"Geoffrey," by "Plato"

Leonard Finkelman shares this transcript from the archives of a large toy retailer's customer service call center. Given the subject matter and characters involved, the transcript might be attributed to the time-displaced spirit of Plato. That attribution would be false, of course, but it's a charming falsehood; in the end, isn't that what the holidays are about?

GEOFFREY: Hello and thank you for waiting on the line; we apologize for the relatively long wait time as we deal with high call volume during the holiday season. My name is Geoffrey and I'll be happy to help you today. May I have your name?

SOCRATES: Do we apologize, then, for perpetuation of an illusion? For such must be the nature of time, imperfectly as it reflects eternal truths in this sublunary sphere! Fear no offense, friend; humble Socrates won't allow such errors to pass unnoticed.

GEOFFREY: Um. Great. Thank you, um, sir. How can I help you today?

SOCRATES: A weighty matter presses upon my mind, friend Geoffrey, and my hope is to call upon your expertise in lightening the burden. During my last visit to the Agora I chanced upon your shop, which advertised wonders to enthrall the youth of the polis.

GEOFFREY: I'm sorry to interrupt. What was the store location, again?

SOCRATES: Let me clarify: I speak of the central marketplace in the great city-state of New York.

GEOFFREY: You mean our flagship store in Times Square?

SOCRATES: Indeed! And no institution could be more deserving of the honor in bearing your standard; truly did the shop fulfill its promise. Each child I observed therein was enraptured by the playthings on offer. But how discouraged I felt! For I am a seeker of Truth and few of these toys had the least participation in true Forms. Many toys proclaimed representation of "Star Wars," for example, but never could the perfect and immutable heavenly spheres engage in adversarial conflict! Wisdom is our telos, and there can be no wisdom in falsehood. If I were to hope for justice for our distracted youth, then, I must find it in your toys qualified as "educational." Among these offerings I found in your standard-bearing shop were "science toys," and foremost among these were representations of dinosaurs. Tell me: do all of your shops purvey toys of this kind?

GEOFFREY: I'm sorry to hear that you're dissatisfied with out selection, sir. But yes, each of our stores has a section dedicated to educational toys and books, including a wide variety of science-related products. Dinosaur toys are always among our best sellers.

SOCRATES: I hoped that it would be so! The greatest benefit to one so ignorant as I is the tutelage of a learned expert; I have previously imagined myself the pupil of my friend Timaeus, who sought to reveal to me the nature of scientific inquiry, but now I can continue my studies with you, dear Geoffrey. From Timaeus I learned how the methods of scientific inquiry may reveal the nature of the sublunary sphere, and while I still doubt that these methods can yield true and unchanging knowledge I hope that we may nevertheless profit from the effort. My conversation with Timaeus was of the greatest range, covering the origins of humankind and the sensory world. At no point in our dialogue, however, did we discuss dinosaurs. Why, then, should these toys bear the label of "science"?

GEOFFREY: I've never really thought about that. Maybe it's because dinosaurs are natural? You find them in nature, right?

SOCRATES: Permit me to rephrase your answer. By "nature" and "natural," I presume that you mean the world of space and time, whose quantities are perceived through our senses; dinosaurs belong to this world of the senses, and since we perceive objects in the world of sense more correctly through the methods of science, it must be that our beliefs about dinosaurs are caused in part by science. Have I said anything that you have not?

GEOFFREY: Well, yeah. But that's what I meant anyway.

SOCRATES: Excellent! For I am gratified to learn that the sensory world includes creatures whose eyes and tongues produce their own light, or whose throats may project darts. Such natural productions were formerly unknown to me and should certainly beguile any youth at least as much as a warring heavenly sphere, if not more so for their closer approximation to the world as perceived!

GEOFFREY: Are you being sarcastic, sir?

SOCRATES: Now I should demand your apology, dear Geoffrey! For few insults are as grave as to suggest that I may say one thing while meaning another; that would be the worst of deceptions. On what ground do you stand?

GEOFFREY: I'm very sorry, sir. I certainly meant no offense! But obviously there weren't really any dinosaurs like that. I thought you knew.

SOCRATES: In that case I accept your apology, although it seems that once again it is unnecessary since I should take no offense that you presume more knowledge on my part than I really have! But if these toys do not represent the world perceived through the instruments of science, why then do you label them "scientific"? We may approach Truth by degrees, but all falsehoods set us equally distant, and so a dinosaur with light-up eyes is surely as much a false representation as any war between stars.

GEOFFREY: Well, I guess that the light-up dinosaurs are similar to our more accurate dinosaur toys.

SOCRATES: And so does the weight of my burdensome thoughts fall upon my mind, dear Geoffrey! For if any of your toys should be considered more accurate, then none should be educational, and all your wares will do equal injustice to the objects of true science.


SOCRATES: I will demonstrate my problem. What is the nature of "dinosaur"?

GEOFFREY: I don't know. I'm not a paleontologist. I just work customer service for a toy store. Do you have any questions about toys, sir?

SOCRATES: I do! What is the nature of "dinosaur toy"? And by this I mean, what remains the same about dinosaur toys from time to time, that one may recognize them as dinosaur toys?

GEOFFREY: I guess that they're scaly and big.

SOCRATES: And should the nature of these toys, by virtue of their being scientific toys and so representations of the objects of science, participate in the same form as do the dinosaurs themselves?

GEOFFREY: Okay, sure.

SOCRATES: Do you expect, then, that the nature of "dinosaur" would be scaly and big, with the shapes and proportions familiar from your toys?

GEOFFREY: Look, sir, we've got a lot of calls on hold and I'm not sure what you want me to say--

SOCRATES: I will speak plainly, then. Science reveals to us the nature of the sublunary sphere, and this nature proves to be changeable and surprising. For the truths of the sensory world are not immutable, as in sums, or easily predictable, as in geometric proofs; rather, they surprise us and defeat our expectations, as with (I am told) the acceleration of mass and the curvature of space. In this way dinosaurs are an object of study proper to science, for their nature has proved wholly surprising. North of your Agora stands an academy that demonstrates this truth. There did I find evidence that dinosaurs were feathered rather than scaly, and of all shapes and sizes, with limbs different from those on display in your toys. And still does the scientist expect greater surprises yet, for the nature of "dinosaur" is only puzzled from fossils, which are as the ruins of shadows. That you do not know the nature of "dinosaur" does not set you apart from paleontologists; an oracle should say that the paleontologist is one who sets himself apart by the knowledge that he cannot know the dinosaur's nature.

GEOFFREY: I'm going to have to hang up soon, sir.

SOCRATES: Suffer me this line of inquiry, beloved Geoffrey, for we as good people should not countenance injustice, and I will show that a great injustice has been done! We previously agreed that the light-up dinosaur toys bore as little resemblance to the sensory world as do the aliens imagined in heavenly conflicts. Such toys are more akin to the products of art than of science, for they make no aim towards Truth and so divert their consumers from knowledge. But now we must admit that even those toys deemed "more accurate" suffer the same inevitable defects. Scientists search for the nature of dinosaurs, and in their searches acknowledge their ignorance of the same; for knowledge of ignorance is the only true knowledge of the objects of science. For a toy to claim participation in that nature, then, is by necessity false, as the toy maker must cast from some conceived Form whereas the true Form is inconceivable. All of your science toys are equally false, that is, as false as the lies told elsewhere in your store about the heavenly spheres. Your clerks are as poets, misleading in the supposed service of education and thus distracting the polis' youth from true knowledge!

GEOFFREY: So you're saying that even if dinosaur toys are updated along with the most recent scientific research, those toys will still be lies?

SOCRATES: Oh, that my burden should now be shared with such a magnanimous soul! I am in your debt, sweet Geoffrey, and we may now contrive to realize my ideally organized shop.

GEOFFREY: Hold on! That doesn't work. Sure, an individual dinosaur toy doesn't reveal any truth about dinosaurs, but if a kid collects a lot of dinosaur toys over time then he'll see how they're all different and how ideas about dinosaurs keep changing. So if you want to claim that science teaches ignorance because we constantly perceive change, then wouldn't a good kid be one who buys lots and lots of different dinosaur toys to communicate how little they all have in common, and how deep our ignorance runs?

SOCRATES: That appears reasonable, but--

GEOFFREY: In fact, wouldn't a large collection of diverse dinosaur toys convey the changing nature of scientific inquiry even better than grade school science "labs" whose outcomes were predetermined in curriculums developed decades ago?

SOCRATES: Yes, fine. Alas! Mathematics is the only guide to real knowledge in any event.

GEOFFREY: Fantastic. Now, do you have any questions about our store's toys?

SOCRATES: I do: when do you expect more stock of the unmasked Kylo Ren variant figure?

The transcript ends here.