The Sage

“FORLORN!” he often drunken said, “Forlorn are they that roam the chasms of the mind!  Forlorn are they that stand in pause without!” and then a tipsy grin would trip across his face, “and between them,” he’d interrupt his wandering speech and laugh a luxurious and drunken laugh—a laugh of indifferent wisdom, the breed of scoff as often fills a vasty space of silence with the intoxic foam of apathy, “between them stands a chasm,” he’d try once more: “indeed, there is a chasmic chasm between the roamer and the stander standing—a chasm as great and as profound as the stander’s pause and the roamer’s roaming mind.  So that he that roams is lost and he that stands knows not where he’s standing.  Forlorn,” he’d raise his bottle again, “forlorn are they.”  And then he’d drink.

They called him the philosopher, or the sage.  And often he was hated and often too drunk to know he was hated so.  I’ve heard him called ‘malignant’ and ‘a corruption to the youth’, and many would spin a sumptuous length of impressive, lengthy adjectives to hang derisively before his title, but regardless, regardless of if they called him a “profane, disgraceful, distasteful, despicable, detestable, deplorable, malevolent, misanthropic, abominable, insufferable, insubordinate…” and many seemed reluctant to finish their impressive thread, perhaps being unsure of what noun to attach to the end of it, and so regardless of with what profoundly expressive words that lengthy list was comprised, at the end was always attached—whether out of a want for creativity or an abhorred veneration for the man held darkly in the deep chasm of the heart—attached to the end was always the four-letter word ‘sage’.

And venerate him they did.  Though they were disgusted by him beyond the measure of words, they listened.  And when they listened, he spoke.

I went to hear the man speak once.  Far off in his study I found him, laying atop a crooked mountain of books.  Indeed the whole room was filled with books and other strange objects.  The books were all laying out carelessly, opened or closed, with multiple volumes scattered throughout the small, dark room and pages missing, which could be found here and there intermixed with the rest, and sometimes even covers were torn from their places, again laying among the rest, which would have led one to question whether the poor condition of these books was the consequence of mere carelessness or deliberate destruction and disdain.  Other strange members of the gallimaufry included a golden pocket watch; a very nice, victorian-styled smoking-pipe; a beautiful, ceramic, full-body sculpture of Athena—missing only its nose and laying sideways; a gel model of a human hand; fine china and silverware—all of which was broken if it could be; a fine romantic portrait of a noble lady—the frame of which lay in pieces mingled about the portrait, and one of which pieces was stabbed directly through one of the pearls that made up her necklace; and among all of this mess were of course a number of corks and many shards of smashed liquor bottles scattered between everything else and ready to pierce the foot of the first man foolish enough to walk around in that room without exceptionally precautious footwear.  All in all it was a shamelessly gaudy mess that displayed an equally careless monetary extravagance as treatment of valuables.

As we have already mentioned, the room was dark.  Indeed, it was quite dark, and musty.  This was because on that night that I went to visit the man, as on all other nights, the exclusive sources of light in the room were a crooked chandelier of candles, made of gold, with garishly ornamented arms, and hanging almost just above the sage’s head, and a plethora of other small candles on silver or golden candlesticks, all of which were sitting among the rest of the mess, with no particular care being taken to avoid setting fire to the many highly flammable paper items—and indeed, it smelled as if such an occurrence was not uncommon.  These luminaries but scarcely lit the creaky wooden floors and pealing yellowing wall paper, making it hard to see and dangerous to step.

That night, as on all other nights, the philosopher lay on his back on the top of a mountain of books in the centre of the room, drinking his liquor and babbling to himself.  We must be careful when we use the word ‘drinking’, as this does not seem to fully describe what it was the drunken man did—he was indeed drinking, but only a small quantity of the liquor that he poured directly out of his bottle; the rest dribbled back out of his mouth, as he murmured on with a soft droning voice, and trickled over his ugly face and ugly grey beard.  That liquor which escaped seeped its way deep into the philosophical pages of the books upon which he lay and accounted for the overwhelming aroma of alcohol that filled the room and seemed to inebriate everything in it, so that from the noble woman in the painting, to the sculpture of Athena, to the very walls and candlesticks, everyone, and everything, seemed drunk.

When I came upon this scene, for a long time I merely stood in silent awe, observing it all.  Then, approaching the man in the centre, I began to slowly make my way into the large mess, which reached so far out from the mountain of books in the middle that it filled the entire room and made it impossible to speak to the man from a comfortable range of distance without being dragged into the heart of it.

As I advanced, I began to hear the man’s musty murmuring only slightly better, and focusing too much on trying to make out what he was saying and too little on where I was stepping, I inadvertently kicked something over—I’m not sure what it was—and it made a hearty crashing sound.  At that, some intelligible words began to just scarcely emerge out of the drunk’s babbling, much like the pile of books in the centre that gradually erected out of the confused mess that surrounded them:

“Is that you, Samuel?” he groaned, “You’re such a rat, you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent.

“Well, you rat?  What do you want?”

Still silence.  He lifted his head and looked at me.

“Oh.  It’s you.  You’re not Samuel.  You’re … who are you?” I stared at him blankly, “Pah!” he waved me away with his hand, “I don’t care who in the god-forsaken physical universe you are.  Go away.”

I still didn’t know what to say.  He started babbling again, and went on for a good moment or so before he turned and looked at me once more.

“You’re still here?  Well, what in the name of existential idiocy do you want!”

“I—” I didn’t know what I wanted.

“You what?” he looked at me impatiently, “You are who?”

“I’m—” I furrowed my brow.  What right had he to ask me who I was?  “Who are you?”

“Ah,” he laughed a brassy laugh, “so that’s what you want, whoever you are.”  he turned away and lay on his back again.  Taking another drink in the same manner already described, he began to speak, making a grand, narcissistic show of the first few words: “I am one who knows.  Not one who thinks, but merely one who knows.” he laughed, “I am a man who, as Isaac Newton once said, ‘sits on the shoulders of giant idiots’.  Every kind of work and every kind of thought of every kind of man of every kind of mankind sits below me, all worthless and gargled about,” he spit out some liquor and waved his bottle, spilling much of its contents about, “and I,” he went on, “I lie on top.  Before me were men of honour,” he said this with a sarcastic emphasis on its triteness, “hard-working men, with all sorts of ridiculous virtues and passions.  By all the laboursome labouring and such mores as are congenial to progress, they’ve heaped together a massive pile of—of what?  Wisdom?” he laughed again, as if this notion itself were exceedingly humorous and even entertaining, “What man has constructed is a pile of words.  It isn’t worth much, and it doesn’t mean anything, but it makes for a comfortable throne on which to stretch out and lie.  And that is exactly my purpose here; I have every intention of stretching out and lying so much that credulous men will think my lies are true.  But what is this to you?  What’s your business in coming here?” as he spoke these last questions, he rolled over onto his belly and turn to look at me, supporting his head with a tripod formed by his two arms, each holding up either cheek, and swinging his feet back and forth behind him, so that he very nearly resembled a school-girl at a sleep over, eager to hear the latest gossip.

“I have no business.  I just wanted to hear you speak—to know if what they say about you is true.”

“And what do they say about me?” he asked this as if he had never been told before and was excessively eager to hear me say it.  We can only assume that this eagerness was the result of a strange pride that he took in his deplorable reputation, causing him to delight in hearing about it, for there is no doubt that others had told him of it countless times before.

“That you’re a cynic,” I replied stiffly, “and an ignoramus.”

At this, he laughed hideously, “Ah, yes, well I must admit I am.  Some people have their heads in the sand, others in the clouds, and still others haven’t heads at all.  I confess to you with barbaric shamelessness that I belong to this third category.  So let them call me an ignoramus, for I am one who knows, not one who cares.”  He rolled onto his back again and began preaching, raising his bottle to the ceiling as if he were addressing the chandelier, “A wise man,” he said, “is a man who cares.  Indeed, the substance of wisdom is passion, not knowledge.  I am not a wise man; I am an ignoramus—an omniscient ignoramus.  That outside these decaying walls there are men, women, and children, suffering, anguishing, starving to death, is of no significance to me.  This is simply because I don’t care.  I know it very well—I know everything very well—but I am not wise in it because it signifies nothing.  Knowledge without perspective is not wisdom but a mere mess of words.  And this I know very well.”

“But why?  Why doesn’t it mean anything to you?”

“Why?  Why should it mean anything to me?  Indeed, why should it mean anything to anyone?  A man is a peculiar arrangement of dust.  From all other things he is only peculiar—not extraordinary, mind you—but peculiar.  He will exist in his particular form for a time, and perhaps even cause another arrangement of dust so strange as he to arise, but very soon he will begin to grow old, and as he grows old, his form will start to change, and as it changes, it will gradually become evident that it was nothing so extraordinary after all.  For soon, it will lie in the earth once more, where its form will continue to change, and change, until, one day not far off from the man’s birth, his form resembles nothing less peculiar to himself than to anything else.  Then, all that’s left of him may be a couple of peculiar words, which we might set down in a book—if they should be so peculiar as to merit such an exercise—and then, we may throw that book somewhere among the rest of the meaningless heap, where it will slowly, at its own rate, decay into the forgetfulness of other men.”

“But what of his soul?”

“His soul?  Now come, my charming idiot, even to you it should be obvious that the soul is something wise men made up to entertain themselves.  There is no soul.  This I know well.  If a man had a soul, why would he have a body?  Everyone acknowledges this simple fact in ordinary life, but when they turn to philosophy, they suddenly invent this ridiculous conception of a ‘soul’ in order to give themselves something to talk about.  If I bump into you, and you say, ‘excuse me’, and I scoff at you in reply (as I am most apt to do), this is because my body has exerted force on your body.  Not even the most unknowing of wise men would think that ‘bumping into a person’ refers to some abstract collision of normative concepts.  A man is his body, or else he is nothing.”

“So is there then no god?”

“Ha!  My boy, now have you ever asked the question!” he became quite excited at this, and in his frenzy, he flung liquor everywhere, so that an unsettling quantity fell even on me and began to seep into the fabric of my attire.  “You’ll want to sit yourself down for this one!  Grab yourself that monkey’s butt and use it as a stand for yours!”  I looked around and realised he must have been referring to a large, taxidermal figure of an ape, bending over to reach out as if for a banana on a lower branch, making its bottom an excellent place for sitting.  This I used as a stool, according to the sage’s advice, and listened as he began to degrade the fundamental principle of all mankind to utter dust.

“Gods,” he began, “are the inventions of dissatisfied minds.  A mind that wanders and a mind that sits idle is a mind without a reason to exist.  There is nothing of substance that the human mind may observe, so it resorts to making things up.  If there were a soul, then why would there be a body?  And if there were a perfect god, then why would there be an imperfect man?”

“So man is imperfect?”  Sitting in the hunched position which seemed most conducive of the ape-seat, I began to stroke my chin with one hand, looking, I suppose, rather like an ape myself.

“Of course.  Why, do you suppose he is perfect?”

“Well, no.  I just wonder—if you have some definition of imperfection, then you must have a concept of perfection, in which case, you have perspective, and in which case, you are wiser than you give yourself credit, for everything around you must have significance, and—”

“—Woah woah woah woah woah!  I see what you’re doing.  Don’t try that stuff with me.  I’m the Odysseus of philosophers—I’m well traveled, and I can cheat my way out of anything.  Perfection and imperfection are merely physical properties.  Like colours.  Colours exist relative to other colours.  We know that red is red because it is not blue, but this doesn’t signify anything, it’s just a part of the meaningless nature of the universe.  It’s the wise men, like you,”—at this point, it was clear that ‘wise’ was to be considered a derogatory term—”who assign these properties meaning, with your gods and such.  But simply because I acknowledge that the properties exist, I am not therefore obligated to care about them.”

“I must say, you are quite a postmodern philosopher.”

“Most philosophers are so postmodern that they deny the existence of postmodernism as a philosophy; others are so pre-modern that they don’t even believe in it.  I am neither.  Postmodernism is simply a quality of philosophy, you may assign it to me or not as you please, but it signifies nothing.”

There was a pause, and I used the time to think.  It was growing late, and the candles were growing short—something that I suppose only candles can do.  A few had even burnt out.  But the aroma of alcohol didn’t cease to fill the air, and all the splendour of mankind still sat below the disbelieving sage.

“Then let me ask you this, my cynical sir,” I restarted our dialogue, “How do you know these things?”

“What do you mean?  Through observation of course!”

“So you observe other men and have found them to be meaningless?  Then, I take it meaninglessness is a quality assigned just like imperfection?”

“Indeed.  Maybe you’re not so stupid after all.”

“Then what is so meaningless about meaninglessness?  You are a self-aware being in a world full of other self-aware beings, all of whom are making observations about the world around them and holding those observations against certain normative conceptions in order to assign them qualities.  Isn’t that the very definition of meaningfulness?  Perfection, imperfection, meaninglessness, meaningfulness, these are all perspectives held on the normative and empirical world, giving it significance.”

“I take back what I said about your intelligence.  That ape was smarter than you; at least he has become a subject of taxidermy, extending the existence of his peculiar form for a number of years after his death.  Your words, on the other hand, are so ordinary and unpeculiar, that they shan’t even find their way to the memory of mankind.  The normative qualities of things are just another realm of things—normative things, mind you, but things nonetheless.  If I have decided that physical things are meaningless, what makes you think I should find normative things meaningful?”

I took no head of his argumentum ad hominem, “Precisely because they are universal.  All men find things to have the same qualities.  The concepts of perfection and imperfection are transcendent of the things they describe and necessarily exist in the minds of all rational creatures.  But such concepts are transcendent even of the minds in which they exist.”

“There you go—you wise man—making up dogma about gods and significance!—”

“—And what of love?  The ability for a rational creature to substitute his own existence and well-being with that of another?”

“What of that?  It’s rubbish!  It happens, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything.  The ‘well-being’ of a man is really of no significance, so how can sacrificing it or saving it mean anything?”

“It has to mean something.  We call it well-being because, according to the transcendental principles of the normative world, it is good for things to exist.”

At this the man hesitated.  He had in fact submitted that there is such a thing as well-being.  So the Odysseus of philosophers, the man of ‘poluntroppos‘, took the discussion for a turn,  “Well I must say, you have me there.  I do in fact find love quite entertaining.”  He took a drink casually, and another few candles in the room quietly flickered out.  “Love,” he began again, “love is perhaps the most interesting part of this meaningless universe.  At least the universe is interesting.”  He wavered around from one idea to another like a drunk man wandering the streets.  “Of course, the only true love is unrequited.”  Now he spoke with more purpose, “Any old lethargic narcissist can love when it feels good, but only the man stupid enough to choose to love even when it causes him agony, only he can be called a true romantic.  Romeo and Juliet was only a good love story for the first two scenes—the rest is ridiculous rubbish.”  He took another drink and looked off into the distance, suddenly quite placidly, peering through a skylight in the ceiling, as if into his memory, and he tried to recall an ancient adage, “A wise man once said,” Suddenly his look of ponderance left, and he frowned, as if he had forgotten himself, “What am I saying?  Quoting a wise man?  What I meant to say is this bit of foolish knowledge: If you love something, let it go; it won’t come back, but do it anyway—it’s mildly entertaining.”  At this he chuckled, but only softly, and mildly.  “I did that once,” he began again, “I—I wrote a poem about it.  Would you like to hear?”  He turned and looked at me.

I was quite simply enraptured as I marvelled at this man and the profound range of forms he could take on.  Once he was as a drunk, then as a mad man, and he was now as an innocent dreamer.  I nodded gently, as if in a trance, to encourage him to continue.  At which he began to recite his poem, droning in his drunken way, but gently:

How she was sweet as zephyrs in the autumn

In cool caress the arboretum’s dead

And raise, those careless currants, dancing dead

Among the hesitating arboretum boughs.

“How she was pretty as hesitating branches

Will bend and blush embarrassed, ashamed to smile

At dancing dead who rise to raise that blush

As handsome roses in the sun at evening’s end.

“How she was beautiful as autumn’s romantic, flaming gloaming

Habitually robes the desolate scape in celestial rays,

And hesitating rays of sweetest, golden evanescence,

In passion, they die among the leafs to rise no more—

And all is lost.

There was a long silence during which the lovely guiltlessness of this man’s melancholy dissipated through that dark, inebriated room.  Suddenly the misanthropic smirk had turned to a romantic frown.  But darkness yet lurked in the far corners of the room, and many more candles had gone out while I was entranced with this man’s charm.  They were now extinguishing with greater and greater frequency.

“Then isn’t the sheer beauty of that experience worth living for?” I asked softly, “It has begotten such exquisite art.”

“Worth living for?  Living?  The only difference between art and ‘real life’ is that we live life for the mere fun of it.  Sure, love is entertaining, but it isn’t even real.  It dies.”

“But isn’t that part of its beauty?  As you said in the poem… what did you say?  ‘How she was beautiful as … hesitating rays … they die’ … didn’t you say that she was beautiful because of her evanescence?”

“I don’t know.”  Said the man who knows everything, “I can never know what she was; there was no way for me to peer into her mind.  What is love if it can’t even know of its object?  What is love if one can never truly know what the other feels, suffers, and thinks?

“My dear idiot, I am not a wise man, but I know this:” he took a drink before continuing.  Then, drunken, he abruptly shattered the tranquil atmosphere that had so become the room, “Forlorn!” he cried, and more candles went out, “Forlorn are they that roam the chasms of the mind!  Forlorn are they that stand in pause without!” the candles died, all but one, “and between them,” this last candle flickered.  He laughed, as one who knows, “between them stands a chasm–indeed, a chasm as great and as profound as the stander’s pause and the roamer’s roaming mind.  So that he that roams is lost and he that stands knows not where he’s standing.  Forlorn,” the last candle died, “forlorn are they.”

The room was very dark, lit only by the ominous glow of the moon, which gazed down through a skylight from high above, in the heavens, casting a long shadow of the sage across the floor as he preached and spat, laying atop his glorious mountain of knowledge.  The portrait of the noble lady and the statue of Athena looked sinister and menacing, lit there in the silver darkness of knowledge.  The man went on preaching and seemed to forget me as he spoke.  I too seemed to forget him.  Little by little he seemed darker and darker to me, till he was only a silhouette, and then a mere shadow.  His speech likewise faded from intelligible words to murmuring, so that he seemed as a wretched demon, imprecating a horrible curse on all mankind from atop his throne.

I started for the door, and hearing me leave, he shouted out after me, “Is that you Samuel?  You rat!”

As I rushed out of that place, dawn approached from the East.  The horizon slowly faded from black to purple to grey to red, according to each contrasting quality of its ascension.  The cold, wandering zephyrs crispened the morning dew and carried with them the sweetest sounds of church bells ringing far off in the distance.  And the perfect, broken harmony of all of nature cried in steady solemn tones, “Behold, there is a God in Heaven, forlorn among the fallen men of earth!”

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.”

The Reasonable Atheist

Well its friday–time to post something.

I did the atheist’s homework.

I have lately been puzzling my little brain˚ to try to invent a rational argument for atheism.  Apparently the accusative claim has been made that “burden of proof” lies on my side of the intellectual conflict (the side of the theist), and thus the atheist need not rationalize himself.  For it is I alone who have asserted things absurd and unreasonable, and thus it is I who must justify my thinking.  However, I have come to think that I have done my job–let the “burden of proof” lay where it pleases–for I have proposed a deductive argument for the existence of God with which I am well satisfied, and now the atheist must meet my challenge with a worthy response.

Unfortunately, I do not think it meet to trust another person, one who actually disagrees with me, to complete this task, as I am yet to see it done by such an individual in a way that is convincing and stimulating to the argument I have begun.  I would, of course, be thrilled if I could find another to propose such an argument as I would deem satisfying to my purpose, but such propositions are, while not lacking altogether, remarkably rare.  I simply don’t find much of common proposition to be valuable to the formation of a belief on the issue of theism, and it seems utterly pointless for two people to debate when they cannot so much as agree on what is worth debating.  Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to stretch this miniature mind to its utter limits†, and find me an argument I consider prudent to my purpose.  Thus the world of blogging grows even more lethargic than before.

After ruling out many utterly absurd and extremely popular atheistic arguments, I invented my own semi-original argument with the intention of crafting it in a way that adheres to the following two demands:  (1) It must be logical–no arguments against the belief in logic, that’s just pointless  (2) It must be deductive–I don’t really care to bother with inductive proofs and endless rhetoric when the theistic argument I have made is deductive, thus trumping any inductive opposition, no matter how convincing.  Notice, the argument is only semi-original; this is because it is adapted, in part, from a comment on this blog (so I guess blogging can find a small ray of redemption in that).  Anyway, here it is:

Regarding causality, if one is to escape the necessity of a primal cause, one might propose a self-causing model of causality*.  Thus, as my commenter put it (roughly), we mustn’t think of causality as a linear chain, but a figure eight or sideways infinity, eternally causing itself (notice the wonderful symbolism).  So, as I take it, we must imagine that the “end of time” and “beginning of time” are really the same thing, and once its all over, the universe will begin again.  Surely, this has some nice scientific grounds (if we are going to be purely naturalist for a moment) as it seems it would be mathematically impossible for the universe (thought of as a gigantic physical system) to not repeat itself eventually unless its laws were specifically designed to prevent such a phenomenon.  Of course, the most evident flaw with this argument alone is that the cause of that “figure eight” is then unexplained, but we may yet have an answer to that problem upon further complication of the argument.

If I can take the conventional “linear” model of causality, as it exists in the natural world, and mold it into a figure eight, why couldn’t I also take the conventional supernatural model of causality and do the same?  Suppose the natural universe is a causal system that is now thought to cause itself, and as such, we are required to explain its “supernatural” or “conceptual” cause–that is, the cause of causality, if you will.  We may then take that conceptual system and fold it on itself such that causality is its own cause (a conceptual or supernatural figure eight).  Then, whence asked the cause of that conceptual system, we may repeat the algorithm, and continue to do so ad infinitum.

This seems to me a reasonable proposition at face value (which I cannot say of most arguments I find on this side), but I fear it is too simple in its understanding of causality˚.  For if causality exists in accordance with the model I present in The Nature of Causality in the Logical Scope, as it seems it must, within the logical scope, then there are no lines or eights or sideways infinities of any kind.  Instead, just as a proof is a means of understanding that a premise is, in some sense, the same thing as a conclusion, so is causality a method to understand how a cause really is the same thing as its effect.  Thus, whether the physical universe does or doesn’t repeat itself is irrelevant.

To assist with this understanding of causality, allow me to bring in the model of a four-dimensional cube.  Hypercubes, as they are called, are animated three-dimensional objects, for it is presumed that, just as a three-dimensional cube can be shown in all its entirety on a two-dimensional screen by animating it (i.e. rotating it about an axis parallel to the screen), so can a four-dimensional cube be projected in three dimensions by animating it (i.e. rotating it about a fourth access parallel to the universe (see animation below)).  So is causality really just the showing of a singular higher-demensional-entity from different angles over time.  Thus, the natural universe, in all its moments in time, is really just one thing, and being so, must be either the effect (or transformation) of some omnipotent outside of it, or else must itself be omnipotent, uncaused.  And I do believe that this concept supersedes the figure eight algorithm ad infinitum.  (Thus, the omnipotent is, in some way, His creation–hence the Body of Christ–or else, He is the cause of the cause of His creation, still leading to the same conclusion, etc.)

Sorry this animation is so stinky, I’ll try to make a better one in good time.

________________________________

˚ I’ve been told I have a small mind, so I thought I’d call my brain ‘little’ to accentuate this unique quality of mine.

† This additionally servers to hint at my disproportionate height (which seems the result of unnatural stretching)–another outstanding feature I have the honor of bearing.  (Perhaps also alluding to my obsession with calculus.)

* It is my understanding that this could be called an “anti-cosmological argument” if you’re the sort of person who enjoys naming things like that.

˚ Arguments have never been so personified: now they have names and even understandings.