Content with Nothing
Posted by Neal on April 4, 2015
Today’s newspaper had a story from AP about one Dylan Miller, a college student in Pennsylvania who has been living, Thoreau-like, in a hut in the woods since last summer, as part of a research project. As I read in the article:
The title of his project–Content with Nothing–carries a double meaning.
Of course it does. It’s the old ambiguity between the quantificational meaning and the state-of-affairs meaning. Why don’t we let Miller explain it for us? He starts with the quantificational meaning (emphasis mine):
“We can’t be content with anything, really. Nothing can make us content; we’re always looking for something else,” Miller said.
In other words, there exists no x such that we are content with x. Now how about the state-of-affiars meaning? Miller explains this one, too:
“And then the solution, content with nothing, means we are content with having nothing. We don’t look externally for satisfaction or desire luxury. So the whole project is how to get to that final state of contentment.”
I call this the state-of-affairs meaning because in it, nothing means the state in which we have nothing, or nothing exists. Miller expressed it more concisely by using a gerund phrase: having nothing.
Miller seems pretty taken with the double meaning in his project title. Maybe he hasn’t been sensitized to quantifier/SOA ambiguities; he’d’ve only been five or six years old when the “show about nothing” aired its last episode. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop by my 2011 LSA poster presentation on the subject, either.