The philosopher’s monologue

[A piece of creative writing for you. Imagine a scene: a scholarly debate is about to begin between a prominent evolutionist and a well-known theologian. The hall is packed and the atmosphere tense. But before the debate can begin an elderly member of the philosophy faculty gets up and takes the floor. Here is what he says:]

I find the argument of these two gentlemen entirely artificial and, indeed, the very premise of the question ridiculous. To set science against religion as if they were alternates is a truly false dichotomy. Science no more can explain the meaning of life than religion can tell of the inner workings of a star. To suggest otherwise is to misunderstand the philosophy of science, indeed to misunderstand philosophy in general.

Science is concerned with process, with the how of something. How does this work, what is its purpose and where did it come from? It is a method of exploring the practical nature of the reality around us; its functionality. It starts with a curious examination, postulates a theory and then experiments to examine the effectiveness of said theory. If a theory stands up to experiment, if it seems an effective model and explanation for the observed ‘thing’, then the theory stands. If not, it is rejected.

Scientific theories stand only as long as they remain the best theory available. They are frequently supplanted, however ‘right’ they might have seemed in the past. There is always a revision, an improvement, an alternative. As such science cannot be said to deal in facts, only in observable results and in current theorems. It is a realm of questioning, questing and searching; of scepticism and disbelief.

Religion, in many ways is the opposite. Although there are far more parallels than contradictions between open religious dialogue and modern scientific thought. Religion deals primarily in the why of the world, and specifically in the whys of human behaviour. Religion is the enculturation of cultural history and social norms; it is the framework of explanation that allows morality to develop.

Primarily, religion seeks to provide stories around which individuals can gather, to find common ground and a shared sense of identity. It seeks to answer questions that are completely beyond the scope of science: ‘why are we here?’; ‘how should we live?’

Perhaps my argument is too esoteric. Let us try an example:

Near my home in the village where I live is a duck pond. Every now and then, when deep in thought about this matter or that, I like to wander through the village, wave to my neighbours and say my cordial helloes, and to sit on a bench by the duck pond and marvel at the ducks.

I should start by saying that both science and religion are quite capable of joining me in marvelling at said duck, and are both perhaps quicker than an old philosopher at excepting that the duck is indeed there before them. A scientist would ask “is the duck observable?”, conclude it is, and move on to other questions. Likewise the priest or theologian. It is the old philosopher who gets bogged down in questions relating to whether he can believe the evidence of his own eyes… But I digress.

The scientist may ask “what is a duck?” and muse on its biology and microbiology, its place in the great genealogies of fauna, its importance to the biodiversity of the duck pond. To the scientist, this question is functional; how does the duck itself function, and what function does the duck have within the life cycle of the duck pond and its environs. If the scientist were to ask “how did the duck come to be here?” the question would be asked in the context of local ecology, migratory patterns and evolutionary history.

The scientist may indeed marvel at the duck. He marvels at the incredible complexity of its microbiology, or the way it perfectly fits within the ecology of the duck pond; the interoperability of the duck’s various ‘systems’ and the interdependence of the duck with the many other life forms within the ecosystem. He marvels, then, on the functionality of the duck, its physical nature and its place within the physicality of the cosmos.

The religious man looks at the same scene in an entirely different way. Religion is less concerned in the nature of the duck than it is in the story of the duck. What can be learnt from observing the duck and the duck’s behaviour? How can these stories be applied to our own lives for our moral betterment, or to more closely define our society or culture? How does the very existence of the duck point towards the nature of the universe and our place within it?

If the religious man asks “what is a duck?” he muses on its created nature; he asks how different the duck is from himself, or from God. He asks, more importantly, how the duck came into being, and why. The answers to these questions may be myth or conjecture; they may be deeply rooted in tradition and cultural heritage or they may be wild speculation; indeed, the answers to this may be impossible to know. But in asking his ‘why’, the religious man goes where the scientist cannot, to embrace the existential nature of the duck, and what it might or might not say about the existential nature of the man.

When the religious man marvels at the duck, he marvels in its beauty. He marvels in the beauty of the duck, in the beauty of the duck pond, and in the way that they so obviously complement each other. He marvels that he is there at all, to witness this beauty and to appreciate it. He marvels at the gift that such a moment can be found, with ducks, duck ponds and men to marvel at them.

While both men might ask “is the duck good to eat?”, the scientist thinks in terms of taste and nutrition and digestion; the religious man in terms of the morality of the act. While they may both ask “am I like the duck?” the scientist thinks in terms of genus, and the theologian in terms of how his nature is similar or different from that of the duck.

My point, friends, is that the questions are different, as are the questioners. They stand on entirely separate mountains, looking at the same subject from entirely different perspectives. And, quite often, they are found to be looking at entirely different things.

My colleagues here will stand before you and try and argue the right of their perspective to describe the nature of our universe, and the unsuitability of their rival’s. Science, you will hear, has explained away religion entirely and obviated its need. Or perhaps you will here that religion can be argued in terms of proof, and that that proof is evident around us…

Poppycock.

My contention before you today, friends, is that there is no basis in philosophy for this argument. A scientist cannot stand in the physical realm and speak to the nature of the spiritual; he does not possess the necessary tools. All the tools he has are based on what is observable and testable and he cannot observe, and certainly cannot test, what is beyond the veil.

Likewise religion has misguidedly wallowed into an argument that it is ill-equipped to fight, and certainly cannot win. The stories that we tell ourselves of existence, our existential musings in the dark of the night, are vital to our very humanness; they are what lift us up above the animals around us and mark us as different, separate. But those stories, those musings, those wonderings, however fresh or ancient, are unable to explain to us the inner workings of a duck, or a cell, or a star. They may ponder on the purpose of such things, but can tell us little about their function.

In this fight both camps have made the same mistake: they have conflated the how and the why. This is a grave error, and yet it is the foundation of tonight’s debate. Science has an incredible capacity to gradually discover the nature of the mechanism of our existence, to find explanation for the many steps in the long and complex journey that brought us to this place. But it is entirely unable to tell us why we are here at all. There is no tool in the scientist’s toolbox that even begins to tell us why, although it may one day offer theories as to why we ask that question.

Similarly religious thought, deeply suffused with attempts at explaining the ‘why’, at looking beyond the physical realm into other possible realities, at examining the nature of the human soul, is ill-placed to begin to satisfactorily answer the ‘how’. All it can do is regurgitate the stories that have been told in the past; stories that, however acceptable then, are simply insufficient now.

Both streams of thought do themselves a disservice by seeking to attack the other. They belittle their own usefulness in order to enter a realm where they can both quarrel. Science has little that is useful to say about morality, or the construction of society, and is in fact necessarily amoral in its questing approach. Likewise with religion, which can only make itself a laughing stock by arguing for the ‘how’ in old stories that are… well, beyond their usefulness in that regard, shall we say.

I will say this though, before I yield the floor to this pointless debate. While I see tonight’s argument as entirely false, I do not see science and religion as entirely separate. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The scientist and the religious man at the duck pond may indeed be one and the same. There is plenty of space within humanity to look for beauty, morality and mechanism within a scene. In fact, it is essential that there is. It is necessary for us all to ask ourselves both whether the duck is good to eat, and if it is good to eat the duck. To do otherwise is to reduce ourselves to a mechanistic level that denies the higher faculties on which science necessarily relies.

Science can examine the biochemical, psychological and sociological nature of mankind and determine the many factors at play in a man’s decision making. But when a man raises a gun to shoot another it is our religious tendencies that much judge who or what is to blame and what kind of justice might be applied. Science, you see, has no concept of justice at all.

It cannot. You cannot form judgment on what is ‘right’ by experiment; ‘rightness’, whatever that may be, is not observable. But that does not mean it is not knowable. Science, by detailed process of observation and experiment may determine what is the favourable outcome in a human endeavour, but it can very rarely provide explanation of why the outcome is favourable. It is the scientist’s religious tendencies that provide the explanation of said favourability.

I am rapidly losing the goodwill of my audience, so I will desist in my interruption. But first let me end with this thought:

The fact that we dislike or disprove of a particular narrative does not remove the necessity of any narrative at all. The fact that we raise science up to the level of a religion does not make us any less religious in our convictions. We have simply found disfavour with one dogma and replaced it with another.

I am not interested in arguing in favour of dogmas, on either side of this debate. I am simply here to remind you all of the nature of philosophy, and the very necessity of both moral and practical philosophies. They are both of equal necessity to us as individuals and as a society. It is unacceptable to equate them, or to say that only one side is needed, just as it would be to say that we only need women, and not men. In fact, such an assertion would be ridiculous, as is the one before you tonight.

And with that, I yield the floor…

Short Story

…about the end of everything.

Not one of mine, but by the creative genius that was Mr Arthur C Clarke. And by short, I mean SHORT. Enjoy:

siseneG

by Arthur C Clarke

And God said: DELETE lines One to Aleph. LOAD. RUN. And the Universe ceased to exist.

Then he pondered for a few aeons, sighed, and added: ERASE. It never had existed.

Told you it was short! Anyone want to try one shorter still?

[from here.]

The Fantasist

So, in a previous post I mentioned that I took part in NaNoWriMo 09 – the National Novel Writing Month. Although, as I think I said at the time, I took part in it somewhat reluctantly.

In some ways, NaNoWriMo should have been a perfect activity for me: a challenge to write every day for a month, and one where quantity is valued far above quality. The aim is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days, and to exorcise your writing demons.

The reality, though, was that I engaged in the project because my dear friend Jacky wanted a writing buddy, and not because I had any particular desire to write myself. My last creative endeavours have been playing with my camera, or my somewhat-neglected screenplay. I didn’t have a novel to write and, in the middle of a busy time in my still new job, I didn’t have a lot of mental energy either.

Well, I started, but I did not finish. In fact, in reality, I only wrote for about a week. And what I wrote was tosh. But I did discover this about myself: although previous experiments show that I can discipline myself to write (and this one even showed that I can do that in my evenings, with sufficient motivation), I just don’t produce good work in the evening. The end result of my half-hearted efforts is a very patchy, completely disjointed brain-dump. There are a few good ideas, but a hellofalot of dross.

Still, I was prompted to share, and share I shall. This is not a good example of Andy Moore writing. Really. But hidden in there somewhere are a few budding flowers in amongst the shit. You can download it here (pdf): it’s called “The Fantasist”.

Writing

…is quite fun, actually. This week, alongside completing an application form, beginning a negotiation with another possible employer, visiting my brother in Sheffield and taking a couple of mini trips out with my parents (who are on holiday), I’ve managed to produce 21 scenes, 54 pages and 11500 words of a screenplay. This one is on relationships currently under the working title of “Breaking up is hard to do”, (but again, it probably won’t keep it).

I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing this. Thus far it has flowed quite smoothly. It hasn’t always been easy to sit down and write, but it hasn’t been quite as hard to discipline myself as I expected. I reckon that, on current evidence, I could do this, as long as it wasn’t all I did. A job in a pub, or a part-time job elsewhere, and this might actually work…

Taking up the Challenge

So, Kat issued me with a bit of a challenge: can I use the time I have, as an unemployed individual, to try out the process of writing as a job. If I can stick to it for a week or two, maybe I can work out if this writing lark is dream or fantasy…

Well, after some encouragement, I’ve made some baby steps from an initial state of being somewhat freaked out, towards actually taking up the thrown-down gauntlet. First step was actually getting out of bed.

I’ve actually had something of a routine the last few months, but a routine that involves a not insignificant amount of being in bed. Each day I would wake whenever I woke, mess around on the internet for a while, then shower, make coffee, and struggle into wakefulness. Occasionally this pattern would enable some work to be done before lunch, but most of the time, it didn’t. Instead, I would walk my mum into work (she works half days), come home, make lunch, and settle into work around 2-2.30pm. I’d then press on with the job hunting process until 5 or 6pm.

So, a working routine, but nothing close to a real working day. Part of Kat’s challenge is actually putting in a full days work, and that means dragging myself out of bed before 9am.

***

This is how it’s gone thus far. Yesterday I got up at 8am. By 9am I was on my way out of the house, walking into Harborne. I went to WH Smiths, and purchased myself an A4 notepad and some new pens. Nice, long walk home, and down to ‘work’.

The morning I used my new pad to write down the basic outlines I had for script ideas. A total of seven projects, most of them only initial ideas, or very rough outlines. But at least now there is an ‘idea’ and a working title to each locked on paper. Somewhere to start.

After walking Mum to the office, the afternoon was spent writing the precredits and credit sequence to the first idea. It’s currently running on the working title of “A Very British War Movie”, although I can assure you that it won’t keep it. It’s not even a great indication of what the film is about, but at least sketches out the genre (ish). 1700 words isn’t bad for an afternoons work, although probably still short of Kat’s target.

Today I also managed to drag myself up before 9am, and I’ve written the opening to another project, working title “The Farm”. Only 630 words, but then there’s no dialogue.

***

So, not a bad start. Although, now things are going to grind to a halt. I really have to concentrate on an application form, over the next couple of days, and so that will distract me from writing. I hope to get back into it next week, although I may note down some thoughts in between moments of staring blankly at Job Descriptions.

The other problem, is that these two opening sequences were the only scenes I already had written in my head. Everything from this point on has to be genuine new creativity. Can I do it? Can I take these ideas and run with them? Will writing itself become a chore? At this point, I don’t know. I’ll keep you updated…

Consequences

I was watching the film Closer this morning, and it reminded me of this piece. This was also written in the Autumn term at l’Abri, but was never read out, as the subject matter is a little more intense than the usual High Tea fare. It developed out of another piece, around conversations with another writer about the process of recovering from a broken relationship. Again, it is written in a female voice, and was intended to be read aloud. 

Just to warn you, that it i not the easiest read…

Consequences

Damn it! I just can’t make sense of it, y’know?! I mean, what the hell happened!

God, this is crazy.  I have got to pull myself together; I can’t live like this… It’s been six weeks now. Six weeks! Six weeks of howling and hollerin’ and gnashing of teeth. And tears. Oh, so many tears.

I keep going over it in my head. Replaying those last few days, that last fateful conversation. Where did we go so wrong? I can’t believe I said those things, such hurtful, hateful things. I can’t believe he’s gone.

The bastard! He walked out on me! Four long years of life together and he just gets up and goes!? I can’t believe he would do that? I can’t believe it’s the end…

[*sigh*]

Sometimes I replay those last words, those last shouted and screamed hours together, and I wonder how he could not go. I think I would go, if it was reversed. I think I would have gone, had he not gone first… How can you remain after things like that have been said?

But… four long years! And they were good years, weren’t they? Well, I mean, mostly…  We had our fights, but then doesn’t everyone? We weren’t forever in the throws of sexual ecstasy, but is that even possible? They were mostly good; largely good…

[pause]

I have some good memories, looking back. We spent some great times in each other’s company, did some fun and crazy things, and it seems to me that some days colours were brighter and more vivid from being perceived alongside him. I wonder though if that can be true? Weren’t Mondays still Mondays, even back then? The sun still yellow, the sky still blue. But my mind says those days are treasured, and these not, and the absence keenly remembered.

I can remember fights and frolicking, passion and persuasion, jealousy and joy. I look back through clear and hazy rememberings and search for some clue, some explanation. Some indication of where the hell things went wrong. How did hell come out of heaven?

 I wanna find a key, a lever, a magic button that if turned, pulled or pressed will return the chaos back into its box. What did we do wrong? What did I do wrong? Did I do wrong? Or was wrong just done unto me?

 There are things he said, things he did… *Aaugh*! My blood boils! But there are things I did, things I said… things of which I am deeply ashamed. I desperately wish I could undo some of those things, unsay some of those words. Does that make this my fault? Does that make this hurt self-inflicted?

 [pause]

 I sit here, and I cry. Or I scream. Or I drink wine until I can’t feel any more. I just can’t get over it; I just can’t.

 He. Left. Me. He left me. That’s not my fault! He was the one doing the leaving! How can that be my fault?! How is it that I sit here day and night and scream inside ‘what have I done?!’

 I didn’t walk out, I didn’t slam the door, I didn’t leave and not come back. So why do I feel guilty? Why do I berate myself all the goddamn time? Why do I search endlessly for things I could do, or say, or undo to persuade him to return? Why do I want him back so much, when it was him that hurt me?

 And if it was my fault, if it was all my fault, then why am I so angry with him? Why does it hurt so?

 It can’t be. It can’t be just him. It can’t be just me. But here we are, in this big, smelly shit of a place, and we tried so damn hard! It seems so wrong

[pause]

How do you deal with the consequences of your actions? How do you even know for sure what those consequences are?

I can deal with the fact that third cup of coffee is going to stop me sleeping. I don’t like the reality of the tossing and turning, but I can appreciate my mistake and take some ownership of it. But this? The messy end of a relationship, where you can’t even be sure you know where the mess starts and the relationship ends. Which consequences, of which actions?

It’s such a big goddamn awful mess, and I just don’t know how to make sense of it all. I know I done him wrong, and I know he wronged me, but does that justify the pain, or the end? I can’t find that lever, no matter how hard I try…

 [pause]

 The past plays through my mind like a film in a theatre. I watch my actions like I’m seeing some other girl up there; see his from a distance. I’m looking, searching for the turning point, the tipping point, from which hurts easily forgiven become long remembered, from where its all downhill.

 I just can’t see it. I see things he did that make me scream; things I did that make me cringe. I see things that make me laugh and smile. But every which way I play it, I can’t see or make sense of when the change comes – when we stopped being lovers, but were enemies in the same bed. It must be there, mustn’t it?

 Where did we go wrong?

Political Stickers

This piece is my favourite of all those I’ve written over the last 7 months. It was written about 10 days before the election, and read out by my good friend Susan Heimburger, in her glorious, expressive southern accent. Like a few of the pieces I wrote this year, it’s in a female voice. Enjoy! 

Political Stickers

 

Obama Biden 08

Obama Biden 08

So, I did something foolish the other day. I was totally caught up in the election; it’s everywhere now. Every TV channel, every news programme; the posters on the sides of busses, the talk around the coffee machine at work. We’re suffused in it, completely drenched in the effluence of this war of ideas, so that it’s the air we breathe and the food we eat, and all we can think about.

 

Not that I mind, really. I mean, the last two elections were so boring! At least this time there are people you can be excited about, and ideas worth debating. It feels to me like this is a time of significance – the banks are going bust, our houses are losing their value, we’re losing both the wars we’re fighting… The election is really about something this time round.

So, after having this huge fight with Charlie at work about his stupid, redneck ideas, I went and got involved. I mean, I had to. We’d had this “you can’t possibly believe that” fight, back and forth, and he won it by going “well you can’t hardly talk; you ain’t never even voted!”

And he’s right, too. Never voted, never part of any party. My folks were Republicans, but mainly because their folks were Republicans, and their friends were Republicans, and just about everyone we ever knew back home were Republicans. I mean, that’s not exactly informed choice, y’know. And I wasn’t really anything; I coulda been Republican too, but, I mean, what was the point? And there was no real point in voting Democrat back there – they never really stood a chance.

So then I came here and… It all seemed so pointless really. I mean, what difference does it really make? They don’t make it any easier or harder to get a job and keep it, and there ain’t a politician anywhere that is going to reduce taxes for those of us on the bottom rungs of life. So I didn’t vote last time, because I didn’t care, and the time before I was too young, really, to know what the difference was.

But like I said, this time feels different. I mean, we might actually be about to get a black president! Even if that is something you’re not too comfortable with, you’ve got to appreciate the significance of it. And these days, we’re all for significance.

I like a war hero same as the next gal. An’ unlike some I respect my elders – the age thing just ain’t an issue for me. But this time. A black president! Now, surely, that is change we can believe in.

Or least as ways hope.

And if hope, fight.

So I signed up. I got on the website and looked at what I could do. Now, I’m not the most forthcoming of gals, so I didn’t right want to doorknock, but there were other options… I only went and ordered myself some stickers, didn’t I.

I mean, you’d have thought that that would be easy enough to handle. Stickers. Stickers. Vote Obama; Obama for President; Change you can Believe in. You know the kinda thing. I thought I could wear a few, get some girlfriends wearing them, give a few out at the shop (to the regulars at least). I thought, that’s make a difference; but a little, me-shaped difference…

Well, this morning a courier came with this tube. It was like a foot-an-a-half long, maybe six inches wide, and it was full. I mean, it was full! There must be thousands of the darn things in here! Roll after roll of them! I could paper my house with these things!

So, I put some on my journal, and my diary, and the workbook I use in nightschool.  I put one on each of my coats, one of each type on my apartment door, and again on the main door to the block. I cut a couple of rolls into strips and took them into work, much to Charlie’s chagrin.

I’ve cut rolls into sheets and mailed them to just about everyone I can think of. Even my folks (won’t Pa be pleased!). And there are still at least a thousand here.

Yesterday I walked round the neighbourhood and stuck the darned things on every lamppost, mailbox or fire hydrant I could find. Every. Single. One.

Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; Obama/Biden; and on, and on, and on, and on…

I’ve got totally mesmerised by the stickiness…  I think I’ve only through this, learned to appreciate the word ‘tacky’. It’s the sound your fingers make, lifting off the sticky back.

Tck…tck…tck…tck…

And they smell really weird, too. It’s so hard to describe… Gluey, I guess…

They’ll stick to our clothes, but they’ll come off after a day or so. They’ll stick to glass like they’re determined to be there till Eternity. They got a similar affinity for wood – I reckon the door will decay before those stickers come off, which means someone will be remembering Obama 08 long after I’ve escaped this hellhole.

I wonder how many millions of these things they’ve printed? How many other Joes and Janes are wanderin’ round their small towns sticking stickers wherever they’ll… stick?

And where do they go when they die? The ones that fall off sweaters or melt off of lampposts in the November rain? What is the purpose of a political sticker once the politics is decided? When the votes have been cast?

Does the guy manning the printer, churning these things off by their million, their billion, does he wonder what the purpose is? What the point of it all is? Is he sad that the fruit of his labours will soon be useless, as the last weeks become the last days?

I do. I’ve gotten to wondering about it, at least.

I think I’m going to keep a few sheets, somewhere safe maybe. If I have kids one day, I’d like them to know that I was there, campaigning for the guy we all hope will make history. Win or lose, I’d like them to know that.

Right. I gotta go. I reckon there might be a lamppost down on 4th I missed yesterday…