A Fly on the Wall – A Philosophical Gaze

The languid May air hovers around me as I work in my orchard. Time seems to stand still. A single hopeful mosquito buzzes past my cheek and disappears amidst the leaves. It’s a ponderous afternoon for me, having just returned home from my Grandmother’s memorial service. I am full of images and stories from her life. She grew up on a small dairy and moved to the big city, returning only for brief visits.

One apocryphal tale in particular clings to the margins of my mind. Decades ago an equally-cosmopolitan sister of my Grandma had returned to her humble hometown after years away in the glamourous city. She burst into the stale air of the family home and exclaimed sardonically: “I wonder if That’s the same fly on the wall that was there yesterday.”

This moment, recounted repeatedly over the decades by family members, to me clarified an eternal question: is “the idiocy of rural life”, as Marx and Engels described it, something that we must flee to the city to escape (Marx and Engels, 1848)? Is distance education merely the stultified academic equivalent of rural isolation, a pale imitation of classroom schooling serving only to accelerate a sense of removal from the pulsating heart of intellectual discourse? Or, with today’s internet, are rural and remote locations prime settings for a flourishing of intellectual stimulation?

In this series I’ll gleefully answer ?yes!? and explore assorted philosophers and hodgepodge-ologies filtered through the marooned-yet-endowed reality we may experience as AU students.

So much of adult life harkens back to vivid childhood memories. A board game called ?Careers? was common in the 80s when I was growing up. Right at the start, if a player chose the path of academic education, then their final winning final space bore the celebratory statement that you had ?retired to the country to become a philosopher”. I wonder what we distance students might sound like as our geriatric selves, filled to the brim with book-learning yet surrounded with many of the same climes and environs of our pre-enlightenment years. After all, as AU students, It’s possible to attain education without leaving our geographical starting place. Our life experiences filter through the private mental worlds of our education. ?Retiring to the country to become a philosopher? implies a life in the urban rat race which we may never experience. As distance students our childhood locales may change only because we change internally; overtly our surroundings may appear relatively static from decade to decade.

I wonder what, in my Great-Grandpa’s shoes, my elderly philosopher self would make of his daughter’s attention to the fly on the wall and its semiotic signification as a marker of rural backwardness. As children we often name common items as though to personalize them. I named all black bears ?Pablo?, while my sister named every wild asparagus she encountered ?Harry?, and as a Careers-winning philosopher I’d no doubt create an appropriate humanist response.
Probably I’d say something like:

“See now Miss, your question contains myriad assumptions which the Eleatic thinker ?Zeno of Elea? illuminated in his famous paradox. For the fly to get from point A (yesterday) to Point B (today) it would first have to travel through time for half of a day, and then a further half of the remaining time, and so on. As the increments of time diminished to nanoseconds and beyond, the fly would still have half of the remaining time to cover. No matter how small the increments became, there’d still be some time between the fly of yesterday and the fly of today. So in rational terms, the fly isn’t the same because nothing can ever really get anywhere!” (Smith, online).

My urbanized daughter would roll her eyes and feign a yawn. I’d continue undeterred.

“So you see, just as Yogi Berra said that half of hitting a baseball is fifty percent mental, fractions decrease themselves right out of their utility. It’s like a football player deking himself out of his shoe. Our doxa (That’s Greek for ?opinion? or ?common belief? for you, young whippersnapper) states that it must be possible to get from A to B. Yet, when we look into it, we find that such travel is wholly impossible.” (Harper, online).

“Yeah, but in reality I’m bound to get where I’m going. I got home, didn’t I? I know I arrived because my plane landed and I am here to know that I’m here and not on campus.” my daughter’d respond pointedly.

I’d allow my philosopher-bifocals to slide down the bridge of my nose as I met her eyes with a knowing gaze.

“How do you know what you know? There’s epistemological assumptions everywhere. Our society’s empiricist assumptions state that our senses don’t deceive us. Except for when they do, that is. Like when a branch pokes out of a mud puddle and its reflection on the surface of the water makes the branch appear bent as far as our optic nerve and brain our concerned. Yet our rational minds know, or believe, otherwise. In this same sense, we believe that reality can be quantified into measurable parts. Yet look what happens between Zeno’s point A and B. The measurements show that It’s impossible to get where You’re going; there’s always half of what’s remaining to get there. So beware of mystification; illusions are the stuff of mythology!”

I pause and don’t need to wink. She’s my daughter after all.

“And one more thing; that wonderful and beloved author of yours, Lewis Carroll, once wrote about Zeno and his paradox. In his version, a Tortoise had Achilles fill a whole notebook for explanations as to why Achilles could get from point A to B and on to point Z. (Carroll, online). And you know what? In the end, it all came down to belief or, as your secular self (proud of you by the way!) states derisively, faith! Faith in logic, no less. No wonder the Bible basically begins by saying first there was Logos and that the word of Logic was the word of God. So I’m just trying to help you avoid the pitfalls of blind certitude. In a sense, the wall fly IS the same fly as yesterday. Were it a flower, it’d never wilt. Eternal life, eternal recurrence. Heck, It’s the same fly as last week and last month and last year. It’s even the same fly as the fly on the wall when I was a boy sitting in this very parlour and complaining day after day that I was bored to tears until finally my Mom told me to go to school. I signed up for some distance education courses and never looked back. And still the fly was there!

Pausing and smiling mischievously, I’d conclude: ol? Confucius once said that “no matter where you go, there you are.” In a sense you’ve forever trapped in your podunk hometown unless you find it within yourself to believe that You’re free. Mwuhahaha!” (Meier, 2015).

Harper, D. (2015) Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from:

Lacewing, M. Descartes and the Method of Doubt. A Level Philosophy: Routledge Taylor and Francis
Group. Retrieved from: http://documents.routledge.interactive.s3.amazonaws.com/9781138793934/A2/Descartes/DescartesDoubt.pdf

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. Retrieved 16 May 2015 from:

Meier, J.D. (2015). Confucius Quotes. Sources of Insight: Better Insights, Better Results. Retrieved 16 May 2015 from: http://sourcesofinsight.com/confucius-quotes/
Smith, B. Sidney (10 Apr 2014). Carroll’s Paradox. Retrieved 16 May 2015 from the Platonic Realms Interactive Mathematics Encyclopedia: http://platonicrealms.com/encyclopedia/Carrolls-Paradox/
Smith, B. Sidney (10 Apr 2014). Zeno’s Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles. Retrieved 16 May 2015 from the Platonic Realms Interactive Mathematics Encyclopedia:

Jason Hazel-rah Sullivan is a Masters of Integrated Studies student who loves engaging in discourse while working in the sunny orchards and forests of the Okanagan.