I am still trawling through old blogs and articles which I wrote around 2011, and that are no longer available on the Internet. Here is a short one which may amuse…
This is the unlikely title of a book which is ostensibly an introduction to Western Philosophy, but is perhaps better viewed as a book of themed jokes. It is not even remotely anything to do with Advaita, so I wouldn’t be happy writing a formal book review.
If you are at all interested in philosophy in general; like reading about it, without necessarily learning very much; and enjoy a good joke, then this is definitely the book for you! It has chapters on many of the key Western names and schools and each has a few paragraphs telling you very cursorily where it fits into the history and what, essentially, it deals with. But this is interspersed with witty remarks and lots of full-fledged jokes which purport to illustrate the particular branch being discussed.
It is written by a pair of Harvard philosophers, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, who appear to be both fiendishly clever and extraordinarily entertaining. And they either have a comprehensive system for cataloguing all of the jokes they come across or amazing memories. Personally, although like most people I enjoy listening to jokes, I seem to have a total inability to recall any that I hear for longer than a few minutes.
Probably, the section which is most nearly relevant to advaita is the one on vyavahAra versus paramArtha although, of course these words are not mentioned! But the section begins with the comment that: “Much philosophical error stems from treating relative points of view as though they were absolute.” And we all know that confusion of absolute and empirical levels is one of the most common causes of problems in the teaching of advaita. The danger is illustrated by the following joke:
The look out on a battleship spies a light ahead off the starboard bow. The captain tells them to signal the other vessel, “Advise you change course 20° immediately!”
The answer comes back, “Advise you change course 20° immediately!”
The captain is furious. He signals, “I am a captain. We are on a collision course. Alter your course 20° now!”
The answer comes back, “I am a seaman second class, and I strongly urge you to alter your course 20°.”
Now the captain is beside himself with rage. He signals, “I am a battleship!”
The answer comes back, “I am a lighthouse.”
The appendix includes a timeline listing the key philosophers throughout history, together with minor observations, such as:
1328 – William Occam invents the Gillette Mach three.
1731 – Bishop Berkeley spends 30 days in sensory deprivation tank and emerges with mind unchanged.
1754 – Immanuel Kant has a direct encounter with a ding an sich – says he “can’t talk about it.”
Finally, there is a short glossary of key terms and some recommended reading. All in all, an enjoyable read. Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the title of the book, you eventually discover this quite near the end:
Hey, the other day Plato and a platypus walk into a bar. The bartender gave the philosopher a quizzical look, and Plato said, “What can I say? She looked better in the cave.”
Buy paperback from Amazon US
Kindle not available in US