Philosophy Fridays: What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?”  in under 700 words.

Here, someone might pull a Bart Simpson and sort of fold their fingers in towards the palm of the hand resulting in a clapping sound. Philosophy Friday answered, move along.

That really isn’t the question at all. The “clap” is the short percussive noise produced by quickly slamming to surfaces (usually flat) together. So when one claps in applause, it is done by taking the two flat palms of one’s hands and striking them together. We know that.

Now imagine that one hand doing the same thing to produce the clapping sound but without any in-folding or anything like that. Is it even possible? Well, no, it isn’t.

In fact, this seems to fall into the realm of the impossible. If the clap is only produced with two surfaces then asking what a one handed clap sounds like is like asking “what does a triangle circle look like” or “what constitutes a married bachelor?” It’s a question dealing with the impossible.

But wait, the question also assumes the answer. If clapping is the produced sound, then in this question the sound of one hand clapping is just that—clapping. For the sake of the question, one need look no further than the information it provides…right?

Well, not really since we’re back in our logical predicament. “How does a square circle roll downhill?” shouldn’t be answered within the confines of the question but above the question addressing the logical presuppositions undergirding it. Why think of square circles at all? Why think of single-handed-claps at all?

If it’s so fraught with logical nonsense, why does the question exists at all? Is it supposed to do something? Maybe one is to consider the question until they achieve the transcendence over logic. Or maybe the importance is found in the way one answers revealing their inner being. But is considering the impossible (and here I don’t mean the possible but unlikely, but rather the logical impossibility underscored in a different philosophy Friday—like sitting around trying to draw a triangular circle) a worthwhile endeavor at all? Why should it be?

So, the sound of one hand clapping sounds (and looks) like any other impossible construct.

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