Sunday, May 6, 2012

Solution to a Vexed Question

We consult again the wisdom of a lifetime from our learnèd philosopher-friend:

There is no reason to think that, for any word not expressing a simple sensory quality, there must be an informative answer to the question, how we recognise that the word applies;  no attempt to say how we recognise something as funny, for instance, has yielded any very plausible results. … We may sometimes be forced to plead unanalysability:  for all we can tell, there may be no way of analysing the concept of something’s being funny.
-- Michael Dummett, “The Philosophical Significance of Gödel’s Theorem” (1963); repr. in , Truth and other enigmas (1978), pp. 189-190

First let us express our appreciation that the professor found time to address this crucial question, right in the midst of an essay on logical consistency and incompleteness.

Second, we are pleased to report that we have found a definitive solution to this age-old conundrum, first discussed by Socrates and a rabbi as they walked into a bar.

Defn.   Funny is anything that makes essential use of penguins, or which features airborne pie.   QED.

For further fun with our penguin friends, click here.
For funnyfun pie stuff, simply bake one and throw it.

[This work was supported by grants from the U.S. Army (Signal Corps), 
the U.S. Air Force (Office of Scientific Research, Air Research and Development Command),
and the U.S. Navy (Office of Naval Research).
It was also supported in part by the National Science Foundation.
I am indebted to Morris Halle for several important suggestions.]

[Note:  The above is not satire, but an actual quote, from the acknowledgements to Chomsky’s 1961 paper On the Notion “Rule of Grammar”.   The paper is brief, scarcely more pages than the number of supporting agencies -- perhaps each pungled up for just one page:  rather like those periodic roadside signs, informing us that this particular stretch of highway has been “adopted” by:  The Elks;  Joe’s Diner; the International Monetary Fund.]

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