Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…

I am still trawling through old blogs and articles which I wrote around 2011, and that are no longer available on the Internet. Here is a short one which may amuse…

This is the unlikely title of a book which is ostensibly an introduction to Western Philosophy, but is perhaps better viewed as a book of themed jokes. It is not even remotely anything to do with Advaita, so I wouldn’t be happy writing a formal book review.

If you are at all interested in philosophy in general; like reading about it, without necessarily learning very much; and enjoy a good joke, then this is definitely the book for you! It has chapters on many of the key Western names and schools and each has a few paragraphs telling you very cursorily where it fits into the history and what, essentially, it deals with. But this is interspersed with witty remarks and lots of full-fledged jokes which purport to illustrate the particular branch being discussed.

It is written by a pair of Harvard philosophers, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, who appear to be both fiendishly clever and extraordinarily entertaining. And they either have a comprehensive system for cataloguing all of the jokes they come across or amazing memories. Personally, although like most people I enjoy listening to jokes, I seem to have a total inability to recall any that I hear for longer than a few minutes.

Probably, the section which is most nearly relevant to advaita is the one on vyavahAra versus paramArtha although, of course these words are not mentioned! But the section begins with the comment that: “Much philosophical error stems from treating relative points of view as though they were absolute.” And we all know that confusion of absolute and empirical levels is one of the most common causes of problems in the teaching of advaita. The danger is illustrated by the following joke:

The look out on a battleship spies a light ahead off the starboard bow. The captain tells them to signal the other vessel, “Advise you change course 20° immediately!”

The answer comes back, “Advise you change course 20° immediately!”

The captain is furious. He signals, “I am a captain. We are on a collision course. Alter your course 20° now!”

The answer comes back, “I am a seaman second class, and I strongly urge you to alter your course 20°.”

Now the captain is beside himself with rage. He signals, “I am a battleship!”

The answer comes back, “I am a lighthouse.”

The appendix includes a timeline listing the key philosophers throughout history, together with minor observations, such as:

1328 – William Occam invents the Gillette Mach three.

1731 – Bishop Berkeley spends 30 days in sensory deprivation tank and emerges with mind unchanged.

1754 – Immanuel Kant has a direct encounter with a ding an sich – says he “can’t talk about it.”

Finally, there is a short glossary of key terms and some recommended reading. All in all, an enjoyable read. Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the title of the book, you eventually discover this quite near the end:

Hey, the other day Plato and a platypus walk into a bar. The bartender gave the philosopher a quizzical look, and Plato said, “What can I say? She looked better in the cave.”

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4 thoughts on “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…

  1. When Thompson hit seventy, he decided to change his lifestyle
    completely so that he could live longer. He went on a strict diet,
    he jogged, he swam, and he took sunbaths. In just three months’
    time, Thompson lost thirty pounds, reduced his waist by six
    inches, and expanded his chest by five inches. Svelte and tan, he
    decided to top it all off with a sporty new haircut. Afterward,
    while stepping out of the barbershop, he was hit by a bus.
    As he lay dying, he cried out, “God, how could you do this
    to me?”
    And a voice from the heavens responded, “To tell you the
    truth, Thompson, I didn’t recognize you.”
    Poor Thompson seems to have changed certain accidental
    properties of himself, although we recognize that he is still
    essentially Thompson. So does Thompson for that matter. In
    fact, both of these conditions are essential to the joke. Ironi-
    cally, the only character in the joke who does not recognize
    Thompson is God, who you’d think would be essentially

    The distinction between essential and accidental properties
    is illustrated by a number of other jokes in this vein.

  2. Two men meet on the street.
    One asks the other: “Hi, how are you?”
    The other one replies: “I’m fine, thanks.”
    “And how’s your son? Is he still unemployed?”
    “Yes, he is. But he is meditating now.”
    “Meditating? What’s that?”
    “I don’t know. But it’s better than sitting around doing nothing!”

    Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on a camping trip.

    In the middle of the night, Holmes nudges Watson awake, and says, “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

    “I see millions of stars, my dear Holmes.”

    “And what do you infer from these stars?”

    “Well, a number of things,” he says, lighting his pipe:

    Astronomically, I observe that there are millions of galaxies and billions of stars and planets.

    Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.

    Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.

    Meteorologically, I expect that the weather will be fine and clear.

    Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and man, his creation, small and insignificant.

    What about you, Holmes?”

    “Watson, you fool. Someone has stolen our tent!”

    Commentary: Watson missed the obvious. He didn’t perceive the situation as Holmes did or under the same conditions. Holmes had awakened and immediately noticed the tent was missing, there was nothing placed in his mind to suggest anything other than the obvious. He was not primed in any way. On the other hand, Holmes was the one who woke Watson up placing a question in his mind. It’s likely Watson had been asked the basic premise of the question (tell me what you deduce) many times over by Holmes. Essentially he was primed by his previous experiences with Holmes. Naturally, Watson answered this question, as he perceived Holmes wanted him to respond thus missing the obvious.

    Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.
    ~ Mahatma Gandhi

  3. Socrates said: “To do is to be.”

    Satre said: “To be is to do.”

    Sinatra said: “Do be do be do.”

    • Charles, I’m a big Sinatra fan. To celebrate the dog days of summer, here are some decidedly dualistic one-liners from that peerless American pragmatist:

      “Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks – it says, Goodbye.”

      “For years I’ve nursed a secret desire to spend the Fourth of July in a double hammock with a swingin’ redheaded broad … but I could never find me a double hammock.”

      “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.”

      “A man doesn’t know what happiness is until he’s married. By then, it’s too late.”

      “If I had as many love affairs as I’ve been given credit for, I’d be in a jar at the Harvard Medical School.”

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