Rabbits in the Moon

Following up on my last post, is thinking that the moon has a rabbit enough to put a rabbit in the moon?

Let’s talk about forks for a second. What makes a fork a fork? On one level, in the beginning was the word; a fork is a fork because we all agreed to call “a tined instrument used to eat food” a fork. We could just as easily have decided to call a fork spoons and then we would all call forks spoons. In other words, on one level if we all agree to call a fork a fork that’s what makes it a “fork.”

But does it really? Is it that simple? We have to say no: if calling a fork a fork made it a fork, then calling a fork a fork would make it a fork for your dog. But can your dog use a fork as a fork?

This is the same as the pen example we always use, but it applies here. If I define a pen as “an instrument that uses ink to write with” then a pen is not a pen for a dog, because they can’t use it, actually they can’t conceive of it, as a thing to write with. In the same way, you can show a fork to a dog, tell him it’s a fork, show him how to use it… he can’t think of it that way; it’s not a fork for him.

There has to be something else going on. You’ll say, “Oh, that doesn’t explain anything, dogs are dumb.” That’s true, but that doesn’t help you explain what’s going on. If a fork was a fork from its own side, it would always be a fork. If you can call a fork a fork because you’re so smart, then you’re making the fork a fork–not the fork.

Is a fork a fork because we decide it’s a fork? It is for us, but not for any Spanish, German, or Chinese-speakers in the room (unless they also speak English). Is there a rabbit in the moon? Maybe for Tibetans, but I can’t see it. So is there a rabbit in the moon?

In the monastery they say “su la”: for whom? Is there a rabbit in the moon? For who? For me? No. For a Tibetan? Yes? So let’s write it as a syllogism:

Consider the rabbit in the moon,
It exists for Tibetans,
Because they see it.

True or False? Run the tests. Test #1: Do Tibetans see the rabbit in the moon? Yes. Test #2: If they see it, does it exist? Yes, having a valid perception of something is the definition for existence (existing in Tibetan Buddhism is defined as “that which is perceived by a valid perception”). So if a Tibetan has a valid perception of the rabbit in the moon, then it exists for them. But does that mean that it exists for me?

Consider the rabbit in the moon,
It exists for me,
Because Tibetans see it.

True or false? Test #1: Do Tibetans see the rabbit in the moon. Yes. Test #2: If Tibetans see a rabbit in the moon, does it necessarily exist for me? This is something I think you could debate. Can you think of a case where someone saw something that you didn’t see?

But to make the point more clear–consensus is not really a proof–let’s say all Tibetans decide the moon is a rabbit. Would that make it true?

Consider the moon,
It’s really a rabbit,
Because Tibetans think it is.

Test #1: Let’s say they do. Test #2: If Tibetans think the moon is really a rabbit, does that make it a rabbit? No, I don’t think so.

To use our fork example, let’s say we decide to calls forks spoons? Fine, no problem. But now let’s say you’re looking a spoon, can we decide that it’s a fork? If we all agree a spoon is a fork, will that make it a fork?

Consider this spoon,
It’s a fork,
Because we all agree it’s a fork.

Test #1: Let’s say we do. Test #2: If we all agree that something is a fork, does that make it a fork? Try it on a spoon at your house and see if it works.

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2 thoughts on “Rabbits in the Moon

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