THE APHORISMS OF YOGI BERRA

AN INQUIRY INTO A SAMPLE OF VERNACULAR PHILOSOPHY:

THE APHORISMS OF YOGI BERRA

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Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler…

(attributed to) Albert EINSTEIN

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NOTE: the following piece IS NOT ABOUT BASEBALL. However, it benefited from the baseball expertise, as well as from the documentation wizardness, intellectual uplift, debating sagacity, friendship, and love of so many friends. As almost always in matters directly or indirectly related to the noble sport played on the diamanté diamond, I benefited from thorough speculative and elevated discussions with my own old man, Réal LAURENDEAU (an all times fan of the Montréal EXPOS and direct witness of a fair amount of Yogi BERRA’s verbal and non verbal achievements). The responsibility of the positions formulated here is, of course, exclusively and integrally mine.

In the wake of  our investigation of every aspects of  spicy and odoriferous facets  of philosophy creeping around contemporary culture at the turn of the millennium, I want to offer the present intervention to every intellectual dandy who makes fun of Yogi BERRA’s thought, and sees in it the vague and unarticulated eructations of some tobacco chewing infantile moron in an old fashioned baseball pyjama. I wish also to flamboyantly commemorate my access to the English logia of the Berraian aphorisms that I had initially sampled in vernacular French, during my bumpy childhood in Montréal, and that I constantly  tended to retranslate toward English, in a manner that Yogi would certainly have somewhat understood if not approved. The present observations are grounded in a series of postulates that hysterical intellectualists, elitist scholastic pen pushers,  and other academic megateriums of that type may not approve but that you, Nihilo-Nihilers, may at least relate to if not integrally already be aware of:

1- Philosophy is not a strictly scholarly intellectual activity. It manifests itself in the totality of the population under several forms. GRAMSCI wrote to that effect that folklore and language themselves were very rich sources revealing the philosophical representations of popular wisdom. I will designate here by the name of BERRAISMS (others speak of Yogiisms) these short statements, called in the philosophical jargon aphorisms, pronounced, or believed to have been pronounced, by the renowned former catcher of the New-York Yankees in his career as player,  or manager, or sport analyst. A good amount of these BERRAISMS  have reached in North America the level of collective proverbs or mottoes, and if the man is a mere idiot, I, for one, would love to be such a wikiquoted “idiot”.

2- Philosophical statements, i.e. statements reaching the fundamentals of existence, can manifest themselves DESPITE the conscious will of their subjective authors. One could quote several examples of that phenomenon. Let just mention one among millions. The movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is certainly the last cultural product where one would expect the manifestation of any philosophical debate whatsoever. Nevertheless, by the end of that contemporary “masterpiece”, the turtle Michelangelo, who is in love with the woman who leads a peasant revolt in 17th century Japan, has to leave her for ever, for reasons that he does not clearly understand. At the last possible moment, he gives her his numchucks as a souvenir, and just before joining the other turtles and April O’Neil to time-travel back to 20th century New-York, he screams in the thunder: “Destiny, what a trash! [sic]”  Question: is this statement denying the existence of destiny by “trashing” it or, by going back to his own time and assuming what he has to be, does Michelangelo not accept his “destiny” despite the fact that he judges it as being pure ethical garbage. Is the notion of “destiny” denied or confirmed here?  Complex issue grounded in a highly complex philosophical debate, integrally shifted here by an ambivalent Yogi BERRA-like formulation. More complex: do you think an intellectual pigmy as Michelangelo or/and his close relative, the author of the movie’s script, were directly aware of the complex philosophical ramifications of such a statement?  No. And no. The claim here is that Yogi BERRA, the baseball catcher, produced very solid philosophical aphorisms just the way Michelangelo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, did, i.e. the same way Yogi BERRA, the sport analyst, provided fine pieces of humor, and possibly the same way Yogi BERRA ,the batter, even provided homeruns: without really knowing it at a fully conscious level.

3- We will assume that we are dealing here with a thinker who has no scholarly instruction of any sort. We all know the story: BERRA did not go to school, he was of modest origin, did not speak English at home in his childhood, etc… So did Céline DION, by the way, and the philosophical heritage she will let us is probably doomed to be far more tiny than the one we owe to Yogi, but that is another gig. ALTHUSSER introduced in other circumstances the notion of Spontaneous Philosophy to describes sets of philosophical representations learned at school, forgotten, and then popping back in the mind of a public personality (for example renowned scientists such as Jean ROSTAND or Desmond MORRIS), writing a philosophy book or his or her autobiography with the candid belief of producing an original system of thoughts. Such is not the case here. Yogi BERRA can in no way be suspected to regurgitate remnants of ideas or philosophical representations read in the books of some mysterious scholarly grand-uncle or teacher. The integrality of his philosophical thought is the direct product of his personal activity of speculation on his own practical life. In his case, the notion of Vernacular philosophy, is far more accurate than the Althusserian idea of a “spontaneous philosophy”. What is vernacular is what is “from around”, from our ordinary environment, from the natural and social surrounding, from the chitchat with the bozo next door, from that part of the universe so deeply immersed in banality that we eventually even forget to notice it. The claim here is that there is nothing “spontaneous” (in the Althusserian and ordinary sense) in BERRA’s aphorisms, that they are the sophisticated produce of a mere and thorough reflection on the social and natural world, but a casual, colloquial, ordinary, unnoticed one.

4- We will assume that BERRA’s thought is not exclusively speculative but solidly grounded and generated in Praxis, i.e. practical action as a mode of existence. Yogi’s thought emerges out of the praxis of a highly dialectical sport, or game: baseball, that he understood thoroughly in all its logical and strategic ramifications. Things are like that in our class societies. Nobody would hesitate to recognize that a noble game such as chess involves a thorough amount of logical aptitudes. But to see Yogi BERRA as the KASPAROV of the green diamond appears quite more difficult to conceptualize for certain narrow elitist minds. The claim here is that the geometrically inductive, probabilistic hypothetico-deductive, and algorithmic implicative elements involved in the mental activity related to the practice of baseball contributed to bring BERRA to a level of dialectical consciousness definitely unequaled in popular culture. But also, in the case of BERRAISMS, the dialectics coming from social existence itself will have a significative role to play in his set of philosophical representations. I repeat, his thought is fundamentally non-speculative: he does not ask questions (only one of the BERRAISMS studied here is interrogative) or explore hypothesis. He rather makes generic descriptive assertions and prospective axiological recommendations.

5- We will mean by dialectics here, to the exclusion of any other definition (specially the shitty definition given by straight tacky dusty philosophy: “argumentation” or “argumentative development”) the notion of THE REALITY OF CONTRADICTION AS THE INNER FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF EXISTENCE. For example everybody will accept that there is no death without life, that a non living being like a pebble or my watch can in no way die. The dialectics here is in the IDENTITY of these two opposed poles: the fact that we are living IS the fact that we are dying. To live is to die. It is a contradiction and a fact at the same time. The contradictory formulation of BERRAISMS is one of the main source of their oddness, including their apparently ridiculous aspect. But it is a widely acknowledged fact in the modern philosophical tradition that dialectics is ridiculous to the eyes of gross common sense. It is the twisted and bizarre consciousness of the apparently naive clown.

6- The language issue has to be also dealt with as a preliminary. From several comments heard here and there, I am forced to notice that BERRAISMS are spontaneously explained by the “language abilities” of the thinker. His problem with English, due to the fact that he spoke only Italian in his childhood, would be supposedly at the origin of the peculiar formulation of the aphorisms. That type of belief is fucking ethnocentrist garbage and could already be trashed as such. But, furthermore, I want to firmly insist on the fact that the majority of BERRAISMS are translated very easily into another language (French is my example) with absolutely no loss of their content and their strange flavor. It is not the case for the totality of them. Here is an example of an obviously linguistic case:

Interviewer: Why, you’re a fatalist?

Yogi BERRA: You mean I save postage stamps? No. Not me!“.

The paronymic parallel fatalist/philatelist is obvious here and the humorous effect is coming from that strict play on the words. These cases must be considered marginal in the totality of the corpus of aphorisms available. Because of their minimal philosophical dimension, we will not address them here.

7- The issue here is about THOUGHT, not language. Let observe first that the majority of BERRA’s aphorisms involves the manifestation of either an oxymoron or a tautology.  An oxymoron is a virulent contradiction in terms, for example when he says: A nickel isn’t worth a dime today. A tautology is a virulent redundancy in terms, for example when he says: I take a two hours nap between 1 PM and 3 PM. Looked at superficially, oxymorons and tautologies seem absurd simply because of the blatant aggression they represent to our sacrosanct common sense. We will try to demonstrate here that Yogi BERRA’s philosophical intervention is actually to be seen as a deep and constant subversion of the simplistic idea of what EVIDENCE (verbally formulated in the tautology) or CONTRADICTION (verbally formulated in the oxymoron) are.

8- The English corpus analyzed here is, as the immense majority of BERRAISMS, completely apocryphal. I simply mean by that that usually when an aphorism of Yogi BERRA is quoted, no specific sources are ever provided, and that often the same aphorism is quoted slightly differently. Furthermore, the border is often tiny between aphorisms of Yogi BERRA, and aphorisms à la Yogi BERRA, which are actually coming either from another baseball player, or from the bozo next door… We are dealing here less with Mister Citizen BERRA’s effective recorded statements than with their reflection (and distortions) in popular culture. We are working on a logia, in the standard hermeneutic sense, namely a fluctuating and diverse set of oral and written variations coming from several sources with no specific authorship firmly defined, but joined together by a coherence and a consistency that the contemporary tradition associated to the name of Yogi BERRA. The GodAssLickers and MotherMaryFuckers who are still reading me have certainly enough composure to stand a comparison with the gospel according to, say, Saint LUKE. The saint in that case did not sit on his butt and write the story of his souvenirs!. It is rather a stream of anonymous sources that have been gathered by the exegetic tradition under the name of that historical or mythical figure. The name Saint LUKE itself  rather operates as a sort of label, than as the signature of some author. A logia then is mainly depending upon the good (and  bad) faith of  a buzzing crowd of diversely reliable “witnesses”, compilators, doxographers, chroniclers and other reporters of multiple complexions and with disparate objectives and priorities. Variations are then unavoidable. In the specific case of Yogi BERRA’s statements, we frequently observe the existence of two versions of the same aphorism, existing in formulations that are different enough to force critical hermeneutic choices. The issue of the critical intervention here is NOT TO TRY TO CLARIFY WHAT YOGI REALLY SAID (HE IS THE MAN WHO DID NOT REALLY SAY EVERYTHING HE SAID). That would be historiographic rather than hermeneutic. Yogi’s effective biography is less at stake here than the collective philosophical heritage associated to his name, so let’s just forget about what he really said or even meant: we simply dont give a shit about it here. The issue at stake is rather to compare the two versions of the logia available and observe the logical (rather then chronological) link that connects them. Doing this with the BERRAISMS that are presented to our collective memory in two versions, we are struck to notice that one version is always more clownish, silly, absurd or ridiculous than another. We will develop that observation on one example: the renowned anecdote of the pizza cut in pieces. There are (at least!) two versions of the logia:

Yogi ordered a pizza. The waitress asked: “How many pieces do you want your pie cut?” Yogi responded: “4, I dont think I could eat 8.”

You better cut the pizza in four pieces, because I am not hungry enough to eat six.

Of these two versions we have in hand, the clownishized version is obviously the second one. In that second version the ridiculous culminates, since I am not hungry enough blatantly eliminates all possibilities of dialectical complexity in the interpretation of the statement. Furthermore the relation between the number 6 and the number 4, formulated in that version, is far more silly and awkward than the straightforward divisive relation between 4 and 8, appearing in the non clownishized version. In that clownishized case, one have the impression that the author of that statement was reacting like these young children who believe that a glass with a smaller volume capacity but which is higher actually contains more liquid than a glass less high but with a bigger volume capacity. The baseball champion ends up looking as if he had the empirical grasp of surface qualitative geometry of a pre-school tot! Ha, ha, ha very funny… Now, if we inquiry into the non clownishized version of the logia, one observe that the obvious and the ridiculous is  suddenly not so blatant: I dont think I could eat 8 is far more complex to interpret in that context. Everything goes here as if after a while, some elements of the subtle thought of Yogi BERRA get eventually degenerated into gross jokes by their putting in circulation in popular culture. Yogi is somewhat treated as the dunce of the class who says silly things we are making fun of, and when these silly things are not funny enough when we repeat them to each others, we embellish them! That postulates of course that the clownishized version comes AFTER the non clownishized one.  As mentioned already, there is no tangible proof supporting that. Another hypothesis, then, would be that, oppositively, the gross elements of his initial childish thought would become complexified by the filter of the collective intervention of inspired and modest anonymous doxographers. I have my strong doubts about that second possibility: Yogi BERRA is not mythified in our culture as a philosopher but rather as a verbal clown. A clown is what our collective consciousness tends to make him become. Whichever arrived the first of the clownishized or non clownishized version, we have to assume that both of them are there, floating around. In the present argumentation, the non clownishized version (owed to either Yogi or to some witty anonymous compilator) will generally be the one considered for its philosophical content. In the case of the pizza aphorism we have at a certain moment to stop to laugh an to begin to meditate a bit on the multiple significative facets of a statement such as I dont think I could eat 8…

9- Finally, despite these delicate problems of interpretation, associated among other things to the long lasting absence of the valid definitive “official” source for that type of philosophical phenomenon, it is possible to say that there is something a huge amount of North-American ordinary vernacular thinkers as you and me will unmistakably recognize as the BERRA touch. It is that je ne sais quoi which brings us to eventually stop to say AS YOGI BERRA SAID, quoting a limited corpus of statements, and begin to say AS YOGI BERRA WOULD HAVE SAID, relying on our own original and autonomous “generative grammar” of BERRAISMS. This very original flavor of BERRAISMS, their specific articulation equal to none, that doomed several aphorisms that where not even of BERRA himself to irresistibly become satellites of this thinker’s very peculiar intellectual intervention, should reach your nostril the minute I will summarize the philosophical ramifications of the immensely intriguing aphorisms “of” BERRA.

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DOCTRINE OF KNOWLEDGE (GNOSEOLOGY)

An important amount of the reflection contained in BERRAISMS is about the inner contradictions of knowledge, more precisely, of understanding in the sense of classical rationalist philosophy:

YOU CAN OBSERVE A LOT JUST BY WATCHING

YOU CAN SEE A LOT BY OBSERVING

The logia fluctuates here, but in that case, both versions provide the same level of philosophical dept. Strongly influenced by scholarly thought, the doctrine of knowledge of modern culture tends to value the virtues of practical experimentation over simple contemplative observation. That orientation in the tradition is rooted in DESCARTES and the Cartesian continuation. But in 18th century, DIDEROT and a series of materialist philosophers called the naturalist materialists tried to demonstrate that strict observation, if performed with no prejudice. could supersede experimentation, specially if that one is biased by a priori conceptualizations and prejudices, of the type of the one DESCARTES and his disciples had a tendency to entertain. Furthermore, in certain sciences, for example astronomy, observation was the only procedure of apprehension available. Here, fundamentally in the debate between DESCARTES and DIDEROT on the activity of knowledge, Yogi opts for the ideas put forward by DIDEROT, the naturalist materialist, who analyzed in detail the virtues of simple observation with the senses. This is solidly in objection with the Cartesianist position that lionizes the virtues of experimentation over straightforward observation. The conscience of objecting to a dominant idea is present in the tone of the aphorism. Yogi speaks here, knowing that he is not saying something everybody will spontaneously agree with. But as a good catcher always knows, the virtues of simple observation of every corners of the field are to be reconsidered in modern culture. The tremendous capacity of millions of fans, gathered since a century in stadiums big as canyons, to focus their attention and cognitive activity on the arabesques of a flying object of the size of a fist tends to support such an opinion!

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HOW CAN YOU THINK AN HIT AT THE SAME TIME?

Notice the (rare) interrogative formulation of that one. The incapacity, for the performer, to produce his acting out was formulated in its radicality by the behaviorist psychologists but is already well in place in the empiricist and rationalist tradition. You cannot act and observe yourself acting at the same time. Try that in ski! Look at yourself skiing while skiing. You will end up with your face printed in the mountain. Now our attention here should also focus on the interrogative formulation of the aphorism. Yogi is not saying that it is merely impossible to think and act at the same time. Such an affirmative formulation would tend to reduce us to either mechanical automates, or speculative fly-floating minds, two options that are not the ones we read here. Yogi does not split the mind and the body, on the contrary. What we read here is that the simultaneity of thinking and acting, or more precisely of speculating a forecast and successfully acting (one can assume that hit here excludes the strikes!), is a problem, a difficult issue on which a constant interrogation is to be entertained.

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ITS PRETTY FAR, BUT IT DOESN’T SEEM LIKE IT

One of the prominent British materialist philosopher, BACON, compared the sensitive perception to an uneven mirror . A mirror, since sensible perception provides a somewhat accurate image of reality. Uneven, since that image is not integrally accurate: there are distortions, alterations, deformations of the perception. The empiricist BERKELEY developed that dialectics with his meditation on the color of the clouds. At the end of the day, the clouds are pink, but what is actually pink? The sun, the sky, the clouds themselves? Change your position, or let the sun slowly go down and the color seems to vanish. Where was it exactly? Hard to say. The perception is distorted. This aphorism of Yogi is nothing other than reality seen through BACON’s uneven mirror. It is BERKELEY’s color of the clouds, interpreted in a materialist orientation. The distinction to establish, between what the understanding grasps and what the objective reality is effectively, forces us to oppose what it is to what it seems to be. Rather a materialist à la BACON than an agnosticist à la BERKELEY or KANT however, Yogi has a claim on what the reality is behind its appearances. He claims that despite what it seems, we have a possibility to know that it is at a distance different from what our perception provides. A solid non-empiricist stand: the mirror of our perception is uneven but it is still a mirror.

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YOU GET TO BE CAREFUL IF YOU DONT KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING, BECAUSE YOU MIGHT NOT GET THERE

Yogi acknowledges the possibility to know reality despite the distortions of the appearances. But he does not fall in objectivist phenomenism either. You cannot just let yourself be carried on the river of existence without monitoring the situation, as objectivist phenomenism would suggest… Knowledge is a factor and can be the crucial one. The link between knowledge and action is solid in every gnoseological aphorisms we owe to Yogi, but specially in this one: you can not rely only on the inner movement of the world. Lose consciousness of what is going on, and your objective action can be jeopardized. It is not enough to take the train, you have to know where the train goes. This aphorism shows the huge importance Yogi gives to the THOUGHT OF THE ACTIVE SUBJECT in the global process of our knowledge of the objective movement of the world.

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THIS IS LIKE DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN

And here is PLATO, less stinky than usually. The Platonicist gnoseology claims that everything we know is actually something we remember, that every single action brings back all the configuration of our spiritual halo. Taste the Freudian flavor too of that aphorism: a fugitive memory is there somewhere in my subconscious self, again!. Yogi could not avoid to have a doctrine of such fugitive subconscious knowledge (and subconscious philosophy!), since he was involved in the praxis of a game existing as a permanent reiterated contradictory connection between the reality of innovative actions and sets of preconfigurated patterns and rules. After the virtues of observations, it is the virtues of integral memory (all over) and the integration of pre-established sub-conscious patterns that are lionized here. Yogi operates with a quite elaborated cognitive theory…

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ITS TOUGH TO MAKE PREDICTIONS, SPECIALLY ABOUT THE FUTURE

Here comes dialectics. Stop to laugh and face the flat logical consequences of that aphorism: predictions can be done about something other than the future. Let’s try to understand that contradiction. First, prediction can be done about the past quite simply, as in Here he comes! I predict you that he will have forgotten to phone Mary. One may not think about it immediately, busy as one are laughing, but it is quite straightforward… and the easiest to do, according to Yogi. Now what about predictions about the present? So contradictory! Well, let us try to understand the fact (painful for our common sense, but scientifically demonstrated by Einstein) that time varies when speed varies. The subjectivity of Yogi BERRA, as the one of any baseball player, lives the most intense peeks of its mental activity in an endless reiteration of brief instants. Between the moment the pitcher pitches and the moment you strike or catch, there is a short, so short distance that no, you cannot call that the future. And it is on that infinitesimal hiatus between two moments that the most intensive activity of prediction of a baseball batter or catcher is doomed to flourish. You eventually end up knowing for a flat objective fact, when your praxis develops itself in such a universe, that the present has absolutely no stability whatsoever, and that, contrarily to what common sense believes, prediction applies to it as well, because speed alterates time. Other than Einstein, only the antique Greek dialectician HERACLITUS expressed such a sharp consciousness of the fluency of the time process. Then, since that fundamentally fugitive present moment is already difficult to predict about, just imagine what the future, distant, tangled and complex as it appears from the home base, can be…

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IN BASEBALL, YOU DONT KNOW NOTHING

In that highly dialectical formulation, there are two opposite interpretations possible: IT IS NOT TRUE THAT IN BASEBALL YOU KNOW NOTHING i.e. THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING YOU KNOW ABOUT IT. And IT IS NOT TRUE THAT IN BASEBALL YOU KNOW SOMETHING i.e. IN BASEBALL YOU DONT KNOW ANYTHING, in that second case with a use by Yogi of what grammarians stigmatize under the  name “double negation”. Ha, Ha, Ha, Poor Yogi! Well,  there is no fooling around to be done here. We have to choke our laugh again, and peacefully accept the simultaneous co-existence of both significations. Doing so, we are in front of a brilliant double entendre providing a highly original solution to nothing other than the sharpest gnoseological debate between the two strongest philosophers of modern times: KANT and HEGEL. The agnosticist doctrine of knowledge of KANT could be summarized as follows: IN EXISTENCE, YOU KNOW NOTHING, it is simply not possible to have an exact knowledge of the fundamental of things, any belief in actual knowledge is a mere illusion. “How do you know that?” answers HEGEL, If you are wrong, your collapse is obvious, and if you are right the statement YOU KNOW NOTHING is something true you know about knowledge and yourself!!! Arrange it the way you want, you are forced to admit that IN EXISTENCE, YOU DONT KNOW NOTHING! You are aware of something, even if it is only of the effective existence of your flat ignorance of anything else. And the minute you know a bit, that knowledge can decrease, or increase! These two positions of KANT and HEGEL, the result of the most fundamental and crucial debate of modern philosophy on knowledge, are both partially true… and are both amalgamated, and consequently given dialectical (co-)existence, in an aphorism of Yogi BERRA! Furthermore, the speculative dimension of the KANT/HEGEL debate is replaced here by the thinking concrete, since the claim is not made about EXISTENCE but about a fragment of it: BASEBALL.

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DOCTRINE OF ACTION (PRAXIS)

Here we will have to face a problem of semantics that concerns the illusion of tautology. Like some of the previous ones, every aphorisms concerning praxis postulate a crucial concrete distinction between two notions that our lazy common sense and unilateral sense of humor strongly tend to consider identical. Yogi, when he is formulating his doctrine of action and activities, sees things that we miss, grasps notional distinctions that escape us. And our missing of it takes the form of the tautological impression we experiment when we look superficially at the aphorisms of his doctrine of action. Let’s enter the core of the logico-semantic subtleties of BERRAISMS.

IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO GET A CONVERSATION GOING, EVERYBODY WAS TALKING TOO MUCH

To talk and to have a conversation is not the same thing. It is again a matter of instant versus length. Contemporary pragmaticians and specialists of communication are still working on the development of that one. Dialectics is still present: it is the accumulations of conversation attempts that make them all fail. Nobody who went once to a crowded bar can deny the empirical accuracy of the statement. Furthermore, a complete hypothesis on the qualitative status to be given to a quantitative multiplicity of unfocused diverse actions is provided here.

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NOBODY GETS THERE ANYMORE, ITS TOO CROWDED

This one is for business people. It is Yogi’s understanding of the law of qualitative shifting in market tendencies. There is an infinitesimal moment where that aphorism applies and the restaurant is in bankruptcy quickly after. Fast shift between the couple knowledge/action and facts. Again (on time) very Einsteinian and Heraclitean.

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IF YOU CAN’T IMITATE HIM. DONT COPY HIM

To imitate and to copy is not the same thing. You can copy a Scottish whisky or a French paté without managing to actually imitate it. How can any serious thinker in an industrial society, where MILTON becomes paperback, where PICASSO becomes posters, and where JETHRO TULL becomes muzak, possibly dare to make fun of such a subtle and true statement. The first one presented here to be prescriptive rather than descriptive, by the way. Almost all the others are simply descriptive, since, in conformity with his gnoseology, Yogi observe the world. But here he does more, he has a say on what one should avoid to do: craft an incomplete identification, provide a pale carbon copy. Yogi considers that inefficient praxis…

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I MADE A WRONG MISTAKES

There are right mistakes and wrong mistakes. This is very baseball, very deep, and very Brechtian: Hey, Mister K, what are you doing. Nothing special. simply preparing my next mistake. Some mistakes reconfigure a complete situation an turn out finally as being “good” ones. Somebody who never said; “Lucky I missed that train: that is the way we met” do not really know the crucial distinction between right and wrong mistakes. May I add as a corollary that we meet here for the first time the negation of negation as a crucial qualitative distinction. So very Hegelian and Marxian of you, Yogi.

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DOCTRINE OF OBJECTIVE EXISTENCE (ONTOLOGY)

Often related to the doctrine of knowledge (which constitute the core of the system, no surprise in vernacular philosophy, the intellectual environment of the self-educated!), and to the doctrine of action, Yogi BERRA’s ontology is once again eminently dialectical.

90% OF THE PUTTS THAT ARE SHORT DONT GO IN

The problem raised here is the one of the non-empirical dimension of correlations. I will assume a unique field of application to that aphorism: golf. If we follow the logic suggested here, the complement of that one is that 10% of the putts that are short actually go in. For Yogi then, the fact of being short or long for a putt is not directly correlated to the entrance or the non entrance of the ball in the hole. It can be defined on other criterias: size of the links, force of the player, average measurements, whatever else that he thinks about in his analysis. For our common sense here, short is unavoidably an empirically correlated concept. It ends up meaning shorter than needed (to enter a specific hole). We are trapped in the pragmaticist conception of the TV watcher, who wants the ball in the hole period, with no further cognitive consequence than to see it fall at its place. After all, we are not slumped in front of our TV to think, let keep that idea in mind, even if it lays there alone. Yogi has another perspective. For him short is defined with non-empirical preconfigurated criterias that are correlated to each others but independent from the local movement of the ball on the green. His approach is the one of an axiomatized rationality. He is not the type to improvise ad hoc definitions in matters as crucial as qualitative surface geometry. His set of definitions preexists with a systemic stability to his specific comment on existence, just like the axioms in the Ethics of SPINOZA.

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I WANT TO THANK ALL THOSE WHO MADE THAT NIGHT NECESSARY

It would have been so simpler to remain unnoticed, stick to the standard cliché formulation and  say …POSSIBLE. But how come Yogi replaced here that prominent category of modal logic by its direct opposite. Formal logic puts classically the couple POSSIBLE/NECESSARY as antinomic. In the present aphorism by replacing one by the other, Yogi puts them as parasynonymic. Arrange it the way you want, the NECESSARY appears here as an intensive of the POSSIBLE. Literally the stronger possible possible. HEGEL used to say that the necessity was the result of the unfolding of possibles. Yogi obviously echoes that dialectics with the highly dialectical notion of something made necessary… But there is even more. A complete critic of the social order is trapped in the nutshell of that aphorism. Some power made that night a necessity in the logico-modal sense, i.e. something unavoidable, imposed on us with the weight of some transcendent duty. We politely thank them, but we also show the flag and tell them explicitly that we are not here by choice, that the category of possibility is excluded from the present dynamics. Yogi, just like the wisest of the Greek fatalists, sees with lucidity, and a solid critical sense, the weight of NECESSITY in social gatherings, i.e. in a crucial sample of human interaction.

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IF YOU COME TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT

That other prescriptive one is literally Promethean. The Greek half-god Prometheus challenged the laws of the Olympus to give fire to men against the will and the world order established by the Gods. He is the hero who does not escape the hard task that the fatality placed in front of him. That aphorism is a pure masterpiece of dialectics. We can only chuckle because our dualist common sense is myopic in its unilaterality to the multiplicity of facets it develops. If we laugh at that aphorism, it is strictly because we see only the two branches of the fork as two exclusive dichotomic oppositive possibilities. We are prisoners of ARISTOTLE’s logic of the exclusion of the third… Yogi breaks these Aristotelian chains for us and brings to our limited understanding the critical sense of totality. He faces in a flash all the ramifications of a situation of alternative: the possibility to take one branch, the other, to stop, to go back, to step aside, to face the fork as a whole, etc. And furthermore he makes his claim. A firm Promethean claim. Between the simple and the complex, the known and the unknown, the safe and the risky. Go for the complex, the unknown, the risky: take the fork and turn your back on the straight road. Take the only part of the alternative that will force you to intensify and deepen your analysis of the object faced. But also, always remember that a two options fork has always a multitude of branches.

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NINETY PERCENT OF THIS GAME IS  HALF MENTAL

NINETY PER CENT OF THAT GAME IS MENTAL, THE OTHER HALF IS PHYSICAL.

This is another very interesting fluctuation in the Berraian logia, and probably the most famous involving that constant propensity to speak in approximated percentages! I see the second formulation presented here as a clownishized version of the first formulation. First of all, organize it the way you want, what you have here is no praxis without theory (LENIN!), no doing without understanding, no action without cognition. It is very important to note the precedence given to the mental in both versions. The FICHTE of the diamond rides again! Now let us compare these two versions. The clownishized version appears as a strict procedure of rhetoric inflation of quantitative measurements. You split the 100% in parts and exceed it. In our common meditations on that logia, a good friend of mine quoted often to me the following propaganda statement of the Department of Business & Marketing of Gallagher College (Lancaster University): Your task in this university is 40% teaching, 40% research, and 40% service. Let me tell you that there is already nothing so funny about that! But let now inquiry into the non clownishized version of the aphorism. What is said here is that 90% of the actions produced in that game, when taken and evaluated one by one, reveal the involvement of a half and half equilibrium between body and mind. The fact that he is talking about a sport allows to infer that he is compensating here the common sense idea that the game is strictly physical, a bodily activity for big armed morons. Yogi is in no way at fault in his measurements if we stick to the non clownishized version of that logia. Furthermore, his attention given to the mental even permits us to suppose that the last 10% is not necessarily strictly physical!

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THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

The number of aphorisms involving the notion of time is noticeable. But the FUTURE dealt with here is not flatly chronological. It includes to totality of implications merging out of the representation we make ourselves of the existence to come. The future: the opportunities, the possibilities of achievement, the expectable goals, the hopes, the fancies, the lunacies, the promises. The autobiography of the French Actress Simone SIGNORET was titled Nostalgia is not what it used to be and nobody laughed. The clash to our common sense in Yogi’s aphorism here, as opposed to Madame SIGNORET’s title, is that he makes his claim about what the future was. He testifies then that the future was and is always present to us, under the form of our intensive activity of prospecting. And America does not prospect the same way it used to. Why, Yogi, you’re a fatalist?

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PITCHING ALWAYS BEATS BATTING – AND VICE VERSA

This one is a manifestation of the immense problem of the  reversibility or non reversibility of symmetric formulations. The oxymoronic clash is, of course, between always and vice versa. Despite the fact that the current piece is not about baseball we have to mention the fact that this aphorism is addressing the fundamental debate of the dynamics of baseball. Here, Yogi takes his stand on an issue on which every baseball player, every analyst, even every fan has a position taken. To that fundamental question on the dynamics of baseball, Yogi gives a philosophical answer. Two main interpretations can be proposed here. The first one takes the aphorism as a block and suggests that, favoring symmetry and equilibrium, Yogi produced nothing other than the perfect non-committal answer on that sensitive question. Let push the reasoning to its dialectical consequences. PITCHING ALWAYS BEATS BATTING AND BATTING ALWAYS BEATS PITCHING. Then BATTING AND PITCHING ALWAYS BEAT EACH OTHERS. Then THE VICTORY OF PITCHING AND BATTING OVER EACH OTHERS NEVER ENDS. It is like the struggle between life and death. Everybody ends up dying, but there are always more living beings growing and developing themselves. DEATH ALWAYS BEATS LIFE – AND VICE VERSA. There is absolutely nothing laughable about this after all…  Now, the second interpretation could be named the asymmetrical one. It does not take the aphorism as a single block. Yogi, say in an interview, is asked to take his stand on the fundamental debate of the dynamics of baseball. He speaks in two phases. He favors strongly pitching over batting in a first blow, and then counterbalances his initial assertion by an abstract symmetrisation in a second blow. After all, and that counts, he did not say BATTING ALWAYS BEATS PITCHING – AND VICE VERSA (I allow myself to presume that nobody will dare anymore to consider this as a pure and complete synonym of the aphorism initially quoted!). The symmetrical dimension verbally introduced in the formulation just at the end by vice versa is partly artificial and looks like some form of last minute patch aiming at hiding the fact that the precedent predication is possibly the genuine opinion of the thinker. After all, he is a catcher, i.e. the thinking brain of the pitching apparatus… The problem raised by this crucial ontological aphorism is complex: symmetry and asymmetry always beat each others…

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IT AIN’T OVER, TILL ITS OVER

The multitude of applications of that immensely classical one is a non equivocal warrant of its philosophical depth. All the Hegelian doctrine of AUFHEBUNG (qualitative change, transformation by steps, evolution by crisis) is here in a superbly bare and percussive ontological statement. In existence, all can suddenly precipitate or radically alterate itself at the very last minute of a given process.  No prospective extrapolation is to be judged totally reliable. Subjective forecast is always susceptible to be completely taken by surprise by the shifting complexity of the movement of the objective world. Keep alert. Never take your victory or your defeat for granted. This aphorism completes superbly all the gnoseological positions already taken about predictions. It is also to be narrowly associated to the very Hegelian theory of the last straw breaking the back of the camel. It gives all their dialectical and dramatic signification to the famous Murphy’s Laws, as well as to the compulsive fascination and ineradicable hope of American culture for the Happy End. IT AIN’T OVER, TILL ITS OVER is a pure and simple philosophical monument. Synthesizing the Weltanschaaung (vision of the world)  of a complete civilization, it is the COGITO ERGO SUM of America. Baseball was worth existing just to generate such a piece of wisdom.

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ETHICS

Without losing his deep sense of dialectics, Yogi shows us sometimes his highly sophisticated sense of axiological meditation i.e. of moral reflection.

HALF OF THE LIES THEY TELL US AREN’T TRUE

On a pattern with which we begin to get familiar, we are allowed to conclude that it is possible for a lie to be true. Let’s entertain that hypothesis. A lie can end up true if the liar is clumsy enough to lie about something he mistakenly believes false. If I lie to you, telling you Bob did not eat the cake, Scooter did, my lie can end up true (and my belief mistaken) if Bob, that I nevertheless saw rob the cake, was crook enough to sell it to Scooter, and Scooter selfish enough not to share it! The problem here is a problem of ethics. Which crook will screw up the other crook best. Let’s observe the dynamics of the aphorism then. Yogi expresses his disappointment toward the fact that these liars are often cold blooded competent liars. In at least half of the cases, they do not make the child-like error I previously mentioned to mistakenly believe in the falsehood of what they lie about. On the contrary, they sincerely lie. They distort the truth with nothing other than a cruel efficiency and their lies end up quite often being effective lies,  flatly untrue. We have no chance with them. Their competence in knowing what reality is completes itself with the standard lack of ethics of regular liars. Since we cannot rely on their mistakes to allow the truth to settle, we are doomed to live in a universe of constant suspicion. No transcendent moral of any sort can save us: half of the lies are mistaken, the other half is untrue

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ALWAYS GO TO OTHER PEOPLE’S FUNERALS, OTHERWISE THEY WON’T COME TO YOURS

The intelligence of the moral dimension of a social gestus, such as a funeral, is very solidly articulated here. Let start with the defunct himself or herself and let apply to him or her the Klingon motto on death: he or she is an empty shell now. He or she should be treated as such. Materialist to the bones, Yogi understands here that funerals are not funeral for the defunct. The defunct is as stiff as the wood of the coffin. The genuine dimension of any participation to a funeral is the formulation of compassion toward the family of the defunct. In that logic other people’s funeral is to be interpreted as the meeting or wake of the peers of a certain defunct, and yours is to be interpreted as the same ceremony in which you are peer yourself. The focus on the stiffs, that perverted common sense evidence, is totally avoided here. Now the claim is that that type of event is painful enough that, in good moral, we have to make the effort to participate to the one that afflicts the others so that the others will reciprocate and come to the one where our own affliction is expressed. It is only for the one who believes that a funeral does not heal the living but involves the deads, that the present aphorism sounds like an abrupt absurdity.

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AESTHETICS

Marginally, other aspects of thought are also present in Yogi BERRA’s aphorisms. About the opera TOSCA, written in 1900 by PUCCINI, based on a play written in 1887 by SARDOU, Yogi is supposed to have said:

I REALLY LIKED IT. EVEN THE MUSIC WAS NICE.

Well, that is an excellent summary of North-American apprehension of an art like opera. The postulate here is that an opera is unlikely to be interesting or pleasant, period (notice the tone of surprise of the aphorism!). Furthermore, in an opera, the music and the singing are going to be the most distasteful elements, and, if you are lucky enough, the scenario and the dialogues will save the show (Yogi speaks Italian fluently, as we know already. The booklet of TOSCA was written by ILLICA and GIACOSA, and the story is sad but could be considered somewhat thrilling if you understand the language subtleties). Yogi is foreign to an art like opera and does not lie about it. His attitude is sincere, non elitist, and a genuine sample of North American Aesthetic. Furthermore the music of TOSCA has the reputation to be superficial, according to the top shot specialists of that art. That simply means that there are a couple of quite fun tunes in that gig. Yogi obviously noticed them!

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LINGUISTICS

Finally, trust me on that one. the recent trends of descriptive and theoretical linguistics are heading big time toward the discovery of the strange but unavoidable reality of the negation of reference in language:

I DIDN’T SAY THE THINGS I SAID

No he did not. He did more, less, better, and worse. He acted brilliantly, spoke diligently his thought. Cut our breath and made us reach the unexpected intellectual mysteries constantly covered up by gross laugh and arrogant common sense. For that, of course, he paid what the buffoons, the poets and the philosophers had to pay during centuries: banishment from the drab and dusty Hall of Fame of Metaphysics. But the elitist intellectual bean counters and their various flunkies that broom the bookshelves of such an intellectual mausoleum can kiss the ass of the universal order. Yogi BERRA drank his hemlock straight with a couple of hot-dogs in the company of the millions of other vernacular philosophers that he managed to make think geometrically, algorithmically and dialectically in the gigantic stadiums of North American class society. He became the myth he is, and did not even have to melodramatically die à la Socrates for it. Long live within all of us Yogi BERRA and the sharp and vivid unconventional twisted pitch of his philosophical voice.

3 Responses to “THE APHORISMS OF YOGI BERRA”

  1. Frank David Says:

    What a wittgensteinian/personal text, Laurendeau
    This text made me more happy than I am
    ( did I misunderstand your text in the right way )

    Don´t worry Paul – everything will never be allright

  2. Sam Ellis Says:

    Brilliant. You have provided an insightful and highly accurate analysis. As an Australian he is a distant figure, but I always thought the sayings of Berra to be profound.
    I also feel that they can be funny and profound at the same time, like a laughing Buddha. Such as one of my favourites: “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.” That one is a good laugh. Or “Yogi’s teacher: You don’t know anything, do you Berra?
    Yogi: I don’t even suspect anything, sir.”
    In Australia we often hear sportsmen describe our local game, Australian rules football, as ‘a game of four quarters’. I think Yogi would understand.


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