On the Interpretive and Critical Issues of Eggs

Dear Ernest,

These days, man seems to inhabit two worlds.  In one, his choice of literature is restricted only by what he can find on the shelf, but in the other, he finds that the greatest criticism for his favourite authors and philosophers is that they are too difficult to read.  In one, he is limited only by the capacity of his imagination and his intellect, but in the other, he is confined by every pragmatic constraint, from the paucity of time to the stringent demands of utility.  Man on his own is free to contemplate the human condition, to spend however long he chooses considering the nature of the Absolute Truth, but as soon as he leaves the locus amoenus of his study, as soon as he enters into what most of us call ‘the real world’, he realises that all these fancies of his, all these suppositions that he may have dreamed up and wrought to withstand the most brutal kind of intellectual scrutiny—all these are attacked in the real world not for possessing any kind of logical fallacy but merely for being too abstract and metaphysical.  Anyone who spends an hour or so reading and thinking in a private study is likely to feel afterward that the time would have been better spent figuring out what to eat for dinner or how to make more money or what kind of clothes to wear tomorrow—these after all are the sort of decisions that have actual bearing on real life.

Ernest, it is strange that these two worlds are so dissociated from one another.  One would expect them to coincide.  To illustrate this, let us imagine a conversation between two people who each live in a different world respectively.  There is a realistically hefty woman living in the real world, and she is married to a phantasmagorically emaciated man living in the other world.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: It is my categorical Duty to sustain you.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: I’ll go get eggs.

Now, our woman might think the emaciated man is a little strange, but at the end of the day, there is no real disagreement between them.  Somehow or other, they can each grok what the other is thinking, since ultimately, they both want eggs.  The only difference is how they get to the eggs.  The woman wants eggs so that she can use them, and the man wants eggs so that he can be the sort of person who gets eggs.

When these two do disagree about something, however, that discrepancy is greatly inflamed by the difference in their worlds.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: Mankind is not entitled to luxury.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: Let’s see what kind of people we might become if we went without eggs for a little while.  Perhaps we’d be better for it.

Woman: But I need eggs now!  You lazy, phantasmagorically emaciated man!

Clearly this will not end well.  One or each of them is wrong, but it’s almost certain that they’ll never figure out how or why.  In the real world, the man will never have enough time to explain his esoteric reasoning fully.  If he were able to do so, perhaps the woman could point out the precise matter about which she disagrees with him.  On the other hand, the woman will never be fully able to express her passionate feelings about eggs.  If she could, perhaps the man could demonstrate where his own feelings differ.  All this would be much simpler if they both looked at eggs through the same lens.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word ‘apotheosis’ in your next letter.

Are Bad People Just Stupid?

“For indeed, the happiest potential issue

Experienced men achieve through plans.”

  Oedipus Rex, 44-45 (trans. liberally by TWM)

Dear Ernest,

In an effort to make this letter as concise and to the point as possible, while passing over any superfluous details, specifics, or particulars and avoiding any unnecessary repetitions or reiterations of the same concepts in different words, I have—for this purpose—decided to forgo the inclusion of any kind of absurdly lengthy and savagely magniloquent introductory sentence or paragraph—which might, even while appealing to my own grotesque and gaudy sensibilities, betray for my audience my embarrassing and deeply rooted verbosity—abstaining from so much, I have chosen instead to cut right to the chase: not all bad people are stupid.

In your last letter: “What are your thoughts on the Platonic [notion] that, if we were to truly know ‘The Good’ then we could do nothing else but that good?”

In so many words, these are precisely my thoughts on the Platonic notion known as ‘Hellenistic Rationalism’—the notion that moral goodness is the same thing as intellectual knowledge.  If I were to make the matter as simple as possible, I’d say that Hellenistic Rationalism is really just a fancy way of claiming that all bad people are stupid.  But even the most casual consideration of the world around us reveals that this isn’t true.  How many brilliant men and women of business have climbed the corporate ladder through deceit and treachery?  How many poets and artists, renowned for their learning and intelligence, have violated sacred vows and died dishonourably of syphilis?  Was not the idolatrous Solomon a divinely educated wise man?  By comparison to the rest of us, all of these people seem to have known ‘The Good’ very distinctly and with that full knowledge have made the deliberate choice to reject it all together.  The central human quality that delineates the boundaries between good and evil must then be something much more fundamental than mere knowledge.

For that matter, it is also more fundamental even than volition.  It is the human essence that can be called either good or evil.  In claiming this, I am saying nothing particularly insightful.  In fact, the tenet is almost circular: ‘that man is essentially good who is good with respect to his essence’.  It means that morality is not determined by what a person knows or what they want to do or what kind of sandwich they prefer to eat at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but rather, morality is an aspect of who the person is in his or her entirety.  The sophists at the university may be inclined to tell you that education is the key to happiness or goodness or any other desirable quality.  A veteran of war will sooner tell you that a proper training of the will can bring about so much.  I myself would like to say that the trick is to wear a handlebar moustache while composing shamelessly romantic music.  But common sense and linguistic idiom make it clear that being good is a subject concerned exclusively with being.

The problem with mere knowledge of The Good is that it doesn’t necessitate our using of that knowledge.  I know very well that it would be good if I were to clean up my room and my act rather than reading Gradus ad Parnassum or writing an over simplified blogpost on moral philosophy.  But this knowledge of good and evil, as it were, means absolutely nothing to me if I don’t think about it.  In short, I know what’s good for me (most people do), but I’m not thinking about it—I don’t consciously know that I know it.  If you enjoy being arcane, you might call this ‘second order knowing’, and just like the orders of volition, the orders of intellect describe the way that faculty is structured, which means they are a metaphysical aspect of essence.  Usually, when someone does something immoral, it’s not because they didn’t know it was wrong nor because they didn’t want to do The Good, but to put it simply, it’s because they refused to know that they knew the Good that they wanted to want to do.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word “campanological” in your next post.

Hypnosis: The Cognitive and Metaphysical Model

As promised, we will now open the flood gates to the empirical field of psychology, allowing the oceans of data, observations, and theories that permeate that entire academic universe to come pouring into our discussion, which has hitherto been purely philosophical.  Our best and most celebrated source is the outstanding research of one Ernest R. Hilgard.  Of course, we need always be mindful of the way we use this information; after all, we have yet done little to address the actual morality of hypnosis in itself—which is a very complicated subject, to be dealt with in a later post—and so the study of such must be approached with a similar note of caution, for the actual data of the study is taken from direct experience; that is, psychologists run tests by actually hypnotising people.  So it is relevant to ask whether hypnosis is moral in a clinical context and, if not, whether at least the study of the scholarship that comes out of such sciences is permissible.

I am led to believe that the latter of these is true.  My reasoning is simple: I could never answer the former question if I were not allowed to study it.  The world is full of all sorts of crazy ideas about hypnosis and meditation formulated, mostly, by people who have not given the subject a moment’s worth of critical, academic exploration.  Many Christians are inclined to write entire articles about the matter without having picked up a single book.  And I sincerely sympathise with such people.  It is very tempting to simply let the matter be, or address it without studying it, for the mere sake of condemning the highly elusive and frightening practice; however, that I should be required to reject something as an immorality before I know so much as the first thing about it seems, to me, entirely unreasonable, and even itself an immoral practice.  It is a part of our duty as human beings to understand the nature of things and observe the world around us.  In my own undertaking of this task, a study of hypnosis has become a relevant and even an integral part.  We ought to follow the example of St. Paul in such matters, understanding the ideas of a pagan world and transforming them into something useful to our cause.  If you disagree with me on this point, then I urge to to stop reading now.

As I have mentioned, in this brief exploration, we will be relying heavily on Hilgard and his theory of ‘the divided consciousness’ and ‘the hidden observer’ active in hypnosis.  Hilgard begins his argument by pointing out that in normal psychology, it is possible for a motive to be dissociated from a task.  He writes, “the acceptability of central controls, in the form of executive and monitoring functions, does not mean that all behaviour and experience must be referred to them.  What happens is that once an activity is under way it becomes relatively self-sustaining” (Fromm 47).  Next, he mentions what J. R. Hodge called ‘the hypnotic contract’ (Hodge), which refers to the agreement that occurs between the hypnotist and the subject before an induction—the agreement to comply with whatever the hypnotist instructs him or her to do.  When the subject agrees to this, he or she does so for a particular end, whether that be therapy, study, or entertainment.  But the process of induction is a method of dissociating this motive from the actual suggestibility so that the process becomes ‘self-sustaining’, forgoing any reference to the monitoring functions.

Hilgard gives several examples of how this might be accomplished in a typical induction, one of them being an eye-closure device, in which the subject is told to fixate on an object, only later to receive the suggestion that his or her eyes are closing.  This creates, as Hilgard writes, a dissociative situation in which subjects feel as though they are trying to keep their eyes open, but their eyes are closing of their own accord; the fact that they are the ones actively closing their own eyes has been dissociated from consciousness (Fromm 49).  Hilgard offers the following explanation: “The details of [an] actuated experience, [i.e. the fact that the subject is closing his or her own eyes,] are reported accurately by the monitor [(the part of the mind that monitors input)].  The activated subsystem, [i.e. the dissociated act of closing one’s eyes] does not use all the information about how the [process] was suggested, … and the monitoring functions do not offer any correction for this omission.  This lack of normal criticism was called ‘trance logic’ by Orne” (Fromm 51, Orne).

This basic cognitive model is very well supported by a number of experiments that Hilgard references, many of which include the concept of a ‘hidden observer’.  One example is a study involving hypnotically induced temporary deafness.  In the experiment, the subject was temporarily made deaf through hypnotic suggestion, but told that, when the hypnotist places his arm on the subject’s shoulder, “there would be contact with a concealed part of himself, unknown to the hypnotised part, that could describe what had gone on while he was deaf” (Fromm 57).  Something was then said to the deaf subject, after which, the hypnotist put his arm on the subject’s shoulder, allowing the subject to repeat what he had heard when deaf, of which he had no recollection either before the arm was there placed or after it was removed.  This phenomenon evidences Hilgard’s ‘divided consciousness’: a part of the subject is in a normal state of consciousness, aware of everything that goes on around him or her, but that part is dissociated from the subject, such that he or she is only aware of whatever the hypnotist allows.

These findings are supported by many other studies and other authors on the matter, the reading of which I recommend to anyone seeking a more complete study.  However, for our purpose at present, we need only acknowledge that this cognitive model seems quite well supported and is the basic structure of current psychological theory.  Hence we may turn to the task of relating this to our metaphysical model.

It is a rather brief task: in my last post, I concluded that dissociated functioning is made possible by the introduction of a species of contradiction declarative—we will hereafter call it ‘the dissociation declarative’—which states, “all that follows needn’t be in noncontradiction with the primal premise”.  This is the essential nature of ‘the hypnotic contract’.  Hypnotic induction is a process of reducing the criticality of one’s consciousness to mere trance logic and increasing the gravity of the hypnotic contract (here seen as a declarative) until it crosses a threshold, where it becomes the dissociation declarative.

Works that I Cited:

Fromm, Erika, and Ronald E. Shor. Hypnosis: Developments in Research and New Perspectives. New York: Aldine Pub., 1979. Print.

Hodges, J. R. “The Contractual Aspects of Hypnosis.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 24 (1976): 391-99. Print.

Orne, M. T. “The Nature of Hypnosis: Artifact and Essence.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58 (1959): 277-99. Print.

A Theological Preface

This post is the inception of a new series on hypnosis and related topics.

Prologue

I want to begin this inquiry by making it perfectly clear that I do not hereby endorse the practice of hypnosis in any way.  The essential pursuit of this study—and I think it has, in this regard, proved itself acceptably, and indeed, even exceedingly, fruitful—is to better understand the human condition, and in so doing, to better understand God Himself, the designer of that condition, which is the central pursuit of all scholarship that I here publish.  Mind you, this is primarily a philosophical argument, not a theological one, and so, God willing, there should be many useful ideas to be found in it for my honourable, non-christian friends as well.

Abstract

You might just skip this section if these things bore you.  I hope you don’t mind my sort of informal use of the first person plural–although it’s a little unprofessional and conceivably, to some, pretentious, I think it makes this stuff a little more enjoyable to read, or perhaps, only slightly less dull and unbearable.

We will begin the argument with this theological post–of course I use the term ‘theological’ loosely–on the morality of the argument itself.  The question here is whether it is moral to even study something like hypnosis.  In this sub-argument, we will explore the requisites that Christian doctrine entails for acceptable and pious scholarship, and then ask whether the pursuit in which we are about to engage, with its particular ends and means, satisfies such requisites.  We will conclude that it does so.

We will then proceed, in a following post, to layout a philosophical framework for and model of the metaphysics of hypnosis.  In this post, we will ask whether the possibility of hypnosis is self-evident.  In the second volume of his Summae Theologiae Thomas Aquinas writes Dicendum quod contingit aliquid esse per se notum dupliciter, uno modo secundum se et non quoad nos, alio modo secundum se et quoad nos, “It must be argued that the fact that something is self-evident touches us on two accounts, in one way according to itself and not to us, in the other way, according to itself and to us”.  The former of these manners is that in which we shall expect the possibility of hypnosis to be self-evident.  On the surface, it is not known to everyone that people can be hypnotised, but logically, it can be deduced, by anyone who so chooses, without any reference to empirical observation.  This is the task we shall undertake in answer to the question, and is the true end of asking the question.  What we will end up with is a metaphysical model of what happens when a person enters into a hypnotic state, and such a model will be valuable for the critical evaluation of the practice of hypnosis and related occurrences.

In posts following that one, we will explore the way our philosophical model relates to current psychological theories, and then, ultimately, we will evaluate the morality of hypnosis and discuss several other applications of the theory of dissociation (which we will have derived by that point).  I’ll write a separate abstract for those posts if I believe it to be necessary.

Is the Study of Hypnosis Moral?

It is a curious proceeding to begin this argument with an inquiry into the morality of ‘hypnosis’, before we have even so much as trifled to define the term.  However, it is also, to some degree, a necessary prerequisite to a discussion of the matter; before we study hypnosis, we must confirm that such a pursuit is not itself immoral, lest we should find ourselves seeking plus sapere quam oportet sapere, ‘to know more than is fitting’ (Romans 12:3).  And so we must begin this essay with an inquiry into the essay’s own morality.  Hence the question follows: Is the study of hypnosis a moral one?

Notice, I have quoted the Biblical passage from the Latin Vulgate, not the original Greek New Testament; this is because the Vulgate is, for that particular verse, as for many others, a slight mistranslation.  The actual Greek appears to concern itself, as we conventionally interpret it, with pride, and not directly with seeking more knowledge than is fitting.  In it, Paul cautions against ὑπερφρονεῖν παρ᾽ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν, ‘thinking more highly [of one’s self] than it is necessary to think’.  There is some ambiguity—which I believe is intentional.  Paul has left out the personal pronoun, so that, in a sense, the passage could have a double meaning; it could in fact be a warning against thinking of loftier things than is fitting.  However, the sort of pronoun that should have been included, an ‘accusative’ personal pronoun, would have created a sense of ‘thinking with respect to one’s self’, and the pronoun is very clearly implied due to the impersonal construction in the restrictive relative clause;˚ in fact, it is so clearly implied that the sentence doesn’t make sense without it.  Most literally, Paul tells us not to think ‘beyond what thing, with respect to us, it is necessary to think’, where the accusative of respect—the part that translates, ‘with respect to us’—would seem to apply to both the necessity and the thinking; thus, ‘it is necessary for us to not think too highly about us‘.

In English, the phrase is generally rendered, ‘do not think higher of yourselves than is necessary’—it is a warning not against thinking ‘to highly’ in general, nor even against thinking highly of one’s self, but against thinking higher of one’s self than is necessary or fitting.  This interpretation particularly makes sense in the context: Paul has just finished encouraging the Romans to seek to know the Good and Perfect Will of God through τῇ ἀνακαινώσει, ‘the renewing’, of their minds, and has told them to present their bodies as a living sacrifice.  He follows the aforementioned warning by saying, “but think toward being sober-minded, each individual as God appointed the measure of faith.  For as in one body we have many members, and all the members have not the same purpose, thus are we, many individuals, one body in Christ, and each individual is a member of the other.”  So the focus is on sacrificing one’s individual identity to a new identity in Christ.  The old body is to be laid down in order to become a unique member of a larger body; to gain a purposeful identity.  Thus, Paul tells the Romans to not think higher of themselves, as individuals, than is fitting, lest they should, in so doing, fail to see their proper πρᾶξις, ‘purpose’, ‘action’, or ‘function’ in the larger body of Christ, which they must seek to discern by continually renewing their minds.  In this way, the focus is on what they should seek to know more than it is on what they shouldn’t.

Hence, Paul does not seem to explicitly discourage us from pursuing any study, and hence, my warrant for the discretion that must be taken upon entering a study is much more of an appeal to medieval, Christian philosophy and wisdom than to any direct Biblical principle.  Dante (1265 – 1321) was fond of isolating just this verse, as it appears in the vulgate, and premising an argument on it—dealing with what one should and shouldn’t seek to know.  (Of course, he did so using the vulgate, the only ecclesiastically accepted version at the time.)  What further added to the power of such an interpretation in medieval times was the etymology of the word sapere.  The original meaning of the word in classical times was ‘to taste’, and then, by metaphor, it came to mean ‘to discern’ or ‘to think’, a meaning that paralleled the original Greek more closely than what followed, which is probably how St. Jerome would have understood the word when he wrote it in the late fourth century AD.  However, in modern Latin, it has come to have a meaning closer to its usage in Italian, ‘to know’.  Hence, by the time Dante, the Italian, was writing, this verse about how highly one should think, presumably of one’s self, was instead considered a comment on how much one should seek to know.  As a result, Dante, in his Vita Nuova and Commedia, offers us some wonderful insight into the ‘limits’ a virtuous Christian scholar should set on himself—the bounds within which it is fitting to think.  But such arguments should be taken as the philosophical output of a Christian, medieval thinker, and not theological, for the reasons just discussed.

However, this does not all together deprive Dante’s discussion of its value; it is still, in any case, the philosophy of a wise man, and it may even yet hold some theological basis.  It is interesting to note that, while we Christian thinkers have often lost an absurd amount of sleep over the difference between substantiation, transubstantiation, and all the like of ivory-tower nonsense, knowing, to our sheer horror, that all the while, people throughout the entire world will never even read enough to join the discussion, let alone find the right answers for themselves—while all manner of such scholarly worries pervade our minds and make us doubt the very point or significance of our work, even then, the whole substance of these minor interpretative issues, and even of archaeological issues, has a way of discreetly ironing itself out in the background.  Such is the case here.  As I have said, the Greek itself is a bit ambiguous.  I believe this is on purpose.  As we understand the text today, it warns us against pride, while at the same time, encouraging us to exercise the full capacity of our cognitive faculties.  Hence, the verse remains, in part, an advisement as to how one should use his or her powers of reason: do not use them to think too highly of yourself, but to think of God—to pursue and to know Him, in short, to sapere Him.

So Paul’s advice to the modern scholar may be very close to Dante’s interpretation after all: a scholar is to think about and pursue the truth, not himself.  The focus is to be on fulfilling one’s πρᾶξις, one’s function, and serving, with discernment and the renewing of one’s mind, the larger body, the Body of Christ, as apposed to that which will bring the scholar personal glory and with which he might cultivate a foolish sense of pride.  This focus has been the essential guiding framework of the Christian mind, and consequentially, the Western mind, throughout the ages.  It is what has given structural integrity and coherence to western philosophy, and I would argue that it’s exactly the principle to which the medievals were referring, though they discussed it in their more archaic manner.  (For a good illustration of this, see Erasmus’ cynically brilliant Stultitiae Laus, trans. The Praise of Folly, or according to the Greek pun, The Praise of More, in the first section of which Declamatio, we find Stultitia, the female personification of folly, mocking the Christian thinkers of the day for the sort of vices as are illuminated by the aforementioned verse in Romans.  Erasmus points out, to the condemnation of his contemporaries, that such esoteric exercises as calculating the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin were of little service to the body of Christ.)

But our present discussion is about the morality of writing an essay on hypnosis.  So the question is whether such an inquiry is fitting for a sober mind and whether it will help illuminate the Perfect Will of God, illuminate what is Good and Acceptable.  And for this purpose, this function, I believe it will serve wonderfully.  What this inquiry ultimately aims to accomplish is to pull the foggy mysticism of what shall be loosely termed ‘New Age philosophy’ (with its heavy emphasis on ‘meditation’ or, to use the more scientific term, ‘self-hypnosis’) into a scope of reason so that it may be critically assessed; however, I expect that we will discover a number of other valuable and useful insights along the way.

________________________

˚ I have emphasized the fact that the clause is restrictive because such an observation supports the translation here posited: “do not think higher than what is necessary with respect to yourself” makes it easier to borrow the accusative of respect from the relative clause; where as, if the clause were nonrestrictive, “do not think higher than something, which it is necessary for you to think”, our translation would be more of a stretch.

On Humanity and Recursion

Having discussed the essentiality of rhetoric to humanity, I now wish to further generalise and universalise the claim.

Notice that existence is the foundation of perspective.  We might define a person’s perspective as “the way in which that person exists”.  In other words, a person has all sorts of attitudes that make up his perspective, but these attitudes can be understood as qualitative descriptions of his existence—he exists in a way such that he favours existence over nonexistence.

It follow then, that underlying this principle of rhetoric, which is the foundation of humanity, is the principle of recursion.  Rhetoric is the power to observe the perspective from which observation takes place—to observe one’s own existence.  Likewise, morality is the power to act in observation of the perspective from which action is taking place, and love is the power to do so on a larger scale.  It is this principle of recursion that gives rise to the concept of a moral agent.  A moral agent is an entity that posses the power to observe its own existence.  For this reason a universalised morality is one in which maxims are formed in observation of all moral agents—being a self-similar construct to a personal morality.  Morality dictates that our actions observe that which observes itself.  In this way, morality is merely the method of creating a self-observant nature.

This relates nicely to the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.  In John 14:11, Jesus tells us that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.  In other words, God is that which contains Himself.  Hitherto, we have seen that reality is made up of self-similar layers, and that these layers define each other and themselves though causality.  Hence, the Primal Cause is that layer which defines itself through causality, and ergo, causes itself.  In metaphysical terms, we might say that God is the Deification of the principle of self-observation, and in so being, is likewise the Deification of morality, reason, and love.

The fact that a rationally sound reality is necessarily self-similar helps us understand the doctrine of Imitatione Christi (trans. in a manner that imitates Christ).  All that follows from the Primal Cause must be similar to it, and must therefore observe all those things which observe themselves, which equates to acting morally, rationally, and lovingly—in short, acting Imitatione Christi.

The Venture

Mr. Bowden was short and stout.  He had thick, dark hair that reached awkwardly all the way across the top of his disproportionately large head and would have very nearly lavished his eyes in a dense forest of itself were it not for the two dry and bristly black eyebrows that sat just above them, looking rather like a pair of bushes restraining a sea of vines from his line of vision.  Below this he wore a jungle of facial hair that was fastidiously combed in at least eighteen different directions, and below this was a short neck and a broad pair of shoulders from which hung a shamelessly gaudy suit that was equipped with almost every sort of ornamentation imaginable.

He walked confidently—as if he owned the place—making his way from a considerably large hall or building into a small, dusty room, labeled with a sign tentatively resting above the threshold which read “office”.  There he found, whether to his surprise or expectation, two skinny gentlemen, one of whom sat with his hands decorously folded on the only desk in the room, and the other of whom sat in a chair, furiously writing away on a small pad of legal paper—which was a curious sight considering the normal lack of lifelessness with which chairs are characteristically portrayed.  The man at the desk bore a specious, physiognomical quizzicality, and the man in the laboriously vital chair appeared confused (perhaps because he didn’t understand specious, physiognomical quizzicality, or even the words used to describe it).  The man at the desk was probably wondering why he wasn’t also described as a man in a chair, for he seemed to be sitting as well, but perhaps this was merely due to his exceptionally average height.  Both men stood upon Mr. Bowden’s entrance, which was difficult to do considering how short that was.

“Good noon to you,” the quizzical one said, extending his hand.

“Good noon,” said the confused one.

“Good noon?” Mr. Bowden asked, confused.

“Good noon,” the confused ones said again.

“What on earth do you mean,” Mr. Bowden exclaimed, “by saying good noon?”

“The same thing as that which is by it meant by you.” Replied the man in his quizzical manner.

“And what is that?” the stalky man of the one in quizzicality inquired, confused as he was.

“Only that it is noon, and this is good.”

“That’s ridiculous!  You are never to greet me in this way again!”

“But what, then, are we to say to each other if we should come upon you another day at noon?” asked the other.

“Wait until twelve o’ one, and then greet me like a normal human being—good afternoon.”

Upon this commandment, the room grew oddly silent, making the short man, Mr. Bowden, feel even more uncomfortable.  After a formidable passage of idle time, the room had grown so unbearably silent that it was quite sure to lose its balance very soon and come tumbling down in a loud crash had it not been for the quizzical man’s sudden breaking of that silence:

“Good afternoon sir.”  Everyone in the room assumed that the minute must have struck.  Mr. Bowden rolled his eyes.  The quizzical man continued, “Allow me to introduce this man.”  He made a gesture to the man.

“Please do.” Mr. Bowden said.

“I’d love to; simply allow me to do so and I shall.”  At this, Mr. Bowden realised that he had accidentally been prohibiting the quizzical man from introducing the other man and so he immediately withdrew his prohibition.  That done, the quizzical man pulled out a bottle of scotch and some glasses that had been hiding in the desk.  “I’ll pour us some drinks before we get started.”  He said, putting the glasses on and squinting very intently at the cups as he poured, trying unsuccessfully not to spill.

“I’m Sir. Dr. Pro. Rev. Mr. Its. My. Cat. Master Ellsworth Hal Wilhelm Junior the Third PhD.,” said the man who had not yet been introduced, “but please feel free to call me Duncan.”

“Very well Ellsworth,” Mr. Bowden said, “I’ll feel free to do so.”  Upon this exchange the quizzical man ran out of scotch to pour and consequentially decided he must have filled the cups high enough—though they hardly had anything in them.

“Here sirs,” he said, handing the other two gentlemen each a cup, “how about a tall glass of scotch.”  Mr. Bowden, somewhat insulted by the obvious slight that the man had made to his height, accepted the offering concessively, small as it was; Duncan did the same, mindful of Mr. Bowden’s shortage.

“Of course you both must know me,” Mr. Bowden said.

“Indeed, we must.” replied the quizzical one.

“And you’ve clearly been expecting me.”

“Oh, have we ever.”

“Oh yes, have we ever?” Duncan added emphatically.

“So since we all know why I’m here,” Mr. Bowden went on, “I suggest we get started right away.”  At this he casually sipped from the drop of alcohol in his cup, “Macbeth,” he said, looking at the quizzical one, “—do you mind me calling you Macbeth?”

“I don’t mind.” said the quizzical one, “I’m not mindful of much anything at all, but I’d much prefer you called me by my name.”

“I’m glad to hear it.  I’ll just call you Macbeth then, for simplicity sake.  You may call me Mr. Bowden,” he took another sip from that drop. “So Macbeth, I propose that you start us off.”

“Very well.  I’ll just start us off by asking Duncan here to give the opening words.”

“Certainly.” said Duncan, “The opening words are these: ‘Mr. Bowden, please begin when you feel ready.'”

“Thank you very much, gentlemen,” the gentlemen did as he told them to and thanked themselves.  Mr. Bowden continued, “I see you have done a considerable amount already, so why don’t we begin by taking a look at what you have so far.  Is that it right there?”  He pointed at the legal pad that Duncan, the confused one, had been scribbling on earlier.

“That?” said Macbeth, quizzically, “Oh yes, of course.  That’s it!”

“Oh, is it?” said Ellsworth, confused, “Oh is it ever!”

“Very good.  Might I read it?” Mr. Bowden asked.

“So be it.” said the confused one, and it did as he told it to and was.

Mr. Bowden looked over the legal pad.  The confused man and the quizzical man exchanged looks.  “Do you like it?” asked the quizzical man, looking rather confused thanks to the recent exchange.

“Oh do I ever.”  Mr. Bowden muttered, browsing the yellow pages intently.  Putting away the phone book, he turned to the legal pad and pointed at a particular line, “What does this mean?” he asked Duncan.  Duncan stared at the marking quizzically.  He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and that laboriously vital and confused chair was a notoriously bad hand writer.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Are you able to read this Charles?”

“Of course I am able to read!” said ‘Macbeth’—the confusedly appearing quizzical one—realising that Duncan must be referring to him, “Don’t be absurd!  Let me just see here.”  He took the legal pad in hand and, after squinting at it for a moment, turned it up side down and said, “Oh, this is simple.  It means that we must turn the page for more information.”

“Oh, that’s simple,” said Duncan.  “Why couldn’t I think of that!”  The two looked at each other quizzically and confusedly for a moment, hoping that Mr. Bowden would buy their little charade.

Charles turned to Mr. Bowden, “Is there anything you would like to add to the discussion before we turn the page?”

“Well,” Mr. Bowden began, “Let me just say that this whole venture is off to exactly the kind of start we should have expected.  I am passionately indifferent to the kind of work you two have done so far, and I think that, together, we are going to do an extraordinarily ordinary job on this thing.”  Mr. Bowden sold his charade for much cheeper than did Charles and the talking chair.

“So what do you suggest we do next?” Duncan asked.

“Hm,” Mr. Bowden stroked his sharp beard, and then looked at his injured hand in terror as he realised what he had done.  Quickly, he produced a comb and brushed the beard back in the nineteen different directions which it had originally been flowing.  “Why don’t we begin by getting to know each other a little bit.”

“That sounds like a great idea!” Charles said.

“Indeed, a marvellous example of euphony!” Duncan added.

“Very good.” Mr. Bowden took another sip of his drop of alcohol. “Let’s begin with you, Charles.  Um, tell us about yourself.”  They all looked at each other awkwardly.  Charles couldn’t think of anything to say.  To be completely honest, he didn’t actually know anything about himself.  “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Well…” Charles could feel himself sweating.  The salt drops beaded up on the back of his neck and in the deep, dark crevices of his armpits, rolling down his body like little ants crawling back into the ground after a long day of work, drenching him in more description than he had yet been allotted in these pages.

Seeing that Charles was having something of a hard time with this question, Mr. Bowden decided to get a little more specific, “How are you doing today?”

“Oh, I’m pretty good.”

“You’re pretty good?  You most certainly are not if that’s the kind of English you use!”

“It’s okay,” Duncan attempted to placate Mr. Bowden’s grammatical pique, “He meant it adverbially.”

“Adverbially?” Charles asked, “How do you mean that?”

“Adverbially.” Duncan replied.  “I mean ‘adverbially’ adverbially.”

“He is doing adverbially good?” Mr. Bowden asked.

“No, he is doing ‘good’ in an adverbial sense.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It made perfect sense—and I meant that in a perfect tense.”

“There is no such thing as ‘perfect sense’; it used to be common sense that all language was imperfect.”

“Yes, but Common Sense was responsible for the American revolution.  Having learned from our past mistakes, society now ensures that sense is, among people at any rate, quite entirely uncommon.”

This bantering took place rather quickly, so that Charles could scarcely get in a word.  Finally, he managed to wedge his way into a slight brake in the conversation:

“Well,” he said, “I’m doing well.”

“Very good.”  Mr. Bowden tried to think of another question to ask—something that would help them on their project.  Unable to think of anything exceptionally relevant, he asked something of equal relevance to everything else, “Do you have any children?”

“Oh yes.”  Replied Charles, panicked and thinking quickly, “Duncan here is my son.”

“I am?” Duncan asked.  “I am.  Of course I am.  I’m his sun, I mean son.  I’m his son.”

“Really?”  Mr. Bowden marvelled, looking at Duncan, “You’re rather young for your age.  How old are you?”

“I’m a year younger than I should be older than I am.”

“Wow.  That’s a terribly wonderful age.”  They all sipped their drops of alcohol.  Mr. Bowden looked around the room.  There was a massive painting of a man hanging from the left wall, which led Mr. Bowden to believe that the room must have formerly been a prison where sick-minded artists would come on execution days in order to paint paintings of the convicts which were hanged from the left wall.  “Well, if I can’t be of any further assistance, then I think I’ll just get going.”  He stood up.

“No, you mustn’t!” Charles pleaded zealously.

“Why not?”

“Why not?  Um … Why not not?”

“What?”

“Why not stay?”

“Oh I don’t know.  Why should I, why should I not?  I might as well leave as stay, but I think I’ll leave because I can.”

“No, you must stay!”

“Why?”

“Because we’re having such a grand time.  Aren’t we Duncan?”

“Oh yes, a marvellous time.”  Duncan hesitated as he spoke, but seeing Charles’ pleading, he said it nonetheless.

“But we aren’t getting very much work done.”  Mr. Bowden stood half way between the door and his chair.

“Oh, we’ll get plenty of work done.  Here, I’ll turn the page.”  Charles turned the page, “You sit down now—have yourself another drink.”

Mr. Bowden sat and took another sip of his drop.  The three of them all sat there a while as Charles scoured the second page of the legal pad.  Mr. Bowden noticed the clock ticking.

“Well?”  Duncan asked, “Does it have anything written on it or not?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Here, give it to me.  I’ll write something.” With Duncan writing something, Mr. Bowden turned to Charles.

“Charles, was this place ever a prison?”

“No, not that I recall.  Or if it was, it wasn’t often so.  Duncan, do you know of the last time this place was a prison?”

“The last time is yet to come if it never was.”

“But was it?”  Mr. Bowden appeared to be growing a bit nervous (a form of growth that only occurs horizontally).  He raised his eyebrows, allowing the dense forest of hair to come tumbling down over his eyes like water tearing through a floodgate.

“I think it was.”  Duncan began, “or maybe it still is.  I’m not sure.  Let us say that it is sometimes, but other times it is not.”  Mr. Bowden was slightly relieved by this.

“I must say,” he said, “I am slightly relieved by this.  But tell me Charles, how far back does your knowledge of the history of this room stretch?”

“To be reasonably honest in my affectation,” Charles began, slightly offended by the slight that Mr. Bowden had obviously made to his lack of flexibility, “I have quite an extensive record associated with this room.  Indeed, it is almost criminal how long my record is.”

“But do you remember when this room was constructed?”

“Well—”

“—what about this building, do you remember when it was built?”

“Well—”

“—and how about the plot, do you remember when the rocks that make it up were first formed?”

“Well—”

“—well what?  Do you remember it or not?”

“Obviously he does;” Duncan chimed in, “clearly, one cannot remember something ‘well’ without remembering it at all.”

“I don’t think that’s what he meant by ‘well’.”

“Then what did he well mean?”

“I believe he meant well.  The ‘well’ was serving as an absolute clause, prefacing an answer to my question.”

“Or, perhaps the ‘well’ was serving as a metaphysical absolute, prefacing the existence of this room.”

“What do you mean that he would have meant by that?”

“I mean simply, that he would have meant that before this room or building or plot existed, there was a well to draw water from—or rather, from which to draw water—which must have existed in order that the builders of the building were able to survive.”

“But is that actually what you think he meant?”

“I certainly can’t be certain, but given that our only evidence is the manner in which the ‘well’ was pronounced and the context in which it was said, I suppose the matter is one of great ambiguity, which creates much room for a wide range of views and inquiries, and that is only further obfuscated by the additional weight of each perspective that our inquiry bestows on it, and which must be rhetorically analysed and thoroughly debated in order to arrive at a sufficiently satisfactory conclusion about the well in question.  Now, I suggest that we begin this undertaking by producing a number of hypotheses and performing a series of hypothetical tests in order to merit or demerit each theory.  My hypotheses are as follows:—”

“—What I was going to say is: Well,” Charles cut him off, “I suppose this room has been here for much longer than I’ve been alive,” (at this, Duncan was mildly insulted by the obvious mild insult that Charles had made to his age), “but I can at least speak for its prisonhood or lack there of from my birth date onward.”

“That’s very well,” Mr. Bowden sipped his drop, “in all senses of the word.”  Duncan was confused by this comment, as it seemed strange to him that Mr. Bowden should say anything relating to a place from which water is drawn at this point in the conversation, but he chose to let it go on the grounds that he was too tired to initiate another experiment.

Mr. Bowden began again, “I suppose I might just as well be going now.  I think we all have a clear picture as to what needs to be done before the next time we meet.”

“But you can’t leave now,” Charles pleaded.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re making so much progress on the thing.”

“Are we?  How do you know?  What if there’s way more left to do than you think?”

“Then we could never know that until we’ve done it.  So we might as well just keep working in order to find out how much work there is to do.”

“That sounds reasonable to me,” Duncan commented.

Charles turned to him, “Indeed, Duncan, why don’t you read to us what you’ve written so far.”

“Certainly,” he cleared his throat, “‘The twenty giraffes wearing bow ties must be stored immediately in the nearest gas station.  For details, see the large moose.'”

“Wow,” Charles marvelled, “you’re quite a prolific writer, you’ve entirely filled that other page with strange symbols and obscure words, and now you’ve written an entire coherent, or very nearly coherent, sentence.  How do you have so much to write?”

“He’s probably just making stuff up.”  Mr. Bowden snuffed.

“You don’t know that, perhaps he’s plagiarising.”  Charles spoke excitedly.

“Is that better?”

“Well it’s better than if everything he wrote were random and meaningless.”

“But how can it be meaningful if the words were already planned out by someone else in advance?”

“I would suppose that if the plagiarised authors knew what they were doing, it should be quite full of meaning indeed.”

“But then there’s nothing in it that’s purely Duncanian.  What’s the point of copying shakespeare onto a legal pad?”  This left Charles pondering a moment.  He looked at the legal pad.  No where on it did he see the sentence Duncan had read to them.  This was probably due to Duncan’s helplessly illegible handwriting.  The pad appeared, to Charles, to contain only a considerably large, and very poorly crafted, portrait of a young chicken.

“Perhaps the writers from whom Duncan copies are Duncanian enough.  Goodness knows I could have never plagiarised such an obscure sentence as the one Duncan read to us, let alone find it in the endless repertoire of literature that the English language has accumulated throughout the ages.”

“Enough with the age comments!”  Duncan finally spoke, “I’ve already told you my age!”  It grew awkwardly silent—much to Mr. Bowden’s offence—and everyone seized the opportunity to take a sip of their scotch droplets.

“In any case,” Mr. Bowden began, “I see we’ve made a sensible amount of progress on this thing after all.  Maybe we should just stop and call it finished.  It seems good enough to me, what with the philosophical rambling and all.”  At this point, Charles was beginning to feel a bit confused (even for the quizzical sort of person that he usually is), for he didn’t understand what was particularly philosophical about a young chicken.

“Don’t be absurd!” Duncan objected, “We can’t stop now!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s unethical.  We would be passing off as complete something that is clearly incomplete.  Just think of the consequences!”

“But perhaps this thing could actually be categorised as completed; how are we to know?”

“It’s quite a dilemma;” Duncan produced a pipe—in much the same manner that Mr. Bowden had produced a comb earlier—and began smoking it (which is a rather odd way to use a musical instrument), “it seems we don’t have enough information to even know which action is most ethical.  Ergo, I believe we have arrived, gentlemen, at an opportunity for serious philosophical discourse.”  At this, Charles considered consulting the young philosophical chicken, but decided against it after a brief and in-depth philosophical deliberation about the matter.

“We must begin this decision process,” Duncan continued, “by developing a metaphysics of morals.  So we must consider a plausible alternative situation to the one we are in now and, in that alternative situation, determine what would be the best course of action and why.”  They all thought for a while, sipping their drinks and smoking their pipes.

“Eureka!  I’ve got it!” Charles exclaimed, thinking of a hypothetical but plausible situation, “Suppose there are thirteen people standing on the back of a wild kangaroo as it jumps over the summit of Mount Everest in a magnificent acrobatic stunt.  While they are in mid air, you remember that earlier that morning, you had received notice from an impatient inpatient that unless he was strapped to a violinist very soon in order to use the instrumentalist’s kid knees (tragically, the patient’s own were broken and he never grew into his adult knees) to clean his bodily fluids and survive his terminal illness for another few days, he would go to the nearest airplane terminal and fly a plane to Kansas, where he would throw a hysterical fit over the matter.  The problem is that the path that such a plane would need to take would go directly through the path of this acrobatic performance, and the results could be fatal.  You also remember that there is a violinist who said he was up for the task under the condition that he be compensated with the tooth neckless of Mr. Smith, a rather curious gentleman who takes great pleasure in turning his body parts into pieces of jewellery.  You know that you can obtain the neckless from Mr. Smith by beating Mr. Jones (a con-artist) in a game of poker and having him do the dirty work as a form of compensation, but you are hesitant to engage in gambling.  Is it ethical for you to gamble under these circumstances?”

“I object!” Duncan objected.

“On what grounds?”

“Your situation is absurd.”

“How so?”

“It’s not realistic.  You couldn’t beat Mr. Smith in a poker match to save your life, let alone the lives of thirteen perfectly innocent, however unfortunate, acrobats and their kangaroo friend!”

“Very well.  You raise a good point.  Let us suppose then, for the sake of argument, that I have you there with me to do the gambling part and beat Mr. Jones.”

“I say the answer is no.”  Mr. Bowden said, “It is morally impermissible for you to use Duncan to gamble for the tooth neckless.  Besides, its unethical to beat Mr. Jones in the first place, or to beat anyone for that matter.”

“I disagree,” Duncan disagreed, “A wise man once said that ethics are a metaphysical construct of the human mind as a normative instance of the incalculable conception of the human experience—”

“—What on earth does that mean?” Charles asked.

“I don’t really know, but it sounds cool.  Anyway, acting under that maxim I suppose that it is morally and rationally permissible for you to proceed and use me to gamble for the tooth neckless.”

“But what about the other people waiting for the plane to arrive in Kansas.”

“Oh, I didn’t realise—is it a passenger plane?”

“Of course it is.  And there are three children waiting to take it to Kansas to be reunited with their mother; a lady in labor needs to take it to the hospital that is attached to the Kansasian airport; and a pair of philosophers intend to ride it there in order to meet a man for a poker match as a part of a strikingly similar situation to our own.”

“So that’s thirteen acrobats, three children, two philosophers, a mother, a pregnant woman, Mr. Smith, an impatient patient, Mr. Jones, a violinist, and a kangaroo?”

“That’s right.”

“Hm, this is more difficult than I thought.”  They all thought silently for a time.  Mr. Bowden noticed a deck of normal playing cards and two jokers that had been sitting in the corner inconspicuously hitherto.  This was a somewhat mortifying realisation for him—no one wants to suddenly notice a pair of hideously pallid jokers sitting in the corner smiling and listening in on one’s conversation.

“I’ve got it!” Mr. Bowden broke the silence, “Why don’t you explain the situation to Duncan, since he is the only competent gambler on the premise, and then let him decide what to do.”

“But I already know the situation, why would he explain it to me?  Besides, that would just be a way of passing the dilemma off to another moral agent.”

“You have a moral agent?”  Mr. Bowden was clearly happy to hear this.  “Why don’t we just call him then and ask him what to do?”

“I agree,” Charles agreed, “Let’s just call your agent.”

“No, I don’t have an agent.  That’s not what—I don’t think that’s what that means.”  Needless to say, they were all rather disappointed to hear this.  Everyone sipped their drinking droplets.

“Well anyway, I think I’ll get going now.”  Mr. Bowden said.

“But what are we to do about the moral dilemma?”  Charles asked.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something.  Why don’t you just approach it mathematically.”

“What do you mean by that.”

“I mean use math to solve it.”

“Oh, I see what he means,” Duncan interjected, “Let’s assign each person’s interests in the case a quantitative value of importance and then act proportionately to the greatest values.”

“But what are these values based on?”  Charles asked.

“Utility.”

At this everyone was silent.  The discussion had reached a dead halt, as no one in the room, including Duncan, had any idea what ‘utility’ meant or how it had anything to do with morality.  Everyone sipped their droplets.

“Well there you go.” Mr. Bowden began speaking again, “Just do the biggest utility or whatever.  And do the same with the thing we’re working on; let’s just make the biggest utility bill we can.  And I must say, at least on the part of my own moral agent, he and I have agreed that it is the most utilitious to consider the work here completed.  I really must get going.”

“But shouldn’t there be some kind of truth to the matter?”  Charles pleaded ingenuously.

“How so?”

“You can’t just decide that a particular course of action is most ethical because you like it the most.  And I do not feel that we could any more so decide by vote what is most ethical, because then we would just be doing what the group likes, which cannot objectively be called moral.  There must be a difference between acting as one pleases, or even as a group as big as the entire world pleases, and acting morally.  Perhaps sitting out in the universe somewhere, watching us, there is a massive, completely objective chicken, like the one Duncan drew there, a philosophical fowl, bigger than this room, this building, or even the plot upon which the building rests.”

“But how could we ever know anything about that?  We don’t even remember when this room was built.  In fact, I’m having a difficult time even remembering what happened this past noon.”

This brought out the philosopher in Duncan.  “Then maybe there’s just no such thing as morals.”

“But if that is so,” Charles asked, “how could we know if it is permissible to say we are finished with our project.  Is it true to say we are?”

“There is no truth.”

“Is that true?”

“I don’t know, but it’s fun to say.”  They all sipped their droplets.  Mr. Bowden peered deep into his glass.  He realised that he had been drinking about half of the droplet every time he took a sip.

“I really must be going.”  Mr. Bowden said.

“But you haven’t even finished you’re drink.” Charles very nearly taunted him, “It would be rude to leave without finishing your drink.  Besides, we haven’t finished what you came here to do.”

At this Mr. Bowden removed his wig.  “If I may be perfectly candid with you gentlemen,” he looked them in the eyes, “I can’t say I’m entirely sure what we are trying to do here.”

“What do you mean?  We’re working on the project.”

“But what is the project?”  They were all silent.  Everyone sipped their drops of liquor, once again dividing the quantity of alcohol left in half, but no one was able to finish his drink.  Mr. Bowden looked from face to puzzled face; they were all just a group of quizzical and confused men (and jokers and talking chairs).  Finally Duncan spoke up.

“I can’t say I really know either.”  At this, the charade had ended, and all proceeds were returned.  “I suppose that’s the problem with beginning a short story in medias res, or for that matter, walking into an office or some sort of room in the same manner.  No one knows what on earth is going on.”

Charles replied, “So what is going on; you know, on earth and all?  What are we supposed to do?  If there is no big chicken, and all we’re doing is whatever a bunch of people feel like, then that’s just silly.  If that’s the case, I think I’ll be leaving; I want no part in such a venture.”