The hedgehog dilemma.

hedgehog_smlThe Hedgehog Dilemma is an analogy by Arthur Schopenhauer (later also used by Freud) that attempts to describe the difficulties of human intimacy:

“A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.” 

But then again Schopenhauer was known to be a miserable and sour bastard. The philosopher Russell later said about him: “It is hard to find in his life evidences of any virtue except kindness to animals…”. Which is a pretty cool virtue in my mind, but anyway… I believe great minds are often miserable, and in great part due to this exact dilemma. My solution for a thinker who finds himself affected by said dilemma is to preserve and fuel the “heat in himself” and I suspect the distance won’t feel as harsh.

Leave a Comment