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Rant #158
(published December 18, 2003)
Briefly Regarding the Heuristics of Self and Other and the Ramifications on the Self-Ideation of Economic Personhood: The Parable Of The Copper Pennies
by G. David Schwartz

I. Jorge Luis Borges invented a parable of nine copper pennies which was first told by an eleventh century heresiarch. I assume his parable is sufficiently obscure to preclude a full quotation.

Quoting an esoteric form of literature would be, in one sense, little else than plagiarism and, in another, a new art-form. To avoid either extreme, I need only allude to the essential elements of the parable as found in Ficcones.

Note to the reader (and no one else): I have changed the days of the week supposedly to eschew an empirical literary theft. My intention was to re-direct the logical sequence of the original story and do so in a manner which would not be confused with a new art form. The success of my venture may be determined by comparison with the original. If, however, my implicit theory of development is correct, there was no original, or if there was, it is sufficiently obscure and cannot be elucidated.

Here then are the essentials of the Borges parable:

It is logical to assume coin-units two and three existed between Thursday and Thursday "albeit in some secret way, in a manner whose understanding is concealed from men," as Borges said. Indeed, this is the essence of the issue which confronts us.

II. In this section we will look at problems which are not problems, and offer several possible answers.

In the first place, coins do not get lost in a pile, or a stack. Generally, coins fall and are scattered upon impact. For example, a pile of nine coins may fall in the form of a pile, but upon impact they go their separate ways, depending on the physical impingements which obtain upon impact. So a coin which is tilted with the face of Abraham Lincoln (Borges does not say his parable occurs in America, nor is there reason to assume this to be the case. I use the Lincoln penny because it would be most familiar to the readers) tilted with the word "liberty" down will impact at that point of the coin, be propelled up and to the right so that Lincoln's nose will soon obtain impact. Depending on the obstacles — rocks, crusts of dirt, grass, and so on — which are laying on the road, that particular coin will go on its own trajectory. Further, coins hit each other upon impact, and their hitting one another will further determine which direction they will take. A video version of the studies which were required for this section of the paper in available from Jakobbohme Videos for $39.95. Further, the coins may land heads up or heads down, depending on the impingements of reality. Oddly enough, the percentage for tails up or down is 50/50 in every case. This is astounding because one would initially think the memorial building on the back of the coin would be heavier, and fall to the ground more often than not. Nevertheless there are physical principles which account for this oddity, and whatever else we study in this paper, physicals is not our concern.

Secondly, everything we do involves physics. If so — and it is so — it seems reasonable to talk about the physics of discovery. By this term I do not mean quantum invention, nuclear creativity, holographic imagination, or other theories of propulsion. Rather, I refer to what follows our looking down. If we are conscious of having lost a certain number of coins from our pocket, chances are we are not conscious of the number of coins loss. Physics is largely a study of chance.

Suppose nine coins fell from our pocket. We are not initially aware of the number nine. We may think, "Three coins fell from my pocket." If so, we look on the ground for three coins. If in fact seventeen coins fell, we have done ourselves a disservice if we are searching for, and stop when we find, three. There are fourteen other coins on the ground for someone else to find and allow to become a puzzle. Alternatively, if we think three coins fell and we find seventeen, we are overjoyed. We do not stop to think how little fifteen cents buys these days.

Our chances of finding seventeen as opposed to three coins is, again, 50/50. Nevertheless, the first 50 occurs more often than the second 50. Hence, people are generally non-committal about the number of coins which fell from their pocket. They use ambiguous phrases such as, "Oh, my. SOME coins have fallen from my pocket." Further, knowing full well they only had pennies in their pocket, people are generally not inclined to say what kind of coins have fallen. Suppose they are looking for pennies because they are committed to these kinds of coins having fallen. This may require that the overlook quarters, half dollars, or larger bills. Bills are larger than coins but do not weigh nearly as much.

While these studies of looking down are not complete, two other cases must be mentioned. First, if people do not consciously notice that some coins have fallen from their pocket, they may have an intuition that this has occurred. Hence they consciously look down for an unconscious presentiment. Second, coins may not have fallen from their pocket. Nevertheless, they look down because people are prone to looking down whether in the hope of finding some few coins, or for whatever reason.

Third, there is a moral issue involved. The issue concerns the return of the coins to their rightful owner. Suppose person P makes it known that he has lost 9 coins. How do we know P is telling the truth? Suppose P does not tell anyone expect his wife and/or significant other. Suppose she leaves a note for the rest of the village. In this instance there is no issue of "telling" the truth. Whatever goes on between a husband and wife and/or significant other falls under he category of "that which goes on between a wife and/or a significant other," and is strictly secret according to the laws of nature, Montana, Ireland and several other localities. But the wife, having left a note for the villagers, is also exempt from suspicion of not telling the truth. Notes do not tell.

Third (sub-b), suppose Q knows P lost 9 copper coins. Do we expect losses to be return to us? If we did, we would not call them lost. We would, rather, call them "temporarily misplaced articles which are not yet again in my pocket where they should be." Hence, if Q knows P has LOST the coins, there is no problem. P does not expect them back.

Third (sub-c), suppose Q — the same Q as above, an indiscriminately different Q, or the specific Q who was involve with James Bond — finds his or her pile of pennies, as discussed above. By calling them his or her pile of pennies, we alleviate him or her — Q being rather gender unspecific — from responsibility of returning the coins.

Third (sub-d), suppose Q wants to return all the coins to P. We have been assuming that Q has not found all the coins which P lost. Therefore he or she cannot return all the coins. Again, P says, "I have temporarily misplaced nine coins which should be in my pocket." In the case at hand, Q really wants P to have all 9 of his coins, but he or she has only found, I suppose, five coins. Therefore the five coins remain nestled in the pocket/pocketbook of Q.

Finally, suppose P did or did not tell anyone how many coins he or she lost, and suppose Q found several coins and told P that he or she found these several coins, and suppose P says to Q, "I lost several coins, and you found several coins. It is reasonable to assume that the several I lost and the several you found are the same several." I admit I cannot discover any logical reason why this is not the case, and it seems to be incumbent upon Q to return his or her coins to him or her.

III. The purpose of this paper, now that these preliminary remarks are out of the way, is to compare the Borges parable with one I found invented by the Swedenborgian metaphysician Karl deRangerous. This can be accomplished is the typical scholarly manner, making certain assumptions of the readers educations abilities and potential books read. If this sound rather vague, I cite the text Seeming Epistemological Histories And Adventures by Toile S. Yeatman (Horticultural Publishing Co., 1855): "When people are confronted with analytic intelligences which they cannot comprehend, their reactions are of two forms. Either they ridicule the speculations, thereby proving their immaturity, or they pretend to understand and prove themselves wise." Here, then, Borges and deRangerous.

Borges: 9 coins
DeRangerous: 17 coins
B: copper
DeR: silver
B: lost in, around, or near a forest
DeR: lost in the city of Berlin
B: lost at a date and time undetermined, possibly irrelevant
DeR: lost August 15th, 1943;
B: found in three separate installments
DeR: never found
B: moral issues never discussed
DeR: moral issues never discussed, but alluded to
B: story never neatly wrapped up due to the impingement of unrelated discussions of a metaphysical nature
DeR: story never finished due to the death of the protagonist, whose ghost returns to discuss with his or her heirs their obligation to the taxing agency in Berlin.

IV. CONCLUSIONS. What can we learn from our comparison of these two parables? This question is undoubtedly designed to haunt undergraduate students for a number of years. I suggest we allow them to design their papers and reports and answer this and other questions which they may engender. Finally, I think it notable that, except for their obvious failures to discuss the complex moral issues, the parables of Borges and DeRangerous are quite similar. Other than this similarity, they are different stories entirely.

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