094: Leslie and the Philosopher

One afternoon, Leslie told the philosopher about her little brother, Billy, and it was on this day that she learned that it was possible to be profoundly incorrect and so incorrect about the basic knowledge of the world that others will radically change their opinion of you on the spot and because of this incident change the course of human events as they impact you directly.

“This is the Billy who almost lost his life on the bridge, the same Billy you say refuses to use the words ‘I understand’ in the affirmative voice,” the philosopher said.

“Let me tell you this without interruption,” Leslie said, excited. “Just listen. Billy refuses to believe that the car is moving. I swear it. He believes it’s the world that’s moving and not the car. Isn’t it hilarious. And crazy. And warped.”

The philosopher appeared stunned by such an admission on the part of Leslie. She took the look on his face to mean that he was surprised that her brother could be so dislocated from reality, that the philosopher would soon smile and take her side and sympathize with her as was typically the case. He considered her one his best colleagues in the Department. He figured she would go places, move high, and someday run the whole affair.

Leslie continued: “The worst thing about it is that he’s almost thirty years old. He had an argument the other day with my father about locomotion and that he thinks my father and I have been tricked into thinking that it’s the car that actually takes us to the store or to work or church. He won’t give it up. He refuses to budge. My father brought out all the logic he had: he said, How did you get home the other day? How? Explain it. And Billy said, I got in my car and the world moved and that’s how I got home. Simple. My father said, Try an experiment. Stand there in front of me and project yourself to the store and when you get there call me. My brother said, It doesn’t work that way. You have to be in a car or a train or a plane and that’s when the world moves you to the place you want to go to. My father said, You refuse to listen to reason and he stormed out of the house.”

The philosopher shook his head. He took his hands out of his pockets (there’s no need to write that the philosopher had his hands in his pockets in the first place, as he must have had his hands in his pockets in order to take them out). The philosopher stuffed his long white hands back into his pockets. He said, “Are you okay, Leslie? Would you like a glass of water?”

“Why would I want a glass of water?” she asked. “I’m asking what you make of my brother’s crazy ideas.”

The philosopher put his hand on her shoulder. They’d known each other for a long time and so such a gesture on the part of the philosopher seemed the first step toward toward a typical meeting of the minds.

The philosopher asked: “Do you believe the world is round?”


“Do you believe that all people can learn and that everyone should be provided the opportunity to have quality of life?” the philosopher asked.

“Of course,” Leslie said.

“Leslie, then you’re not telling me that you think your brother’s wrong are you? You don’t really believe that the car is the thing that moves?”

Leslie stepped back. “Of course I think he’s wrong. What’s the matter with you? What are you saying? The world moving? It’s absurd.”

The philosopher said, “I’ve met people who live their lives with a certain peculiar notion. You have, too, or at least I once thought you did. Their basic misunderstanding of the mechanics of the world might go unnoticed for years as their understandings never come up in academic, professional, or casual conversation. Why, because their friends and colleagues would never think that they believed a thing contrary to their own world view or against a whole body of evidence taken as essentially given. I’m merely being honest, Leslie. If you, as you claim, actually believe that the car moves and that’s its not the world that’s moving, then I must question your ability to make sound leadership and pedagogical decisions as they impact this Institution, this Department, and the people who’ve made it what it is. I really must question my own decisions about you, also. I’m sorry.”

The philosopher took a few steps away from Leslie. The look of profound shock and disgust on his face stifled Leslie’s immediate impulse to pursue the argument. He turned, opened the door, and then departed the office. Leslie watched the door as it slowly closed. Heat rose into her neck. She felt short of breath and the approach and arrival of wretched fear and regret. She’d lived all of her life believing that the car moved and not the world and that her brother bordered on the insane; she’d never even harbored the suspicion that others thought differently, knew differently, as why would the subject ever come up: why would the issue of the car or the world moving ever have arisen as the answer must or should have appeared obvious?

She couldn’t guess what the philosopher might do, to whom he might be disclosing her supposed error and ignorance, and so she stood watching the door, suffering a paralysis of the world come to a crawl. Behind her fear she had a list of questions: was the philosopher joking? Was she just being foolish? Was her brother correct after all and she and her father so incorrect as to be judged insane? It must be a joke, she told herself. It must be a joke.

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