Last month, I wrote a second column on explanations vs. excuses. Alex riffed on this theme by apologizing for not commenting on the first of these, saying he had no excuses or explanations. I’ll ignore the question about mansplaining, which I must say I don’t understand.
This allows me to point out something interesting. Some people use “explanation” to mean the “means within the world” by which something occurs, rather than as a linguistic item that might describe such a thing. This is likely acceptable as usage in many contexts, but sometimes it really matters to distinguish the two notions. If that’s the case, then I recommend “mechanism” for the ontological (“in the world,” loosely) use and reserve “explanation” for something making use of such. That is, if all explanations involve mechanisms, some of the questions I posed are around that idea. I will discuss these in a later column on mechanisms.
Childlike (Or At Least Childhood-Inspired) Conundrums
Regular readers of this column may recall that I have sometimes discussed problems from my childhood, particularly from my science education. In this month’s issue I have decided to include a whole bunch of them, dating myself as a child of the 1980s and 1990s. Some are pretty serious, some are likely a result of over-analyzing jokes. But they are all “popular culture” oriented: toys, movies, games, TV, and songs are all here. Some occurred to me only later, as an adult; some have puzzled me since I encountered them as a child.
- GI Joe: The Movie (1987) has in its credits “Sgt. Slaughter as himself.” What is this about? (The movie is animated, for one thing.)
- Transformers: The Movie (1986) introduces the “Autobot matrix of leadership” as the MacGuffin for the plot. What meaning of “matrix” is meant here? I asked my father what a matrix was at the time, and he told me a rectangular array of elements taken together for some purpose. This was more or less the meaning I learned in linear algebra later on; is there another one that makes better sense of the plot?
- Fraggle Rock has a character sing that “Here is where I’m in.” Comment on this in light of Aristotle’s theory of place.
- In grade 2 we were taught the song “Magic Penny,” which tells us to give away love because we will “end up having more.” How is this consistent with the tacit endorsement or requirement of monogamy we also learned?
- Star Trek: The Next Generation tells us in “The Dauphin” that sometimes we have to be selfish, sometimes not. When should one be each?
- I remember that some parents objected to GI Joe (the 1980s cartoon) not because it was violent or jingoistic (as my parents did) but because it depicted them at least once as collaborating with their Soviet counterpart to defeat Cobra, and worse still, even saving Cobra as individual lives from time to time. What side of the school yard would you have been on?
- A Wrinkle in Time includes in its ending the main character (a deeply moral superhero, effectively) being called “Megatron.” Explain this in light of the Decepticons’ leader in Transformers.
- Retranslate from German the title of what we know as The NeverEnding Story. How many ways is it ambiguous? Does the content of the book fix the translation?
- A local bowling alley had a coin-operated tabletop hockey game that for years had a Canadian team with one American player, all against the Soviet Union. As a child, I wondered why it was set up that way. Why do you think so?
- How many classic MacGyver episodes would have been reduced to “Mac calls the police with his cellphone” if the series were modernized? This is harder than it sounds. There is at least one episode with a period appropriate cellphone.
- Why did I think as a child that Tweety (as in Looney Tunes) and Big Bird (as in Sesame Street) were girls? I was later to have two very dear women friends named Robin and Raven. Is this a coincidence?
- Square One TV has a song, “8% of My Love,” which includes the idea that someone might love his car and his jacket about as much as his girlfriend. I have never had this problem, but I am to understand that some are not so fortunate. Discuss.
- Square One TV also has a character in a music video segment explain that he’s from Phoenicia and hence does not know the Roman numerals he’s being asked to sing. Comment.