What Is Geek Philosophy? Part 4: Recovery

Our series of posts on the principles of Geek Philosophy continues with a concept taken from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories.”


If you have been following this series, you know that Geek Philosophy discussions begin with stories. They don’t begin with just any stories, however, but with the imaginative tales of fantasy and science fiction. Grey Havens Group’s core values are literacy, imagination, community, and inclusion. Imagination is in there for a reason.

Memory sees, or purports to see, what we have already seen. Imagination sees things differently. The practice of philosophy demands that we cultivate different perspectives, that we look beyond our day-to-day concerns. Through philosophy and imagination,  we are able to extend our minds to conceive of reality as it might appear through the eyes of another or even across time and space. The problem is that we tend to get stuck in our own experiences, expectations, and desires, instead.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that human beings usually experience the world through “appropriation.” We approach the world with our minds already made up about it because we see the world as existing for us, rather than for itself. He believed that we free ourselves from the habit of appropriation through the practice of Recovery.

Recovery, or the ability to perceive without prejudice, can begin when we see ordinary things in an extraordinary setting. Tolkien wrote that we should not weary of painting because we see only the colors we know. Instead, we should make paintings that help us see those colors anew. This kind of thing happens when we see a strange wizard smoking an ordinary pipe or when we see an ordinary blue box surviving the vibrant tumult of the time vortex. What Tolkien called the “arresting strangeness” of the fantastic story wakes us up so that we pay renewed attention even to the story’s familiar elements, like pipes and blue boxes. Fiction that engages the imagination wakes us from the slumber of appropriation.

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A 2009 study by Proulx and Heine suggests that encountering what first seems to be a nonsense scenario, a blue box in the time vortex or a lamppost in a snowy wood, causes us to try to make a deeper sense by looking harder for meaning and coherence. If we are so entrenched in our appropriated world that we cannot imagine anything but only recall what we are used to seeing, we will not get very far in this process. Fantasy primes us perfectly for philosophy because, once our imagination is engaged, we can use it to conjure up all kinds of new possibilities. Geeks are great at this because we are drawn to otherness and entranced by the unknown. We are not afraid of the strange, so it doesn’t frighten us to see the strangeness in the everyday.

Have you ever wondered if there is a place where breathing oxygen and walking about on two legs would seem preposterous? If you haven’t, it is because you have gotten used to these things. Probably, it has never occurred to you to do anything but take them for granted. Being used to something or taking it for granted is not the same as understanding it. Until we look at our own two legs with as much amazement as we would look at the wings of dragons, our ability to understand will be circumscribed. Geek philosophy begins with the alien out there and ends with the alien in our own hearts. That is not as frightening as it might sound, not to us, because, in our story, an alien is the one who shows us how amazing the universe really is.

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We hope you join us in this process of recovery. Leave us a comment about a fantastical story that made you see your own world in a new way. Visit our Community menu and follow us on Facebook to find the Geek Philosophy discussions that are right for you.

Still want to learn more about Geek Philosophy? We hope so! There are more principles to share with you. Next time, we will discuss the principle of Geekiness – something that is, of course, near and dear to our hearts. You can’t have “Geek Philosophy” without the Geek! We also call this the “How you love it” principle, so stay tuned for more. We hope your days are enriched by philosophy, and we leave you with this final quote about recovery: Far from being disappointed in the ordinary world around you, you will see that both the ordinary world and the fantastical one are “born of the same magic.”

Let us set you up on a Blind Date – With a Book!

Grey Havens YA

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It’s back! Time for Grey Havens Group Inc’s signature fundraiser – Blind Date with a Book. Last November, you gobbled up lots of good books for Grey Havens, but we’ve still got plenty more, and we love to share the joys of reading. Won’t you join us?

On Saturday, February 11th from 11 am – 4pm, come to Lucky’s Market in Longmont and choose a book (or two or three) to take home with you. Books are sorted by genre then wrapped in a Lucky’s bag to disguise their titles. In exchange for a donation in any amount, you can take home a reading surprise, just in time for Valentines Day!

All donations will be used to promote literacy, imagination, community and inclusion by supporting The Grey Havens Group, Inc. We hope you know by now that our nonprofit values creative and critical thinking and teaches philosophical inquiry

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Why We Re-read

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote that anyone who loves to read must also love to re-read. He also gave a definition of myth that included the fact that the outcome of a myth feels inevitable. Pleasure in reading it does not depend on suspense. It carries the weight of the self-evident. It breathes extra life into truths that would not feel as vital if expressed as axioms.

In “Story of Your Life,” the story on which the film Arrival was based, Ted Chiang depicts a mother who is also a linguist reading “The Three Bears” to her young daughter. The mother asks why her daughter wants her to read the story exactly as written if the daughter already knows the ending. “Because I want to hear it” is the answer.

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Later this same mother and linguist explains that some statements, such as “You’re under arrest,””I christen this vessel,” or “I promise” are performative, “a speaker could perform the action only by saying the words. For such acts, knowing what would be said didn’t change anything.” Myth, stories, and rituals like collective re-reading and discussion can be performative in the sense that the truth embedded in the stories does not change but we do. What changes is how deeply the truth penetrates our awareness and how we understand it, especially when we read and discuss stories in community. How we are able to live the truth might also change. Sometimes, an idea just pierces your personal fog like a beam of bright light. Other times, it doesn’t.

Our philosophy discussions, whether they take place as part of our Philosophy in Public Spaces Initiative or our teen group Grey Havens YA, always begin with a story. In some cases, most or all of us are discussing a story that is new to us but often, as in our Harry Potter and Middle-earth discussions, most of us know the story very well. Does that mean that we should stop reading them and talking about them?

We don’t stop telling family stories or the origin stories of traditions because we know how those stories end. We don’t stop because they never really end. When we read and discuss familiar stories together we can have our breath taken away by a line we never really noticed before, we can have the truth of the story reawakened in us, and we can dive deeper into that truth by discovering what rings true to others and how what we rings true to us holds up under the light of collective experience and reason.

We hope you will join us to explore philosophical ideas through the celebration of all kinds of stories. Keep an eye on our Philosophy in Public Spaces and Community pages or just like us on Facebook.

Because I Want to Hear It