Saturday, June 04, 2011

On Being Self Referential

A word that describes itself is called an autological word (or autonym). This generally applies to adjectives, for example sesquipedalian, but can also apply to other parts of speech, such as TLA, as a three-letter abbreviation for three-letter abbreviation". - Self Reference.

I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me. - Woody Allen

Self Portrait at Tiffany's
I have always been a bit vague when it comes to the exact meaning of self-referential. I think it used to refer pretentiously to works of art that created by people who are only interested in themselves. An Asperger's kinda thing ... Come to think of it, it is perhaps an "it's all about me" existentialist thing - a New York thing even. I wear black because I am ... but I digress.

I came to be reflecting on the meaning of "self referential" last Saturday round noon, when my cell phone rang. It was a stranger on the other end of the line. And the conversation went something like this.

Stranger: "Hello, is this 646 XXXXXX?"
Me: Yes"
Stranger: "Well you have taken my number. My number is 646 XXXXXX."
Me: "No, I have had 646 XXXXXX for eight years. It is MY number."
Stranger: "No it is mine and now we both have the same number and I just this minute dialled it."
Me: "Well, in that case, why aren't you answering your call?"
Stranger: "Because YOU picked up!"
Me: "OK. I'll hang up now, and you can call it again and I won't pick up this time and you can talk to yourself."
Stranger: "OK!"
A few seconds later, my phone rings. I ignore it and play Angry Birds on my iPad.

A Touch of Color at Dumbo
The ringing eventually stops and I forget about the whole bizarre thing. But about an hour later the phone rings again and I pick it up. It is the stranger back again.

Me: "Please stop calling me. I am busy."
Stranger: "But you have my number."

And so on ....

In the end he went away, but I just couldn't resist. I checked my call log and clicked on the number that had last called me. The stranger's number. No answer. "It's me," I voice mailed, "have you figured out your phone number yet, or am I YOU?".

Some time later Mr Stranger actually called again, but this time, to apologize.

Apple Store, Fifth Avenue
Meanwhile I am left self-referentially confused, and no wonder. For lately I seem to be surrounded by some very strange people!

I have a native New Yorker friend who thinks she is the only person in New York dressing in black - my Moon Follows Me" friend.

I have a stranger who thinks if he dials my number he is calling himself.

But perhaps the most strangest is my non-existential referential neighbor who recently bought an iPad 2. Worried that a man she knows might mess with it when she went away on vacation she hid it. Somewhere. Where, she has no idea.

Two Aussie New Yorker Philosophers
If can be proven, as some philosophers think, that an object needs a relationship to an observer for it to exist, does this mean that it ceases to exist when no one can see it? Certainly my friend, let's just call her Jay, left her iPad alone in her room, and while she was away in China it ceased to exist - for her, anyway. What is odd however that it still doesn't exist and she's she's back.

I think I'll put Jay in touch with the man who doesn't have the same phone number as me. He can help set up her non-existent iPad with MobileMe so that she can find it next time she loses it.

Stay tuned ...

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

These things can only happen to you Kate lol!!!

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