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.

space time vortex.gif

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.

come with me

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.”

Deep Thoughts on the Big Screen: 5 Philosophical Movies

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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.)

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

A Discussion About World-Building with Authors Stant Litore and T L Morganfield

From Grey Havens Group’s Real Myth and Mithril, Delving into Fantasy Literature, April 25, 2015:

Stant Litore and TL Morganfield are authors of the Zombie Bible Series and the Bone Flower Series. One set of stories is set in various parts of the world, re-telling biblical stories from a spiritual zombie apocalyptic point of view, the other set of stories is Aztec Fantasy, re-telling Mesoamerican myth from a feminist perspective. Both authors showcase tremendous knowledge and richness of detail in their respective work. The Grey Havens Group was curious to know how they worked on their world building and wanted an in depth discussion and dialogue with these two author friends of the group about their writing. Enjoy!