Notes from a Sidecar is a travelogue of the mind and of the geography of the Kootenay area of British Columbia and then onto Northern Washington and a part of Northern Idaho in the United States. The author travels in his Kawasaki Vulcan sidecar rig, at times with his wife, and often with his dog “lady”. Interspersed with the motorcycle riding are comments on the role of philosophy in modern life. John Dale is not a professional philosopher but has spent his adult life reading and thinking about philosophy in between a career as a physician and pilot. Influenced at an early age by Wittgenstein the trend in his thoughts has been towards the non-verbal and underlying principles that we live by.
Dale shows how we make decisions in our everyday life using unconscious and culturally derived assumptions. Wittgenstein remains largely the starting point in this book, although many precursors to his line of thought are pointed out in an attempt to move beyond the “silent” areas. The roles of doubt, uncertainty and vagueness, are examined in detail to illustrate how we do make decisions, and that in spite of these concepts, we make most of the time accurate decisions. But the importance of acknowledging the degree of uncertainty does not seem apparent. The illusion of certainty is examined as a critical concept so that we may be more at ease with less certainty. The role of language is brought in as the critical factor in the artificiality of the nature of certainty.
In the book we are taken through the influence of aesthetics and ethics and politics on each other. Certain novel ideas about differing forms of knowledge are introduced and the germinal ideas of Suzanne Langer are touched upon.
John Dale is a family physician with 35 years of experience and has also worked as a commercial pilot/instructor at times and owned and ran two flying schools. He has driven motorcycles and sidecars for most of his adult life and loves them. Philosophy was an early passion, forced on him by attempts to mold his religious beliefs. During medical school he was lucky enough to be personally tutored by an ex-pupil of Ludwig Wittgenstein and that gave him the confidence to write philosophical notes during his career. Finally after reaching semi-retirement in 2004, he was able to put the notes into some kind of form. Knowing that he is an amateur philosopher, he preferred to write a “popular” book on philosophy and incorporate his beloved motorcycle into the theme.