Monday, 24 March 2008

"Riddles in the Dark."

"What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?”

There’s something so satisfying about a good old-fashioned riddle. They represent questions with absolute certainty behind the answers: once you figure it out, you can’t understand why you couldn’t see it before: a gestalt shift occurs like in the case of the duck-rabbit. The answers generally fit with such a high degree of certainty that you feel it could not possibly be any different. Weffriddles, a byzantine labyrinth of lateral thinking and html, is a great example of a series of satisfying riddles.

“What is stronger than God
More evil than the Devil

Poor people have it
Rich people need it

Folks who eat it die?”

The riddle game is a tradition in literature; a true battle of wits one against another. From the god Odin and the trickster Loki, to the mythical Sphinx, to ‘The Hobbit’ and beyond, riddles abound in great stories. ‘Lost’ is starting to reveal itself as one big riddle: as more answers come, one realises how well and how obviously it all fits together. Yet, despite the certainty that riddles represent, riddle games in novels generally end unsatisfactorily, with one character breaking the rules to beat the other character. “What have I got in my pocket?” is not a riddle that Gollum could have answered and yet Bilbo walks away with the ring and his life. In ‘The Dark Tower’ series, the riddle game against Blaine the Mono ends when Eddie cheats with unsolvable riddles.

“Tear one off
Scratch my head

What now is black

Once was red.”

The philosopher’s problem is viewing life as a riddle: the biggest riddle there is. There are philosophers who enjoy the intrigue and skill behind a good debate and the joys of proper argument structure. There are those philosophers who enjoy thinking in the abstract and the hearing of new ideas. And there are that rare and unlucky breed like Edmund Husserl and Ludwig Wittgenstein who feel that they can get to certainty through philosophy: who feel that the answer to the Ultimate Question will eventually be discovered through the slow process of thesis joining with antithesis to form synthesis. Gradually this chain will lead to a final synthesis and, like seeing the answer to a riddle, everything will make perfect sense. It’s an unfortunate fact that actually the more one does philosophy, the more one falls away from any degree of certainty. It’s the philosopher’s sad fate to toil forever at a riddle that doesn’t follow the rules of the riddle game. To reach for the non-existent answer that will ultimately satisfy. To wander too far into the Nietzschean labyrinth of lonely abstraction and, if unlucky, come face-to-face with the languid behemoths of consciousness that dwell therein.

“When one does not know what it is,
then it is something;

but when one knows what it is,
then it is nothing.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i wish you would give the answers too.