Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Problems of Philosophy

‘Now, it’s easy to assume that perception gives us direct access to the world.’ The professor looks around, for signs of assent. ‘Right?’
Everyone avoids making eye contact. The baseball-capped student in the front row slumps a little further down into his seat. Hides his eyes behind the brim.
‘But in light of various skeptical arguments, we can doubt if this is really the case. After all, the visible world could just be a grand illusion.’
The student glances over to where he left his skateboard propped against the wall, as he came in. It’s still there. He looks back.
‘We could all be systematically deceived, all the time, by some kind of evil genius.’
The girl in front of me scrolls slowly down the page on her Internet browser. ’16 Christian dating principles, part 1’, it says. ‘Maximise your singleness for God.’ She cranes her neck, peering at the screen.
‘So even though I seem to be able to see the world, I might not actually be perceiving anything. I might have no access to the world whatsoever.’
The young man next to me is texting, behind the screen of his laptop, seemingly unconcerned with the prospect that the entirety of his perceptual experience could be an illusion. The phone vibrates. He shoves it in his pocket, takes a sip from his plastic coffee mug.
‘I might not actually be seeing any objects at all.’ The professor is pacing now. ‘I might not be seeing chairs, tables. Trash cans.’ She taps the table, indicates a chair. Points at the wastepaper bin in the corner. Looks around, for more examples of things we might all be robustly failing to see. I’ve done tables, I’ve done chairs, trash cans…
‘Hairdos,’ she announces.
Is a hairdo an object of perception? Is it not some kind of property of somebody’s hair, rather than an entity in itself? What does it take for one’s hair to constitute a hairdo? Is even the most unkempt barnet a hairdo, or does it require some kind of intention, some kind of design? Some pruning?
And what about the absence of hair? Does a bald patch count as part of a hairdo? If so, is such a hairdo partially constituted by a characteristic absence?
Might this mean that absences be directly perceived?
I can’t shake off the image.
Could a hairdo exist on its own?
Might there be some vagrant hairdos wandering around campus, roaming around the corridors, emancipated from their human bearers? Little fringed shrubs, perhaps, blonde and brown, red and black, bustling industriously to class. Disembodied afros, bouncing about merrily, or rolling to and fro like tumbleweed. Mullets, sliding around the walls of country dance-halls.
Coiffed bobs, nodding energetically in assent, in the front row of lecture theatres.
The discussion has moved on, but it’s a lost cause. What would happen if you passed a hairdo in the corridor?
You would stand back, aghast. Point, finger trembling.
‘Jesus Christ! What the hell is that?’
‘Oh, it’s a hairdo.’ A passing undergraduate shrugs. ‘But don’t worry, you might not be seeing it.’
I finally manage to turn my attention back to the discussion. Hopefully I haven’t missed too much.
‘And that’s it for today, folks. See you on Thursday.’

I pack up my books in defeat.


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  2. I think Kellin Smith might just have missed the point of the "comment" box. As for hairdos - can attributes have an independent existence?