What Is Geek Philosophy? Part 1: The First Rule

Learn more about our unique Geek Philosophy method!

Geek Philosophy is our name for the holistic, Socratic method that our trained facilitators use to guide all of our book discussions. This series of short posts will present the ideas and techniques of Geek Philosophy, including how our discussions can help us to live thoughtful, examined lives. For an overview of the technique, take a look at this post on the blog for our young adult chapter, Grey Havens YA.

The first rule of Geek Philosophy is this:

Statements are propositions. Propositions are questions. Questions are more important to us than answers.

All of the discussions hosted by Grey Havens Group take the form of dialogues. “Dialogue” literally means through (dia) talking (logue). Our goal is for each participant to arrive at something new–an understanding or perspective–through talking but we have no wish to dictate the form that something will take. Through talking and listening in community, everyone gets something out of our discussions that is for them alone. 

Geek Philosophy is not didactic. The role of the facilitator is to suspend personal judgement in order to make room for questions. Facilitators participate in the discussion along with everyone else but do their best to identify when they are stating an opinion and give everyone equal authority to do the same. We believe that it is not possible to instruct people in creative and critical thinking but we can model and encourage these kinds of thinking. 

We believe that everyone has a philosophy of life, even if they are not always able to articulate it. This philosophy can shine through the statements we make in response to literature and popular culture. By reading these statements as propositions then helping each other to turn those propositions into questions, we reveal how much richness there is to explore in our own minds and hearts. It also encourages flexibility, rather than rigidity, in thinking. A willingness to question our assumptions and beliefs and even change them allows us to spend our lives creating a bigger, more nuanced picture of the universe.

Here is a broad example of teasing the inherent questions out of a statement. This one will be particularly familiar to Star Trek fans.

Statement/Proposition: Vulcans are logical.

Questions: Are Vulcans logical? Are all Vulcans logical all the time?  How do they achieve logic? Why do they value it? What is the evidence from the text? 

What does it mean to be logical? What is logic? How does logic work? How does it compare to/work with emotions, aesthetic sense, intuition, etc? What does it mean to be reasonable/ rational? What would the world be like if we were all always logical? Is it possible to be completely logical all the time?

You can see that just one aspect of a story can generate many questions and hours of discussion. It is okay and even desirable if some of these questions seem unanswerable. It is not the job of the Geek Philosophy facilitator to teach participants what to think, but to join with them in the process of thinking. That process is never-ending and full of endless rewards!

spock-thinking

In our next post, we will examine why we take our time with the texts we discuss. Live long and prosper. #BoldlyThink. 

 

 

Deep Thoughts on the Big Screen: 5 Philosophical Movies

truman show gif

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.

Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of conversation of earliest days are revealed in the barest shreds…

The quality of Tolkien’s prose does not get anywhere near the attention it deserves. As with each of the three Tom Bombadil chapters, the last, “Fog on the Barrow Downs” demonstrates clear lyricism, artistry and rhythmic quality. However, Tolkien’s prose is such that its beauty often remains hidden or obscured until it is read aloud, wherein its full glory is revealed.   Like elvish song, the aural quality of the writing is superb and will speak to the listener regardless of its meaning. ‘Cellar door’ anyone?

Tolkien states in Letters that if The Lord of the Rings has a central theme it would be Life, Death, and Immortality. These themes play into the dream sequence which begins the chapter.

Tom’s relationship with Goldberry continues to be an intriguing area of study. The parallels with pagan and ancient mythology abound; in particular the parallel with the story of Persephone and Hades. However, the links to English folklore and mythology, namely in the figure of The Green Man and the daughter of Gaia are particularly suited. Many of the events, “props,” and descriptions of these chapters also bear great resemblance to and may reflect pagan ritual and tradition centered on the autumnal equinox.

Tom and Goldberry have an equal, yet opposite nature: the silliness of Tom on a foundation of wisdom, and the graceful wisdom of Goldberry with an underlay of whimsy. They are two sides to the same coin, a sort of yin and yang. They depend upon and support and complete each other.

Ever notice that from the introduction of Tom in the Old Forest through to his departure at the road, Sam never speaks? And is barely mentioned? Tom’s home acts as a place of rest and recuperation, as well as fantasy and whimsy. Perhaps Sam, who is not affected by the song of Old Man Willow, does not require the care the others need at this moment. This omission also plays into the developing nature of the story, wherein Tolkien essentially discovered the narrative as he went. Sam grows into his central role slowly. These vignettes are only the opening scenes which set the foundation.

… until the hour of our next meeting.