The Locked Library

Closed! But how can this be? I fall my knees outside the Stalinesque structure that calls itself the Public Library, pounding the callous concrete with my fists. Wherefore, I cry to the unheeding walls, do you deny me the very lifeblood of my intellectual being, the fulfilment of my dreams, the succour of my yearning soul? Is not philosophy for everyone? Why should I, alone, be cast forth from the gates of learning?

I do like to dramatise things, if only in my head.

What really happened? In my new year quest to hunt down the mental stimulation I don’t get at my lovely home among the paddocks, I decided to attend a Philosophy Group meeting in the city, three hours drive away. Only to find that the library in which it was being held was shut. After about twenty minutes they came down and let me in the fire door. But I prefer the fun version. I like to think of the Philosophy Group as January’s jaws of life.

Well, it was interesting (it always is). For a start, nobody argued. I’d visualised a bunch of wild-eyed people flinging Kant and Schopenhauer at one another as they thrashed out the Mind Body Problem…but that’s not how it’s done nowadays. Instead, before anybody ventured a remark, they would say something like ‘I don’t mean to undermine the validity of your perspective,’ or ‘This is not to dispute your point at all, I just wanted to add…’ I thought disputing the point was the point! A bit more table-banging would have been nice, but on the other hand I can see that you have to avoid pompous old guys thumping the heck out of everybody else’s opinions. There always seems to be one in every such gathering. It’s not me, btw – I’m the one saying ‘Well about dualism – I don’t know about Descartes but I was in the garden the other day and…’

And my opinion on the Mind Body Problem? I’m a believer in consciousness as an external force or particle/wave, much like gravity, that infuses everything up to and including rocks. Luckily no one dared to argue with me so I’m still in triumphant possession of this magnificent delusion. I do think philosophy in general suffers from a lack of diversity. I don’t mean brown people (there were two of possibly the most gorgeous Indians I’ve ever seen there) – more importantly, there were no cats, snakes, cows or whales. Which accounts for the distinctly human-centric nature of the conversation, as in ‘only humans can…transcend their instincts/develop a theory of mind/imagine what isn’t there…’ etc. What would a cow contribute if it could?

Speaking of imagining things, I went for a walk with Darcy the Dog today. She got in a panic about a concrete bus shelter that, to her, seemed ominous. She does the same with a mysterious upright metal oblong that sits in the middle of one of my paddocks. Shrinks, barks, won’t go near it. What does she sense? Ghosts? Aliens? Rottweiler pee? Really bad installation art? Does your dog do that?

I got to wondering, can one imagine a thing that has no relation to anything else one knows? For instance, you can imagine an elephant, therefore a polka-dotted elephant, therefore an elephant with wings…but can you imagine a being who lives (but not according to our definition or understanding of life) in an environment that obeys none of the laws of physics, space or time, is composed of a substance unlike any we’ve ever encountered, and whose motivations and imperatives are nothing like those of any entity on earth? It’s pretty much impossible. And yet that’s what we have to imagine when we conceive of what it might be like to be dead… Or God.

It would be a challenge for an SF writer or anyone brave enough to set out to conjure such a being, such a state, such a setting. Maybe poetry could do it. A line or two, anyone?

Evidently this stimulation thing is working. Whether that’s a good thing I leave to my relatives, friends, and of course you, who might have to put up with the (locquacious, meandering) results.

Photo by Fas Khan on Unsplash



  1. I’m in a philosophy group where the leader is challenging a lot of traditional ideas. You’d find it interesting, I bet. Bit longer than a 3 hour drive tho… 😂

      1. I meant for you! It’s right nearby for me. One thing we’re currently exploring/debunking is the idea that ancient people had primitive art, stories, etc., based in crude notions of science and religion. Reexamining some of this supposedly deficient work can yield much more insight than previously credited. We’re particularly looking at philosophy based on intuition and experience rather than sterile logic…

  2. Didn’t HP Lovecraft try writing of the unimaginable? Of course, his brain melted, and he spent his last deranged years in the Arkham Asylum, an object of study for the learned men of Miskatonic University.

  3. I think I might have enjoyed a bit of table-banging… 😊 Human-centric philosophizing is so last year. I would love to know the deeper meaning behind our blue jays various calls. It starts with “Give me a peanut!” but what do the other vocalizations mean?

  4. I used to co-run a philosphy-oriented meetup once. My formula often was: pick two short works, or excerpts, which diametrically oppose each other, assign them as readings, and then sit back and moderate the fun.

  5. I tend toward philosophies that don’t pretend or believe they have a moral basis and are much more toward the utilitarian end of the scale. Stoicism, for example, has much to recommend it and defines my approach as much as any do, although there are variants that are as weird as any “angels on pins” theological counter. Mostly Stoicism centers around the idea that you control literally nothing outside of your reaction to things in the universe (more literally, your mind), and the key to successfully maneuvering this plain fact in a more-or-less happy state is to control what your reactions are.

    The closer the Stoic variant sticks to that basic principle, the more closely I can understand and adhere to it.

    Defining morality/right/wrong as principles with universal applicability has always been a bit problematic for me. The fact that I believe something to be good or not, much less evil or not, strikes me as an internal process, at best poorly generalized to anyone else, much less humanity as a whole. The whole process becomes one of which gets the most “votes” as a common view.

    Pfft. What good is it? Law does that, and has the same failing: Anyone can pick out a half-dozen or more examples in which they disagree with the majority.

    As to the nature of consciousness and sense of self (the Hard Problem) I don’t think it to be a separate thing outside of the natural world (yeah, I’m also a naturalist — don’t judge). I think it’s an emergent property of our construction, in exactly the same manner that a chair is an emergent property of the interaction of fields. It’s a perfectly natural occurrence that could be defined as a bazillion page description of the position and momentum of every particle/field interaction that exists in that slice of spacetime, but is more usefully described as a “chair”. Thus so, consciousness.

    This view is primarily the result of considering the fact that the Standard Model does not leave any room whatsoever for a new force in the range that would be necessary for consciousness to exist outside of what’s already known.

    Maybe that will change. I doubt it to a very high probability. But never say never…

    I’ve really got to stop writing comments on blogs when they interest me. They always blow out from a few lines into ^^^^^^^^^ that sort of thing.


    1. I think there’s a very strong case for your opinion about consciousness. Although precisely how it emerges is a puzzle. Absolute morality… not a huge fan either but I think all mammals who live in groups have evolved some basic principles. Also, I stand by my right to try to persuade anyone I can that they ought to practise according to my ethical principles. Men wearing dresses, fine. Cutting people’s clits off, not so much. However, my influence is unfortunately limited. These things should be hashed out over a beer not a blog, really, but it’s all we have and I always appreciate the input. God knows down here in the outback I can use it😊

      1. …and I absolutely agree. Societies (read “men”) who do things like this to little girls should be publicly slow-roasted alive on a spit and fed to the hogs once they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Then at least they’d be doing something useful.

        Hmm. I get the feeling that this particular moral stance might be on softer ground with some people…

        Blacks and whites can be in short supply in morality decisions… 🙂

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