A superposition of philosophical crises involving Gene Loves Jezebel

My friend Pete Olen is both an accomplished philosopher and a 24-7-hustle concert booker for a number of venues in southern Florida. Via a post about a show he recently booked and is currently promoting, I was reminded of 80s Welsh goth rockers Gene Loves Jezebel.  To my surprise they still exist.  And I do mean “they.”

The post led me to read a little on the history of GLJ, whom I vaguely remembered from high school. The band was started by two identical twins who came to despise each other by the late 90s and refused to ever work together again.  But both wanted to keep playing, and each thought he was the rightful inheritor of the “Gene Loves Jezebel” name. 

And then there were lawyers…

Presently, there’s a version featuring one brother based in the US and another based in the UK. Each gets to call themselves “Gene Loves Jezebel” in their respective country, and has to use their own name as part of the billed name in the other country.

Consider the causal-historical-ontological-semantic madness in play here.  Some time in late 1960s, inside a Welsh woman’s uterus, an embryo spontaneously divides. Two genetically – sorry, Genelovesjezebeletically – identical embryos result, eventually leading to two genetically identical teenagers who form a band and wear a lot of eye makeup. Band started by two identical twins splits, two versions continue with a variety of continuing and distinct members, each band using the same name except when lawyers make them use another in different regions.  It’s a fission case[1], which then develops into a further Ship of Theseus case[2], and a rigid designation thought experiment[3] all at the same time. Checking my philosophical punch card, I think we all now get a free sandwich.

“Are you gonna write a paper about this?” my wife asked.

No, no. This seems more like blog post material.

[1] – In fission cases, we have conditions in which was is apparently a single entity splits into two or more, and we struggle to say whether the original entity continues to exist or not. Embryos splitting in the womb are a real-life example.  When an embryos splits, there come to be two embryos with the same genome.  Is one of the embryos the “original” one and the other the “new” one?  Which is which, if they both descend form the original and have the same intrinsic properties?  Did the original embryo cease to exist?  When?  When some cells split? But what if the cells that split off didn’t form a new embryo – does the original reappear somehow? (Whether you believe life begins at conception or not doesn’t really affect this problem. It works the same whether we call them “people” or “embryos.”)  Welcome to intro metaphysics.

[2] – In the Ship of Theseus case, we imagine a kind of fission case with an added twist.  Suppose a ship comes into port occasionally for repairs.  This happens often enough that every piece of the original ship has eventually been replaced. But the old parts aren’t thrown away.  They’re stored, rehabbed, and used to build a second ship from the material parts of the other ship that has the same design, dimensions, etc.  Call the first ship Repaired and the second ship Reassembled.  Is Repaired or Reassembled the “original” ship?  Welcome to week five of introduction to metaphysics.

[3] – Rigid designation is a purported feature of the meanings of certain words.  A phrase like “President of the USA” might designate different people at different times, and might have designated different people if circumstances had been different (“in another possible world” as philosophers say, or “another timeline” as teh kidz say).  But a name like “Michael Padraic Wolf” designates just one person, and does so consistently.  Other people may have a similar name (believe me, I know), but the name itself is not meant to shift its designation at all, unlike “President of the USA.” In a famous thought experiment, Hilary Putnam asks us to imagine visiting another where there is a substance that superficially resembles what we call “water” here on Earth, which the natives call by a word that sounds just like ours, but turns out to be microstructurally different.  Is that stuff “water”?  Putnam would say no; what that word designates was fixed here, on Earth, by its essential properties.  Confusion might arise in similar ways for music fans in the US and UK.  A US fan might see a band called “Gene Loves Jezebel” in Los Angeles, featuring one of the brothers, and come to associate that name with that band.  They might then travel to the UK, see a flyer for a band called “Gene Loves Jezebel” and go to the show, only to find a structurally different bunch of musicians.  Welcome to intro philosophy of language.


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