Schrodinger’s Orange; A Zen talk with my son

 

Why an orange, kiddo?Orange Cat
Whaddaya mean, dad, “why an orange?”
Just that, why an orange?
Why not?
Well, what makes an orange an orange?
Um, duh, look at it. Geez, dad.
Okay, and again I ask you, “Why an orange?”
Uh, Dad? Hello. What color is it?
Color? How does that help me understand “why an orange?”
‘Cause it’s orange. An orange is orange.
Is it an orange because it’s orange, or is orange orange because that’s what we call this fruit?
Huh?
Look, lots of things are orange. Carrots are orange. But oranges aren’t carrots.
True. Dad, this is weird.
A little bit. Anyway, what is orange?
Orange is a color.
True, but is there any essential orangeness to the color orange? Can I find “orange” in an orange when I look at it? If I look inside it?
Okay, here’s the deal, Dad. I learned this in science class. Everything reflects some kinds of light and absorbs other kinds. The sun hits this fruit, and what bounces back, we have all decided to call that “orange.”
But what if it’s totally dark, like no light at all? When there is no light to reflect, it is still an orange?
Of course it’s still an orange. Come on, now! It’s not like it changes into an apple in the dark.
That tells me that we call the color “orange” because of the fruit, and not the other way around. Do you agree?
When you put it that way, I guess I do. Where are you going with this, Dad? You scare me a little when you talk like this.
So, there is no true “orange?” It’s just a general agreement? Like there was a convention and we all convened and voted and went with the word “orange?”
Yeah. I guess.
So, is an orange orange to a blind guy?
It is an orange, and it is orange, but he can’t see the orange, even though he can tell it’s orange, okay?
Okay, so this blind guy, or blind girl, whatever they are, can’t see the orange, but he can tell that this fruit is the color orange how?
I guess he can’t.
Can you describe the color orange to a person who was born blind?
I guess not.
Problem.
He can smell it.
Peel off the rind, take a whiff, and he’ll know it’s an orange?
Sure.
What if he’s never smelt an orange before? He’s from way North of the Arctic Circle, like Greenland.
Then you’d need to tell him that the smell is “orange.”
That particular chemical arrangement of molecules wafting off of the fruit, that’s orange to a blind man?
Sure. Yeah. 
Can that arrangement of molecules be created in a laboratory? Is there artificial orange smell?
Like in room deodorizer spray and stuff? Yeah, I guess so.
So, if we put orange slices and peels in one Petri dish, and some cotton balls tinged with lab-made orange smell in another, and let him smell them, both are oranges?
No, only the peel and stuff is orange. The rest just smells like orange.
But you said that to a blind man, smell would be the determinant of orangeness?
Gotcha. Okay, smell is out. But he could taste it, right?
So then, the ultimate orangeness of an orange is in its taste?
Yep. If it tastes like an orange…
And if this guy has a cold and his senses are impaired, or we keep him from smelling the orange, since most taste comes from smell, even though the orange was in his mouth, he’d not be able to accurately deduce the orangeness of the orange?
I guess not. This is still weird, Dad. But it would still taste like an orange to somebody else.
Can we all agree on taste? Like a spicy curry to us might be mild to someone who grew up in India?
Crap. I guess not.
So, the color of an orange doesn’t define its orangeness, or its smell, or its taste. Where exactly does the orangeness of an orange reside? Show me, in this piece of fruit, wherein dwells its orangeness? Huh, that sounds kind of biblical.
I can’t really show you that. I mean, I know it’s an orange and you know it’s an orange and every fricking person in the world knows it’s an orange but if what you’re saying is true, then everything is all made up. And as long as we keep agreeing about the made-up stuff, then we’re good?
Yes, we all agree, this is an orange. Arancione. Naranja. Again, let me ask, where can I find “orange” in this orange?
Well, since we all agree, and agreements take place in our mind, I suppose the only place to find true orangeness is in our own heads. ‘Cause it seems like there is no such solid thing like “orange.” I hate this. Kind of.
Is there a spot in your brain where the true orangeness resides? A special part of the brain that’s been labeled “fruit-sorting out spot?”

I don’t think so. I mean, there’s a spot, I guess, where our brain turns the image from the eye into an orange, and then I figure some part of our brain finds the word that matches with the picture, and probably another part that matches the smell to the image, and probably another part that grabs all my memories that related to oranges, but it’d be really strange if there was a little part where “orange” lived. So, no.

So, can we agree that true orangeness, the essence, the nature, of this fruit does not actually exist? Except as an idea? An idea about “orangeness?”
I guess. This hurts my head. It’s there, but it’s not there?
Right. As long as we all agree, it’s there. But not really, because it’s just an idea.
And ideas aren’t real!! They’re just a kind of thought.
Let me put it this way-there’s orangeness and not-orangeness, right at the same time and in the same place.
Schrodinger’s Orange!!
Exactly.

 

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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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