaaaaat?!!


Lily Strange said...

An equally useless fact is that plump people have disappeared from the world. Even average-weight people seem to have gone missing. To hear people talk these days there are two kinds of people. Skinny ones, which seems to equal good, holy, and beautiful; and the fat ones, which equals bad, evil, and vile in the eyes of those who can't see past the surface.

masterymistery said...

all eyes are glued to the superficial these days