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Legosophy

Tommaso W. Bertolotti

(PUF, 116 pages, 2019)

From small interlocking bricks to movies, Legoland theme parks and the YouTube channel, Lego’s expanding universe continues to fascinate young and old. How does one explain Lego’s enduring power of wonderment beyond the well-known account of its phenomenal success story? Philosopher and lifelong Lego enthusiast Tommaso W. Bertolotti studies the way new technologies affect the human mind. In Legosophy, he gives free rein to his two passions. Combining the art of philosophizing and his own experience as a Lego player, he offers a fresh and stimulating perspective on the Lego world, and its enduring presence in our everyday life.

In what ways can we connect Legos and philosophy, and how can each illuminate the other? Bertolotti pursues three lines of thought to explore what Lego and philosophy share in common. Drawing on an array of philosophical ideas from Ancient Greece to contemporary cognitive science, he anchors his reflection around the themes of fantasy and verisimilitude, freedom and structure, and creativity versus guided instruction.
In “Lego in the Acropolis,” he highlights the essential characteristics of Lego bricks—their modularity; the importance of the model; their pedagogical and ideological function in promoting “a structured world where everything has its place”—by drawing a parallel with Plato’s ideal city, Democritus’atomist theory of the universe, and Pythagoras’ mathematical vision of reality. In “Building the Mind with Lego,” he examines the act of playing with Lego bricks through the prism of cognitive science and more recent philosophical theories regarding the nature of the mind. Calling upon the work of cognitive scientists Andy Clark and David Chalmers, as well as Charles Sanders Pierce, and the archeologist Steven Mithen, Bertolotti explores the links between the game of Lego and the way we think. Finally, in “In Brick We Trust,” he analyzes the cult of Lego, and searches to explain why Lego has become an object of veneration. In order to unravel this point, he daringly appropriates the language of faith, drawing from the research of the anthropologists of religion Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer.

Who are the true Legophiles? Those who follow instructions to the letter or those who start by mixing up all the bricks and letting their vision emerge out of this chaos? Philosophy and Lego, Bertolotti suggests, both feed on freedom and method. Modular by definition, they both propose models that allow and encourage the thinker/player to depart from them and release their creative imagination. Bertolotti redefines the ways in which we think of and view Lego, opening up new modes of thought and insight into today’s pop culture.

 

Tommaso W. Bertolotti is a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of technology, cognitive niche construction, and applied epistemology. He lives in both Europe and the United States. He is an adjunct professor of cognitive philosophy at the University of Pavia, in Italy, where he received his Ph.D. in 2014. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Mind and Society Center of the University of Southern California. His articles have appeared in a variety of journals and edited volumes such as, most recently, The Routledge Handbook of Applied Epistemology (D. Coady, D. & J. Chase, J., eds., 2018). His first monograph, Patterns of Rationality: Discovering Recurring Inferences in Science, Social Cognition and Religious Thinking, was published by Springer in 2015.