Fermentation is something the West despise or ignores. There are few people who do it. Those who know a little of it, often focuses on the dangers of, say, botulism. But there are those who knows the beauty behind this, those who understand it, and who knows, in a sense, what to do with it. Few people understand this, and even less have the skills to utilize it. As a “fermenter” I can see the analogy between fermentation and philosophy, and how both relates to healing the soul. One might ask, why heal the soul? This is simple: in our current era we are told that the “soul” does not exist, that it is metaphysical babble, but we are also living in an age where record numbers of people commit suicide, and people who are so dissatisfied with life they drink themselves out of this world, or use some form of drugs to escape. One might say we are living in times where people’s souls are so destroyed (i.e. told that souls does not exist) that they do not know what else to do than take their own lives. I propose to use philosophy and fermentation to fight this “soulless” time we live in.
One of the wonders of this world is fermentation. If you leave a bowl of soaked grain outside it will ferment. Complex sugars will be broken down, alcohol will form and the original product which one began with, will have become something else. Utilizing this phenomenon one can make a vast array of different things, especially alcohol. The West is most familiar with alcohol, but few people know exactly how their beer is made. Yogurt is yet another such mysterious product, as well as bread. Most people do not know how to make these products they see everyday in the shop. Few know that these products are the product of fermentation, utilizing bacteria and yeasts in order to transform one thing to something else, sometimes with healthier benefits. Bread is probably the one fermented product the West got rid of and out of their diet. Today’s “wonder bread” or store-bought quick breads cannot be called fermented breads, because they are merely “fermented” for an extremely short period. Sourdough breads, which are making a slow return into the Western diet, are breads that ferment for two days (or longer). This extended fermentation changes the taste, but also the health properties of the bread. The longer one ferments something more complex sugars will be broken down and will in turn be “digested” for you.
Philosophy transforms one’s life in totality. When you read a philosophy text, one’s life is never the same again, but also one’s outlook one life changes. One becomes more “philosophical”. One does not accept things as they are, one questions and inquires; one, in a sense, gets rid of one’s previous self and transforms into someone else, someone new. There is a saying that one will never read the same text twice, because with the first reading of that text one will be different; the second reading of the same text will be different even tough it is the same text. Philosophy encourages “phronesis”. Phronesis is a certain type of wisdom (practical wisdom). One can think of a musician. The musician can learn all the history associated with that instrument, all the cords and all the technique, but this will not make him or her a great musician. Once the musician gains the experience to effortlessly play the instrument without relying on methods, cords or reading the music, he or she gains a “feeling” play the instrument. Things can change, there can be external influences and things can go wrong, but the great musician will still be able to play the instrument in such a way that it looks effortless. The same will the philosophically inclined person. He or she will be able to make difficult decisions without faltering, lead a life that will not be unexamined and ruled by dogma, etc. Phronesis is thus the ability to utilise something without relying solely on guidelines etc.
Philosophy and fermentation
What does this have to with philosophy, one might ask. At first glance nothing, but in closer inspection one might draw some parallels. The first and most important one is time. Time for the fermenter is of utmost importance, because over time the product will become better. If he quickens the time, the product will not be as good as it can be, he/she underutilized the utility of fermentation. Time for the philosopher is the same, he/she will use time to “ferment” his/her ideas so that it can become better and more “palatable” to the public. This “final product” will thus be changed from the previous inputs, which may have been used in any manner. The second, and also important, aspect is that of breaking down into less complex parts. Fermentation breaks down complex sugars into less complex sugars, and then breaks it down into, say, alcohol. This changes the nature of the product as well. Philosophy is similar in this regard. Complex situation, problems and questions are “fermented” in order to understand it. It is also so that philosophy takes apart what seems to be the “every day” and turns it into something more manageable.
Philosophy and fermentation as a way of life: Healing the soul
How can we translate this into a workable way in which the everyday person can benefit from it? Like fermentation this is not a simple answer. With fermentation there are a lot of variables, in life there is also this problem. Different people will benefit from different things, different things might work for different people. No single person will gain the same from, say, Plato or Aristotle. Not everyone might find Nietzsche helpful in their current situation. Fermentation, in the same way, may not always happen the same in every situation. In situation A there might be vigorous, active fermenting, in situation B there might be slow sluggish fermentation. It is up to the person to find what works the best for him or her. This might sound like relativizing philosophy to cater for the person, but one must not fall in this trap. But how does one gain philosophy as a way of life? Are there exercises or schools one can attend? Again, there are not stock answers. One must entangle and engage the text, one must get “dirty” and live actively, even if one might not always be happy. Time is on one’s side, because as in fermentation, one’s life (which is being lived philosophical) will get better when it is fermented.