Thursday, October 6, 2011

Invisible and Pink

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[This was posted as an explanation of why I think that, when we all get together for a great convention on hammering out the definitions of words, it would be nice if we could figure out a standard defintion for "invisible" because the current ambiguity trips me up when discussing the unicorn.]

I think that invisible means you can't see it*. Even if you're looking right at it. You see right through it, you can't tell where it is and where it isn't, vision is generally useless in discerning it's precise location or shape. Like air in air, or water in water or mist in mist, you simply can't see it.

That is obviously very context dependent. The air between my face and the screen is invisible right now, but if I were to take that air, and changing nothing about it, bring it under water with me then -look, a bubble- it is completely visible (thus not-invisible). The water surrounding it is invisible, of course. Unless I take it with me up on land and then A PUDDLE! though the water has not changed it is no longer invisible, quite the opposite in fact.

So everyday experience has taught me that what is invisible will become visible when taken out of its context. (Or having sand sprinkled over it as in The Last Crusade.)

Anyway, when I think of the unicorn standing in a cloud of pink mist, like it does, I think that it obviously has to be pink because it's invisible. Far from being contradictory the pinkness is a necessary condition for its invisibility. After all, if it weren't pink I could see it. Clear as day. Clearer than some days. Clear as a bubble in fact. Clear as a unicorn shaped bubble in a cloud of pink mist. The fact that I can't see it means that it must be pink. A specific shade of pink no less. If it were any other color, or lack of color, it would be visible. It is not visible so it must be pink. (We've already established that the unicorn is in the cloud at this point, by the way.)

So I say it has to be pink, because otherwise it wouldn't be invisible, and thus a thing can be pink and invisible at the same time.

The other person says, "No, it can't be invisible and pink."

To which I respond, "But if it weren't pink I could see it." They tell me that's not the point. I respond with words and gestures, "If it were anything other then pink I'd be able to lay eyes on it and say it's this long," gesture with two hands, "this tall," gesture with right hand only, "this wide," turn 90 degrees, gesture with two hands, "its horn was this long," two handed gesture (left hand higher than right, hands parallel to each other), "and I'd be able to say, 'See,'" point with left hand, "'it really is a unicorn; it has cloven hooves.' Because if it doesn't have cloven hooves it's not a unicorn. I don't care what you say, if it doesn't have cloven hooves it's a horse with a horn, not a unicorn.'"

And then the other person angrily responds, "INVISIBLE MEANS NOT PINK!"

And I, flustered and frustrated, shout, "INVISIBLE MEANS NOT VISIBLE!"**

And the shouting bothers the unicorn who rears up on his hind legs and snorts angrily. Everyone is left unhappy, and the field of applied chromatic theology is not advanced.

So I think that, in the future, it would be good if we had an easy to apply definition of invisible and I could know whether I was orthodox, heterodox, or heretic. Maybe after the Great Invisibility Schism of 2011 the argument will stop when we each agree that the other is a heretic of invisibility and decide to set the matter aside and move on to more important questions like whether or not the unicorn will let us ride him.

So, let's get representatives from all over the world together and decide what "invisible" really means on the off chance this topic ever comes up again in a conversation I am involved in.


*If necessary I will appeal to Latin roots to make this argument, but it never seems to help.

**Which is tautological and unhelpful because we presumably disagree on the definition of "visible" as well. You have to understand, at this point I'm angry and not thinking straight.


[Original Work Index]

1 comment:

  1. Belatedly (I found your blog via the epistemological synecdoche post Fred Clark linked, and came back again to read your Edith & Ben stories, and then again to see what else you had posted):

    I think my definition of "invisible" implies the described cannot be seen under many contexts - and so the reason why "clear" is such a popular conception is because clear air exists in many contexts.

    That still doesn't make "invisible pink" a logical contradiction, of course. My definition would include "physically perceptible, but magically unnoticeable", for example.