Q&A from a Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities

What inspired you to write A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities? Have you always been interested in puzzles and riddles?

The inspiration came during a brain scan. (I had broken my arm in a bicycle accident and imprudently remarked that the emergency room poster `No brain injury is too trivial to ignore’ meant the opposite of what the staff intended.) In the stillness of the computer tomography scanner, I realized I could only work on a book that required left-handed typing. My metastasizing manuscript A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities had too many words. The epiphany was that the book could be un-written into publishable form with surgical application of the delete key.

The book includes nearly 200 "philosophical curiosities"! How did you go about collecting so many oddities for this intellectual cabinet?

I hoard counterexamples, illusions, sophistry, and surprising proofs - anything that might indicate a mistaken presupposition. Fortunately, most of these enigmas had migrated from the physical cabinets in my basement to the metaphysical cabinets of my computer’s hard drive.

Assassination Proof
As Nero became more powerful there appeared to be no limit on who he could eliminate - even his mother. His philosophy teacher, Seneca, warned Nero that there was someone he could not kill. Who was it? (Answer below)

What do you see as the overlap between word games, riddles, and the traditional philosophy that you teach and study?

Creative self-correction. Acknowledging mistakes is embarrassing. Making a game of belief revision builds buoyancy. Through practice, you can even acquire a taste for self-correction, just as you can acquire a taste for swimming (despite initial approximations to drowning). Traditional philosophy specializes in deeper revisions. Professional philosophy is more like scuba diving; there is more training, more disorientation, colder, darker water.

Who do you hope will read your book, and what sort of reactions or experience do you hope to elicit from your readers?

The book is for people who want the waters of reflection to range from shallow to deep...and to be warmer than traditional philosophy. Once they wade to a comfortable depth, they are at home with Cicero’s maxim: “Any man can make mistakes, but only a fool perseveres in his error.”

Assassination Proof answer: Nero's successor. The next emperor was Galba. But Seneca was not claiming that Galba could not be killed. Galba only avoided Nero's intention to kill him by good fortune. Seneca was making a logical point: 'However many you put to death, you will never kill your successor.' Seneca as correct. Before Nero was succeeded, however, he succeeded in arranging Seneca's death.

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