Close your eyes and imagine an ordinary, small, red ladies glove.
Imagine that in the wrist part of the glove is a slit and one side of this is a small red button. Imagine that on the other side of the slit is a small loop that can go around the button, to hold the glove in place on a hand.
You have just imagined a glove. Now imagine this glove floating in a void of nothingness. No other things, no time, no light, no observer. Just the glove. All there is is this glove. Imagine the Glove Universe.
In fact it seems that one cannot imagine a universe that’s just a small red ladie’s glove. It is not conceptually possible for a number of reasons:
You can’t imagine something being “small” if thats’ the only thing there is. Smallness is a relative property, it needs more things to be realised than just one.
You can’t imagine something as being red if there is no light and no observer. Colours don’t make sense in the glove universe. You can imagine the surface of the Glove having properties that, were it on your left hand right now it would look red to you or I.
Perhaps the most interesting reason for why you cannot really imagine the glove universe is because a glove is a special kind of form called an “enatiomorph”. A donut shape is not. Nor is a cube. The letter L is enatiamorphic in two dimensions. A glove is a three dimensional enatiomorph.
It must be right or left hand, it cannot be neither, but it cannot be either without a counterpart. If we had two gloves, and they were incongruent (didn’t fit together) then we would be able to say of one, This is Left and of the other This is Right. But with just one, we cannot.
Things are enatiomorphic in terms of the way they are placed within the world. Back to the glove…
Perhaps, even without the above three issues, we just cannot imagine a glove universe in anything like the same way we can imagine tomorrow’s weather or the things we can imagine.
Perhaps we really can’t imagine the unimaginable. Ponder that.
Luckily, we don’t need need to imagine the unimaginable to be able to think about it. We can discuss idealised worlds that are unimaginable. We can learn from them. They can be tools. This is what thougts experiments are. So now let me guide you through one that I think you will enjoy. I have done this many times face to face.
The Glove Game: Round One
Imagine the glove universe as best you can. It is glove shaped from your perspctive. If you can think of something to loose in the description you can just ditch it. Tru to get to the most idealised thought of a glove.
You are trying to describe something that is logically true of all things that are gloves.
You are trying to describe something that is logically not true in totality of any thing that is not a glove.
We can enumerate:
- It is a tube that ends in five points at the end of five smaller tubes.
- One of the tubes is shorter than the others.
- This tube also is joined to the main tube at a point closer to the main tube entrance and off to one side.
- It can Extend to the plane of the other four tubes.
What is the most minimal optimal definition of a glove?
When I asked you to imagine the glove at the start it had a small button and a loop etc… Take all that kind of detail out of your imagination. Break it down to the things that are essential to being a glove. Let us call this idealised glove, the simplest glove.
What statements are true of the simplest glove?
What does it mean to say something is True here?
Criticise this definition: “A statement is True about the Glove Universe if what it describes can be found within the Glove Universe.”
- The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.
- The little finger is not longer than the middle finger
- The thumb is not between any fingers.
- It is possible the tip of the thumb could touch the tip of the index finger if the rest of the glove remained the same.
Imagine a list of False statements about the glove:
- The volume of the thumb is greater than the volumes of the other fingers combined.
- The glove has symmetry.
- It is possible to weave the thumb through the other fingers
- The glove has the same topology as a doughnut.
What about this statement:
- The Glove Is underneath a Hat.
Is that false? It isn’t true, but it isn’t clear if it is False or meaningless. These kinds of statements are a big issue in the Philosophy of Language.
A statement is Meaningless relative to the Glove Universe Game if it is nether True nor False about the Glove Universe. You might like to think of Meaningless statements as containing things that simply cannot be found in any possible Glove Universe.
- True statements describe things that exist within the Glove Universe.
- By “things” here we mean structures, relations, properties that are contingent upon the stipulation of the universe.
- False statements describe things that do not exist within the Glove Universe but could exist within the Glove Universe.
- Meaningless statements describe things that can not not exist in the Glove Universe.
- These statements are meaningless in the glove universe
- Paris is the Capital of France.
- Mars is often called “The Red Planet”
- The glove is larger than an elephant.
- All gloves are smaller than houses.
- The glove belonged to Audry Hepburn.
- The Glove is left handed.
- We understand this experiment.
- All games are not fun.
This experiment has highlighted a number of things. Perhaps most importantly it’s shown what a Thought Experiment is, in case you didn’t already know. A thought experiment is simply a stipulated possible Universe that is created to be experimented on or questioned about.
We make Thought experiments all the time, “If I won the lottery I would..”, “Imagine all the people, living in Harmony…”
It’s also shown that thought experiments are about what’s relevant to them by stipulation, not by assumption. You can imagine things that are not really possible to exist or imagine and yet, you can see how still we can ask relevant questions about them.
The last thing we saw from this experiment is that all possible statements seem to fit into only one of three categories, True, False or Meaningless and that which list any statement belongs on depends on the stipulated nature of the relevant universe.