Alice is a Philosopher
Most of us have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the movie What the Bleep Do We Know, a character asks “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?” He refers of course, to the entryway to Alice’s quirky, surreal, and silly adventures. The Bleep movie offers us a “reality” that only SEEMS surreal and strange. With analysis from quantum physics and spiritual experience, the rabbit-hole reality could be just as “real” as anything we usually consider thus. That’s another discussion, though. I’ll just comment here on the Alice story that inspired the question.
I don’t know about you, but I never questioned the name “March Hare” during any of my readings of Alice’s story. Why would a “March” Hare be any different than a “September” Hare? Well, it turns out they are very different indeed. I learned that the expression “Mad as a March Hare” was in vogue in England in the mid 1800s when the book was written. In March, it was believed, hares began to weary of their long breeding season, and their “mad” behavior was observed when a female would use her back legs to repel an overenthusiastic male suitor.
Alice approaches a tea party after being warned that its participants are mad.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“…we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad? Said Alice.
“You must be, …or you wouldn’t have come here.”
The liberal use of the word “mad” in the story is, well, maddening. If I substitute the word “unusual”, though, it could describe my circle of friends: “You must be unusual, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Alice, in choosing whether to visit the Hatter or the March Hare, decides “The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May, it won’t be raving mad — at least not so mad as it was in March.”
Alas, poor Alice finds BOTH the Hatter and the March Hare at the Hare’s tea party.
I’d thought the Hatter was always called the “Mad Hatter”. He was certainly mad, because he was “there”, at the party, but I was astonished to realize that NOT ONE TIME was he ever referred to as “The Mad Hatter” in the story, just “The Hatter”. I’ve seen characters in plays called “The Mad Hatter”, and Halloween costumes in stores called “The Mad Hatter”, but it turns out that this is one of those cultural myths! You know the sort of thing: Humphrey Bogart never uttered the words “Play it again Sam,” in Casa Blanca; Captain Kirk never ordered “Beam me up, Scotty” on Star Trek; and music “hath charms to soothe the savage BREAST,” not BEAST.
It’s at the tea party that my favorite (and most “Bleep/Rabbit Hole”-like) sequence happens: “…you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied: “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see”!
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like”!
There are times that the comment about eating IS the same for me, but it’s the philosophical principal in the next comment I wish to emphasize, because it brings two things into alignment: “I like what I get” is indeed the same as “I get what I like” if we choose to look at life in that way. If we are able to look upon the life we have as mostly good, we are then more likely to “get” more of what we find to be good.
Alice has other teachings for us. At one point she “tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out”…sounds like a Zen koan to me! I meditated on ‘candle-with-flame-blown-out’ for a while. I’d love it if you’d try it and tell me what it’s like for you.
At one point, Alice learns about Time. “If you knew Time as well as I do,” said the Hatter, “you wouldn’t talk about wasting IT. It’s HIM…Now, if you only kept on good terms with Him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock.” Who knew there would be quantum droppings in this tale? An earlier post of mine tells how scientists might want to keep on good terms with Time.
Finally, I’ll mention a comment in the introduction to my edition of Alice in Wonderland. The publisher states that Alice is the first book created solely for the amusement of children, with “no moral purpose whatsoever.” This may have been the intention of author Lewis Carroll, an Oxford lecturer in logic and mathematics, but, if so, he failed.
In Carroll’s time, children’s literature was full of pious lessons in correct behavior, and the horrible consequences of naughty actions by bad boys and girls. I’m entirely sympathetic with Carroll wanting to get away from this, and, as a child I was highly amused by Alice’s adventures.
But even then, I knew there was more to the story than simple amusement. It gave me permission to indulge in the power of imagination, and opened a whole new world to me. I didn’t know then that this world could have been a parallel reality in the realm of theoretical physics. See you down the Rabbit Hole!