After Abner Shimony
A Cognitive Science Puppet Play
Dramatis personae: Zeno, Pupil, Lion
Pup. Master! There is a lion in the streets!
Zen. Very good. You have learned your lesson in geography well. The fifteenth meridian, as measured from Greenwich, coincides with the high road from the Temple of Poseidon to the Agora – but you must not forget that it is an imaginary line.
Pup. Oh no, Master! I must humbly disagree. It is a real lion, a menagerie lion, and it is coming toward the school!
Zen. My boy, in spite of your proficiency at geography, which is commendable in its way – albeit essentially the art of the surveyor and hence separated by the hair of the theodolite from the craft of a slave – you are deficient in cognitive science. That which is real cannot be real. Being is, and not-beng is not, as my revered teacher Parmenides demonstrated first, last, and continually, and as I have attempted to convey to you.
Pup. Forgive me, Master. In my haste and excitement, themselves expressions of passion unworthy of you and of our school, I have spoken obscurely. Into the gulf between the thought and the word, which, as you have taught us, is the trap set by non-being, I have again fallen. What I meant to say is that a lion has escaped from the zoo, and with a deliberate speed it is rushing in the direction of the school and soon will be here!
The lion appears in the distance.
Zen. O my boy, my boy! It pains me to contemplate the impenetrability of the human intellect and its incommensurability with the truth. Furthermore, I now recognize that a thirty-year novitiate is too brief – sub specie aeternitatis – and must be extended to forty years, before the apprenticeship proper can begin. A real lion, perhaps; but really running, impossible; and really arriving here, absurd!
Pup. Master . . .
Zen. In order to run from the zoological garden to the Eleatic school, the lion would first have to traverse half the distance.
The lion traverses half the distance.
Zen. But there is a first half of that half, and a first half of that half, and yet again a first half of that half to be traversed. And so the halves would of necessity regress to the first syllable of recorded time – nay, they would recede yet earlier than the first syllable. To have traveled but a minute part of the interval from the zoological garden to the school, the lion would have been obliged to embark upon his travels infinitely long ago.
The lion bursts into the schoolyard.
Pup. O Master, run, run! He is upon us!
Zen. And thus, by reductio ad absurdum, we have proved that the lion could never have begun the course, the mere fantasy of which has so unworthily filled you with panic.
The pupil climbs an Ionic column, while the lion devours Zeno.
Pup. My mind is in a daze. Could there be a flaw in the Master’s argument?