Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Additional Points About The Tree Falling In The Woods

The question-slash-riddle, "If a tree falls alone in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?", has been conclusively answered.  I provided that conclusive answer.  I did so late last month.

However, to the points that I made at the time in support of my answer, I have the following to add:

  • Human beings cannot hear dog whistles, but dogs can.  Also, when a dog whistle is blown, I think we regard what it causes nearby dogs to hear as "sound".  So, if I blow a dog whistle in the woods (or anywhere else, I suppose) and no dog is close enough to me to hear the whistle, does the whistle make a sound?  (Remember, I would not hear it make a sound whether a dog happens to be present or not.)  If not, would the whistle have made a sound if a dog had been present?
  • If one were to look through a telescope at a dying star millions of light-years away from Earth, that star probably would not have existed in a very long time; the light that the observer could now see would have left that dying star millions of years ago.  Depending on when the star finally did "die" (assuming that it did), it is possible that no human being ever saw the star prior to the time of its demise.  Would we say (for that reason) that the star did not have an appearance at all during its lifespan, insisting that nothing has any such property as an "appearance" until and unless light (from the visible part of the spectrum) has traveled from it to the eyes of a person who possesses the sense of sight and who then perceives that "appearance"?  If so, would we say that the star (which we will have just denied had an appearance while it was still in existence) now does have an appearance, even though the star no longer even exists?

In the time since I previously posted on this topic, I have also decided to acknowledge a fact that may have had something to do with the question/riddle's reputation for being impossible to conclusively answer.  That key fact is that the question/riddle was not originally posed in the English language.  I do not know in precisely which language it was initially posed, much less the state of that language at the time when it was posed or what the words used in expressing the question/riddle (whatever those words were) would have meant to users of that language at that point in history.  However, I do know that two corresponding words from two different languages do not necessarily have precisely the same meaning in all of the ways in which they can be used, in every conceivable context.  (Even within a single language, the very same word may vary in its meaning between two different points in time.  I do not think that it has escaped anyone's notice that major changes in a word's meaning can take place over time -- the change that has taken place in the meaning of the word "gay" is probably one of the most widely-known examples of this -- but subtle changes can more easily go unnoticed, which can confuse people when they attempt to read anything that was written a long enough time ago.  For example, in the present-day use of the English language, the word "either" would mean one out of two (and only two) given alternatives, but when the United States Constitution was written, the word "either" could be used even when there were more than two given alternatives.)  Without knowing more about the original language and wording of the question/riddle, I cannot rule out the possibility that the original wording in the original language of the question/riddle would have been more difficult to answer than the modern English rendering of it is.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Back Home Again In Indiana

To my national and international audience, I apologize for writing yet another post on a topic that 1) concerns only the State of Indiana and 2) does not relate to the United States Constitution in any conceivable way.  I promise that I will soon get back on topic, or, to put it more accurately, that I will soon devote myself and this site to a better-developed and more perfect version of this site's original focus -- to a focus that more directly attends to all that ails America right now, with a special emphasis on the aspects that most people have overlooked or misunderstood.  However, tonight, my topic is Indiana's official state song.

For over a century, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away", by Paul Dresser, has been the state song of Indiana.  I see no need to change the state song, but for years it has bothered me that the song "Back Home Again In Indiana" does not have any similar type of official recognition by the State of Indiana.  This is not an urgent or serious problem, but it would be easy to solve, so we should solve it.

I used to tell people that the Indiana General Assembly should give formal recognition to "Back Home Again In Indiana" because in addition to being a good song, it is well-known.  It is the de facto state song of Indiana.  It is one of the most familiar symbols of our state, largely because it is famously performed each year immediately before the Indianapolis 500 begins.  Most Hoosiers probably believe that it already is our state song.

However, the death of Jim Nabors last week provides an additional reason to give formal recognition to this song.  Almost every year for over four decades, it was Nabors who performed "Back Home Again In Indiana" at the beginning of the Indy 500.  Granting the song an official status would be a fitting tribute to a man known so well to the people of Indiana for singing that song for so many years.

Some people may wonder how Indiana can formally recognize "Back Home Again In Indiana" without stripping "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" of the recognition that it currently enjoys.  It is easier to do this than they think.  States can designate almost* anything they wish as their "official state _______" (fill in the blank with the category of your choosing).  A state is free to establish nearly* any category (and any number of categories) that it wishes.  If it desires to do so, a state may set up different categories that are completely synonymous (or, if they choose, that are nearly synonymous) and name a different "official state ________" for each of those categories.  They may even name several different "official state" things for a single category.  There are (almost*) no rules.

I can illustrate this with specific examples of how some of our fellow states have adopted multiple songs as songs representing those respective states.  Arkansas law (Arkansas Code of 1987, 1-4-116) identifies two state songs, one state anthem, and an "official historical song", for a total of four songs.  Florida (Florida Statutes 2017, Title IV, 15.0326 and 15.0327) has both an official state anthem and an official state song.  Georgia (Georgia Code 50-3-60 and 50-3-61) has a single official song, but there is a second song which it identifies as its "official waltz".  Finally, Tennessee has a grand total of seven state songs (Tennessee Code 4-1-302).  I want to make certain that no one overlooks that last point, so I repeat: Tennessee has seven state songs.

That kind of practice is not limited in its application to the designation of state songs, either.  Alabama deemed it worthwhile to have both a state freshwater fish and a state saltwater fish (The Code of Alabama 1975, Sections 1-2-8 and 1-2-9), a state flower and a state wildflower (Section 1-2-11), and two state butterflies (though only the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is actually given that title, at Section 1-2-23; the Monarch Butterfly is instead dubbed the state's official insect, at Section 1-2-24).  I found plenty of additional examples of this in other states, but I have made my point.

In conclusion, I assure members of the Indiana General Assembly that they can easily grant some kind of official recognition to "Back Home Again In Indiana".  It could be declared the state anthem of Indiana (leaving "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" as our state song), possibly, or it could simply be added to "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" as a second state song.  I think any legislator who makes the attempt to do this would find it very difficult to mess it up.  Almost* any way of doing this would be perfectly acceptable.

* I wrote that a state is free to declare almost anything its "official state _______", and I repeatedly emphasized words indicating the existence of an exception to the general rule.  That exception, of course, is religion.  A state may not declare an official state religion.  Legislators, be sure to avoid accidentally establishing an official state religion.