The Pink Elephant in the Room with Six Blind Men is Hiding in a Strawberry Patch

I awoke this morning with a joke in my head.  This is not a particularly uncommon occurrence for me.  I often wake up with a song or scene from a movie inexplicably tumbling around in my brain.  Maybe some left over dream absurdity, who knows?  This morning it was a joke, one I hadn’t heard for a long time, and one I can’t remember ever recalling before this morning.  The joke, as it was told to me, goes like this:

Ever seen an elephant hiding in a strawberry patch?
See? They’re good at it!

Admittedly not the most laughable joke.  To be frank it sounds like one your grandpa tells and you laugh at out of sympathy.  Yet, for some reason this joke wouldn’t leave my mind.  It was nagging at my brain all morning.  As a fiction writer, I tried to log it away as a possible witty quip that some clever character would say in something I write someday, but I still wasn’t satisfied.  Somehow I was compelled to get to the source of this joke.  Little did I know the rabbit hole I had stumbled upon.

I started of course with a quick google search, and came across a cultural fad from the 1960s called elephant jokes.  Elephant jokes, much like the modern fad of anti-jokes, derive their humor from deconstructing the riddle-joke formula.  This works because we all know this formula, either consciously or subconsciously.  It works by setting up a ridiculous premise and providing a simple, reductive solution that usually involves a pun or a stab at the characteristics of the subject matter.  So a basic joke about an elephant might go like this:

Q: Where does an elephant keep his stuff?
A: In his trunk!

Hilarious, I know.  If this joke isn’t particularly funny to you, you probably have an intellect higher than that of a small child.  Hence the need to add some irony into the format.  Elephant jokes do this by replacing the simple, reductive solution with one more absurd and complicated than the premise, while also usually ignoring the obvious characteristics of an elephant, most commonly its size, for example:

Q: How can you tell that an elephant is in the bathtub with you?

A: By the smell of peanuts on its breath.

Obviously, if an elephant were in a bathtub with you, you would notice for any multitude of reasons besides the smell of peanuts on its breath.  This format has lent itself to some rather offensive jokes in modern time, like this one about Helen Keller:

Q: Why couldn’t Helen Keller drive?

A: Because she was a woman.

This joke is funny (if you have a sick sense of humor) because it casts Helen Keller’s affliction of being blind and deaf as less of an impediment to her ability to drive than her being a woman, a tasteless jab at a gender stereotype.  The fad has evolved in many other ways however, and the elephant has since become the centerpiece for any kind of nonsensical or absurdist humor, such as this website dedicated to all of the absurd methods you could use to catch an elephant in the Sahara desert, including one that extends the strawberry patch joke (though they use tomatoes, but we will translate it to a strawberry patch for our purposes):

Put a strawberry patch in a cage.  The elephant will naturally come to it for hiding.  Close the cage.  The only problem now is to find the elephant in the strawberry patch.

Anyway, it is from this fad that the precursor (that I was unaware of) to the joke I couldn’t shake comes:

Q: Why do elephants paint their toenails red?
A: So they can hide in strawberry patches.

As explained above, this joke defies your expectation of a simple, possibly punny answer with one more illogical and absurd than the premise, as well as playing on the illogic (and comical imagery) of an elephant trying to hide in a strawberry patch, given its size, coupled with the absurd suggestion that painting its toenails red would do anything to help hide it.  Often many of these jokes were strung together to create an outlandish surreality where the normal characteristics of an elephant are completely ignored, which gives us the complete version of the joke that I was unaware was incomplete:

Why do elephants paint their toenails red?
To hide in strawberry patches.

Have you ever seen an elephant hiding in a strawberry patch?
See? It works!

The second part of the joke can stand alone though, as it plays on the logical fallacy known as the converse error. This logical fallacy breaks down as such:

If P, then Q.


Therefore, P.

This is fallacious logic because P is not the only condition that yields Q.  Plugging the joke into the equation (which necessitates a double premise) yields:

If elephants hide in strawberry patches, AND they are good at it, then you wouldn’t see an elephant hiding in a strawberry patch.

You’ve never seen an elephant hiding in a strawberry patch.

Therefore, elephants hide in strawberry patches AND they are good at it.

This, I believe, is why the joke somehow stuck with me for so long.  The joke blatantly points out this logical fallacy, one that you often encounter in arguments with deluded individuals.  It is the basis for confirmation bias, which is the basis for many delusional theories.  The intelligent design theory, for example, breaks down when we subject it to the logical equation:

If the universe were created specifically for us, then we would be extremely well-suited to survive in it.

We are extremely well-suited to survive in the universe.

Therefore, the universe was created specifically for us.

The Ancient Alien or Ancient Astronaut Theory is also broken down this way, though it involves some syllogism:

If aliens visited our ancient ancestors, then our ancient ancestors would have misinterpreted them as gods.

If our ancient ancestors misinterpreted them as gods, then they would have written stories about them.

Our ancient ancestors have written stories about gods.

Therefore, aliens visited our ancient ancestors.

We could go on with other theories like Creationism or the Illuminati, but I think you get the idea.  The point is that the joke blatantly and humorously exemplifies the illogic of this line of reasoning in an absurd and obvious way, and that’s what makes it such an interesting joke.


But the internet wasn’t done with me yet.  I kept digging and found that the common thread of the elephant jokes, the obviousness of an elephant being present in any situation, has long been fodder for comedy and ironic situations.  Wikipedia gives us this bit of trivia:

In 1935, comedian Jimmy Durante starred on Broadway in the Billy Rose stage musical Jumbo, in which a police officer stopped him while leading a live elephant and asked him, “What are you doing with that elephant?” Durante’s reply, “What elephant?”, was a regular show-stopper.

It may be from this joke or any derivations thereof that we get the phrase “the elephant in the room,” generally referring to something obvious to the situation that no one is addressing.  It conjures up an image of people sitting around a room in which there is a giant elephant without even addressing the presence of the elephant, almost reminiscent of an absurdist play.  The irony of the situation comes from the fact that to have an elephant in a room without addressing it takes a conscious effort on the part of everyone in the room not to address it.  This phrase has become so common as to be conflated with other phrases, for example “the pink elephant in the room.”  In this case the phrase was combined with the idiom of the pink elephant, which comes from a thought experiment in which a subject is asked not to think of a pink elephant.  Inevitably, and even despite the conscious effort of the subject, he is forced to think of a pink elephant, exemplifying ironic processing.  This psychological phenomenon is also the basis for the popular game you may have encountered in which whenever you think about the game, you lose.  If you’re unaware of this game, you may have noticed some people around you unprecedentedly and unexpectedly complaining, “Damn, I just lost the game.”  It should delight you to know that these people are not, in fact, schizophrenic.

The Elephant in the Room, Banksy exhibition, 2006 Barely Legal show, Los Angeles

Hold on now, this is where it comes full circle.  The ‘elephant in the room’ has also been used by several philosophers to debate our method of gathering information or knowledge known as epistemology.  The most famous of these arguments comes from… I’ll give you three guesses… got it yet… if not, go check the about page…….. You got it!  In an early philosophical discussion with his friend and mentor Bertrand Russel, patron of this very blog Ludwig Wittgenstein was asked if he could at least say with certainty that there wasn’t an elephant in the room.  Sometimes the story involves a rhinoceros instead of an elephant, but Russell’s own autobiography confirms that it was indeed an elephant (granted he wrote this much later in his life).  Unwilling to admit to certainty in any matter, Wittgenstein replied that he could not say that with certainty.  Russell then went to work searching all of the cupboards and under each piece of furniture for the elephant, a sight gag very similar to Durante’s much later use of it.  Ironically, the information superhighway had thrown me down a rabbit hole only to bring me back to a familiar starting point.  I’m not sure if there is meaning in this or not, but I know better than to try and find it.

There was one last stop along this journey, however, seemingly unrelated, but interesting nonetheless.  While exploring this cultural psychological philosophical phenomenon surrounding elephants, I came across a parable I hadn’t heard before, but which goes along with my own philosophy about epistemology and theology.  The parable seems to be shared among Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and others, but the moral is always the same.  I’ll go ahead and tell my own version for the purposes of this post.

Six blind men are called by the king to his court in which he has placed in elephant.  Each of the blind men is asked to touch a different part of the elephant and confer with each other on what the elephant is like.  The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.  Unable to agree upon the nature of the elephant, the blind men set to quarreling and throwing blows, all to the delight of the king.

The king in this allegory may be God (or for my atheist friends, ‘that which knows the true nature of reality’), who instills within us a desire to know the true nature of reality, knowing full well that we cannot know it.  Each of us attempts to investigate it by our own means, and we quarrel and fight amongst ourselves when we cannot confer on its true nature.  This allegory has been used to describe many things, from philosophy to theology, and even the strange phenomena encountered in quantum physics, such as wave-particle duality.  Ironically, the story has become like the elephant itself, with each of us determining our own interpretation of it, unwilling to confer on one meaning.  This is at once the beauty and the curse of stories, jokes, and metaphors.  When we hear them, we know we’ve learned something, but when we try to put it into words, we create our own controversy.  To tie it all up, a clever elephant joke retells the story this way:

Six blind elephants were discussing what men were like. After arguing they decided to find one and determine what it was like by direct experience. The first blind elephant felt the man and declared, ‘Men are flat.’ After the other blind elephants felt the man, they agreed.

US Gov’t Shuts Down In Wake Of “Breaking Bad” Finale


At 12:01am EDT, the Federal Government of the United States finished the series finale of AMC’s Breaking Bad, and, unsure of what to do with itself, decided to shut down indefinitely.  The central government of the world’s foremost superpower was forced to postpone its viewing of the highly-anticipated television event, as it had a “thing to go to” Sunday night.  But as soon as it had finished the no-holds-barred nail-biting final episode late Monday night, it announced that it would need some time to recover.  “I just don’t know what to do with my life now that it’s over,” decried the legislative branch.  “Without ‘B Bad’ to look forward to every week,” sniffed the judicial branch, “what’s the point?”  President Obama could not be reached for comment, but could be heard whimpering the lyrics to “Baby Blue” from the Oval Office.  When asked how long it would need to deal with the emotional stress of not seeing its favorite characters return to its TV set every week, the global standard for a functional democracy stated, “I don’t know.  Maybe when Walking Dead comes back I’ll think about getting out of bed.”  This is the first time the US Government has shut down since the finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1996, and may have as much of an impact on the economy as the recession caused by the end of The Wire in 2008.

New Digs

Trying out a new theme with better navigation tools, to make it easier for visitors to enjoy the depths of my barely-one-year-old blog.  Let me know what you think! Any and all suggestions are more than welcome!

I Read the Bible Literally! (sometimes)

Reading the intro to this post, I thought I was in for a juicy slice of biblical literalism that I could pick apart piece by idiotic piece. But as I continued, I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual thoughtful analysis of the ‘literalism’ of the bible. The author, though obviously religiously biased (but to each his own), chastises the oversimplification of a mass collection of texts into a dichotomy of literal vs. non-literal interpretations, and instead favors an approach that focuses on the author’s intentions, as any good book should be analyzed, fiction or nonfiction (which is up to you to decide).

“You can’t take the Bible literally!” This is an assertion I’ve heard many times. I don’t agree with it (as stated), but I understand the sentiment behind it. Often it is a reaction to fundamentalist claims about the Bible, such as that it teaches a young earth or creation in six, twenty-four hour days. Christians in the sciences, and other thinking Christians interested in the sciences, rightly raise questions about such views. Sometimes they insist “You can’t take the Bible literally!”

I want to affirm the sentiment behind the assertion, but not the assertion itself.1

I reject it primarily because it over simplifies the matter and because it is a false dichotomy (i.e., literal vs. non-literal are not the only options). Very briefly, consider the following thoughts:

  1. No one actually reads the whole Bible literally. No one, for example, interprets the dragon in the book of Revelation as an…

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B.I.T. (Beta Test) Part 1: Memory

This is an excerpt from an attempt to expand an idea I started with this short story.  I’d love as much feedback as possible.  Enjoy!

I think I was part of the last generation that didn’t grow up with BIT. I mean it was around, but nobody really understood how to use it. It wasn’t everywhere like it is now. I’ve seen kids with chips that couldn’t have been older than 10. That’s just crazy. You don’t even know how to use your brain yet. But I guess it’s just progress. I mean I’m glad I have my chip. I think that BIT is probably mankind’s greatest achievement, but I’m glad I had my brain to myself for as long as I did.  Take nostalgia for example.  With post-chip memory it’ll be a thing of the past.  All those little annoyances of an experience that fade away as you get older, they’ll be there in vivid detail, so no nostalgia bias.

See, one of the first mainstream chip features was memory upgrades.  Problem was everyone did them differently.  The first ones all tried basic SDB, sensory data backup, which is basically just recording the standard sense-data to the cloud.  But then to recall the memory, you had to redirect the neural pathway from the hippocampal formation to the memory database in the cloud, which everyone soon found out was a bad idea.  With kids it was ok, their brains are still pretty plastic and open to rewiring.  But in adults, this is one of the strongest neural pathways in the brain.  So strong it would actually override the chip’s rewiring, which consumers saw as paying for shit that didn’t work.  So then they tried storing the sense-data in the hippocampus, but that got tricky too, because the brain already stores the memories itself, so they had to find a way to attach the sense-data to the memory the brain created.  Problem is, the way memory works, the brain only really stores the information from the memory that it feels is important.  Over time, the more you recall the event, the information you use from it once you recall it, that’s what the brain reinforces.  So if you don’t use all the sense-data stored for the memory – and who does? – the brain naturally dismisses it.  Which, again, just comes off as faulty programming.  So then someone said, ‘Well why are we trying to store information where the brain stores memories? Why don’t we just store it where the brain naturally stores information?’  Which, yeah, it’s obvious once you know it, but just no one had thought of it yet. So what we did was send the sense data to the parahippocampal cortices, which is where the brain stores semantic memory (facts, information, data), then all it took was strengthening the neural connection between the parahippocampal cortices and the hippocampus itself, where information is stored and where the memory is stored, which already existed. Just fire a few hundred neurons through it at the startup and the brain automatically reinforces it. Then it stays strong from there because it’s actually useful information to have when recalling memories.

So what resulted was two different sets of memories, pre-chip and post-chip, though technically it should be pre- and post-SDB, but no one says that.  The pre-chip memories are still vague and fuzzy like natural, but the post-chip ones are fully-detailed, vivid.  You can almost relive the moment in a weird way.  What’s really weird is when you recall your pre-chip memories, the recollection gets stored by the SDB processors, so you have a post-chip memory of recalling a pre-chip memory. This really made people realize how faulty pre-chip memory was, because they could look at every time they recalled the memory and see that it changed each time.  And the post-chip hippocampus tries to assimilate all of these different details into one memory, but it can’t.  They’re too different, and they contradict each other.

Anyway, the younger you get the chip, the less of those memories you have.  And kids are getting the chip younger and younger.  Pretty soon they’ll just be putting it in babies and no one will even remember what natural memories were like.  I’m just glad I was born when I was.  I like my pre-chip memories.  Somehow they feel more real, even though they’re actually less accurate.  I think there’s something kind of special about that process.  Maybe it’s just the thought of it being extinct that makes it feel that way, but I don’t know.  Maybe we’re supposed to forget certain things.  Maybe the past is supposed to look different every time you remember it.  I mean, our brains could have adapted to keep memories exactly as they happened, but it didn’t.  I’m not saying there’s a reason, like intelligent design or anything like that, I’m just saying the brain saw some reason to do it this way.  But I guess we know better than our brains now, don’t we?

Someone Tell The Ark I Found His Beer Mug

To my friend The Ark: I found your favorite beer mug.  Looks like you smashed it somewhere in San Diego, must have been a crazy night!

photo (2)

On a Labor Day excursion to San Diego, my girlfriend and I stopped by Balboa Park’s “Museum of Man”, a decidedly non-PC name for one of few museums dedicated to anthropology.  Among the mediocre exhibits on evolution and Mesoamerican culture containing mostly replicas and casts of artifacts, I was pleasantly surprised to find this gem.  Tucked into the gimmicky “Beerology” exhibit, undoubtedly set-up to draw visitors to the small and not-so-noteworthy museum, was an actual beer cup buried alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten in his tomb in Amarna.  We can pretty safely assume that the ‘first monotheist’ actually used this now gangrenous chalice to knock back his royal brewskies.  I know it’s pretty nerdy, but this unexpected encounter with an ancient man with whom I happen to have a slight fan-boy fascination made me a little giddy for a fleeting moment.  Anyways, I just thought I’d let the guy know his cup is waiting for him in SoCal if he wants to come pick it up sometime.

Daily Show Sums Up America’s Biggest Problems

I’m usually not one to do a post like this, but this segment of The Daily Show just struck me as near genius. John Oliver, in Jon Stewart’s absence, teams with correspondent Jessica Williams to neatly sum up two of the biggest problems in America in a hilarious and deliciously ironic joke news segment that, as often happens on the show, is more relevant and topical than any other news show on the air.

If you’re short on time, I’d suggest the second video for the crux of the joke.


Rand Rants Part 3: Ayn Rand Defines A Screwdriver




Ayn Rand

A Screwdriver


Me: Hey Ayn, what’s that?

Ayn: Zat is a screwdriver.

Me: Define a screwdriver.

Ayn: It eez a tool vich drives in and pulls out screws.

Me: Well, that describes what it does.  What is it?

Ayn: It eez a tool.

Me: Again, Ayn, ‘tool’ describes the object’s functionality.  What is it?

Ayn: It eez a piece of metal vith a rubber grip.

Me: Ah ah ah, Ayn.  ‘Grip’ also defines its functionality.  If objects exist independent of the subject, you should be able to define this object independent of its usage.

Ayn: Ok ok, it is a piece of metal surrounded by a piece of rubber.

Me: Okay, now define metal and rubber.

Ayn: Zey are substances vith certain properties, such as hard, soft, rigid, maleable, etc.

Me:  Now aren’t you again describing these substances in relation to a subject?

Ayn:  No, zey retain zese properties independent of consciousness.

Me:  But the terms hard and soft are only applicable to my interaction with the substances.  They have varying degrees of resistance to force, but hard and soft implies this degree in relation to a subject, doesn’t it?

Ayn:  Zen how shall I put it?  Zey are substances made up of a specific set of atoms vich gives zem specific properties.

Me:  So objectively, this screwdriver is merely a collection of atoms.

Ayn:  Yes.

Me:  Now is this definition of the object useful to me?

Ayn:  Yes, it allows you to know its true nature.

Me:  But if I’m trying to build a dresser from Ikea, which definition is more useful to me?

Ayn:  Vhat eez Ikea?

Me:  Nevermind.  If I’m trying to build something, is it more useful for me to know that the screwdriver is a collection of specific atoms, or that it drives in and pulls out screws?

Ayn:  Of course the latter is more useful to you, but the object still retains its true nature.

Me:  That’s true, but you claim that objective reality exists independently, and that consciousness and reason are the means by which we understand that reality.

Ayn: Yes.

Me:  But without a high-powered microscope, as well as mountains of other research, no amount of awareness and reason could lead me to the conclusion that this screwdriver is merely a collection of specific atoms.

Screwdriver:  Hey, do I get any say in this?

Ayn:  Shut up screwdriver.  Zis is all irrelevant.  You are a modern man vith knowledge zat all zings around you are made up of atoms.  And even if you veren’t, ze zeory of atomism was arrived at by philosophers using pure reason razer zan experiments and technology.

Me:  This is true, but until this theory was proven, there were conflicting schools of thought about it, and each was logically valid until one was proven right by experimentation.

Ayn: So?

Me:  So consciousness and reason are not our only means to understand reality.  They must be validated by experimentation.

Ayn:  Yes, and experimentation is a product of our reasoning.

Me:  But this means it takes a conscious observer interacting with objects to validate their properties, and hence, their existence.

Ayn: It does, but only to validate it to our consciousness.  The objects retain zese properties vhezer ve validate zem or not.

Me:  Subatomic particles don’t.  They behave differently when they are being observed.

Ayn:  Zis is a fringe field of very complicated science zat is not yet fully understood.

Me:  I agree, and I don’t think that this is indicative of the nature of all reality, yet you must admit that if objects retain their properties independent of consciousness, then these phenomena should not occur.

Ayn:  Ve are just beginning to understand ze nature of zese particles, and laymen’s speculation about zem is hardly progressive.

Me:  But Ayn, these particles are supposed to be the foundation of the objective reality that you claim exists, and if their properties are subject to consciousness, how can you say that all of reality is not?

Ayn:  Ze same vay I make all of my claims:  By simply asserting zat zey are true while providing no reason to believe zem and no argument to the opposing viewpoint.

Me:  That’s what I thought.  Alright, until we meet again, Auf Wiedersehen.

Ayn:  Zat is German, I am Russian.

Me:  Whatever.  Peace.

Rand Rants Part 2: Ignoring the Obvious

Ayn Rand

You’d think it’d be obvious that, when creating a ‘new philosophy,’ that you’d have to provide some argument against the obvious and inherent alternative to your philosophy.  Especially when that alternative is 300 years old and a widely held as a philosophical standard.  But when touting their completely unprecedented philosophy they call Objectivism, Rand and Peikof don’t even address the obvious opposition to this philosophy, Subjectivism.  From the Wikipedia page:

“Subjectivism is the philosophical tenet that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience”.[1] The success of this position is historically attributed to Descartes and his methodic doubt.”

Along with basically inventing graphs, Descartes laid the groundwork for modern philosophy, basing his technique on methodic doubt, something Rand and Peikof seem to have been born without.  He called into question every knowledge claim that he could think of, and ultimately determined that he could only know for certain that he exists, because he can doubt these claims.  Hence his famous line, “I think, therefore I am.”  Every other facet of his existence and perception was subject to some degree of doubt, and so cannot be said to be wholly true.  Yet Rand and Peikof claim, without providing any argument against his reasoning, that reality exists objectively, independent of consciousness.

Along with completely ignoring, while at the same time opposing, Descartes’ subjectivism, Rand and Peikof completely ignore subjective experience as part of their logical equations.  Their attempt to prove the axiom of existence, through the character of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, goes something like this:

“If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”

Sound logic yes?  But the something of which you must be conscious is not objective reality.  Descartes is quite clear that the only thing of which he is conscious is his own thoughts.  What we are aware of is the experience of our senses, i.e. subjective experience.  Whether or not the data gathered from our senses corresponds to objects that exist independently, is something that Descartes showed as clearly dubious.  We know that we cannot always trust our senses, and we also know that what we actually experience is our brains’ interpretation of that data, not the data itself.  But Rand and Peikof need not doubt these things, because they simply know them.  They are axioms, and hence unquestionable.  Even though the father of modern philosophy saw fit to question them, according to Rand, we don’t need to at all.

Rand Rants Part 1: Objecting to Objectivism

There’s a debate going on on Dan O’Brian’s blog The Search for Truth about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.  I had never read much by or about Ayn Rand, but this debate sparked my interest, mainly because I had no idea that she dabbled in pure philosophy.  And by dabble, I mean she dips her toes in just enough to get wet and then says she went swimming.  The more I read of her ‘philosophy,’ the more I want to bring her back from the dead just to slap her across the face.  Yet for some reason, I can’t stop reading it; it’s like picking at a scab.  It’s frustrated me so much that I’ve come back from a short hiatus just to write a series of posts strictly dedicated to deconstructing every facet of her flawed ‘logic.’  I’m not sure how many I’ll write, depending on how soon this rage wares off, but hopefully it will be more than just this one.  If these posts seem a bit unorganized and ranting, I apologize, but that’s just the kind of thing someone like her does to my ADD-addled brain.  It’s hard to even pick a place to begin with her, but I suppose it’s best to start at the foundation of her self-proclaimed ‘new philosophy.’

When introducing her philosophy, Rand audaciously claims that it is unprecedented and entirely of her own conjuring, which should be a huge red flag to anyone interested in philosophy.  She also claims that it is a philosophy based entirely on reason, and that reasoning is the only way a person makes sense of the world, so it seems odd that she doesn’t even consider that another person could reasonably come to the same conclusions she has, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Rand calls her entirely new and revolutionary philosophy ‘Objectivism,’ opting against ‘Randism’ as Mike Wallace suggests in his 1959 interview with her (though it wouldn’t be out of character for her).  Objectivism is based on three propositions that Rand claims are ‘axioms.’  This an extremely convenient way to start a philosophical discussion, because an axiom, by definition, cannot be called into question.  By claiming these propositions are axioms, besides kicking logic squarely in the scrotum, Rand evades the very line of questioning that would unravel her entire philosophy.  Let’s take a look at each of these ‘axioms’ in depth, and see if they are in fact unquestionable.

The first axiom is the axiom of existence.  The simplest explanation of this axiom that Rand provides is “Existence exists.”  This is a bafflingly muddled and ultimately meaningless statement for several reasons.  If Rand means existence as ‘the state of existing,’ then the statement is definitively untrue.  ‘Existence’ by definition does not have the attributes of itself, i.e. can’t exist or not exist.  If we start to argue for or against the existence of existence, then we end up in a grammatical conundrum of endless meaninglessness, so let’s hop off that train right now.  Rand clarifies this axiom in The Objectivist Newsletter (1962) by stating, “Reality exists as an objective absolute – facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.”  This seems to be Rand’s attempt to completely disregard the entire branch of philosophy known as metaphysics.  The objective existence of reality may be one of the oldest questions of philosophy, and one that has yet to be definitively answered, except by Rand’s own volition.  To claim this proposition to be true beyond question is to completely undermine the works of Aristotle, DesCartes, Kant, Russell, and of course, our boy Wittgenstein, just to name a few.  The second part of the statement just shows more of Rand’s ignorance, as well as her tendency to generalize all opposition to her theory as superstition.  If she were a real philosopher, that statement might have gone something like ‘facts are the case independent of consciousness,’ which is just untrue.  Facts do not exist in objective reality.  A fact is something understood by a mind.  The fact that a cup is blue is not a physical object.  The cup is a physical object, blue is a certain wavelength of light, but the blueness of the cup is something understood by a conscious observer.  Leonard Peikoff, a Rand acolyte who is much more well-versed in philosophy than herself, clarifies even further, stating, “If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms.”  This is logically true, but it does not prove the objective existence of reality.  If I hallucinate an object, then I am conscious of something that doesn’t exist.  You could argue that the object exists as a construct of my consciousness, and so exists in reality, but this is not the ‘objectively absolute’ reality that Rand claims exists.

The second axiom is that of consciousness.  It’s at this point that anyone who’s read even a little bit of philosophy would throw their hands up in frustration.  These first two axioms combined completely contradict Cartesian Dualism, arguably the most widely-held philosophy of mind, without directly addressing it or providing any kind of argument against it.  Once again, Rand states these as axioms to avoid any such discussion, and fails to see that in an objectively absolute reality, consciousness cannot exist.  Rand also claims that existence has primacy over consciousness, that consciousness conforms to existence.  Again, providing no evidence or reasoning, she and her lackey Peikoff claim this as axiomatic, and that any philosophy that claims the primacy of consciousness is mystical, superstitious mumbo jumbo, despite the overwhelming evidence that consciousness does in fact directly affect reality.

The final axiom is the law of identity.  This is a law of logic set down by Aristotle, and may be the only actual axiom of the three.  The law of identity is that “A is A,” that a thing is itself.  This is foundational for defining logic and is hardly new to philosophy, though Rand and her devil’s advocate Peikoff claim that “You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”  And the audacity continues.  With not even a morsel of respect for any thinker since Aristotle, Peikoff claims, based on Rand’s teachings, that no one has fully understood this basic and not-at-all-hard-to-understand principle of logic.  They use this axiom to neatly tie together all three into an absurd and unfounded statement that defines their entire philosophy, and which, according to them, is not subject to debate.

Stay tuned for more ranting about this non-philosophic philosophy and its self-obsessed and deluded founder. 🙂