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.
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.
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.”