Monday, July 05, 2010

Towards a Philosophy of Odd Numbers

I'm sitting in the garden, in the heat of the late afternoon drinking iced tea and waxing philosophical about the laundry that I'm not doing at the moment.

There are some problems too knotty for even philosophers to touch. Take the problem of dualism and socks, for example. If philosophy can take a crack at what it means to be human, why can't it tell me why I never have an even number of socks return from the wash? Why doesn't dualism work for me here?

Dualism is a pervasive philosophical concept and one that I find only marginally appealing even when applied to things other than socks, I'm going to admit.

There is light and darkness, good and evil, male and female, left and right. Dualism has an appealing kind of tidiness to it: thing either are or are not. Yet, I wonder how often we impose dualism on the universe rather than find it there.

We match socks, reflecting the underlying dualism of feet: right and left. But socks generally speaking, don't have a right or left, still we insist on pairing them and fret when they don't. (I do have two very fancy pairs of running socks that claim to be chiral - right/left specific.)

Once you admit of an intermediate state, things can quickly get more complicated. Consider the quantum mechanical case where you have two degenerate states (think "equal in dignity") where any intermediate state in the spanned space is an equally valid solution to the problem at hand. Or the biological tags male and female. XX and XY genotypes are only two of a larger set of expressed and viable possibilities, and the resulting phenotypes are more complex yet.

Are my unmatched socks trying to tell me something?

Photo is from looseends via flickr.


  1. This is a thorny knot!

    :) Battles between Good and Evil are usually so complicated to me, that I cannot always tell which is which.

    I know I'm supposed to just know, but I often don't.

    It usually makes me glad I'm not in charge.

    Socks, now socks are something altogether too complicated for a lightweight like me!

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