The locomotive and the horse.

Rudolf Flesch (1911-1986) is best known for his 1955 book Why Johnny Can’t Read. For my money, though, his best book by far is The Art of Clear Thinking (1951). I first read it when I was a teenager, and I re-read it every few years when I feel the need for a brush-up. I’m doing that now. This is the beginning of Chapter 2, “Nerves and Thoughts”:

The “Third Programme” of the B.B.C. (the British government-run radio network) is famous for being the most highbrow program on the world’s air waves. In 1949 it set some sort of record: it offered its listeners a lecture series on “the physical basis of mind” by no less than ten brain experts and philosophers, including two Nobel prize winners. Whether the series was successful as radio entertainment, I don’t know; at any rate, it came up with some interesting answers to what must be the oldest philosophical question in the world.

There was a difference of opinion, of course. Some of the lecturers felt that mind and body were entirely separate, others thought they were two sides of the same thing. On the whole, the materialists seemed to have the edge. Professor Gilbert Hyle, an Oxford philosopher, summed up their views by telling a story about the peasant who had never seen a locomotive. Somebody explained to him how a steam engine works. “Yes,” the peasant answered, “I quite understand. But there is really a horse inside, isn’t there?” So the peasant was asked to examine the engine and peep into every crevice of it. When he couldn’t find any horse inside, he still had an answer. “I know,” he said. “It’s an invisible horse.”

The Art of Clear Thinking is out of print, but fortunately, copies can still be found on ABEBooks, Alibris, and Amazon.

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One Response to The locomotive and the horse.

  1. That peasant was actually a theologian, you know.

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