Ordering Words

When presented with a lot of information, sequentially, often in the form of choices or in a list, it helps to be organized, to be able to order said options in a proper, easy-to-read way; thankfully, in English, we have numerous words to help us do such a thing, thus allowing us to present information in a sequential order. Here are a few words to help you order ideas:

Initial- Occurring at the beginning, e.g., red, yellow, and blue

Medial- Occurring at the middle, e.g., red, yellow, and blue

Final- Occurring at the end, e.g., red, yellow, and blue

Former- The first of two given options, e.g., carrots and apples

Latter- The last of two given options, e.g., carrots and apples

*Ultimate- The last, e.g., pen, marker, crayon, brush, and stylus

Penultimate- Second-to-last, e.g., pen, marker, crayon, brush, and stylus

Antepenultimate- Third-to-last, e.g., pen, marker, crayon, brush, and stylus

Preantepenultimate- Fourth-to-last, e.g., pen, marker, crayon, brush, and stylus

Propreantepenultimate- Fifth-to-last, e.g., pen, marker, crayon, brush, and stylus
(21 letters!)

*Regarding the propreantepenultimate and below terms, they can all be shortened by removing the suffix -imate, i.e., penultimate → penult

Advertisements

La Rochefoucauld on Moderation

Author of Maxims, a collection of short, penetrating aphorisms, François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) served in the military under Louis XIV before publishing his book, which contributed to his meteoric rise in the literary world, placing him amongst some of the greatest philosophers, forever provoking our minds with his incise comments regarding the world.

On moderation he says:

“Men have made a virtue of moderation to limit the ambition of the great, and to console people of mediocrity for their want of fortune and of merit.”

La Rochefoucauld has been feared by some, for his quotes–like that seen above–are revealing in nature, cynical, a critical insight into human nature, eliciting that reflection we seldom engage in; his quotes show us our frailties, foibles we should look after and seek to change–as uncomfortable as they may be, as difficult as they may be. And indeed La Rochefoucauld makes a valid point when speaking of moderation in the case of the former as a restraint, the latter a disincentive, so far as it keeps us from wanting too much and from coveting too much.

 


Source: A New Dictionary of Quotations: On Historical Principles From Ancient and Modern Sources by H.L. Mencken (1942)

On Grief for a Lost Dog

fullsizerenderLess than a year ago we said goodbye bye to Cody, but last night we bade farewell to his companion, Marley (2008-2016), who was more kind, more happy-go-lucky, more resilient than any dog I’ve known. I regret that you didn’t get to say your goodbyes, that you didn’t have more time on this earth, that you didn’t live to see Christmas day; but that you were loved and cherished by all, I do not regret. 

The Stoic philosophers were great when it came to death, always lending a hand to those in mourning, to those grieving. Above all, a certain section from Epictetus’ Enchirdion comes to mind:

“Never say of anything, ‘I lost it,’ but say, ‘I gave it back.’ Has your child died? It was given back. Has your wife died? She was given back. Has your estate been taken from you? Was not this also given back? But say you, ‘He who took it from me is wicked.’ What does it matter to you through whom the Giver asked it back? As long as He gives it you, take care of it, but not as your own; treat it as passersby treat an inn.”¹

I have not lost my dog, no; I have merely given him back whence he came. And so he carries on in the circle of life, returning to and becoming one with Nature. His stay as a passerby has been filled with love, kindness, and joy, and we the innkeepers made his sojourn as comfortable as possible. While he did not end up paying for his room, we still benefitted from his business, his love the gift that keeps on giving.

Another Stoic philosopher, Seneca, on writing to his friend Lucilius, often broached the topic of death, never afraid to approach the topic with courage, often providing consoling advice. From Letter 63, On Grief for Lost Friends:

“Fortune has taken away, but Fortune has given. Let us greedily enjoy our friends [or dogs], because we do not know how long this privilege will be ours. Let us think how often we shall leave them when we go upon distant journeys, and how often we shall leave them when we tarry together in the same place; we shall thus understand that we have lost too much of their time while they were alive.”²

“[L]et us continually think as much about our own mortality as about that of all those we love…. Now is the time for you to reflect, not only that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality is subject to no fixed law. Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.”³

Rest in Peace,
You are forever in our hearts,
Marley.

 

 

 


¹Saunders, Greek and Roman Philosophy After Aristotle, p. 135
²Long, The Stoic Six Pack, p. 326
³Id., p. 327

For further reading: Greek and Roman Philosophy After Aristotle by Jason L. Saunders (1997)
The Stoic Six Pack – Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and More trans. George Long (2014)

The Outermost House

unknown-5Henry Beston (1888-1968) lived on the beach of Cape Cod for a year, documenting his observations, his thoughts, and his personal stories in The Outermost House, following the example of Walden by Thoreau, a fellow nature enthusiast. In the book, Beston writes poetically of the nature around him, nature made enchanting, nature that enamors the reader, instilling feelings of nostalgia and tranquility, a devoted appreciation for the world so often taken for granted. Most of the book comprises greatly detailed vignettes of the beach, the behavior of the birds, the sailing of the ships, and the noting of the flora and fauna, but occasionally one can find great quotes, quotes worthy of serious reflection.

On Studying Animals

“Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ours. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animals shall not be measured by man” (Beston 25).

“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth” (Ibidem).

On Isolation

“Should anyone ask how I endured this isolation in so wild a place and in the depths of winter, I can only answer that I enjoyed every moment to the full. To be able to see and study undisturbed the processes of nature–I like better the old Biblical phrase ‘mighty works’ –is an opportunity for which any man might well feel reverent gratitude, and here at last, in this silence and isolation of winter, a whole region was mine whose innermost natural life might shape itself to its ancient courses without the hindrance and interferences of man” (Beston 91).

“It is not good to be too much alone, even as it is inwise to be always with and in a crowd, but, solitary as I was, I had few opportunities for moods or to ‘lose and neglect the creeping hours of time.’ From the moment that I rose in the morning and threw open my door looking toward the sea to the moment when the spurt of a match sounded in the evening quiet of my solitary house, there was always something to do, something to observe, something to record, something to study, something to put aside in a corner of the mind” (Ibidem).

On Life

“I lived in the midst of an abundance of natural life which manifested itself every hour of the day, and from being thus surrounded, thus enclosed within a great whirl of what one may call the life force, I felt that I drew a secret and sustaining energy … A sceptic may smile and ask me to come to his laboratory and demonstrate …  but I think that those who have lived in nature, and tried to open their doors rather than close them on her energies, will understand what I mean. Life is as much a force in the universe as electricity or gravitational pull, and the presence of life sustains life. Individuals may destroy individuals, but the life force may mingle with the individual life as a billow of fire may mingle for a moment with a candle flame” (Beston 95).

On Night

“Learn to reverence night and put away the vulgar fear of it, for, with the banishment of night from the experience of man, there vanishes as well a religious emotion, a poetic mood, which gives depth to the adventure of humanity … When the great earth, abandoning the day, rolls up the deeps of the heavens and the universe, a new door opens for the human spirit, and there are few so clownish that some of the mystery of being does not touch them as they gaze. For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars–pilgrims of immortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience” (Beston 173).

 


For further reading: The Outermost House by Henry Beston (1988)

Conformity – Part 1

thnkrsThat we are social animals is not up for question. In order to survive, we must stick together, form communities, and work with each other. Without teamwork, without cooperation, without a common goal, and without a mold to which we shape ourselves, civilization would not be possible, seeing as we rely on our peers to overcome obstacles and create laws, which we obey. Put simply, it is within our nature to conform–to shape together. Trends, norms, and values would not be possible were conformity to disappear from our nature. We must, however, begin to ask ourselves: just how much should we conform? How much of our individuality ought we give up to the group? Postbellum research and recent studies are beginning to show exactly how much freedom we are giving up.

In the early 20th century, psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted one of the first experiments in social psychology. In his experiment, Sherif had three individuals in a pitch black room, with only a single light, an optical illusion known as autokinesis, which made the subjects misleadingly believe there was movement, where there was none. Sherif would then ask the subjects to conjecture how far the light moved. One by one the participants gave their own guess, each time adjusting their number according to the previous estimate. As Sherif carried this out several times, he noticed that the guess would change, yet the subjects would nevertheless change their opinion to fit in with the others. Because there was no real answer, and because they were unsure, the participants, Sherif concluded, would always look to their peers for guidance. When he did the same experiment in private, the individuals would still give the collective opinion, the group’s effect still fresh in their minds, making a permanent impression. Whenever we are approached with an abstract problem, we are disposed to conforming with the popular opinion, so as to derive confidence. A score later, Solomon Asch, skeptical of Sherif’s theoretical testing, carried out his famous Paradigm Test. With a sample of 123 participants, Asch took groups of eight, seven of them confederates, peers of Solomon with knowledge of the experiment, and one subject, who had no knowledge of what the experiment entailed. Every experiment comprised 18 tests wherein the subjects were presented with two cards, a single line on one, a set of three of different lengths on the other, but one of three matched the one on the other card. The eight participants were seated at a table, and the subject was always seated either second-to-last or last, so they could hear the confederates first. On six out of the 18 tests, the confederates were instructed to give the correct answer, and the subject did as well; however, on the final 12, the confederates purposely gave incorrect answers. Come the subject’s turn, they would surrender to peer pressure, selecting the wrong line 37% of the time, even when it was obvious. Though two-fifths does not seem substantial, it is a shockingly clear demonstration of how much we conform. Later, Asch did the same test with the same participants, this time in private. Without the confederates, the subjects answered correctly, admitting that they would have felt embarrassed had they not said what the majority had. When asked how they felt, those who answered correctly–even with the confederates–said they felt nervous and not entirely sure. “Living in society requires consensus as an indispensable condition. But consensus, to be productive, requires that each individual contribute independently out of his experience and insight,”¹ wrote Asch after publishing his studies.

Anyone who plays sports knows how it feels to have family and friends cheer them on in the audience. For some, they find it supportive, and it helps them focus; for others, they find it distracting, and it disrupts their performance. Psychologically, it is much more fascinating, much more complex, its effects dependent upon the circumstances. Personally, as a runner, having run in numerous competitions, I have had my fair share of passionate spectators, yelling my name, screaming words of encouragement. In sprinting, however, the moment is gone in seconds, so I never have a chance to register them. When someone’s performance is enhanced due to an audience, the psychological phenomenon is called social facilitation, a finding from experimentation done by Lee E. Travis (1925), which saw 80% of participants improve. J. Pessin, Richard W. Husband, and Robert Zajonc, in the 1930’s and mid 1960’s, respectively, found that social facilitation occurs only when an individual has mastered a specific skill, meaning it is harder to learn or practice a new skill in front of an audience than it is a learned one. In accord with the latter of the three, Edward E. Jones and H.B. Gerard (1967) believed this was a result of arousal, stating that an audience acts as a stimulus, but that it also places more stress on the performer, greatly distracting them from their task at hand. Nickolas B. Cottrell, Dennis L. Wack, Gary J. Selerack, Robert H. Rittle, Thomas Henchy, and David C. Glass (1968) conducted their own tests, claiming instead that this phenomenon occurred as a result of apprehension regarding evaluation. They found that not only did subjects who were blindfolded do worse but that those who were told an audience would not be evaluating them did  worse as well; contrariwise, if they were told they would be evaluated afterward, they did better. Further research from Alan E. Gross, B.S. Riemer, and Barry E. Collins (1973) supported this, adding that the audience’s perception, positive or negative, affected their confidence, too. Were the audience to provide encouraging feedback, all the while watching, the performer felt more confident, more optimistic, whereas those given discouraging feedback exhibited lower confidence. What all of these studies show is that the individual is driven by two factors: the need to be evaluated and watched and the need for a positive self-image. In other words, we care a lot about how we are perceived by others.

Conformity is a “change in behavior or belief toward a group as a result of real or imagined group pressure,”² wrote Charles and Sara Kiesler (1969). While it is helpful to know what conformity is and how it occurs, it is important to know why it occurs, why we conform. David P. Crutchfield (1955) stated that when confronted with conformity, an individual can choose to conform, individuate, or anti-conform. The first option, of course, means doing whatever the group is doing, joining in; the second allows the individual to be himself, to do whatever he wants, regardless of the group’s desires; the third and final option is dissent, an act of rebellion, where the individual does the opposite of what the group does. Interestingly, this can be a paradox: are anti-conformists being true individuals, or are they simply conforming to non-conforming? A triangle is used to represent the three choices, with independence at a different point, as it is on a different plane than the others. Richard H. Willis (1965), on the other hand, thought there were four choices: independence, variability, conformity, and anti-conformity. Using a screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-9-28-40-pmdiamond, Willis suggested measuring an individual’s decisions by moving along the axis, vertically and horizontally, accordingly. Now that we have a solid layout of how we may choose what to do, the question of why we may decide to join a group still remains. Once again there are three core ideas: attractiveness, competence, and status. When speaking of attractiveness, psychologists refer not to the physical attraction we desire but to the power of something to attract, namely the group in question. A group’s attractiveness can be calculated by how cohesive it is, how united its members are, how it functions as a team. Obviously a unanimous vote correlates to a stronger attractiveness, as in Sherif’s autokinetic experiment, when participants would go with the collective answer. In Asch’s experiment, if six of the confederates gave a wrong answer and the last one gave a completely different one, then the subject would be more willing to give their own answer, the reason being that the group’s coherence was not as powerful. Thus, the bigger the group and the more cogent it is, the higher the probability of conforming. The second and third factors, competence and status, deal with how experienced a group or its members are and where they are placed, socially. Those with lower confidence are more likely to conform, for they rely on more intelligent, more skilled individuals whom they look up to as a leader. Usually a single person will be considered the leader by the rest of the group, a strong-willed person, one with experience, one with knowledge, one considered “higher” in ranking. It is easy to understand, evidently, why minorities are easily exploited, especially by demagogues, who will take up the guise of a leader, who will take advantage of the masses, moving them with their words, molding them–and the people almost always willingly listen to them, so they conform. One needs not look farther than Hitler or Stalin, who used their enticing, volatile propaganda to convince an entire people to conform, to not ask questions, to listen to the majority opinion. Occasionally the leader will be put under pressure, inasmuch as they are forced to make all the decisions. With the people’s faith, it is incumbent upon the leader to do the right thing, and everyone will follow. Conformists seek approval; they seek acceptance. Adolescents are predisposed toward conformity, since it is at that time that they begin to find who they are they are, so they seek identity in others. Teenagers will go out of their ways to be someone they are not so as to elicit their approval, to feel like “one of the cool kids.”

In conclusion, conformity is natural, an inherent tendency at birth, a need to feel belonging, to feel like a part of something greater than oneself, to be a community. Not a day goes by that we must choose to conform, to be independent, or to anti-conform. Every day bears a new choice, a new opportunity to choose whom you will follow, whom you will lead, whom you will become. The bottom line is, you have to conform in one way or another, but just how much you conform is up to you.

 

 


¹Pickren, The Psychology Book, p. 320
²Tedeschi, Social Psychology, p. 547

 

For further reading:  1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Psychology Book by Catherine Collin (2012)
The Psychology Book
by Wade Pickren (2014)

Social Psychology by James Tedeschi (1976)

 

 

Believe it or Not: Credere

We have a lot of credence when it comes to English, as we put a lot of our trust into the language. It truly is incredible just how expansive its roots go, so much so that you have to give credit to those who helped create it: the Romans. Many of our words that have to do with trust and belief come from the Latin root credere. Here are a few examples of its uses in everyday language:

 

Accredit- To attribute to (ac- = to, -credere- = trust)
Creditable- Praiseworthy (-credere- = trust, –able = able to)
Credulous- Gullible (-credere- = believe, –ulous = habitual)
Credentials- Qualification (-credence- = acceptance, -al = relating to)
Incredible- Unbelievable (in- = not, -credere- = believe, -ible = able to)

 


For further reading: Dictionary of Greek and Latin Origins by Bob Moore (1997)

The Mind-Body Problem

unknown-3Our day-to-day interactions seem fairly effortless and straightforward: if we want something, we do it; if we feel hungry, our brain alerts us, causing us to look after our lack of food. With the advances of neuroscience and psychology, we can learn how the brain works and how it drives our behavior. Wincing after a painful blow or sweating when hot is now traced to the brain, which triggers a certain response depending on the situation. But while this answer is satisfactory for scientists, philosophers throughout the ages could not help but be skeptical, theorizing that perhaps there is another driving force, that maybe the brain is not entirely responsible for our actions. After all, how could abstract thoughts possibly cause physical outcomes? This philosophical question, known as the mind-body problem, has been tackled by tens of philosophers, whose theories have changed our way of approaching everyday behavior.

Before we can examine the positions taken by philosophers we must be able to establish some key terms that are integral to the discussion. The words ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ are used interchangeably, though the debate as to what each means has led to a distinction between the material, that is to say physical, and the immaterial, or non-physical. Where some see the brain as the command center wherein all decisions are made, others such as David Hume and William James proposed the bundle theory, stating the mind is completely immaterial, comprising a collection of applied concepts. James, a psychologist, also came up with the stream of consciousness, defining the mind as the constant coming and going of thoughts. Another view is that of the spirit, from the Latin spiritus for breath. Since Greece, many have believed in a non-physical entity within our bodies. The soul, in spiritual terms, is thought to be the cause of desire and every other feeling we encounter.

The first position usually thought of is dualism, specifically cartesian dualism, created by René Descartes. Descartes believed there were two realms: the material realm, where the body resided, and the immaterial realm, where the mind resided. Put together, a union is formed, and the mind, like a captain, steers the ship—the body. “Extension in length, breadth and depth, constitutes the nature of corporeal substance and thought constitutes the nature of thinking substance,”¹ wrote Descartes, defining the rational, non-spatial mind and the spatial body. There was a fatal flaw with Descartes’ logic, considering the mind takes up no space, yet it can interact with the body that does take up space. Another philosopher, Gilbert Ryles, refuted cartesian dualism, referring to it as the “ghost in the machine,” because he envisioned the system as a ghostly figure resting inside the body, controlling it as though it were a robot. Ted Honderich summed it up as follows: “Mental states and processes are to be construed as states and processes occurring in certain complex physical systems … not as states of some ghostly immaterial being.”² Descartes, who claimed the pineal gland acted as the mediator between the mind and body, said, “The soul has its principal seat in the little gland which exists in the middle of the brain.”³ This theory is known as interactionism, a theory concluding that causation can go back and forth, from mind to body, neither taking precedence over the other.

The idea of dualism never died. Nor will it. Several other ideas popped up after Descartes, albeit none were as elaborate or as well-developed as the famous Modern philosopher. Similar to Descartes’ union was Baruch de Spinoza’s dual aspect theory. According to this belief, God had endowed all of us as a single entity, but instead of existing in different realms, our mind and body coexist as a single system. Using God, other philosophers could get away with any explanation, seeing as an omnipotent deity could grant us everything, so the propositions following Spinoza were nearly identical. The solution stating that God set the mind and body like a mechanical clock is known as occasionalism, advocated by Nicolas Malebranche. By comparing the process to a clock, Malebranche was able to explain that when both hands were aligned, a single outcome, caused by God, would occur. Parallelism has the same premise, minus the help of God. Parallelism said that it is purely a coincidence that the mind and body react at the same time. To use a cliché, if you were to touch a stove, the physical event, touching the stove, just happened to coincide with a mental event, the sensation of pain.

Unfortunately, as the philosophy of the mind attracted more attention, so too did it grow more complex, giving rise to more diverse, mind-boggling theories. The advent of classical conditioning, or behaviorism, in psychology, influenced philosophers in an interesting way, resulting in the view of philosophical behaviorism. This theory was soon abandoned and replaced with a newer theory, functionalism. Functionalists, as opposed to the physicalists, whom we shall cover presently, did not label feelings based on brain activity but the specific outcome of a certain event. Think back to functions in math class if you can. Every input has a single output. Coming back to the feeling of pain, let us propose pain is identified with wincing and a loud cry of dis-ease. You touch the hot stove, which elicits a wince and a cry; therefore, you have experience pain; you are punched, which elicits a wince and a cry; once more, that is pain; let us say, then, that you fall, causing you to cry but not wince. Is it still pain? According to functionalists, no. Certain feelings are linked to specific reactions, functional reactions. Nervousness is linked with the function of tremors and excitability. Were one to fulfill those specific functions, one would be nervous.

Before covering the physicalists and eliminativists, we shall briefly discuss epiphenomenalism, currently the most accepted variation of dualism. Recall interactionism, which said that physical and mental events are equal, each exerting the same power over the other. Epiphenomenalists, on the other hand, believe it is a one-way exchange, where only physical events can affect mental ones and not the other way around; however, epiphenomenalists also states that physical events do not always cause mental events. Touching the stove, feeling harm, your hand alerts your brain, causing you take your hand off the surface for protection. In this scenario it is the physical event that initiates the mental one. Should you find yourself leaning toward epiphenomenalism, be aware of epiphobia, the humorous fear of becoming an epiphenomenalist. 

Lastly are physicalism and eliminativism. The former is the accepted scientific theory, no philosophy needed, as it is based on the latest findings in neuroscience. This time, when you touch the stove a final time, the C-fibers in your nervous system send a pulse to your brain, whereupon more neurotransmitters are fired, resulting in the movement of muscle fibers, ordering your hand to move, ultimately. Boring. Physicalists also make no distinction between mind and brain, identifying the former with the latter. If physicalism does not suit your fancy and is not stripped bare enough, then perhaps eliminativism, an extreme form of physicalism, will be more fitting. Referred to also as material eliminativism, this mode of thought claims everything in this universe is physical, spatial, and existing in matter. Further, they eschew any folk psychology, rejecting anything that has to do with concepts like ‘fear,’ ‘desire,’ and ‘hope,’ among others.

When it was up to Arthur Schopenhauer to address the mind-body problem, he refused to do so, saying it was impossible for humans to solve it. Perhaps he was right; for while we may never be able to study the mind, consciousness, or behavior either objectively or properly, we may still theorize freely, no matter how wrong or how outlandish our theories. It is a wonder we are evening thinking about our thinking in the first place. A small step toward the true answer, maybe? So while our philosophizing might as well be in vain, it can be done in the name of wisdom.

 

 


¹Beardsley, The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, p. 88
²Honderich, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p. 579
³Beardsley, op. c., p. 93

 

For further reading: 
The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche by Monroe Beardsley (1992)
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
The Story of Philosophy by James Garvey and Jeremy Stangroom (2012)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. V 
by Paul Edwards (1967)
Connections to the World
by Arthur C. Danto (1997)

The Philosophy of Fahrenheit 451

 

images.pngWhile Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 may seem like outdated science-fiction, the novel is still relevant today. The novel focuses on the dangers of a society of extreme censorship, technological advancements, and empty social interactions. The problems evident in the novel are also the problems of today. As in the world depicted by Bradbury, a society characterized and defined by book-burning is one that frightens audiences today, for the fear of losing our history, our curiosity, and  our humanity is surreal, but it is also becoming more likely. So, Fahrenheit 451 is a parable for the degradation of society’s morality, individuals’ curiosity, and civilization’s productivity.

If the world were to be ridden of books, Bradbury predicted a loss of morals would negatively affect our lives. Guy Montag, a fireman, makes this remark when asked the use of books: “They [books] just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes!” (Bradbury 70). Upon the bombing of the city, Granger, leader of the reclusive Book People, likens society to a phoenix (Bradbury 156), but unlike the phoenix, we learn from our mistakes, viz., George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Similarly, Granger says of society, “‘[B]ut we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did’” (Bradbury 156). Bradbury believes that when disaster strikes, humans are able to endure, but only with the knowledge of the past. Without history, without books really, a civilization cannot make progress. In fact, Nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche examined the idea of the Übermensch (Superman), an individual that rises above the herd and creates new morals. Living in an environment that condemns free speech, reinforces conformity, and discourages intellectualism, Montag is the ideal Superman, the dissenter who, freed from the conventions of his peers, realizes the corruption of morals and thenceforth seeks to reform them. Where Nietzsche identified Christianity as a slave-morality, Montag identifies society with it, seeing as the technological society, dependent upon machines and automated devices, provides its people with everything they need, offering an easy way out of life. As the Superman, Montag needed to remove the contemporary values, and he planned on doing so by framing his fellow firemen and undermining the influence of the government (Bradbury 82-83, 123), which would prompt society to start over and start thinking; by doing so, Montag would create new morals, encouraging society to read again. Others, though, may argue on the contrary, stating that books are not the only source of learning, as experience is more valuable. Beatty also argues that “‘our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred’” (Bradbury 56). Through his quote, Beatty is positing that books cause conflicts and divide people. In defense of books, however, Harold Bloom agrees with the Book People that “memory (memorization!) is the key” (Bloom 235). Bloom, like other intellectuals of his day, believed that reading and memorizing books were the future of society. Authors like Shakespeare (ibid.), who wrote unforgettably about the truths of life, were worthy of memorization, because knowing their works–knowing how to use them properly–keeps us humble and reminds us of our place in the world. Books can cause conflict; however, it is constructive conflict that makes people think and talk. Books are not just good for communicating ideas; they teach us how to live. Authors like Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and Homer tell us about life, for just as Faber said, “‘[B]ooks show the pores in the face of life’” (Bradbury 79). Without books we would have no idea how one should think like Plato (Bradbury 144), how one should respond to life’s toils like Marcus Aurelius (Ibid.), or how one should cope with life like Schopenhauer (Bradbury 145). Writers put out information that causes both external and internal conflict, instigating fierce discussion, rousing cause for self-improvement. Not only do we reflect on big events like history or politics, but we turn inward and reflect on ourselves, learning from books on how we should live. The book people have built their own little society that thrives on books alone, which is clear evidence that a society can be built upon the morals of books. In order to navigate the twists and turns of life, books provide knowledge of history so that we may be guided (or not) by the paths of others.

Some of humanity’s greatest attributes are his abilities to ask questions, to seek knowledge, and to acquire learning. Yet if our greatest invention, the book, were removed, our treasure chests of curiosity would be plundered. Clarisse McClellan is a 17-year-old girl who loves asking questions, so much so that her psychiatrist, “‘wants to know why I go out and hike around the forest and watch the birds and collect butterflies’” (Bradbury 20). She explains: “‘I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think.’” It is from these quotes that we see how thinking and thinkers are viewed. Like today, there is growing cynicism concerning intellectuals and, like Clarisse, thinkers are being judged as eccentric and are hence discouraged from independent thinking. Further, Professor Faber distinguishes leisure from contemplation, sloth from productivity (Bradbury 80). According to these characters, time to reflect on one’s self is important and should be valued above all other activities, for it is fulfilling and intellectually stimulating. Cynics like Beatty may protest, saying, “‘You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it,’” and, “‘any man who tries to slide rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely’” (Bradbury 58). To people like him, “‘[T]he word intellectual … [is] the swear word it deserved to be” (Bradbury 55). Contrariwise, Beatty talks about the failings of school, remarking that the schools “‘cram them [students] full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information’” (Bradbury 58). A comment on today’s education, Beatty’s quote captures the loss of faith in learning, and in an Orwellian or totalitarian state of affairs, children are being taught to think uniformly at a young age, shaping them according to the state, removing all free will, all wonder. We must question what we are learning and why we are doing what we are doing. A woman did, after all, kill herself in the name of books (Bradbury 33), which prompts Montag to question what his life is about, causing him to enter his existential crisis. Montag is living, as Jean-Paul Sartre would say, in bad faith, signifying that Montag is not living true to himself, since he is stifling his own potential, placing his own boundaries that prevent his curiosity from growing. All of the adults of Fahrenheit 451 are still dependent kids in a sense, minus the inquisitive nature, inasmuch as they have no ideas of their own, their only ideas being those that have been hardwired into their brains by school. Symbolically, Montag represents the enlightened prisoner of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” insofar as, having grown up accustomed to the illusions of his government (the shadows), having been freed from the expectations of conformity (the shackles), having been exposed to the frightening reality of his day (the sun), and having returned to warn his fellow civilians (the herd), Montag is shunned and frowned upon, even threatened with arrest. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, who, like the woman who burned herself, was condemned to death because he wanted to ask questions. Without our natural proclivity to inquire into the nature of things, much of life would remain unknown.

The world depicted in Fahrenheit 451, is closer than it appears. It is so close, in fact, that it may already be a reality right now in the 21st century.  It is becoming more and more customary that conversations are becoming less and less productive insofar as it is considered antisocial when we wish to ask one another questions. Perhaps our idea of “social” has changed, as suggested by Clarisse on page 27: “‘It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social means talking to you about things like this … But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you?’” Whether we are sitting in school, watching sports from home, or having lunch with friends, empty talk seems to be everywhere, a pervasive phenomenon. Over the weekend I had lunch with some friends, and all they talked about were trivial matters and things and people they found annoying. Similarly, Montag’s wife Mildred, along with her friends, engage in dull, superficial talk, paralleled to our own conversations. For example, they talk about how “‘children are ruinous’” (Bradbury 92) and speak stereotypically and unknowingly about presidential candidates (Bradbury 93). We are, as Aristotle famously observed, ζωον πολιτικον, social animals, beings that desire connection; the Greeks referred to the non-Greek speakers as βαρβαρος, barbarians, because they were unintelligible. Nowadays, it feels as though our society has devolved back into this barbaric, unintelligible talk. It can be argued that our advancements in technology — not so much in books — have connected us, considering we can now contact old friends and relatives across the globe. In Bradbury’s society we can talk with one another via sea shells, we can watch interactive television, and we can marry whomever we please. Howbeit, just as we are growing our range to connect socially, we are simultaneously shrinking our genuine, face-to-face interactions, evidenced by the complete destruction of the ideal family. After constantly lionizing her parlor family, a digital drama, Mildred is snapped into reality when Montag questions, “‘Millie? Does the White Clown love you?’” and “‘does your ‘family’ love you, love you so very much, love you with all their heart and soul, Millie?’” (Bradbury 73). Montag gets no answer from a silent Mildred, who does not know what love really is. And concerning marriage, the profound joining of two lovers, Mildred seems not to care, shrugging it off as though it were nothing: she, in response to Montag’s lamentation, says, “‘It [marriage] doesn’t matter’” (Bradbury 40). This society, which we are in now, has eschewed the concept of love, the most vital concept in our lives. With all the recent innovations of our century, Bradbury cautions us not to get carried away, not to lose our connectedness, not to forget our humanity.

Ray Bradbury’s classic science-fiction book is not merely for entertainment; rather it is, like Neil Gaiman said, a “warning,” (xi), a cautionary tale, a wake-up call for society. The novel elicits shock not from the fiction within the story but the fact that it foreshadows some of the dangers of modern, technological society. Bradbury knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote of the impending stifling of morals, cessation of inquiry, and mechanization of humanity.