When we moved to South Carolina, one of the best decisions we made was to move into an apartment complex that is directly across the street from the local library. I’ve had a blast catching up on some reading and exploring books (for free!!!).
But then, the other day, I discovered . . . (I need to correctly emphasize the drama of this discovery so I’m using ellipses) a single little shelf, tucked into a corner underneath the stairs, that is filled with graphic novels and comic books.
So, upon my first discovery of this exciting new resource I read through an interesting book by Guy Delisle called Jerusalem, which was pretty good. Then today I found LOGICOMIX, which tells the story of Bertrand Russell–in comics.
And here I need to make a slight departure. Bertrand Russell wrote one of the dozen or so nonfiction books that radically changed my thinking; it’s called The Problems of Philosophy. It’s fantastic. I rank it with Orthodoxy, Mere Christianity, Miracles, and the essays of Isaac Asimov. I had a bad impression of Russell because I had tried to read through Why I am not a Christian and found it strangely simplistic; (It was an experience similar to reading Candide: I kept thinking “This? This is why Christianity is wrong?”) I think I need to revisit it now that I am more familiar with his thinking. At the very least though, he’s a good writer for Christians to read because the man not only has a brilliant mind, but can communicate well enough to make difficult ideas fascinating.
Anyway, Problems of Philosophy made me a fan, and so I checked out LOGICOMIX as soon as I saw that it was mostly about him.
But I’ll stop with the reviewing and raving. The point of all this set-up is to correctly relate an incident that happened in the first chapter of the book. I was sitting on my couch, enjoying the imaginatively interactive experience of reading a graphic novel. I was being introduced and becoming engrossed in the personality that was Bertrand Russell. He was a mathematician and a logician and a philosopher and an activist: what’s not to love?
Non-Fiction graphic novels (yes it’s a bit of an oxymoron) take a bit of mental commitment, and I was in the midst of tracking an interesting point about the nature of mathematics and logic, specifically how they are related, and also whether they can lead to madness. It was great–really–just a great reading experience, and I was in logic mode (coincidentally it also ties into an upcoming unit in my class as my students start discussing argument analysis).
Have I described my mental state well enough? I was encountering interesting ideas through an interesting medium and was caught up thinking about them and trying them on. I wanted to understand logic and practice it. I was in the zone.
From right in front of me comes this little voice. No, not a voice yet–an unvoiced consonant: “Psssst!” (His mom uses this noise to get my attention. I’m tuned to it. I can hear it halfway across a department store. I’m not sure how he learned it, but he has realized it’s power.)
And when I look up he says, “Dad,”
“Dad, I want you to put your book down, right here,” he pats the couch next to me, “and help me find my burner.” His burner is a Lego piece that looks like the engine of a rocket. I don’t need to tell you how important those are when you only have two of them and one has gone missing.
And my world came crashing down. I looked up from my book ready to tackle the world with logic, ready to take it apart, see what makes it tick, and put it back together to suit my purposes.
I wedged the receipt from the library into the crease of the book, set it down where he had shown me, and spent the next several minutes on my knees looking for a little orange piece of plastic. (No luck, it’ll turn up, though.)
So, sometimes, logic is worthless. It’s not the right tool, and when we look up from our books expecting to solve all of our problems with it, we can be in for a bit of a shock. It doesn’t apply to three-year-olds; especially when they look you in the face, call you “dad”, and ask you to help them find their missing toys. There’s no reasoning there: there’s only an axiom (a starting assumption that is not open for debate). I could have broken down that situation into a syllogism, I suppose. I could probably have used logic to predict that my search would be fruitless, and I guess I did use it as I searched methodically and weighed the likelihood of different locations.
But the initial reaction was such a fine epiphany that I’m still thinking about it several hours later and I had to sit down and write it. I think that there is an inescapable part of reality, the very fabric of the universe, that is ultimately illogical. What’s more, I think sometimes this reality makes demands of us: and those moments are, perhaps, the best moments in life.