I've been meaning to post this for a while, several months in fact, but I haven't. However, just this morning I discovered Scalzi's Law, and it seemed like a sign.
This is a reconstruction of a conversation I had at Google. It was had in 5-minute chunks over breakfast, over the course of several weeks, and has mostly died down now. I'll try to reconstruct it, but may miss some important bits since I wasn't writing it down at the time. In particular, I may well attribute important bits of the conversation to the wrong person. As background, Google provides us with breakfast if we're there early enough, but only two of us in my group ever are:
me: (looking at D's plate) You're going to regret that.
D: What? ... Oh (unpleasant face)
me: Yeah. The turkey bacon just isn't bacon.
D: The turkey sausage is fine, though.
me: Oh yeah, that's fine. Turkey's a fine meat, and they do make great sausage out of it; it just doesn't make good bacon.
D: (holding up the plate) It's not turkey bacon today.
me: Yeah, this is good.
D: Another day of the adjective-free bacon.
me: yeah, but I can't believe you tried that vegan sausage.
D: Oh, it looked so incredibly wrong I just couldn't pass it up. (tries) Oh bleah! The turkey bacon is disappointing, but that's just wrong. I guess I deserved that.
D: You know, calling it "adjective-free" bacon means that it isn't adjective-free anymore.
me: Hrm. Well, today it wasn't adjective-free bacon. Right there on the sign they had "Applewood-Smoked Bacon". So adjectived, but with good adjectives.
D: True, but I'm still bothered by this; we have a property that stops being true once it's applied. Kind of a "p implies not p" situation.
me: So we should feed it to a 60's Star Trek computer and have the computer blow up.
D: They did something like that, didn't they? Was it really that lame?
me: They asked it for the last digit of Pi.
D: That's even lamer. ... So... this "adjective-free"ness. It's a little like those bugs that disappear when you look at them in a debugger.
me: You mean Heisenbugs? Not really, because what invalidates it here is the act of naming the property, not attempting to observe it.
D: Well, it still strikes me as something quantum-mechanical and makes me think of Schroedinger's cat.
me: Again, though, that's all about observation. What we have here is about naming. I'm pretty sure this is the kind of thing that Lit. majors must have a term for. Maybe if we could find other examples?
D: "The horse with no name"?
D: Once again, we have the bacon formerly known as "adjective-free".
D: So I asked my wife, who was an English major in college, about it. She said that she didn't know what it was called, and that we clearly had way too much time on our hands.
me: Did you explain that this was over breakfast? I mean, we aren't exactly going to be coding here.
D: Our laptops would get messy.
me: Right. Besides, the wireless isn't too great in here. (indicating the cafeteria)
me: Well, I haven't tried it in a few months. Maybe it's better now.
D: "Pepper-crusted" today.
me: Yeah. That always makes it a bit spicy.
D: I was thinking that "adjective-free" is a bit like the set that contains all sets...
me: ... that don't contain themselves? Yeah, a bit. And I suppose that we can get around it in somewhat the way Mathematicians avoid those kinds of things that plagued naive set theory and led to Goedel's incompleteness theorem.
D: What, we'll just shut our eyes really tight and pretend it isn't there?
me: No; basically, we separate the language and say that every property which can apply to something has a "level", which is an integer. "Turkey", "applewood smoked", and "pepper-crusted" are all level 1 properties. "adjective-free" really means "level1-adjective-free" and "level1-adjective-free" is a "level 2" property. Basically, we're separating the language from the meta-language used to talk about the language. "Adjective-free" is as much a property of the language as it is of the bacon.
D: Oh. I still like "the bacon formerly known as adjective-free".
(G, visiting from Mountain View, joins us for breakfast)
me: You're going to regret that.
G: This? Yeah, it's not the same as real bacon. My relatives have it all the time because they think it's healthier.
me: Of course it's healthier - it tastes like that, so you don't eat as much of it.
D: Adjective-free bacon, though, causes paradoxes.
D: Well, once you call it "adjective-free bacon", it isn't anymore, is it?
me: The resolution involves similar techniques to how modern set theory avoids the whole "sets that don't contain themselves" question.
G: Clearly I don't remember enough math to eat breakfast here.
me: It's not anywhere near as bad as the vegan bacon, though.
G: That sounds very disturbing.
me: It was.
D: Wait, vegan bacon? The sausage was bad enough.
me: Yeah, you weren't here that day. I didn't have the guts to try it. It looked as dry as the vegan sausage.
I'm now posting this via the wireless in the cafeteria, which is in fact much better than I remember; D is in Mountain View this week. Today's a turkey bacon day, and in honor of this post I tried some. It really isn't awful if what you expect it to taste like is thinly sliced salty turkey; it's just not bacon. I should also note that since the initial vegan sausage incident, there have occasionally been other styles of vegan sausage at breakfast that were much more palatable.