The Cups Question
A normal day in class is given a slight twist when the professor makes use of the projector. In the dimly lit room a painting appears and you take note of its simple design: three cups upon a round table. The professor’s voice shatters the momentary silence. “This is a [something] painting that is really meant to bring out the apparent realism in the mundane. This painting was meant for one to be able to ‘see’ by offering a shift of perspective from the viewer allowing them… It drones on as you, perhaps less guarded than you should have been, begin to drift to your own thoughts.
With a start you hear “….as with the painting of the two cups…” But, no, there are three cups. Squinting at the painting you again count: One, Two, Three. Yes, three cups. There are indeed three cups. “The painting of the two cups represents a dualism…” You look around the class, are there not three cups? There are three cups. You counted remember? One cup, two cup, three cups. Are you the only one who sees this?
You raise your hand, the professor tired from their lecture is eager to oblige. “Uhm, aren’t there three cups…?” The professor stares at you blankly. Surely they realized? Was this some kind of gag? “Could you explain?” You certainly point out them out, yes three cups. “There are three cups. See?” You point with your finger and again count the cups. Three. That is, one more cup than two.
The professor nods intrigued but otherwise not comprehending. The most painful of silences falls upon the class. To your great relief another hand fires up. “Professor, I think what they meant is that in the shadows of the cups you might see more cups, that’s how there’s three cups.” Brilliant! The professor nods amazed. “That’s very interesting you two, lets count again.” “Why yes, if we look at it this way there could actually be SIX cups.” You balk at the discovery. One under, now twice over, there are now six cups instead of three.
The one sided lecture of the class now explodes into animated discussion. Six cups? Who would’ve known? You again count the cups, three, just to be sure. Doubt reigns. You are the sole witness to three cups, sitting upon three saucers upon an empty table in space. The cups are white with small blue flowers, the table a humble wooden brown. Three cups; but class has ended. Your time has passed.
In the coming weeks the exam arrives, the first question, a ‘gimmie’; more a reward for good attendance than anything else. “How many cups were there upon the table?” You already know the answer. Too easy, with a sigh of relief you know that you are off to a good start. The answer, of course, must have been two.