The Woodchuck Conundrum

woodchuckI usually write articles about topics of little importance relating to Libertarian ideals but I thought I’d get serious for a moment and consider the age-old Woodchuck Conundrum. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

The problems largely lie within the question itself and make it all but impossible to answer. Not that some more intelligent minds than my own haven’t made the attempt. The first problem lies in the nature of the marmot in general. What exactly is a woodchuck? The generally accepted culprit is the groundhog. We might accept this as our answer but there is a thin layer of mistrust already hovering over our final answer. Might it actually be a beaver or even a termite?

Now, the groundhog is a fine fellow to be sure but according to Wikipedia its diet consists of grasses and berries. This becomes an issue when we examine the nature of chucking. What is it to chuck? Eat? Vomit? Excavate? Hurl over a fence? There seems to be no consensus on the issue and groundhogs in general don’t seem to have a particularly compelling correlation to trees or even lumber. Clearly chucking involves wood in some form. However, the riddle itself seems to indicate the groundhog might not able to perform the activity. That is to say, “if” a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Were we to ask, if Tom Liberman could date Jennifer Aniston, how long would they kiss? You might say, well, Mr. Liberman, handsome and witty as he might be, is not capable of dating Ms. Aniston. I beg to differ. While the odds are somewhat in the same realm as randomly guessing a 128-bit encryption key, they are not, to say, impossible. It could happen. So, perhaps, in the same way, the groundhog can chuck wood. This throws yet another difficulty at the feet of our query.

What if the woodchuck was actually a termite which does interact with wood? This leads us to our final problem. There is no timeframe in evidence. Even if we assume the nature of the beast and its relationship with wood and ability to chuck therein, we still can’t properly answer. Are we chucking for an hour? A day? A month? A year? Without this vital information we cannot with good conscience assay an answer to the conundrum.

This brings a light upon many such questions. If you ask a question in a certain way that makes it impossible to answer, and yet you demand an answer anyway, is not the problem your own? Should the burden be upon the questioner to ask a good and fair question? I think so.

The next time someone asks you a question that cannot be properly answered, insist they reword their query. Refuse to play their game!

Now, having arrived at this revelation, I think there is but a single conclusion to the Woodchuck Conundrum. For us to answer properly and fairly; Ms. Aniston must give me a call. I’ll be waiting.

Tom Liberman

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