I am Jaco, the philosopher pilot. Welcome, you are listening to the introductory podcast of the show: “My Views From 35,000 Feet”.
“Man has to rise above the Earth—to the limits of the atmosphere and beyond—only then can he fully understand the world in which he lives.”[Efn_note] Quote attributed to Socrates, inspired by the interviews as reported by Plato in Phaedo. [/efn_note]
This quote is generally attributed to Socrates, but there is, however, no evidence that he actually pronounced these exact words. Nevertheless, the quote is very similar in its meaning to a passage from the interviews reported by Plato in Phaedo, in which he evokes the same premise, namely that of the different perspective that man would have if he were able to leave the surface of the sphere that he lives on. Thus, it is written that “… for if any man could arrive at the exterior limit, or take the wings of a bird and come to the top, then like a fish who puts his head out of the water and sees this world, he would see a world beyond; and, if the nature of man could sustain the sight, he would acknowledge that this other world was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true earth.”1
This goes to show that already in antiquity, and hence well before the conquest of the sky and outer space, philosophers such as Plato understood the benefit that man would have if he soared and rose above dry land, in order to better understand and appreciate the world in which we evolve. They were therefore aware that leaving the surface of the Earth to observe it better, would bring an entirely different perspective to the observer who would achieve it, both literally and figuratively. This is exactly what happened to Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission, whose stay in space triggered the quest for meaning that would animate him for the rest of his life and which led him among other things to co-found the Institute of Noetic Sciences.2 I will spend more time on this fascinating character in a later podcast.
And so, I may not be as lucky as to admire the earth from space like an astronaut or as Socrates mentions I may not be getting “to the limits of the atmosphere and beyond,” but I am nonetheless able to admire the earth in all its splendour from a height of 35,000 feet. (I take this opportunity to wink at my friend Shaun who pointed out that although I don’t only fly at 35,000 feet, this is still the altitude I’m often using, without necessarily realizing it, when I’m illustrating my point.) So even though all my travels take place within the confines of the atmosphere, it is still possible for me to admire the earth from a privileged point of view. From these heights, the incredible beauty of the land constantly dazzles me, as everything appears grandiose, majestic. And faced with this vision of inherent beauty, a feeling of peace and serenity comes to inhabit me each time at the sight of such a spectacle, where no territorial or political border is visible, no racial or social differentiation is apparent. It is from this point of view of wonder that I will allow myself to share my points of view with you, because the fact of admiring the earth as well and as often as I have been privileged to do throughout my career, brings me a whole new perspective, a perspective that I would dare to call enlightened.
But having a perspective, however enlightened, is not the same as possessing the truth. And anyway, is there anyone who could claim to possess it? Even the greatest thinkers and philosophers of this world don’t always see eye to eye on every topic. Essentially, their thoughts and views can be ever-changing as they are called upon to evolve, to the point that they can entirely alter their previous beliefs. Hence, my only desire is for my words to contribute to everyone’s reflection. By sharing my points of view with you, my objective will not be to convince you of the merits of my points of view, but rather to get you to reflect, so that you may form your own opinion. And whether your opinion agrees or disagrees with mine does not matter. What matters is the dialogue that each opinion generates. Because without opinions there are no debates and without debates there are in turn no dialogues. It is through dialogue that we are able to better understand ourselves and above all, to better understand others, and thus our society can progress. It is certainly important to express your opinions, but it is even more important to listen to the opinion of others, whether you agree with them or not. It is therefore with the greatest respect that I invite you to take note of my views and above all, to share yours with me, so that dialogues can ensue.
As Nigel Warburton wrote in his book “A Little History of Philosophy,” “… The word ‘philosopher’ comes from the Greek words meaning ‘love of wisdom.’ The Western tradition in philosophy, the one that this book follows, spread from Ancient Greece across large parts of the world, at time cross-fertilized by ideas from the East. The kind of wisdom that it values is based on argument, reasoning and asking questions, not on believing things simply because someone important has told you they are true. Wisdom for Socrates was not knowing lots of facts nor knowing how to do something. It meant understanding the true nature of our existence, including the limits of what we can know.”3 This is the approach that I will favor going forward. That of reasoned and reasonable arguments, devoid of emotion, always in the hope of conveying as much wisdom as possible.
Finally, since the global pandemic that plagues us remains relevant and will be for a long time to come, my first “views” will relate to it. Perhaps my words will help you see the pandemic from a different perspective. And despite the turmoil we find ourselves in and which affects us all in different ways, why not reflect upon it in order to rationalize everything and come out having grown from the experience?
So, allow me to share with you my point of view from 35,000 feet.
In closing, I would like to mention that, for those who are interested, this podcast is also produced in French. To access it, simply go to the website https://lepilotephilosophe.com. Otherwise, I invite you to visit the philosopher pilot site at https://thephilosopherpilot.com and discover the three distinct podcast shows as well as the blog section there. You may also want to subscribe to my newsletter to be informed about new podcasts or publications. Finally, if you like my writing and my podcasts, let those around you know by sharing them. It would be greatly appreciated. Till next time for another Philosopher Pilot podcast!
- “In addition, he said, I am convinced that the earth is immense and that we, who inhabit it from the Phase to the Columns of Heracles, occupy only a small part, spread around the sea, like ants or frogs around a pond, and that many other peoples live elsewhere in many similar places; for there are many hollows of various shapes and sizes all over the earth, into which water, fog and air have poured out together. But the pure earth itself is located in the pure sky where the stars are, which most of those who are used to discussing these matters call ether. It is the ether that leaves the water, the fog and the air that always collects in the hollows of the earth. As for us, we do not suspect that we live in these hollows, we believe to live on top of the earth, as if someone living in the middle of the bottom of the ocean believed to be lodged on the surface of the sea and, seeing the sun and the stars through the water, took the sea for the sky, but, restrained by its gravity and its weakness, would never have reached the top of the sea and would never have seen, emerging and raising the head towards the place we inhabit, how purer and more beautiful than his and would never have learned from someone who would have seen him. This is precisely the state we are in ourselves. Confined in a hollow of the earth, we believe in inhabiting the top, we take the air for the sky and we believe that it is the true sky where the stars move. This is our condition: our weakness and slowness prevent us from rising to the limit of the air; for if anyone could get up in the air, or soar there on wings, he would be like the fish of our land who, raising their heads out of the sea, see our world; he too could, by raising his head, give himself the spectacle of the upper world; and if nature had given him the strength to sustain this contemplation, he would recognize that this is the true heaven, the true light and the true earth.” From Plato. Phaedo (p. 72). Kindle Edition. Kindle Edition.
- Noetic Sciences reveals a deeper understanding of our inner worlds, our shared reality, and the interconnection between all things.
- Extract from: Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy (Little Histories) (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.