Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Simple Question

     I have just one simple question. Maybe you think it's silly. But the question intrigues me ... and also stumps me. So I hope I get a few thoughtful or creative answers from some wise and venerable readers.

     The question is borrowed from Paul Auster's story "City of Glass," a mystery of sorts involving writer Daniel Quinn, aka William Wilson, aka Paul Auster, who tracks down a father who had imprisoned his son for years in a dark room, and who has now been released from prison. The father is a former professor who is likely insane and might presumably pose a risk to the son.

     The issue is posed by the father, who also holds himself out to be something of a philosopher, who thinks he has the answer to solve the problems of the world.

     We have the word umbrella, he poses. The word is a noun. It has a meaning that refers to something that's typically made out of a stick, with some collapsible metal spokes, covered with a waterproof cloth. We all know what an umbrella is. It has a function. It keeps us dry in the rain.

     Now, suppose the cloth is ripped off. We are left with just the stick and the spokes. The device doesn't work anymore. So the question is:  Is this thing still an umbrella? Or is it now something else?

18 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

In my opinion it becomes something else once it's function has changed. When someone dies are they still a person? I don't think so. Interesting question.

Olga Hebert said...

I would say it is still an umbrella--a broken umbrella, a non-functional umbrella, the thing formerly known as umbrella.

Mac n' Janet said...

It becomes an umbrella frame.

Michael McDonald said...

It's a bird roost. Or our language has adjectives to further define the former umbrella. Broken serves us well in answering this profound question.

Michael McDonald said...

It's a bird roost. Or our language has adjectives to further define the former umbrella. Broken serves us well in answering this profound question.

DJan said...

It is a broken umbrella, and it's also something else now: a bird roost maybe, or some kind of art form. :-)

Mary Smith said...

Of course it's still an umbrella...just a broken one and a dead person is still a person, just one who is dead.

Barbara - said...

Well first, of course, the noun umbrella does not just mean the physical item in description. Umbrella (as a noun) can also be a protecting force or an organization that includes many other smaller entities. Just to be your favorite grammar nazi.

Some would say it's a broken umbrella but still an umbrella. I would say without the entire sum of it's parts, the answer is no. What's left is an umbrella frame.

Dick Klade said...

It no longer is capable fulfilling an umbrella's purpose. Thus, it is not an umbrella, rather it now is defined by whatever use can be found for it. A dead person no longer is a person. It is a corpse.

Tom Sightings said...

How about the old question about the hammer. You have a hammer. Then you have to replace the handle, A while later you replace the head. Do you still have your hammer? Or is it a different hammer? Guess these things are kind of like brain teasers.

Janis said...

I think I'd call it an un-brella.

gigihawaii said...

It used to be an umbrella. Now it is just a stick with spokes.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I think it is what we choose to believe it is and/or does. To someone in the world who has never ever seen a fully functioning umbrella it could any number of things. What it comes down to is that I think most everything is a sort of rorschach test. Humans give things meaning and purpose depending upon our viewpoint AND our needs. ~Kathy

Cindi said...

When Oscar Madison called Felix Unger's pasta dinner creation 'macaroni' Felix Unger laughed with hysterical glee. 'What's so funny?" asked Madison. "It's not macaroni" sniffed the elitist Felix. "It's linguine". With that quip, Oscar Madison picked up the plate of pasta and tossed it up against the kitchen wall splattering the food all over the place. "Now"......bellowed Oscar...."it's garbage!"

Sally Wessely said...

I also say it is still an umbrella. This reminds me of the philosophical questions my father would ask at the dinner table when we were children. Oh the discussions we would have...

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

I am past caring about umbrellas that don't work. I must be psychic. Only yesterday I was thinking about the trail of umbrellas I left behnd me. The French are clever, they have umbrellas for when the clouds are umber and parasols for the sun.... My favorite parsols are found on Mai Tais.

Bob Lowry said...

I think of it as becoming something different. I can recognize what it once was, but understand it must serve a new purpose. To continue your philosophical track, isn't this what happens to humans who are growing and changing? We recognize someone but may have to adjust to his new attitude or way of thinking and acting. Bob is still Bob, but he isn't the Bob he was 10 years ago.

Friko said...

It’s an umbrella without the cloth, therefore not an umbrella.

It’s whatever you want it to be, perhaps a tool to poke somebody in the eye?