Two Shadows Speak

The crackling of a hearth fire punctuates the heavy, moldering silence lingering over two thread-bare, over-stuffed chairs.  The occupants of those chairs, two shadows who smell of vermouth and Russian cigarettes, sit watching the dancing lights of the fire play tricks with the indeterminate objects around the large room, a room of both equally indeterminate age and mien.

One of the shadows speaks:  “So where would we be without definitions?”

“In between moments, I suppose,” answers the other.

“Then, without definitions, how should we define a moment?”

“Ah,” answers the second.  “A trap.”

“You mistake my intent,” chuckles the first.  “How, without using definitions, can something be defined?”

“Something without definitions can only be defined by definitions, hence the term definition.  If we don’t have definitions, we can’t define things.”

“Now you’re being obtuse.”

“Define obtuse.”

“Touché.”  An intake of breath and more cigarette smoke dances in the tepid air.  “But supposing, just for a moment, that we could define something without a definition, how could we do it?”

“Classifications, I suppose.  Sets, if you will.”

“Such as?”

“Take flowers, for example—”

“A rude example.”

“But you are familiar with flowers, are you not?”

“I try not to associate with them over much, but, yes.”

“Well then, without a definition, we could classify them, could we not?  We could say that flowers are things that belong to the set of Plantae, within, perhaps, the sub-set of Angiosperm, then we could classify them by further sub-sets of specific names, or as things exhibiting certain colors, or growth locations, et cetera.”

“And mice and aphids?  The same, I would guess?”

“Essentially, although, obviously from different sets.”

“And moments, then?”

Smoke dances again in the tepid air.

“They, obviously, can be classed as things related to torque, a sub-set of forces, perhaps having a sub-set of coordinate axes.”

“Don’t make me angry.”

“Semantics, surely!”

“You can’t expect me to believe that when I asked you ‘where would we be without definitions?’ and you answered, ‘in between moments’ that you actually meant ‘residing between the cross-product of one position vector with a force and the cross-product of another position vector with another force?’”

“Certainly, for without definitions, who could say otherwise?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?  You’ve established, for the moment, we’re existing in a world where things can be defined without the use of definitions.  What’s to establish one set of classifications from another without definitions?”

“Context.”

“Ha!  Define context without a definition!”

“Relevance to meaning or intent.”

“That’s a definition.  You’ve established that we can’t have any of those!”

“Fine—the set of things that, when grouped together, share a common causal frame of reference.”

“Have I ever told you about my aunt?”

“What?  No.”

“She had moments.”

“The cross-product kind?

“You might call them that.”

“Well?”

“She liked flowers.”

Silence.  More cigarette smoke.

“I don’t get it.”

“You will in a moment.”

“Oh, that’s funny.  How does this help us?”

“I’m not entirely sure.”

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~ by liberdementia on February 28, 2009.

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