Of Frozen Fish and Philosophy

There was a great breakthrough in the Western use of frozen foods when someone visited ?Inuit? and found that their frozen fish, which they left outside igloos in bitter cold, tasted markedly better than that man had ever found frozen fish to taste.

Upon investigation, what was found was that it makes a profound difference for the taste of frozen food whether it is frozen at relatively high temperatures in the frozen range such as Western frozen food was until then, versus frozen food that is frozen at much bitterly colder temperatures than had been so far been used in Western freezing of foods.

As to why fish tasted different when it was deep frozen versus when it was put into freezers just barely below the freezing point, the bitter cold created lots of small ice crystals in the freezing fish very quickly, and these crystals were too small to generally rupture cell walls. When fish is frozen just a small amount below the freezing point, a few ice crystals form very quickly, and they grow large and rupture cell walls. Upon being taken out of freezing temperatures and cooked, fish frozen in bitter cold had intact cells that tasted like fresh food with intact cell walls, while fish frozen in temperatures just cold enough to freeze had cell walls torn by large ice crystals, to the effect of tasting much inferior to fish that was either fresh and never frozen, or quickly frozen in a deep freeze.

There is one sense in which a philosophical bent can look at frozen food with ice crystals big and small, and analyze from then on, but "common sense philosophy" is such a rarity, almost a contradiction in terms, because the philosopher seeks the simplicity of a single or a few large ice crystals that turn out to break cell walls in their crystalline clarity. People who have claim a "common sense" philosophy seem to have an inevitable caveat: hence Bishop Berkeley offers or at least claims smooth sailing with common sense, but only if you accept his "idealism," which bears no particular connection to the common label of "idealism" conveying a sense of a naive purism absent in many who are more experienced, but instead transfers the concept of the object from the subject to the object, in the term C.S. Lewis used in The Discarded Image, where it makes sense to speak of a rock, but by "rock" one does not mean that there is some kind of physical item that has any form of existence outside of minds, but only the sensation and presence of the minds of men and of God. In a philosophy TA who argued this, there are rooms that stop existing once you leave them, those one moves through in a dream, and rooms that don't stop existing when you leave them are only barely more real than the items we hallucinate in dreams.

One webpage written by a non-philosopher venturing into philosophy said that all we experience is an illusion (one could say a hallucination as much as dreams), but behind the illusion of a brick is (drum roll please) a brick. And Berkeleyan philosophy retains the illusion, the shared waking hallucination as well as the individual hallucination in dreams, but dispenses with a concept that there is an extra-mental brick that gives the illusion of a brick.

A visit to Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A History of Idolatry would see an opening point to say that a rainbow can be seen but is not a discrete physical items as far as atomized physics would understand things, and then goes on to say the same must apply to our experience of a tree. It could help some people see how speaking of a brick incorporates some social construction. To someone who has grown up in the West, there is a distinct concept of a brick (as opposed to, for instance, uncut stone) which has the shape of a rectangular prism with some holes (in an unglamarous version of "strong but light"er technology), and is ordinarily used in building walls in construction. Someone who has grown up in purely aboriginal environments will not likely perceive a brick wall as a regular geometric pattern of bricks and mortar used to build what is conceptualized as a "wall"; a person not exposed to such has no reason to have a concept of what the rest of a brick would look like upon merely seeing one side incorporated into a wall.

Though, it might be added with reference to the nature connection movement or the defiling read of Wizard of the Upper Amazon, people in aboriginal settings will come upon a natural scene and at a glance see things an urban person could not be led to see even with much effort. Something analogous is discussed in Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge, where an adult inculturated in Western middle class culture can look at X-rays and see things leap out at a glance that people outside the culture of expert practice could not be led to see. And this is for Westerners who began to read X-rays as adults. It is a capital error to conceive of primitive people as simply a modern person, perhaps a dumber modern person, with a great many points of knowledge subtracted. Primitive literacy in the surrounding environment, such as one can get late, remedial ABC's for in the nature connection movement, means taking in a wealth of things that most of us reared in civilization could not even imagine.

I hesitate to speak of astrology because it is one of the things that has come out, and it does not offer the same merely academic specimen it may have had in ages past. I regret choosing alchemy as an example to open The Horn of Joy. My conscience forbade me to read Planet Narnia which I understand to unfold the characteristics and qualities of the seven astrological planets in the seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. However, I wish to declare at least one brief claim about astrology, suggested by some to be a precursor to today's scientific determinism.

I do not believe the alignments of stars and planets in any way influence us, I said "Not for purposes of astrology!" when someone asked me to confirm my birthdate and provice where I was born, and I do not believe we have business with astrology. However, I do believe that the time of year one is born could influence one's initial experiences, including adult behaviors, and there would be positive selection in a folk system like astrology, and I would furthermore posit that as a theory the descriptions of any astrological sign describes any person than behaviorism, a cell-rupturing crystal in which, to cite The Discarded Image, the appearance of subjectivity is transferred from the object to the subject. Astrology cannot afford to rupture the cell membranes of common sense too badly, or people will reject it. Behaviorism is like much of philosophy in that it does rupture cells and produces a flat picture which, perhaps, describes no one better than any astrological assertion of personality type. Even if we restrict our attention to bird brains, it is unclear to an uninitiate like me how one would use behaviorism to explain bird brains’ well-documented ability to give GPS a run for its money in their homing! (I rather suspect that behaviorism draws one’s eyes away from asking or really seeing such questions.)

In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, right after Ransom (the Director) has raised a philosopher's objection to MacPhee's assumptions, is found the following:

"The question is worth raising, Mr. Director," said MacPhee, "because I submit that it points to an essential falsity in the whole system of this place."...

"How do you mean, MacPhee?" asked the Director.

"I mean that there is a half-hearted attempt to adopt an attitude towards irrational creatures which cannot consistently be maintained. And I’ll do the justice to say you’ve never tried. The [tame] bear [kept as a pet] is kept in the house and given apples and golden syrup till it’s near bursting—"...

"The bear, as I was observing," said MacPhee, "is kept in the house and pampered. The pigs are kept in a stye and killed for bacon. I would be interested to know the philosophical rationale of the distinction."...

MacPhee made a little stamp of impatience and said something which was drowned first by Ransom’s laughter and then by a great clap of wind which shook the window as if it would blow it in.

MacPhee is complaining that he can not find a single (large) crystal that would contain both the keeping of pets and the use of animals for meat. But Ransom has not succeeded at placing both in the same large crystal; both coexist in his mind in a number of small crystals that keep cell membranes intact.

The suggestion I offer here is philosophical in character, and I am not using "philosophy" with the common meaning of "my philosophy," where the phrase "my opinion," or "my approach," would be more appropriate, along with a suggestion that a non-philosopher's "my philosophy" is almost never the sort of thing a philosopher trades in. But I would call my suggestion here philosophical without being offered as a part or aspect of an encompassing philosophy. I would call it philosophical, at least up to a point, without being the sort of thing that qualifies as a philosophy. And suggest that common sense philosophy, so much as one may speak of, might sacrifice the philosopher's few large crystals for eclectic common sense's avoidance of rupturing cell membranes. (And remind the reader that in Orthodoxy, attempting to endow the Orthodox Church with its first systematic theology is asking for a heresy trial.)

Orthodoxy extends in another direction away from mere common sense, offering foothills and peaks of mysticism, but the more spiritually advanced do not find bigger crystals; if they depart from a close map of small crystals, they depart in the direction of the living flesh of a live organism.

But that is the topic of another article entirely, and one which I might or might not write.

Author: C.J.S. Hayward

C.J.S. Hayward is an Orthodox author and Renaissance man with master's degrees bridging math and computers (UIUC) and theology and philosophy (Cambridge). His most prized work is what he writes in Eastern Orthodox, Christian theology and apologetics. Readers of apologists like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft, contemporary Orthodox authors such as Met. KALLISTOS Ware, and classic authors like St. John Chrysostom will find much food for spiritual reflection.