The Turing Toaster Test

Father of a Gender Non-Conforming Kid Lovingly Responds to Hate Mail

*The following is part of what may or may not become a quasi-regular series of posts. They are my (mostly light-hearted) replies to actual things people have said/written to me. I have modified their comments just enough to fit the format of this “Dear Abbey” style question-and-answer, but the gist of their remarks is unchanged.


Installment #1

Dear Deranged Douche,

You are obviously a joke. I can’t believe you are a professor. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas. That’s called science – look it up. You can’t just choose one or the other. So, if your students asked you if they can be a toaster what would you say?!


Self-righteous Blowhard


Dear Blowhard,

Great question. And, I might add, one of the perennial quandaries that ranks up there with “do we have free will?” and “how many degrees of separation are there between Francis Bacon and Kevin Bacon?”

There is much debate about the Great Toaster Conundrum (as it is known among analytic philosophers). Some follow this chain of thinking, which is generally attributed to Gettier:

(proposition alpha) Humans and toasters both have a material existence,

(proposition beta) humans and toasters both know (in the main) what to do with bread,

(conclusion) therefore, yes, humans can be toasters.

However, at the 1932 conference of the Vienna Oval (a breakaway group of philosophers who had interminable quibbles with Popper re: Abduction, etc.) Herr Wundtz surmised:

(proposition theta) Humans have veins whereas toasters have heating elements,

(proposition chai) humans are (generally) mobile whereas toaster are (generally) not,

(conclusion) therefore, no, humans cannot be toasters.

Obviously, I am glossing over all the crucial details, which continue to play out in the pages of the periodical Of Bread and Men (H factor: 32).

My own take is slightly more pragmatic. While walking out and about, I have found people say things to my son like (upon holding the door) “What a gentleman!” or “How old is your son?” or “What sports does he like to play?”

So, I tell my students to run an experiment along the lines of the Turing test: head out for a walk down campus just being simply who you are. If people spontaneously and sincerely say things like, “My, this toaster really does bagels perfectly!” or “What setting should I use for rye?” or “Whose toaster is this and can you get it the f**k out of chair?” well, then I think the answer to your question is “yes.” But for now, I am going with a provisional “no.”


Loving Dad


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