Thinking as an Escape

Anna Cook
2 min readAug 3, 2020

I often say that I ended up in philosophy on a whim.

I studied Liberal Arts in CEGEP (the Québec version of the in-between transition from high school to university). My philosophy courses were my favourite. I especially loved early modern philosophy, moral philosophy and logic.

I tutored fellow students in logic and my prof casually said, “You’re good at this, you should study philosophy”.

And so, I did.

My favourite undergraduate prof told me, “You should go to grad school”.

And so, I did.

My PhD advisor told me that I should apply for a philosophy job.

And so, I did.

Have you picked up on the pattern yet?

And so, here I am — a philosophy professor. Mostly happy to be here (while also feeling guilty that other more deserving folks aren’t).

I’m not always so sure that I actually chose the path of my life, though.

I took a few meditation classes at the beginning of the year to slow down and let all the dust settle a bit.

During one of the classes, my teacher casually said, “so much of thinking is an escape, a shield, a way of running from discomfort or pain”.

Huh… Well that’s an interesting thought.

I turned to philosophy soon after a shooter opened fire at my school (Dawson College).

I turned to philosophy when I was experiencing multiple panic attacks a day and having nightly nightmares about a shooter in the subway, in the hallway, in the classroom, in the library, in the movie theatre, in the middle of the street… and on, and on, and on.

I turned to philosophy when I couldn’t concentrate in lectures because I was too busy listening for sounds of an imminent attack and rehearsing my exit plan… how I was going to break the glass and jump out of the second storey window.

“So much of thinking is an escape”.

What if my turn to philosophy was not only a result of my desire to please and be agreeable?

What if my turn to philosophy was a way to shield myself from the trauma and bodily sensations of unending panic?

A turn to abstract thought as a way to run away from my body and escape the pain?

What if it was a lifesaver that I hung on to for dear life?

Hmm.

Maybe my turn to philosophy was a choice that arose from a whole bunch of different things (one of which is the love of talking with others about big ideas and how those big, abstract ideas can make a difference in the world).

And maybe that’s ok.

Maybe there’s not one (and only one) way to choose a path. Maybe thought can be both an escape and a much-needed refuge… Maybe.

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Anna Cook

Philosophy professor. Thinker and overthinker. I’m an ambivalent academic and an academic of ambivalence. Happiest when dancing or starting a puzzle annacook.ca