Examining the principles of Geek Philosophy. This time, Slow Reading-Close Reading.
As part of our ongoing series on the practice of Geek Philosophy, we are taking a look at our principle of Slow Reading-Close Reading.
Geek Philosophy is inspired in part by the thinking of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He believed that it is possible to get to know the world like you know a friend, through the development of intimacy over time. Let’s say that I have a friend named Luna. When Luna does something particularly characteristic of her unique self, I might say, “That’s SO Luna.” This suggests that, because I know Luna well, I can communicate a lot about who she is by pointing to one particularly telling moment in her life. Goethe called this the pregnant or poignant instance.
Goethe believed that we could find poignant instances in the lives of plants, animals, rivers, and rocks in the same way we can find them in the lives of people. Geek Philosophy strives to find these instances in stories. We then take time and care in looking at them so that they reveal their wisdom to us. A poignant instance in the life of a flower reveals something profound about the nature of flowers. A poignant instance in the life of a friend or a story reveals something profound about what it means to be human.
This is why we discuss stories slowly over time–one or two chapters, scenes, or episodes per discussion–and read them closely–looking carefully at words, lines, and passages without divorcing them from their context. We believe that every part of a story has its own poignancy but here is a tip for Geek Philosophy facilitators and participants who are trying to decide which parts of a story they feel the most moved to discuss: Imagine that you are an illustrator and you must choose only one moment in the chapter, episode, or film to illustrate. Which would you choose? How would you frame it? Why? Would you choose another moment for the book cover or movie poster? What and why? Does the moment delight you, unsettle you, or produce an even more complicated effect?
We encourage everyone to try this exercise on their own but it is even more rewarding when it takes place in community. Visit our Community menu to find the Geek Philosophy discussions that are right for you.
The principles of Geek Philosophy do not operate in isolation from each other. Next time, we will discuss the principle of Wholeness, something that is intimately connected to Slow Reading-Close Reading. We hope that your life is filled with deep thoughts and geeky joys. See you soon!
If you follow this blog, you know that Grey Havens Group is a non-profit committed to the values of literacy, imagination, community and inclusion. We host thoughtful book discussions, both online and in person, for children, young adults, and adults. We work to maintain civil discourse in every forum in which we speak as a group. Each of our values plays a role in that.
Literacy is more than the ability to read; it is about our relationship to information. One can be considered literate in a number of areas. People commonly speak about cultural literacy, political literacy, even computer literacy. To be literate is to value curiosity enough to want to look thoroughly at a topic and to be willing to allow yourself to grow based on what you learn. It is both the starting point and the goal of civil discourse. We believe that there is always more to learn!
Imagination is also vital to civil discourse. Imagination is what makes it possible for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It is where empathy comes from and, without empathy, we would not get very far in our attempts to understand each other.
Community and inclusion are complementary values. We strive to create communities around books and the imagination where everyone is able to feel safe and heard. A commitment to civil discourse is the first step in making this possible. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. It means that we have high expectations for our members but the rewards are tremendous. Here is a basic guide to keeping conversation thoughtful and respectful.
Hate Speech: Let’s start by looking at something that we wish we did not have to examine–hate speech. Hate speech is defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Just don’t do it, ever. Do not make generalized statements about any group of people. To do so denies the richness of the human experience and seriously undermines our group’s commitment to inclusion.
We do not want to remove anyone from a group but we believe that a reasonable person should be able to recognize hate speech. Using it is always grounds for removal from both online and live discussions.
Logical Fallacies: One way to keep a conversation from becoming heated and possibly hurtful is to be conscious of the ways we structure our arguments. Looking out for logical fallacies is a way to keep ourselves honest in discussion and to look more deeply at the source of our opinions. Logical fallacies include ad hominem attacks in which one attacks the person making the argument rather than the argument, itself. Other examples are stereotyping or making an argument that relies on a false generalization, and a straw man attack in which one sets up a simplified version of an argument only to knock it down. Straw man attacks typically involve characterizing a point of view in a way that robs the point of view of its complexity.
This is a good resource for learning about logical fallacies. When our young adult group, Grey Havens YA, read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, we put together this short, fun guide to clear thinking that we call “Think Like Sherlock.” We hope it will also be of use.
Statistics: Statistics are a powerful way to communicate information. They can be very persuasive because numbers do not lie. Numbers do not necessarily tell the whole truth, however, and, precisely because they can be persuasive, we should be careful about how we use them. Fact checking and citing sources (to the extent that this is possible in a spontaneous conversation) is a basic responsibility when it comes to using statistics but it is also important to recognize the limitations of numbers. The statement that 3 out of 4 dentists recommend Trident for their patients who chew gum tells us nothing about why those dentists recommend Trident or even how that statistic was calculated. Try not to reduce a complex argument to simple math.
Identifying Perspectives: People draw different conclusions based on the same information. This is because we each have different perspectives on that information. When speaking, try to identify your perspective as one of many possible perspectives. Speak only from your perspective but welcome the perspectives of others.
When we are interpreting information, we use our perspectives, including our experience and empathy, to determine a philosophical stance. This process takes place whether or not we are consciously aware of it. Try to be aware of your own philosophical stance and to state it clearly along with the information offered in support of that stance. Do you have a strong belief about what prompts dentists to recommend Trident? Express it as a proposition rather than as a fact and invite others to do the same.
Sometimes, we surprise even ourselves when we attempt to articulate a philosophy. It can be enlightening to examine what you really believe and why. This website offers tools, such as the political bias test that compares political knowledge with political bias, to help you examine your beliefs. Our willingness to examine our own beliefs encourages others to examine theirs.
Every week in live discussions and every day in our online communities, Grey Havens Group members demonstrate their ability to think critically and conduct civil discussions. The process is never perfect but, because we are committed to creating an inclusive community, it is vital that we never stop trying. Thank you for sticking with us on this adventure.
For the last two months, I have been facilitating a weekly discussion in pop culture and philosophy at the Longmont Senior Center. For the first half of the two-hour session, we watch clips from movies and TV shows, taking in poignant examples of the day’s topic. We might be talking about the nature of love or beauty, about epistemology or ethics. In two months, we have watched well over 100 clips, everything from Casablanca to Doctor Who.
Star Trek‘s Commander Data has been particularly helpful in prompting discussion of the human condition. Luke Skywalker and Yoda helped us to talk about free will and determinism. Scenes like this one from Witness, directed by Peter Weir, helped us to examine the good and bad in community. We have created our own community, a community of inquiry. At the Grey Havens Group, we do the same thing at our discussion group meetings.
We call these sessions Geek Philosophy. We held our first discussion at one of our monthly Inklingsiana meetings. Last spring, we hosted a multi-generational Geek Philosophy session at our Real Myth Symposium. We watched clips from science fiction-fantasy movies and TV shows then had what turned out to be an extremely heartening discussion about personal mortality and the mortality of our species. This month, we discussed the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Masks.” Next month, on November 12, we will be hosting a Star Wars and philosophy discussion so that we are prepared to fully appreciate The Force Awakens in December.
Tolkien believed that experiencing the ordinary in the extraordinary context of what he called a Fairy-story can cause us to shake free from the grip of “appropriation,” the tendency to see things as trite or insignificant just because we have gotten used to them. This is what Geek Philosophy is all about so, in the spirit of our community of inquiry, here is a list of my Top Five Philosophical Movies. These are the films that, at least for a while, helped me to see that there is no such thing as the ordinary.
Badgaladriel’s Top Five Philosophical Movies
(Beware of spoilers when clicking on links.)
Groundhog Day, written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, directed by Harold Ramis (1993), “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol, directed by Peter Weir (1998), “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”
Blade Runner, written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peeples, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, directed by Ridley Scott (1982), “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”
Never Let Me Go, written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by Mark Romanek (2010), “You have to know who you are, and what you are. It’s the only way to lead decent lives.”
Pleasantville, written and directed by Gary Ross (1998), “No, David. Nobody’s happy in a poodle skirt and a sweater set.”
What movies would make your list? What TV episodes have gotten you thinking over the years?
We hope you will join us for our next discussion. What might be the most exciting Geek Philosophy session is coming to you this winter! “Mythos and Logos: A Multi-Generational Philosophy Panel” will feature members of our young adult group, Grey Havens YA, in profound conversation with the senior adults of the Longmont Senior Center, January 20 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.. The topic will be “personal identity.” How do we see ourselves at seventeen or at seventy? What can we learn from each other and from the stories we love? For more information or to register, call 303-651-8411.