Wood impregnated in oil, a metaphor.

Thursday, 21 June, Year 10 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

I bought this long wooden spoon a few days ago, and then I wistfully inquired whether anyone knows how great oiled wood is ? Provisionmaster sluti eagerly offered to help, and there was excitement all around, because they know what grandeur awaits behind my wistfuls, so the next day she presented me with a bottle of flaxseed oil, I know not whence -- but rest assured it is not merely virgin but also gmo-free as certified by a gmo-free certifier! What would we do without the labels ? She apologized for it being a quarter liter, they had no smaller. What would we do with meaningful variety ?! But I set her to rest on the score ; "wood drinks a lot of oil", I said.

It does.

Now and again in the interval, I rubbed oil into the spoon, set flat on a table on the terrace overlooking the world's greatest panorama. Then yesterday, I took 'em on the spur of the moment to this nice Italian restaurant that really should be named Pomodoro, though it isn't. We didn't break up, but we did converse. Like so :

M: would you like to face a dilemma?
s: yeah.

M: so say we take this empty san pellegrino bottle and fill it with ocean water.
s: kay.

M: suppose i send it flying straight into the sun. boom, it's gone. forever.
s: wow.

M: is what's left still the ocean?
s: well yes, the ocean is more than just its water, there's all kinds of stuff in there.

M: so say we take another pellegrino bottle's worth out. and another. and another.
s: mhm.

M: at what point is the ocean not the ocean anymore?
s: ...when the last lifeform in there dies.

M: so when there's no life left in the ocean, it's not the ocean anymore?
s: right.

M: what is it?
s: an ex-ocean.

M: okay then, if i empty this salt shaker onto the table, it'll make a pile of salt, yeah?
s: yeah.

M: and then i take it away, grain by grain...how many grains does it need left to still comprise a "pile"?
s: hrm.

M: do you remember that story where naomi campbell was almost raped by mike tyson in a west end apartment?
s: yeah.

M: what was the name of the professor that went in there and talked to him?
s: i...err. i'm not going to remember. euler! :D

M: a. j. ayer.
s: of all the obviously stupid guesses to make, at least that one sounded sorta alike.

M: what was he professor of?
s: math.

M: no.
s: ...physics?

M: no.
s: chemistry?

M: no.
s: geology?!

M: no. shall i tell you?
s: yes.

M: logic.
s: pssh so how's math "no".

M: what did he say to tyson, "you're the world heavyweight champion, and i'm the..."?
s: world heavyweight logician.

M: no.
s: world heavyweight loser.

M: no. where did he teach?
s: columbia.

M: no.
s: cornell.

M: no.
s: ...connecticut?!

M: no. nobody cares about the us, it doesn't exist, forget about it. this happened in the 70s, the west end's in london. the only people doing anything were there.
s: cambridge?

M: no.
s: oxford.

M: right. so what did he say?
s: "you're the world heavyweight champion, and i'm the oxford professor of logic."

M: no. who was wykeham ?
s: i don't know.

M: why not ?
s: i don't know.

M: who made oxford ?
s: wykeham ?

M: that's right. wykeham was a bishop, and a talented administrator, he did all sorts of things for the king, including managing the creation of oxford. this was in the time of richard the 2nd, you realise, a ways ago.
s: so he was basically a bureaucrat ?

M: exactly. the function of the church in the period is that it provided bureaucracy to permit the kings to manage their household. precisely as anything works as it grows, the immediate direction gets replaced by a situation where the sovereign issues orders in general to his people who know how to take orders in general, and then pass it down to the people who know how to apply passed down orders to concrete situations. this is the distinction in the army between the general staff and the line officers, the former have a strategy that the latter implement tactically. this is the distinction between "high level" languages and compilers, and so on. there's a whole infrastructure built around teasing the specifics of the knowledge of the guy who knows into the applied bits of the guys who do.
s: i see.

M: so ayer said, "you're the world heavyweight champion, and i'm the wykeham professor of logic." this is important because this is how this man chose to express his position, how he thought himself in the world. ayer's "i am a lord of the most serene republic" reads "i am the wykeham professor of logic". that this man would so vouch for this thing is not then without merit, we'd expect he'd know better and see clearer, if indeed there was something else to rather be. but he didn't. on the strength of a lengthy tradition of intellectual accomplishment stretching many centuries, ayer judged the best way to state who he was consisted of a reference to them, those other wykeham professors, that once were, that meanwhile turned to dust. this isn't nothing, and you see, when i despise bologna-ised oxford i stand on actually knowing what oxford ever was, unlike any single one of the flies and maggots posturing about their "involvement" in its "management" today.
s: i see.

M: amusingly, there's a wykeham professor of logic today, too. and he proposed a solution to this dilemma.
s: which is?

M: he proposed that there is an absolute cutoff that's necessarily unknowable.
s: okaaay.

M: you aren't equipped to appreciate this, but suffice it to say that he'd have been laughed out of oxford at any point for such inane nonsense. his idiocy is nude and rude dark ages obscurantism, he's specifically saying "there is a god and look how the birds eat without ploughing". this is how low they sank. i of course have the correct solution to this. guess what it is.
s: you actually want me to guess?

M: yeah.
s: there's an authority that decides.

M: no. shall i tell you?
s: what, you don't want me to guess anymore?

M: you can guess if you want to, i'm letting you off the hook of having to guess. it's not a bad thing, you asked if you had to and i said yes, and you ventured a guess. that's good enough.
s: okay. well it's like starting up a little engine, now that it's on....

M: no, i know!
s: it's not knowable, it's arbitrarily chosen case-by-case.

M: i guess that's actually close enough to qualify. the thing that you call a heap is not a heap in any ontological sense. ontologically it is what it is, an agglomeration of specified matter, and it stays precisely that, irrespective of whether you lack any other means of addressing it besides "heap". how and what and when you call things is entirely your problem, a matter of gnoseology, strictly unrelated to them, and just as incapable of leaving any marks on their ontology. the thing you call a heap ~isn't~ a heap, and you can switch to calling it anything else any time you please for any reasons you come up with. it'll wait there.
s: this makes sense.

M: so you see, the dilemma really is a false dilemma. and this is the job of teachers, paradigmatically of the wykeham professor of logic : he is the fellow students bring dilemmas and paralogies and their dumb nonsense to, and he sets them straight. he shows them where exactly in the cat's cradle of thought did they end up knotting their own fingers together.
s: this is beautiful.

M: what's not nearly as beautiful, you see, is that the current wykeham professor of logic is not even qualified to study there.

So today, I finally got some jute rope, ran it around my fingers, and proceeded to polish the spoon. The wood here is miserable, a class below pine, a pine without resin of its own. It's practically speaking what paper wasps think wood should be.

Yet even this, sad, weak, spongiform excuse for a piece of wood polished under my hands, driven by a mind equal to the race to the stars but employing tools older than civilisation. Because you know oil, as in olive oil, as in the fundamental, defining substrate of a whole civilisation, was actually invented, some day, long ago, long before bronze was a thing. It was invented when the people who used wooden fall-presses for producing seed oil to work their wood applied that technology to the olive fruit. For many, many years wood was worked before metals were available, and before olive oil was known ; and jute rope stands for something that was the oldest tool. Before pottery even, man used lengths of ropey growth to work stones and trunks and meatsacks around him. Did you know this ?

And I showed them how to hold it and how to work it, because yes, there's a way to polish with rope curved surfaces, and under my hands the wood sang. Because this is what it does.

This miserable, sad, weak, light, unimpressive wood was wood nevertheless, and with the friction showed its grain, and with the friction sang, like wood sings, like how we ended up with instruments in the first place. You know the violin is merely the symbolic leftover of many trillions of hours spent, with rope on hands, polishing bits of wood that had been soaked in oil. Do you ? Its strings, the remnants of those ropes and jungle creepers, its box and surface reminescent of that most ancient of observations, that in the same way the same tool makes something useful out of tree and woman both.

Though it does take a whole lot of oil.

———
  1. There's a whoremaster, who mostly deals with young'uns, and a provisionmaster, who mostly deals with objects, and a spymaster and all sorts and manner of masters. And they're all sluts, and I am their master, because they're slaves, and... honestly, you're more than welcome to try and make sense of it. []
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8 Responses

  1. The "when is it heap/ocean/etc" "it's a name, names are not attributes of the object" puzzler pictured here, is imho a pretty good, as they go, test for fitness for study of programming. (or rather, unfitness.)

    Seems like your patient -- passed.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    2
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 22 June 2018

    I pick them, something Oxford apparently long abandoned (which begs the question, how many such Wykeham professors can Oxford endure before it's no longer Oxford, but let's not digress).

    Heap, geddit ?!

  3. Anonimosu`s avatar
    3
    Anonimosuinsigna de prim sositinsigna de tehnolog 
    Friday, 22 June 2018

    I see what u did thar, impregnanted amirite???

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    4
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 22 June 2018

    Yes.

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