And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What Humans Can Learn from Porcupine Logic


Jack Maden, "The Porcupine’s Dilemma: Schopenhauer’s Wistful Parable On Human Connection"
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s dilemma of the prickly porcupine is his wistful parable on the fraughtness of human connection: in seeking intimacy, we inevitably push each other away.

In his 1851 collection of short philosophical essays, Parerga and Paralipomena, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer reflects on a whole range of subjects, one of which is the oft-fraught nature of human connection.

To illuminate his thoughts, Schopenhauer offers a parable involving a group of prickly porcupines. He writes:
One cold winter’s day, a number of porcupines huddled together quite closely in order through their mutual warmth to prevent themselves from being frozen. But they soon felt the effect of their quills on one another, which made them again move apart.
The porcupines seek each other out for warmth, Schopenhauer tells us; but in becoming close, they scratch and prickle one another with their sharp spines, and draw apart in annoyance and pain.

What, then, can the porcupines do?

Schopenhauer continues:
Now when the need for warmth once more brought them together, the drawback of the quills was repeated so that they were tossed between two evils, until they had discovered the proper distance from which they could best tolerate one another.
The porcupines settle on a compromise: close enough for warmth, with enough distance for minimal scratching.

Schopenhauer then rather unceremoniously applies this parable to human society:
Thus the need for society which springs from the emptiness and monotony of people’s lives, drives them together; but their many unpleasant and repulsive qualities and insufferable drawbacks once more drive them apart.
Just quickly, can we appreciate Schopenhauer’s use of “many unpleasant and repulsive qualities” and “insufferable drawbacks(!)” here… one gets the sense that he was a very prickly porcupine indeed.

But back to the point he is making: while we might seek human connection, trying to be intimate or vulnerable with others often leads to frustration and disappointment.

We scratch and annoy each other with our varying needs and opinions, before — like the porcupines — settling on a compromise, Schopenhauer writes:
The mean distance which [people] finally discover, and which enables them to endure being together, is politeness and good manners. Whoever does not keep to this, is told in England to ‘keep his distance.’ By virtue thereof, it is true that the need for mutual warmth will be only imperfectly satisfied, but on the other hand, the prick of the quills will not be felt.
Manners and etiquette emerge to smooth the roughness of our individual wants and demands; such polite society, however, simultaneously blocks any true intimacy or connection from occurring.

Thus the dilemma: we seek out genuine connection, but can often only tolerate a sort of mitigated closeness. We both need and put up with one another.

What, then, can we do? How can we overcome the porcupine’s dilemma?

If here we think Schopenhauer will provide us with some interesting strategies for how we might overcome the needles of closeness and go on to forge true intimacy, then unfortunately we will be left bitterly disappointed.

For instead, Schopenhauer — great pessimist that he is — actually goes in the other direction. Rather than put up with people’s infuriating ways, he thinks we should cut our losses and withdraw altogether into solitude, and focus on generating some warmth for ourselves. He writes:
Yet whoever has a great deal of internal warmth of his own will prefer to keep away from society in order to avoid giving or receiving trouble or annoyance.
Indeed, who needs the company of others when one can enjoy one’s own company? Everything we are seeking connection-wise can be provided by a kind of refined solitude, Schopenhauer thinks.

For, he goes on to write, solitude can be made ever more blissful the more we develop our intellects and deepen our appreciation of art.

We can spend our time reading, listening to music — appreciating the best cultural achievements of humanity — without ever having to actually contend with or be annoyed by any other humans themselves.

In another essay on self-sufficiency, Schopenhauer doubles down on this position, writing:
As a general rule, it may be said that a man’s sociability stands very nearly in inverse ratio to his intellectual value: to say that ‘so and so’ is very unsociable, is almost tantamount to saying that he is a man of great capacity. Solitude is doubly advantageous to such a man. Firstly, it allows him to be with himself, and, secondly, it prevents him being with others — an advantage of great moment; for how much constraint, annoyance, and even danger there is in all intercourse with the world.
Of course, it is rather convenient that Schopenhauer attacks sociability and praises the intellect of those who embrace solitude — for he himself lived a life primarily of isolation (the philosopher never married, had a famously hostile relationship with his mother, and was notoriously bad tempered).

But however we may feel about Schopenhauer’s own prickliness, his parable lit the imagination of Sigmund Freud, who popularized it as the ‘porcupine dilemma’ (or ‘hedgehog dilemma’, as it’s now sometimes known).

Freud thought it encapsulated an important insight into human psychology: in seeking intimacy, we often push others away.

Remove the guardrails of etiquette and polite society, and we often just end up annoying each other.

What do you make of Schopenhauer’s parable?

Do you think the imagery of porcupines seeking to warm themselves aptly reflects the nature of human connection?

Do you agree with Schopenhauer’s recommendation — i.e. that to avoid being annoyed by others, we should renounce sociability and find ways to enjoy our own company?

Or do you think that occasional conflict is a necessary (perhaps indispensable) part of forming genuine connections, and that we can learn to live with (even love) each other’s prickliness?


Salvatore said...

It amazes me that you still have black Americans defending the democrat party.....the party of slavery, jim crow, the kkk, lynching and the Civil War......this article details the continuous destruction against the black American community by the democrat party......
The democrats have trapped black children in generational poverty and crime, and their policies have led to the deaths of 10s of thousands of black children every year.....
And blacks still vote for the democrats...
To sum it up, since 1964, Democrat policies that are ostensibly intended to benefit blacks have, instead, impoverished them, broken up their families, ravaged their communities with unchecked crime, and left their children illiterate and uninformed. These inculcated societal problems have spread to Hispanics, too, but they’re a little less vulnerable to them because they don’t have the blacks’ long, tangled history with the Democrats.
But Democrats aren’t done. Most recently, in the name of equity, Democrats are using their war on children’s education to reinstate…segregation. It’s not just for college dormitories anymore. According to the Wall Street Journal:

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

Hey, the Democrat's hearts were in the right place... results apparently don't matter. They've killed them with "affirmative" kindness.

Anonymous said...

Once slavemasters, always slavemasters.

Leopard cannot run away from own spots. ;-P

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

...more giraffe, IMO...

Anonymous said...

Leopard became vegetarian and grown long neck? ;-P

Evolution... even weirder things happening. :-))))))

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...


Anonymous said...

Good blog... only, tryes to monetise...

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

It's expected, isn't it?

Anonymous said...


You think I need to know such statistic?

Well, author providing some decent(?) content. So, yeah, it is usual thing in Open Source World -- at first that comes as some opensource application... and if find traction -- it becomes someone's business. (Audacity audio editor)

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

...a "side hustle" for "achievers". The Achievement Society manipulated by the elites regulating the Society of Control. More willing slaves were never bred.

Anonymous said...

People need to eat.

Yeah-yeah, I know, that is all a conspiracy of commie-capitalists... :-)))

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

Yes they do.

from the Jowett summary of Plato's "Republic"

Here follows a rustic picture of their way of life. They spend their days in houses which they have built for themselves; they make their own clothes and produce their own corn and wine. Their principal food is meal and flour, and they drink in moderation. They live on the best of terms with each other, and take care not to have too many children. ‘But,’ said Glaucon, interposing, ‘are they not to have a relish?’ Certainly; they will have salt and olives and cheese, vegetables and fruits, and chestnuts to roast at the fire. ‘’Tis a city of pigs, Socrates.’ Why, I replied, what do you want more? ‘Only the comforts of life,—sofas and tables, also sauces and sweets.’ I see; you want not only a State, but a luxurious State; and possibly in the more complex frame we may sooner find justice and injustice. Then 373the fine arts must go to work—every conceivable instrument and ornament of luxury will be wanted. There will be dancers, painters, sculptors, musicians, cooks, barbers, tire-women, nurses, artists; swineherds and neatherds too for the animals, and physicians to cure the disorders of which luxury is the source. To feed all these superfluous mouths we shall need a part of our neighbour’s land, and they will want a part of ours. And this is the origin of war, which may be traced to the same causes as other political evils. 374Our city will now require the slight addition of a camp, and the citizen will be converted into a soldier. But then again our old doctrine of the division of labour must not be forgotten. The art of war cannot be learned in a day, and there must be a natural aptitude for military duties. There will be some warlike natures 375who have this aptitude—dogs keen of scent, swift of foot to pursue, and strong of limb to fight. And xxxiv as spirit is the foundation of courage, such natures, whether of men or animals, will be full of spirit. But these spirited natures are apt to bite and devour one another; the union of gentleness to friends and fierceness against enemies appears to be an impossibility, and the guardian of a State requires both qualities. Who then can be a guardian? The image of the dog suggests an answer. 376For dogs are gentle to friends and fierce to strangers. Your dog is a philosopher who judges by the rule of knowing or not knowing; and philosophy, whether in man or beast, is the parent of gentleness. The human watchdogs must be philosophers or lovers of learning which will make them gentle. And how are they to be learned without education?

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

Gotta love the achievers. They always need "more".

Anonymous said...


You can go living in wigwam or igloo...

until someone from nation of achievers will come... and make your to re-settle into reservations.


-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

...at least I'll be living a life of my choosing, by and for myself.

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

...as for resettlement... molon labe.

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

...welcome to Ruby Ridge.

-FJ the Dangerous and Extreme MAGA Jew said...

Go ahead.... make fun of the "wise men of Gotham".

Anonymous said...

your molon will not save you from their bubbles ;-P

Well... that inhabitants of wigwams and igloos... believed in their tomahawks too. ;-P