12 September 2006

What's a Spherical Chicken?

So today I'm going to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time, that is, write a full explanation for the title of this blog.

When it comes to blog names, as Milton Glaser would say, just enough is more. Coming up with a title for a blog is sort of a pain. It's like picking an email address, only perhaps worse, because the people you give your email to already know you but your blog title may be your first impression to strangers. You don't want to pick anything too cliche and obvious, but also not anything too trendy and random. A blog name needs to be generic enough to fit the many moods of your blogging career, but be different enough to say something about you to the people who wander over to your blog from goodness knows where.

In titling this blog, I toyed around with a lot of different ideas, but finally settled on "Spherical Chickens." The name is derived from a classic physics joke, which I usually tell thusly:

A farmer noticed that his chickens were sick, and called in a biologist, a chemist, and a physicist to help diagnose the problem. The biologist observed the chickens, concluding, "I can tell you there's something wrong with your chickens, but I don't know what's causing it." The chemist took fluid samples from the chickens back to his lab, and returned saying, "I can tell you what's infecting your chickens, but I don't know how they got it." Meanwhile, the physicist had been sitting on the floor, scribbling maddly on several notebooks worth of paper. Suddenly, he jumped up, exclaiming, "I have the answer, but it only works for spherical chickens in a vaccuum."
Okay, okay, so it's not very funny, especially if you aren't in the middle of a physics class. But I think the joke has a good point: in all branches of knowledge, the only people who can be perfectly certain of all the answers are those who make vast simplifications and wildely inaccurate approximations. In my humanities classes we called them "vast over-generalizations," in chemistry "useful lies," and in physics simply "spherical chickens," but it's the same concept. In order to make any sense of the world, we must ignore and leave out a lot of inconvient details, or work only with very special cases that happen to work out.

In my writing, I find these sort of spherical chickens popping up a lot. I am not one who can be satisfied by mere criticism of other people's ideas; instead, I insist on creating my own theories and justifying some sort of positive assertion of truth, rather than a negative assertion of falsehood. But there's no way to account for all cases in every theory. There are a lot of underlying assumptions in everything I write. For example, I pity anyone not familiar with Mormon culture and more particularly with BYU culture who tries to read this blog, since it contains so many implicit references to these aspects of my life. Yet it would take much more time to explain the background behind these things than I actually have. So I tend to just leave these things unsaid, which of course leaves my writing wide open for attack. Basically, I count on a friendly audience who doesn't need me to justify my spherical chickens to them.

I've been pretty satisfied with my blog title, though I have thought of changing it to something like "Seeking Balance," since that seems to be the conclusion of so many of my blog entries. However, I've stuck with "Spherical Chickens" because, in addition to its higher meanings, it also gets across the fact that I am extremely odd. And random.


mother of All said...

spherical chickens is an excellent name!

Paradox said...

I was wondering about that!

Makes me wish I would've put more thought into mine. But I'm already in a few directories, so I won't pursue the matter further.

Th. said...


Excellent reasons all. I like it much better now that it's been explained to me.

And you were worth stopping by for--keep up the good work re: AML etc.