“Yet feet that wandering have gone, turn at last to home afar”

From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...
From inside on of the hobbit holes, on location at the Hobbiton set, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The title is part of the poem spoken by Bilbo Baggins at the end of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R Tolkein, as he sees his home from afar on his return. However he did not finally settle there, moving to Rivendel before the events of “The Lord of the Rings”. Eventually he and others, including Frodo and Gandalf sailed off to the West and out of the knowledge of the people of Middle Earth.

This poem came to mind as we returned to New Zealand from England, having visited relatives in England, Wales and Ireland. We had a great time and it was sad to leave, but when we touched down in Auckland I have never previously felt so deeply that we had arrived home. And we still had the leg to Wellington to complete!


The leg from Auckland to Wellington was brilliant! The air was so clear, although with some cloud, so the mountains poked their snowy heads through the white blanket. Even the lower peaks of some of the hills showed snow cover, as New Zealand had just emerged from a cold snap.

As we closed on Wellington I could see Kapiti Island from the window. Unfortunately my cell phone had run out of power so I could not take any pictures. To add insult to injury we turned left and passed south of Kapiti Island before passing to the west of Titahi Bay Porirua Harbour.

English: The Burren, Ireland
English: The Burren, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just before Porirua city the clouds closed in, hiding the city itself and the northern suburbs of Wellington. The cloud cleared a little further south but not in time for me to spot our roof from the air!

As we passed over Wellington Harbour I got a good view of the lower Hutt Valley, including Petone and its wharf, close to where I used to work. Then it was all stations go for landing.

View of Aotea Lagoon, North Island, New Zealan...
View of Aotea Lagoon, North Island, New Zealand from the north-east. Royal New Zealand Police College chalets in the foreground with Pipitea miniature railway station across the lagoon. To the right State Highway 1 and the North Island Main Trunk railway line with a southbound Capital Connection train. Further right is Porirua Harbour, in the background Porirua city centre and the Colonial Knob ridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My own experiences led me to consider travels in general. As you do. We were excited to leave, since were going to see our relatives and have interesting times. Bilbo Baggins set out excitedly and with trepidation. In his case he knew very little about what was going to happen to him, and had he known, his cautious streak may well have impeded his going.

As with Bilbo’s travels, our travels had their excitements and their tedious aspects. As with Bilbo, the first sight of home came as an immense relief and the experiences of our travels became things to tell other about, to share with them. We however met no dragons though we saw many representations of them in Wales.

English: Side view of Smaug at the Juarez stre...
English: Side view of Smaug at the Juarez street portion of the parade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This seems to me to be a common pattern. Even to blasé businessman travellers there must be some slight anticipation of events of the day or days ahead. When returning home, even the businessman would probably be looking forward to sleeping in his own bed. Even a simple commute to work embodies this pattern of anticipation, experiencing and relief on return to home.

Couple in Bed
Couple in Bed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frodo reports that Bilbo warned of the dangers of going on a journey.

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.

While neither Bilbo (in “The Hobbit”) or Frodo (in “The Lord of the Rings”) left home completely willingly, Bilbo being chivvied into it by Gandalf, and Frodo out of duty, many people completely willingly step into the “great river” that starts at every doorstep. There appears to be a conflict between the desire to remain comfortable at home and to experience new things.

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We were extremely tired by our journey which took a mere month or so. I can’t imagine how people such as Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo spent so long travelling. Marco Polo was away for 24 years!

Interestingly many travellers returned with truly amazing tales, of tribes of people with no heads, their faces in their torsos. Of people who consisted of large feet with eyes and mouths, presumably divided into left-footed and right-footed tribes. Where are these strange tribes today?

English: Author: btarski Date: 6/23/06
English: Author: btarski Date: 6/23/06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today of course we can travel round the earth in a day, and to places in between in a few days or so. It is apparent to us that those fanciful peoples could never have existed, so where did they spring from?

Well, a traveller would know that his tall tales would be next to unverifiable. He may well have been travelling for months and would know that it was unlikely that anyone would go and check his reports. It may be that his communications with local inhabitants was limited and that he misunderstood the locals and then reported what he thought they had told him as his own experiences.

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Maybe the traveller would be trying to source funds to go back again, maybe to bring back one of these mysterious people. I can report that all the people that I met and saw were built to the standard pattern!

One thing that Columbus and Polo would not have had to cope with is jet lag. This condition is a consequence of moving to fast between time zones. At the rate that Polo was travelling that would be the least of his problems. I’ve not read his history but I can guess that he did not so much as travel slowly as move his home steadily to the east and then to the west as the commercial opportunities arose. While Columbus travelled faster, his rate of travel through the time zones probably caused him few problems.

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So, glad as I am to get home, I find jet lag debilitating. I’m fine when I get up, and fine during the day, but for some reason, when 7pm or 8pm rolls around my eyes start to droop. They say that jet lag lasts for a few days, so I should be over it in a day or so.

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(This blog has returned to normal. I hope someone out there enjoys my maunderings.)




Determinism : Going out of your door.

Bilbo’s poem “The Road Goes Ever On” from “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” encapsulates the opposed and surely incompatible concepts of “free will” and “determinism”. Wikipedia puts it this way:

Earlier, when leaving the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits Bilbo’s thoughts on ‘The Road’: “He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.

Firstly Bilbo refers to the many choices that a journey forces on the traveller with the metaphor of a river, its branching and its tributaries, but he also acknowledges that one might be “swept off”, of the travellers path being beyond his control.

Journeys of Frodo
Journeys of Frodo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel that the second case (of one’s path being beyond one’s control) is a nod to the concept of determinism. I never set out to post mainly about food, though that is what has happened. I intended, as I stated in my very first post that there would be a triple focus to this blog. So this is in part an attempt to address the lack of balance.

So I’ve chosen to tackle a philosophical topic this time. Or did I? Did I actually make a choice, or was my switch to a philosophical topic pre-destined, and simply predetermined by previous events? Could I have chosen not to have written on this topic?

English: Choice of bridleways The unnamed road...

There are three main views expressed on the topic of freewill versus predestination. The first is that we do have freewill and many people consider this “obvious” and not really worth debating. The second view is that each and every action is pre-destined and that choice is an illusion. A third view tries to sidestep the debate by claiming that the two views are not mutually exclusive. Compatibilists (who espouse this third view) argue that, provided we were in a position to make a choice between two courses of action and we later turn out to have taken one of them  (or as it is more usually put, if we could have chosen to do take the other course) then we have made a choice, even if the outcome of making the choice was predestined and therefore both of the other two views are valid.

Conditional support
Conditional support (Photo credit: Pulpolux !!!)

I’ve always thought that the compatibilist viewpoint was a cop out, or a case of trying to have your cake and eat it. I’ve thought that it devalues choice, which to me means the ability to opt for one course freely and without the outcome being decided or predestined. However I’ve recently thought of an analogy that could support the compatibilist viewpoint.

The analogy is a computer program. There are “decision points” in a program. Should this bit of code be executed next or that bit of code? Should the program perform the loop one more time, or just carry on with the next bit of code? In each case the decision is made depending on the state of the program at the time, perhaps determined by the state of a variable. It could be said that there is a choice  involved in each of these decisions, but when the program is executing and it comes to a decision point its state is determined and the course of the execution is completely determined.

So, humans are not computers, are they? But the underlying point of the analogy is that the programmer writes the software program to make a decision depending on the situation when the program is run. When the program is run, the decision is made depending on the situation at the time. Similarly with humans, perhaps. At one level there is the choice “programmed into” the situation by the past state of the universe. At another level the decision is predetermined by the current state of the universe. Asking the question “Is there free will, or is everything predetermined?” is comparing apples with oranges.

Possibly. I’m not completely convinced. The compatibilists still have an ethical issue – is it ethical to punish someone for a crime even though they (presumably) chose to commit it, because their choice was predetermined.

English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : L...
English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : Le palais de justice de Tours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)