0253 - Minotaur - 2022.08.08



A while back, I made a funny tweet about the "ship of Theseus". What I didn't know, at time of tweeting, was that Marvel had recently dropped an episode of WandaVision that referenced the thought experiment, so Theseus was, for just a moment, in the zeitgeist. As a result, the tweet went viral. Not huge numbers, of course, but more than I usually get.

Presumably, if I had tweeted my tweet a few weeks earlier, it would not have resonated quite as well. If I had referenced the "grandfather's axe" paradox instead, it would have flopped. The tweet uses a double-meaning of "ship", so it also wouldn't have done as well if we swap in "boat", or if the tweet were translated into another language. A typo or two, perhaps a misspelling of "Thessus" or "minotar", likely wouldn't have been a big deal, but would have made it harder to search for...

There are a lot of factors that can change the nature of a thing, even just waiting around for a few seconds. Like the definition of the colour green or the position of an electron, Theseus' ship is not a fixed point in space and time, but a blob with fuzzy edges... as is his story.

There are many versions of the tale of the minotaur, some more sensible or historically accurate or ethically palatable than others. Does that matter? If I rejigger the myth to make it kid-friendly, or to teach a lesson, or to fit in with a mythological cinematic universe, is it still an ancient tale? Have we, as a culture, lost something if the Disneyfied version becomes the tale that everyone knows? Is it perhaps better to lose it, if the original recipe doesn't make sense, or doesn't encourage good behaviour, or doesn't spark joy?

Greek myths don't teach good lessons. The vast majority of the time, the moral of any Greek myth is "don't challenge the gods, that's hubris, and it will be your downfall", the sort of lesson you might expect from a pantheon that got where they are by deposing their predecessors and want to make sure humanity doesn't get any ideas... or the sort of lesson you'd expect from a stratified society that wants to keep its slaves underfoot where they belong.

Orb's class is "Intro to Western Philosophy" because it's focusing on Western civilization, i.e., the ideas from the Greeks that were adapted by the Romans, then adapted again to be compatible with Christianity, survived the Dark Ages, got rebooted in the Renaissance, and mutated their way into modernity. Have any of Socrates' precepts survived in a meaningful way? Is "virtue" the same concept now as it was a hundred generations ago?

Would Homer be shocked and appalled to hear Lee suggest that Theseus should slay Minos and let his bastard stepchild out to graze? Should we give a shit what Homer thinks? Should our descendants, three millennia hence, give a shit what we think?

What is the essential, unalterable core of what you believe? How fuzzy are your edges? How altered will you be before you aren't you any more?


0253 - 2167/07/06/18:55 - Lee Caldavera's apartment, living room
LC: How much of my human intelligence could we outsource to circuitry before I'm not human any more?
Zoa: Ah, the Ship of Theseus! That's a Plutarch thing, I think we get into it in Week Two.
CP: Theseus? Th-that's the Greek hero who slew the m-minotaur, right?
LC: Why'd they do that? What'd the minotaur do?
CP: It lived in a labyrinth and ate p-people.
LC: That doesn't make sense. Minotaurs have cattle heads, and cattle aren't carnivores. They have flat teeth.
Zoa: "Ate" is debatable, depending on translation. It killed people, certainly. But a human body only contains about one hundred and thirty thousand calories, multiply by fourteen beauteous youths, divide by nine years, that's only five hundred and fifty-four calories a day. Ol' Cow-head probably just lived on grass and killed the humans because it's a territorial monster.
[LC brings up a picture of a minotaur]
CP: Why do you know how m-many c-calories are in a h-human body?
Zoa: Why does anyone know anything?
CP: Also, I d-don't think g-grass grew in the labyrinth. Maybe Minos sent it other f-food? B-b-bread and wine or s-something?
LC: Maybe it ventured outside the labyrinth on occasion to go graze.
Zoa: No, Minos kept the minotaur trapped and sent in the fourteen youths every nine years, that was the whole deal. Or every seven years (again, depending on translation) which would be seven hundred and twelve calories per day.
LC: Why slay the minotaur, then? Theseus should have slain Minos, they're clearly the problem! Let the minotaur out to eat grass!
CP: I th-think Greek myths might not n-n-necessarily be about effective or ethical p-problem solving.