An idiot’s guide to Pataphysics

Pictured: A man sitting by a desk in the middle of a dirt road next to an unnaturally large bird. On a tree next to them is a picture of This Is Not A Pipe by René Magritte, which is a picture of a pipe captioned “This is not a pipe”, pointing out how it is in fact a picture of a pipe.

Pataphysical philosophy is to me a very curious thing. It’s mainly a novelty, directly speaking, it has no value, and yet it does, it’s tricky.

So for starters, let’s explain what it is. Most people don’t know, but in fairness: You’re not missing out, it’s far from a vital or critical bit of knowledge. It is mainly used in conceptual art, but I think this is wasteful, I can see it having uses beyond this.

So as the picture illustrates: Pataphysics is the universe of a metaphor. “What goes around, comes around.” is a pataphorical prompt. You may imagine a boomerang, the boomerang is flying through the air, below it is grass, above it is sky, in the grass stands a man who threw the boomerang, that man works as in a shoe shop. The shoe shop is located in central Adelaide. Suddenly we see a universe being built, and this construct is pataphysical.

So what exactly is the point of this? It’s really just a fancy way of torturing a metaphor. Like when you use a metaphor around a stupid person, and the stupid person thinks that if they win the pataphysical argument, this will somehow translate to actual logic. “Sometimes I feel walled in.” “Maybe you should build a door.”, we’ve all encountered such an idiot.

But what makes pataphysics interesting to me is how it permits us to examine language, and the way in which we analyse such language. In a weird way, pataphysics does govern certain a priori patterns of our imagination and conceptualisation of ideas and also problem solving.

For instance low is usually bad, and high is usually good. Why is this? Why is a low economy bad, and a high economy good? One could of course say “Ah but it’s the numbers! We measure profit and growth with high numbers!”

Exactly, suppose we did it the other way around? Suppose we measured scarcity, and the key to the economy was to reach 0? Imagine the radical implications of this. Instead of having the economy be this nebulous and arbitrary anarchy in which things are sold and made for the sake of seeing upticks, we’d have some kind of rational system wherein the final goal is simply to supply everyone and everything with what needs supplying.

Literally all interactions we perform in our labour follows this model. We set up a list of things to do, and we work our way down to 0. Once we’re done with everything, we have completed. By measuring upwards instead of downwards, we have created an economic model which is incapable of being completed. It is entirely counterintuitive to the very labour which permits an economy in the first place.

And some might say “Oh well that’s easier said than done”, to which my only response is that you could say the same about a calorimetric electron telescope, but we still bothered to invent those. In fact, literally everything is easier said than done, you need to follow up with a little bit of ambition.

If the “easier said than done” crowd had their way then I’d be struggling to articulate all of this using the side of a cave and clay pot full of mammoth blood. Only thing worse than someone who clings to the past is someone who clings to the present, because that’s just a lazier way of clinging to the past.

Pataphysical analysis of our thoughts and language will often permit us to examine the inverse properties of deep semantics. It lets us ask precisely why an edge is so edgy, why cold and hot have amorous properties, why having something covered apparently resolves it, or why green is permissible and red is restrictive. All of these things can lend us curious insights into how we think, and how to think differently.

Thoughts begin as concepts, and then proceed as ideas, and by examining the conceptual level we can often have new ideas, and that’s rather neat.



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Scholar, minister, musician, engineer, technician, reformed criminal