Have I ever told you about the time that, as the sole passenger on a fairly large twin engine corporate airplane flying through a blizzard at night somewhere over the midwest, I was called up into the cockpit by the pilot, and asked to fly the plane?
Yeah. In case I’ve never mentioned it before, I’m not making this up. I was staring out my window from my plush leather seat on the right side of the plane, looking at the torrent of huge snowflakes swirling all around us in the darkness, when the co-pilot suddenly came back to my seat and told me the captain wanted me up front.
What? Was it a logic emergency? Or an unexpected metaphysical conundrum? In the circumstances, I was hoping he didn't want to chat quickly about arguments in favor of life after death.
When I got over my surprise and made it into the cockpit, the somewhat elderly looking captain said, “So, I’ve been told you’re a little worried about flying.” I was, at that time in my life many years ago, actually worried more about crashing, but I agreed to his milder characterization, not even wanting, in the situation, to bring up that other topic, or even the word.
“Have a seat,” he said. “I want you to fly the plane for a while.”
“I’m going to show you how to fly the plane.”
"Right now? In all this snow?”
“Are you sure?”
He said, “I don’t think you’ll ever be worried any more.”
Or anything else any more, I thought. “You’re really absolutely sure?”
“Yes, indeed. Take the open seat here.”
So, to make a long story short, but not as short as it could have been, with the plane under my command, I learned how to fly that night.
And I learned how far we are, in normal circumstances, from really paying attention to what we’re doing. There are times, like, for example, in flying a plane for the first time in your life, and at night, in a blizzard, where your senses are instantly so enhanced you almost feel like you have perceptual superpowers. Your mind is so clear that you can’t believe such a degree of clarity is possible. Your focused concentration is so complete - well, you get the idea. If we could tap into that in more normal situations, just imagine.
It helps the story for me to tell you that the airplane was a vintage Grumman Mallard, a sea plane that had been shot down and dredged up after the second world war from the bottom of Tokyo Bay and then completely rebuilt. And, no, I’m not making this up, either. That’s what they told me when I had said how remarkable it was. It was such a beautiful plane, full of gorgeous woods and supple leather, and all in a style not seen since 1945. When I first got on board, I felt like Humphrey Bogart. That was before I started feeling like Amelia Earhart.
That night I learned a lot about how airplanes fly, and how the controls work - enough to have great admiration for the people whose job is to get us in this mode to where we’re going. And for some reason, that surreal experience did give me more assurance about flying. I mean, if I can do it, even for just a few minutes, I guess I can trust the licensed professionals, two of whom are busily getting me somewhere as I type these words. I just hope they don’t need me up there again. It’s a 757, a little big for my current and rusty skills.
And, Oh, this blog post should probably have a philosophical point, or moral - so here goes: Philosophers are capable of more than mere flights of fancy.
Just kidding. If a philosopher can fly a plane at night in a blizzard, then I guess almost anyone can do almost anything - at least, with a trained professional hovering close by.
And if you ever see me walking down the street wearing surgical scrubs, or SWAT gear, don’t look so surprised. My toga might be at the cleaners.