'Ã'xperiences Quotidienne', ('Quotidienne' being 'everyday' but 'Ã'xperiences' not necessarily 'Experiments') was the title given by by the contemporary French philosopher, Roger-Pol Droit, to this series of mental gymnastics designed to broaden the mind and make it more supple. Some of the exercises seem really rather silly, such as ringing up telephone numbers at random (this to make yourself feel insignificant), and pinching yourself hard (this to remind yourself of the reality of pain). Leaving aside several involving 'pretty girls' and smiling or complimenting them and so on. But others are really rather thoughtful. Take two experiments to do with the nature of space and time. The first is the twenty minute world thought experiment.
Imagine the world only lasts twenty minutes. That is, imagine it sprang into existence just a moment ago, and will pop out of existence too in just exactly twenty minutes. Everything in the world appeared just as it is, out of the flux. "Like a soap-bubble bursting, or a light going out" it will disappear in nineteen minutes.
Roger-Pol Droit says that everything looks the same, yet something has changed. The world lacks the depth of "a real past and the perspective of a viable future". And as the twenty minutes approaches its term, we should feel "furtively, the dumb terror that everything will, effectively, disappear." Although as Roger-Pol drolly remarks, perhaps secretly, we will also feel a slight disappointment that nothing was obliterated...
But the other Experiment Quotidienne that I liked particularly was perhaps more subtle. It involves finding a landscape or view to sit down and contemplate. Then the experiment starts.
"You settle down to look at it. Don't stare. Don't scrutinise. There's nothing for your eye to seek out, and it should avoid stopping at any particular point. On the contrary, let it glide over the whole, disengaged and slightly vague... everything must seem to you like a single surface, flat and without relief - like a painting."
This may take a few minutes to achieve, although Roger-Pol says it can happen very fast depending on your mood. Anyway, when you really believe you are staring at a single smooth surface, then imagine that "everything you see, from earth to sky, whether still or in motion, is just a detail on an immense, stretched canvas. "Or perhaps on a giant screen, like a gigantic cinema screen, shown in perfect focus and definition." Then imagine the screen is being folded up.
"You are about to see this great curtain, which contains the entire landscape, reveal something behind itself, as, very slowly, it starts to fold."
What will we see, Roger-Pol? And in this last experiment, Roger-Pol Droit says we can imagine anything we like, but one thing we should accept is that, from now on, 'the solidity of the real' has been diminished.
These 'Ã'xperiences quotidienne' are not really thought experiments at all (certainly the two 'silly' ones aren't, involving actual physical action) in the same sense as the other ones favoured by our scientists and analytic philosophers. They are neither logically compelling, nor are they pretending to be. This after all, is French philosophy, and at a certain point the continental and English speaking ('Anglo-American) philosophers parted company. Nonetheless, I think the same technique is there. And, in a way, the 'evidence' of such musings is no more to be dismissed than the evidence of more mundane practical experiments.
101 Experiments (unlike other books with a similar title) does have weaknesses, one of which is surely a peculiarly introverted and egotistical sense of the purpose of such experiments in the first place. These are not ones investigating the world, but experiments investigating our perception of the world. They are not about anything out there, only about everything 'in here'.
But this collection, although it does (it is true) lend itself to being read out loud in a rather pretentious French accent, should not be underestimated. It is a substantial work of real philosophy, it contains real ideas, some indeed, new ideas. And that is no mean achievement.