Friday, July 11, 2014

The Münchhausen Trilemma

For a brief moment, my next novel, now called License to Ill, was going to be called The Obamacare Trilemma, and it was going to have the below inscription, both in German and English at the beginning. Even though I've changed the title, I'm going to keep the inscription because it's still very much apropos to the story and it sets the right tone because it's so funny (I think).

This may be the only place you can find the English translation of the Barron von Münchhausen bootstrapping story anywhere (see below), which is a little odd because the Münchhausen Trilemma is such an important philosophical issue.

For a more complete understanding of the concept, I invite you to click on the link and read, but for my purposes The MünchhausenTrilemma demonstrates that rationality (i.e. thinking) must have input from some source other than itself. Rationality is like a calculator in that it requires a finger from somewhere to press the buttons.

The input comes from consciousness. Rationality is but a tiny subset of our larger consciousness. Feelings bubble up into ideas (rationality) and those ideas become words for the very limited purposes of communication and the creation of labor-saving devices. Those feelings come from our connectedness to all that is, not from our own thinking.

That's why a so-called "rational" approach to life (as opposed to a consciousness-based approach to life) is considered bootstrapping. It does not allow for this input from all that is. It simply assumes that the thinking started up on its own. That the calculator pressed its own buttons.

[As always, you need not take my word for any of this. Go into your body and make your own determination as to the nature of reality.]
The world of Science (what I would call the Religion of Science) would have you ignore this point. As stated aptly on
The Münchhausen Trilemma is a problem in philosophy that all statements can be questioned and then need evidence. This problem has been well known in philosophy for thousands of years, but rarely gets addressed because it breaks the legs of philosophy, science, and any other possible approach to reality.
I would disagree, however, that the Münchhausen Trilemma breaks the legs of "philosophy" and "any other possible approach to reality." It only breaks the legs of rationality-based philosophies and approaches to reality. If so-called reality is an illusion, all falls into place. I would certainly agree, though, that the Münchhausen Trilemma breaks the legs of science.

The story behind the below quotation is interesting.
The Münchhausen Trilemma has its roots in a tall tale attributed to Baron Münchhausen, but none of the philosophy websites anywhere on the internet (as far as I could find) actually provided the story. They simply said that the story was a tall tale attributed to Hieronymus Carl Friedrich Baron von Münchhausen, better known simply as Baron Münchhausen.

It took a nice piece of internet sleuthery--if I may say so, myself--to figure out why this quotation never showed up.

The first known version of Baron Münchhausen's tall tales came out in German in a series of books called Vademecum fur lustige Leute (Handbook for Funny People) published between 1781 and 1783. But the most famous book of the Baron's tales was The Adventures of Baron Munchausen first published in English in 1785 by Rudolf Erich Raspe. The story of the Baron pulling himself out of a swamp by his own ponytail was nowhere to be found in that book.

[For a funny explanation of the Münchhausen Trilemma take a look at this video from The Big Bang Theory:

What could be simpler?]

In 1786, Gottfried August Bürger translated Rapse's book into German and added a few of his own tales to the mix. (In truth, these tales had almost nothing to do with the actual Baron Münchhausen and had been around for centuries before he came along). Working on a hunch, I found Bürger's version of the book and scoured the German text until I located the story.

So as I said, this may be the only place you can find the English translation of the Barron Münchhausen bootstrapping story anywhere. As such, this translation is my original copyrighted work. Please feel free to quote it with attribution and with a link to this webpage. I would like to see how much interest there is in it.

And now for the quotation, first in German then in English:
Ein andres Mal wollte ich über einen Morast setzen, der mir anfänglich nicht so breit vorkam, als ich ihn fand, da ich mitten im Sprunge war. Schwebend in der Luft wendete ich daher wieder um, wo ich hergekommen war, um einen größern Anlauf zu nehmen. Gleichwohl sprang ich auch zum zweiten Male noch zu kurz und fiel nicht weit vom andern Ufer bis an den Hals in den Morast. Hier hätte ich unfehlbar umkommen müssen, wenn nicht die Stärke meines eigenen Armes mich an meinem eigenen Haarzopfe, samt dem Pferde, welches ich fest zwischen meine Knie schloß, wieder herausgezogen hätte. 
--Gottfried August Bürger, Wunderbare Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande Feldzüge und lustige Abenteuer des Freiherrn von Münchhausen, 1786
Another time, I wanted to jump my horse over a swamp, which initially didn’t seem as wide to me as when I was in the middle of my jump. Floating in the air, I turned to get back to the point of departure in order to get a better running start. On my second jump, however, I fell short of the other side and found myself up to my neck in the mire. There I would have surely perished, if not for the strength of my own arm, whereby I pulled myself out of the morass by my own ponytail, together with the horse, which I clasped firmly between my knees. 
--Gottfried August Bürger, The Wonderful Sea Voyages and Land Campaigns and Funny Adventures of Baron von Münchhausen, 1786

 You might also like: How We Know Stuff

No comments:

Post a Comment

From the Archives

What's Your Drama?

Ok, I'll go first. My drama has been to allow my pain-body to take over my thinking in the context of a love relationship. No...

Popular Posts