A guest authored edgy essay by Robert Whyte
Repeated attempts to express in text all human feelings, ideas and possible experiences in enough detail to invoke a suspension of disbelief will eventually result in the creation of a passably convincing mise en scène[i] comparable to (as if you didn’t know already) life itself. In other words, out of nothing but words blowing in the wind, we can evoke and even materialise (bring forth into being) all the strange, private dialogues between victims of fully-grown biologies, yet free (on the page) of the usual constraints of the material world and circumscribed only by the powers of our imagination. All well and good, but is this life we create (in the same sense that you are) actually real?
Before we answer this question let us analyse it more closely. From your own point of view, surely it stands to reason that life (and everything else for that matter) is a facet of existence, which of all the things in the universe, surely must be real.
We have to be very careful here, because many of the more interesting and often heated arguments of this kind are based ipso facto on false premises, after which they are off and running, unassailable with their meticulous internal logic.
It therefore behoves[ii] one to get back to basics, peel away the castle so magically suspended in the sky and take a look behind the so-called veil of illusion at the evidence. Sure enough, on closer inspection one discovers there is absolutely no evidence that existence, itself, actually exists. Plato (not a character in this text) said we are but shadows cast on the wall of a cave by the light of a fire, our lives no more than wisps of fire smoke drifting in the wind, our hearts hot coals in the night, yet destined to be cold ash by dawn, the soles of our feet in poking from the mouth of the cave in the cold morning light being nibbled by a hungry wombat.
Take a good hard look at yourself in the bathroom mirror.[iii] Which one of you is real, the one looking, or the one being looked at? Neither? Both? The other one? Now turn the light off. This is what Plato meant by shadow. In order to prove your existence, all you have to do is build a fire in the bathtub (make sure you disable the smoke alarm first) and lie down on the floor with your feet poking out the door waiting for a passing wombat. If that’s what you call existence, you’re welcome to it.
So far so good, but if there is no such thing as existence, what is this place, how did we get here and is there a way out? Those among you who are naturally skeptical will find it hard to believe in nothing at all, and those who accept everything on faith will have a problem believing nothing exists, but to satisfy both of you we have devised a practical experiment which will demonstrate that what we have been telling you is indeed true.
First of all, sit down at a desk, take a pencil and some paper and draw an imaginary animal that resembles yourself. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many times you have to erase it and start again, so take your time, and remember, there are plenty of pencils and erasers in the cupboard.
Everyone finished? All right then, let’s have a look at your drawings. Hmm. Sally, yours doesn’t look like anything at all. The rest of you, let’s gather round and look at what you’ve done. Oh dear. Joshua, you can join Sally. The rest of us will be right next door.
Settle, please, and keep your voices down. Sorry about that, the experiment doesn’t always work for everyone in the class, but that’s the first time I can remember two at once. If we can just calm down, and put what you saw out of your minds completely we’ll be fine. The door is locked. We are perfectly safe here, no matter what happens. Not that anything is going to happen, but just in case of emergencies it is better to be safe than sorry. Don’t you agree?
Now, I want everyone to hold their drawing up and look at it very closely. Remember, what you are looking at is a drawing. With this in mind (literally) I want you to answer this question. Is it you? No, of course not. It’s a drawing of you. More to the point, is it imaginary? No, it’s real, of course.
I asked you to draw an imaginary animal that resembles yourself. Each of you, except for Sally and Joshua (which I can’t explain) produced a real drawing of yourself which is neither an animal nor imaginary. Don’t take this personally, but if you can’t do this one simple thing properly, how can you be trusted with the universe?
Fortunately, it’s not you I am interested in, it is your mind that’s important. As they say, free your mind, and the body will follow (which isn’t exactly true, but it sounds nice).
If your mind was to accept the possibility of existence, it must first demand the existence of possibility. Notice those italics? They are to emphasise those very words. That’s right, demand the existence of possibility!
Everything (including nothing, existence, dark matter, light matter, heavy matter, skepticism, belief, particles, strings, knots and those stains in the carpet you can’t seem to get rid of no matter how hard you scrub) all depend on the existence of possibility. Once possibility exists, the rest of it is a doddle.
Before you rush to knock the top of that Nebuchadnezzar[iv] of Maison Veuve Clicquot, let’s not get carried away with ourselves, there are always a few butts left over after a hard night’s party scavenging.
Once you build an argument on the premises next door, rather than your own address at no fixed abode, you can say just about anything and get away with it. This is usually the occasion for a big statement concerning time and space, but before we go there, let me warn you that time is not on our side, and space, let’s face it, is bad juju.
Time (with a capital T) has become, through no fault of its own and by means of the consistent modernization of history, a sort of museum, to which very few can afford the price of admission.
Space, as we mentioned before, is bad juju and this is where the real problem lies. Time is the foundation of the material universe but space is the bits in between everything else, and includes not only pins and needles, but that spongey, gooey muck known as dark matter which is really nothing more than the need for a new prescription for your reading glasses.
Language, which became fully developed somewhere around the time of the modern chook (Gallus gallus) is a magical playground where, more often than not, humans are able to escape the space time continuum. (Everyone needs to take a break now and then.) But before you start wanting to take up a quill and move around in space and time at will, we have to point out that writing isn’t always like falling off a log, sometimes it involves falling off the face of the earth and so you begin to see why life is so much more popular.
It would be a truism, and I would be lying down if I denied it, to point out that the purpose of all this[v] is riddled with doubt. But is it? Look closer and you will find that doubt, as opposed to tomcat spray or the top of a mountain is in fact the underlying force which controls your existence and if properly handled, can be built into the particular thing that interests you most, the pursuit of love, for example, or one of the numerous other delusions behind visible things.
It goes without saying that all forms of discovery are opposed to experience. This is what we call a contradiction of necessity, like trying to prove the impossibility of believing that existence is impossible to believe. But that’s like saying belief is merely unbelief, with a capital B. How ridiculous. The mind simply doesn’t work like that. Ideas are not mental teabags, to be jiggled for a while then squeezed dry and thrown away.
As we all know, reading is not writing, except in this case it is, and humans who engage in pursuits of this kind are required to employ a modification of what used to be known as personal interference, which betrays the fact that there is, after all, a world in which words are only black and white dots on a frayed curtain.
[i] A miserable scene.
[ii] Is this really necessary?
[iii] Reflecting on mirrors (in your spare time of course, not while on duty) can be extremely illuminating because it illustrates the function of speculation, cogitation and disbelief, processes that anyone may repeat in a suitably equipped laboratory, without any fear of retribution.
[iv] Things grow like topsy round here. What was a Jéroboam (3 litres) quickly doubled in size to a 6 litre Methusaleh, and now has more than doubled again to an 15 litre Nebuchadnezzar. It’s going to have to stop there, because even though there are sizes bigger than these, no one but a French bottle washer would know them. Plus, they have boring or incomprehensible names. The Solomon is 18 litres (24 standard bottles), the Sovereign at 26.25 litres or 35 bottles is obviously a badly made Primat or Goiliath, which is more properly is 27 litres and the absurd Melchizedek 30 litres, or the equivalent of 40 bottles.
[v] What’s this?
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 159
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Wednesday 1 August 2018
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