(Philosophy in a Vacuum is an ongoing nonfiction book project that appears on this blog in bite-size segments. These are organized for you here, an easy-to-navigate outline also found by clicking the “BOOK” link up top.)
3.3 Examine Your Options
While you can sidestep the obstacles your circumstances put in your path, you are likely to run into certain non-negotiable limitations out there. You might not be comfortable dredging the virtual sewer that is the internet (“virtual sewer” replacing “information superhighway” sometime in 1998). You might not have renewed your library card since the Carter administration. You might not have an open-minded set of peers. You might not have access to a mentor (parole denied again!). You might not have the attention span of a… huh?
But if you’ve thought about thinking, you have options. As I’m sure I’ve proven already, one does not need an advanced intellect, an office full of degrees or a white toga to approach philosophy. The search for meaning begins with simple wondering. In this way, every sentient being to traipse this planet has been in your Chuck Taylors. Who hasn’t wondered something?
It’s weird, but that sentence itself is a wondering. Which means unless you are speed-reading thought this as part of one of the many fine college courses for which this book will no doubt serve as text, that you perhaps gave the idea a quick moment of real consideration.
We all want to know something. Which implies we all have a way to go about the joy of seeking. Each of us has multiple ways to proceed with our questions, declaring it “philosophy” is itself another option.
A lot of pomp and circumstance surrounds the idea of higher education. But if an aptly-titled “B.S.” degree has taught me anything, it’s that the cracks in the system are wide enough to comfortable pass a Macy’s parade… lengthwise. I’ve known enough exceptions to make that clear. I’ve met dropouts with enough wisdom to write their own Bible: self-taught professors with enough insight to interpret, contemplate and actually inspire. And I’ve come across more top-of-the-class, bottom-of-the-barrels than you can shake an alumni donation at. Or is that “in whose direction an alumni donation may be shaken”?
I’m using education as an example of how unlimited our options can be. You could replace education with other big “defining” terms (wealth, age, religion, Zodiac sign, planet of origin, cable provider) and still get the same results. As discussed in the “circumstances” section, the limits to your own discovery are those you Ikea around yourself.
Now for some specific options.
As you’ve already read in the introduction, this project was begun as my own “introduction” to philosophy. Of course I have outside influences, as well as access to tools while I write. I’ve encountered many of the big questions in as part of my own random thinking, and figured that documenting my theories could be interesting. And before you laugh, I did use “could”, thank you very much.
What options were open to me? Readings from a few sources were probably one of the first stones I dared place a step. My interests in mythology and world culture led me first to the bookstore, and then (like the ruined brats we all are) to the endless depths of online research. The internet is among other things, a fascinating labyrinth of information, with inescapable stream of loads-before-actual-content ads standing in for the deadly Minotaur.
But books and online research are often second-hand accounts. You’ve come with your “whys” and you don’t want to commit to such a search without getting some answers beyond what the fool-proof Wikipedia has promised. I completely understand. Anyone who has ever attempted some form of reporting knows that the real scoop comes from the eyewitness.
In our expedition, the first-hand accounts come from those who have already passed our current checkpoint. Yes, this does imply that you seek out the wisdom of your elders. But “elder” doesn’t necessarily require you find someone “older” (thought that may often be the case). What is important is that you approach this person as a student, as a seeker. You are looking for someone who began a search similar to yours. One who has blazed the trail beneath you feet. A mentor.
An important fact to keep in mind as you chase down your Yoda, be prepared to be unprepared. We’ve talked about the limits that expectations set for us. If your options are unlimited, so are the forms your answers might take. Your guide might be a flesh-and-blood person. It might be a story, a film or a song.
Your truth is potentially anywhere and anything. Keep your options (and your eyes) open.
Song: “Being Here”
Artist: The Stills