A Riddle & A Forearm

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare. …….

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `that’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

Alice sighed wearily. `I think you might do something better with the time,’ she said, `than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.’

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland , Ch. VII

Carroll provided no answer to this tea party riddle in the original 1865 publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and people have attempted ever since to answer it:   “Poe wrote on both”, “one is a rest for pens, the other a pest for wrens”, “The higher the fewer”, “One may communicate to the dead through either”, and “both have inky quills”.  Carroll eventually did respond to the demand for an answer, when in the 1896 preface to Alice he wrote “Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: ‘Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!’ This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.”

I have been asked many, many times why I tattooed this riddle on my forearm. And I guess here I get to explain myself, providing a more thorough answer than simply my deep admiration for Lewis Carroll. First, I am a philosopher by trade and as one I spend a lot of my time attempting to solve riddles or paradoxes there are no answers to. For example, What is the meaning of life?, or What is Justice?, How can some thing change and yet be the same thing? or the Ship of Theseus paradox. Second, riddles like the raven and the writing desk require knowledge of what is essential to each and states of affairs. I study the realist phenomenology of Adolf Reinach, and that work focuses largely on essences (timeless, changeless entities; primordial source for all meaning and intelligibility) and states of affairs (a thing’s necessary, essential predicates). That’s all I am saying on that. If you want to know more, you can either search the internet, read my book or articles, or you can invite me to coffee and i can tell you more.

My favorite riddle done by Mac @ Nighthawk

My favorite riddle done by Mac @ Nighthawk


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 18:16:46


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