Tuesday, December 06, 2011

 

Quotable: Cat or Steak

[Character of Anne speaking]: "... let me tell you my cat joke. It's very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she's got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room--has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak--and it's gone. And there's the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing it's face."

"The cat got the steak," Barney said.

"Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all five pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. 'Weigh the cat,' someone says. They've had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weigh the cat on the scales. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and a guest says, 'Okay, that's it. There's the steak.' They're satisfied that they know what happened, now; they've got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, 'But where's the cat?' "

" I heard that joke before," Barney said. "And anyhow I don't see it's application."

Anne said, "That joke poses the finest distillation of the problem of ontology ever invented. If you ponder it long enough--"

Source: Philip K. Dick, "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" in Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (Library of America, 2007) pp. 418-419.

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