Schopenhauer, The Hedgehog’s Dilemma, and Human Intimacy

This was the topic chosen by one of my students, Brenda, for her final project in my Honors Seminar this summer. “The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” (also called ‘the porcupine dilemma’) is a metaphor exploring the challenges of human intimacy. A group of hedgehogs desire to become closer to one another in order to cuddle-up and stay warm through the cold weather. However, when they get too close, they poke each other with their spines, so they must remain apart. So even though they have the shared desire for closeness, which they continue to attempt to create, they also recoil as to avoid hurting one another.

Schopenhauer applied this situation to individuals in society, suggesting that despite good intentions, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships.

Brenda composed a chapbook of poetry based on this concept. Accompanying that written portion of her project, was a 15 minute presentation during which Brenda asked her classmates to come forward and stand in front of a projector screen displaying a series of images and music that she had previously compiled. The activity was meant to have students experience the warmth, comfort, and awkward uncertainty of intimacy firsthand.

Brenda asked that I remain in seat in the classroom during the experiment. I abided, though not without taking out my phone to record a portion of the experience.