THINKING EAST AND WEST 說東道西

The Discovery philosophers on the lessons of Groundhog Day 《Discovery》兩位哲學家討論電影《偷天情緣》內蘊涵的深意

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For decades, if someone has said ‘it’s just like Groundhog Day’ you’d have no idea what they meant. The only exceptions were natives of Pennsylvania familiar with a local folk ritual where the next season’s weather is forecast based on the behaviour of a small furry mammal when it emerges from its burrow.

Thanks to Harold Ramis’ 1993 movie of that name, however, the phrase has now become an almost universally recognised way of expressing the feeling that the same thing keeps happening, again and again. And again.

In the film, TV weatherman Phil, played by Bill Murray, keeps waking up to the same tune ( I Got You, Babe) on the radio alarm, at the same time of 6am, on the same date of 2 February: Groundhog Day.

The film is hilarious, frequently featuring in critics’ lists of the best comedies of all time (see page 78). But behind the humour is a serious parable about learning from experience and the need to break the patterns of the past to create a better future. It poses the question: if we could all live for long enough, would we become better people?

Western culture gives an ambivalent answer. On the one hand, it tends to see experience, in the form of scientific observation, as the root of all secure knowledge. As Aristotle pithily put it more than two millennia ago, ‘the solution of a difficulty consists in the discovery of facts’. His mentor, Plato, put more faith in abstract reason, as did Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz in the 17th century. However, the tide of history has flowed more Aristotle’s way and the empirical, scientific side of Western philosophy has been dominant for at least three centuries.

So there is plenty of faith that if human culture could survive long enough, it

could continue to improve its knowledge. Scientific breakthroughs can be passed down and cannot be unmade. This optimism, however, is balanced by a pessimism when it comes to the possibility of passing down ethical insight.

This is best captured not in a philosophical tome but in The Faces’ song

Ooh La La. In the first line, Ronnie Wood sings, ‘Poor old Granddad, I laughed at all his words,’ leading to the regret in the chorus, ‘I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was younger.’ However, the song suggests that the wish is a forlorn one. ‘Poor young grandson, there’s nothing I can say,’ he sings in the last verse. ‘You’ll have to learn, just like me.’ Every generation has to work it out for itself, repeating the same old mistakes.

Both Ooh La La and Groundhog Day portray learning from experience as an essentially individual matter, echoing Western culture’s historical emphasis on thinking for yourself. Kant summed up his answer to the question ‘ What is Enlightenment?’ in the Latin phrase

sapere aude, ‘dare to think’. It is more important that you think for yourself than you think correctly. Mistakes are fine as long as they are your own.

Groundhog Day captures both the hope and frustration such a worldview engenders. Phil does learn from experience but he needs a heck of a long time (eight years, eight months and 16 days according to close students of the film) and the unnatural opportunity to live the same day again and again.

Why then does the film not leave us feeling despondent? Because we can learn from Phil that living selfishly never brings fulfilment, and that it is only when we start putting others first that we can find contentment for ourselves. Phil shows how we should think for ourselves, but not only of ourselves, and not entirely by ourselves. By observing others, with the help of the literary arts, we can draw on more experience than we alone have and so accelerate our learning from it.

So although we are condemned to work things out for ourselves, that does not mean we cannot draw on the experience of others. Indeed, progress in politics and society seems to require a balancing act between paying too little and too much attention to the testimony of our elders. In order to improve on the past, we need to learn both from its strengths and failings; but in order to be free to escape the shackles of the past, we have to refuse to be bound by it. The future can be better than the past precisely because the next generation does not simply perpetuate the customs and beliefs of its forebears.

In the early 21 century, I fear Western culture has become off-balance, emphasising too much the individual’s quest over that of society as a whole. I grew up constantly hearing people say ‘You have to learn from your own mistakes.’ The wise, however, never miss the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others, too.

曾經一有 段長時間,要是有人說「: 這就像『土撥鼠日』一樣」,你可能完全摸不著頭腦只。 有在賓夕凡尼亞州土生土長的人例外,因為當地有個民間傳,統 會根毛據 茸茸的土撥鼠從地洞裡爬出來時的反應預測天氣。

幸好Harold Ramis在1993年拍了電影《偷天情緣》(影片原名Groundhog Day,意思是就 土撥鼠日) ,這個形同容 樣的事情不斷重覆發生的詞語才變得街知巷聞。

在電影中, Bill Murray日演視的電 天氣報告員Phil不斷重覆度過22月 日土撥鼠日,每次醒來總是早當天 上6時,耳畔的收機音鬧鐘總是播放著《I Got You, Babe》歌這首 。

這齣電影瘋狂,搞笑 經常在影評人的經典喜劇榜上出現(參閱78頁)。但幽默背後卻蘊含深刻寓意,指出人需要從經驗中學習,並打破固有的陋習,締造更美好的未來。這裡提出一個問題:要是所有人都活得夠長久,是否就會變更成好的人?

西方文化提供了一個模稜兩可的答案。一方面,傾它 向將經驗視為科學觀察的方式,認為這是所有確切知識的根源。正如亞里士多德於2,000多年前簡潔地宣稱,決「解難題的方法在於發掘事實」。至於他的老師柏拉圖則更相信抽象理性,而笛卡兒、賓史諾至沙以 17世紀時萊茲布尼 ,亦抱持同一套想法。,然而 歷史似乎站在亞里士多德的一 方;西方哲學過去起碼有300年都是側重依據經驗和科求。學證

因此,許多人都相,要信 只 人類文化的壽命夠長,知識就可不斷累積長增 。科學新發現可以流後傳,世 而且不會消失。然而,一談到道德倫理的傳,承時 這份樂觀就會被悲觀情緒沖淡。

最能精闢地描述這現象的,並非什麼哲鉅學 著,而是The Faces樂的隊歌曲《Ooh La La》開。 始時主音Ronnie Wood唱「道: Poor old Granddad, I laughed at all his words」(可憐的爺爺,我前以 總嘲笑他的話說 ) ,然後帶出充滿悔意的副歌「I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was younger」(但願我年輕懂時就 得今天才學懂的道理)。,然而 歌曲暗示這是個渺茫的願望,因為他在最後一節唱出「Poor young grandson, there’s nothing I can say/You’ll have to learn, just like me」(可憐的乖孫,我沒有什麼好說,要你 自己去學懂,就一像我樣)。每個世代都要重蹈上一代的覆轍,然後自行摸索出路。

《Ooh La La》和《偷天情緣》都點出,從經驗中學習本質上都是關乎個人的修為,應呼 西方文化高自吾舉 省 身的傳。統 康德回應「何謂啟?蒙 」這問題時,就是以拉丁文短語「sapere aude」(勇於思考)總結其案答 。省自 比起正確思考更重要,只承要擔個人錯誤,即使犯錯亦不是問題。

《偷天情緣》刻劃了這種世界觀引發的希困望和惑。Phil的確能從經驗中學習,但他需要極其漫長的時間(據深入研究該齣電影的觀眾指出,他花費了八年八個月又16天) ,以及非比尋常機的 會,讓他能夠多次重覆度同過 一天,才能夠「重新做人」。

那麼,這齣電影何以不會令我們感到灰心喪志?因為我們可以從Phil身上明白到自私的生活式方 永遠不會帶來滿足,唯有當我開為們 始 他人設想時,才可覓得心靈的滿足和喜樂。Phil向我們展示了自省的方式是,應不 只為自己設想,而且不一定要獨自思索。透過觀察他人,借助文學藝術之力,我們可以打破個人局限,借鑑更豐富的經驗,從而加快學習速度。

因此,縱然我們注定永遠需要自行解決,問題 那並不意味著我們不可借鑑他人的經驗。,其實政治和社會進程需要在借鑑前做人 法時採取中庸之道,既不可將之忽略,又不可過分著為善重。改了 過往的不足們,我 需要從其優點和失敗中學習,但為了自行掙脫過往的枷鎖,我們又得絕拒 被它束。縛將來之所以能夠比過往更美好,正是因為下一代並不只會蕭規曹,隨 一味跟從前人的習慣信和 念。

身處21世紀,初 我擔憂西方文化已失衡,過分強調個人目標而忽略社會整我體。年輕時經常聽到人說:要「你 從自己的錯誤中習學 」,而智者則不但從自己的錯誤中學習,也會從別人的失敗汲教。中 取 訓

BY OBSERVING OTHERS, WE CAN DRAW ON MORE EXPERIENCE THAN WE ALONE HAVE透過觀察他人,可以借鑑更豐富的經驗

THE WEST VIEW: DON’T JUST LEARN FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE JULIAN BAGGINI西方觀點:不要單從自身經驗中學習朱立安巴吉尼

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