Peter Worley is an educator keen on teaching philosophy to youngsters. One of his teaching methods is to gather together objects to create a humanoid shape, and ask his students how many things there are. You can listen to a podcast of him doing exactly this here:

Now, to prove I’m smarter than a 10 year old, which my cripplingly low self-esteem demands that I do, I will offer my humble outcomes on how this thought experiment plays out.

So here is our object(s?):

Isn't it lovely? This took me two minutes and a small chance of copyright infringement to make.

Isn’t it lovely? This took me two minutes and a small chance of copyright infringement to make.

So how many things? I think most people’s gut reaction will be that there are six things, each meticulously stolen from a Google Image search. Four pencils, plus a book, plus a ball equals six things. But if you’re going to break something down into its parts, you have to realize that each pencil is going to be made up of wood, lead, paint, and whatever the hell eraser is made out of. The ball will have air, plastic, and other… ball parts, I guess. I don’t know what’s in a ball; cut me some slack. And so on with the book.

Of course, you’ll have to go further and further until you reach the atomic scale, because stopping at the materials level would simply be arbitrary. Now you’re counting neutrons, electrons, and protons, and you might as well just say fuck it and announce that there are an infinite number of things, because nobody is counting that bullshit.

Now perhaps there was a keener among you that said there are only three things. There are pencils, a book, and a ball. That makes three. Aren’t you sharp. These would be the Platonic Forms. Plato suggested that behind our perceived reality is an actual reality, and this actual reality has Forms that our perceived reality would just be variations of. So if you want to know about “pencils”, for instance, you have to study the Form of pencils, and then you can deduce on our perceptions of them. We all have an Idea as to what a pencil is, and then our perception of pencils would just be variations on that.

Unfortunately for Plato, I disagree with his theory. There are infinite variations on things, to the point where trying to define something’s “Form” becomes impossible. We project the idea of “pencil” out into the universe; there is no objective universe projecting the Form of a pencil into us.

So it’s not three. Sorry, keeners.

Maybe there were a few of you who took pity on my Clipart concoction and said, you know what? That thing is humanoid enough, I’ll say that it’s one thing. Bless you, kind sir or madam. Of course, if you claim my clearly multi-object’ed object is one, then you’ll have to say that its surroundings are one as well because we’ve already established that the Platonic Forms are nonsense. The table it would be sitting on in a non-digital example of this experiment would be part of it, as well as the floor. If this abomination of a humanoid shape is one, then the whole universe is one. Congratulations, you’re a Buddhist.

Lastly, there could be two things. The object, and the subject. Whatever is out there that I’m looking at, and the I that is doing the looking. There is something that is me that is separate from whatever is outside of me. That would be two.

So when asked, “How many things are there?” You can answer one, two, or infinite. What do each of these answers mean? Maybe you should read a philosophy book and find out, you scrub.