A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



Multiple Drafts

The Situation

An architect was concerned that he should get his plans exactly right before he built his signature building. It was the building that would change the skyline of a great city. He had bitter experience of not thinking a building through right to the end. He tried not to think of having the foreman and site engineer explain expensive mistakes to him that needed fixing. Even though this was the height of his career, he lay awake worring about it, his health suffered.

He met a friend of his who he had not seen for a long time. They had lunch in the city. In the shadow of his new buidling. He told her his worries. She remarked that some philosophers imagine that consciousness consists of a series of drafts of the truth. We imagine that our consciousness is fluid and constant. In fact it consists of a series of “multiple drafts.”


Of course the architect is careful. Of course he tries to get everything right, right at the beginning – what else would he do? And quite right too – why would anyone want to have to knock down and repair a new building! That must be exhausting and soul-destroying for everybody concerned – except maybe the contractors who are making fat pay packets working overtime. And how do you explain this rework to your bosses? To the people who are paying for the building? To the people paying the bill? “Well I'm very sorry Mr Customer, but I have so little idea about what I'm doing that I'm going to have a few more goes at getting this building right.”


Imagine the mechanism that we think we use to get at the truth – the most basic aspect of the mechanism – our being conscious, does not work as it appears to work. Imagine if the way we think we get at the truth, is a lie.

The friend of the architect had been an architect herself. But, just at the point where her career had looked as though it would take off, she had given up designing buildings herself. She created a new career for herself as a consultant – helping other architects, counselling them, listening to their problems. Some of her friends from architecture school were very scathing - “When the going gets tough – the tough get meta.” Said one of her cleverest friends, one who suffered most with the agonies of trying to make sure that every detail of his buildings was exactly right. But her friends called her, and paid her, and recommended her to their colleagues and partners. After a few years that were “touch and go” she found that she had a business.

She didn't get it right to start with. She initially imagined that she would be able to help her fellow architects by giving them advice. Slowly she realised that the kind of people who become successful architects don't want advice from anyone. She listened a lot – she took them out to lunch. Occasionally, she would tell them stories.


All kinds of things look good in the catalogue. When they arrive (when the delivery men finally manage to find you in) they don't always fit. They don't always look right. Many people wouldn't order from the catalogue at all if they didn't know that they could send things back if they weren't right.