…talk which has every characteristic of a sound argument except what is fundamental to one
“The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt knew all about it.” Smith widened his eyes as wide as they would stretch in order to add weight to this assertion.
His audience, three rather unkempt middle-aged men sitting at a dimly lit bar, were somewhat incredulous, as rather unkempt men sitting at a dimly lit bar were inclined to be, especially on discussing such topics as the ancient wisdom of the Pharaohs, the transcendence of the transitory nature of life and the likelihood of there ever being life on the third moon of Jupiter. There was even one of these middle-aged men, who was particularly unkempt and particularly dimly lit, with a wry smile on his face which was just discernable.
“Oh yeah,” Smith acquired as casual a tone as possible. “The ancient wisdom is the best.” Smith was sitting at the only point at the bar where sunlight managed to peak through the leaded glass and dusty curtains. He was sitting at the corner of the bar, facing the three middle aged men who were sitting along the length of the bar facing the mirror and whisky bottles which reflected only the least glimmers of light.
“Ancient wisdom!” one of his audience commented derisively, a comment all but swallowed up by his pint glass.
“You can’t beat ancient wisdom,” Smith asserted as though it was a self-evident truth.
“Not even with modern science?” the least dimly lit and least unkempt middle aged man asked, without the least hint of sarcasm, seemingly with the only intention of encouraging an objective and mature debate amongst sensible and mature people who were whiling away the day sitting at a dimly lit bar. “I mean, science… it’s pretty amazing what they can do these days, you know.”
“That it is,” Smith had to concede. He nodded in order to confirm his acknowledgement that science was indeed amazing, so amazing in fact that one could not qualify the assertion that it was in fact amazing.
“Amazing,” the most dimly lit man added, with a hint of sarcasm which was almost swallowed up by his pint glass, but wasn’t – it was reflected off the walls of the now nearly empty glass, and rebounded out amplified and at a lower pitch, as though uttered by a giant of a man lying down behind the bar wallowing in his own sarcasm.
“To be honest,” Smith began after a brief lull in the leisurely conversation, “I’m somewhat of a man of science myself.”
“To be honest?”
“There’s no other way to be,” Smith countered.
“Then why say that you are?” The most dimly lit and most unkempt middle-aged man might prove to be a problem.
“There’s no harm in stating the obvious,” Smith threw back at him, before he threw back the drop of whisky that had been sitting in front of him, followed by a sour grin of appreciation.
Smith would have to be content with a grunt from the darkness by way of reply, and he gave every indication of being content, as though he had won the argument and had proven, beyond reasonable doubt, his honesty; now he could begin his assault on these three wise men from the firm base of proven and unimpeachable honesty.
“I am a very scientific man…” Smith began, but felt the need to add “…of sorts,” lest there was the least glimmer of incredulity left which might flare up from any of the dimly lit recesses. “I have studied all of the sciences… each one, off and on, for the whole of my life. The mysteries of science… I have seen such things that people only dream of… I have seen atoms… I have seen life begin.”
The three dimly lit middle-aged men drank from their pint glasses in unison, seemingly content to listen to the spiel which was being delivered, accompanied by the screeching whisper of one of the glasses being sucked empty.
Smith addressed himself to the shadows between the dimly lit surfaces of the three men, preferring to look at nothing in particular rather than attempting to make out the looks of either rapt attention or arch scepticism which managed to catch a beam of light.
“There’s a remedy for everything today – you just have to know where to look… know where to buy it… You just got to know the right man. That’s all.”
Smith smiled the smile which he would have attributed to such a ‘right man’.
“If you’ve got a problem then there’s a solution. It’s not like you’re the first person in the world to suffer from a pain in the ass or insomnia or a dodgy liver. It’s already happened to someone else before. You’re just the next guy with the same disease. The real problem… the only problem… it’s the only problem we have left… the problem of the modern age, the information age – there’s just too much bloody information. You can’t look out the window without getting smacked in the eye with some piece of information or another… buy this, beware of that, come to my Hawaiian restaurant and get a free coconut surprise. What’s a guy to do?”
There were no answers forthcoming from the dimly lit and unkempt audience.
“Have you seen the size of the Sunday newspapers?” Smith pushed his face into the beam of light which cut across the bar. “Who the hell has got a hope of reading all of that? And there’s at least twenty different kinds in the newsagents. And there just the ones we get to see. And all those magazines and periodicals and journals and all of that…. What do you think they keep under the counter?” Smith shook his head. “Well, it’s just too much. And there’s books – books upon books upon books. There’s piles of books taller than buildings, piles upon piles, millions and millions of pages… and the internet… well, what’s the point of even trying. You search for help and all you get is a bloody headache… it’s a tsunami… it’s an avalanche… you’re being drowned by information… you can’t breathe. You just have to stop looking.”
The three dimly lit middle-aged men had stopped moving, were sat there in silence, their dark and empty faces all turned to Smith, their mouths hanging open in darker patches of shadow, their eyes glinting, catching the light. They were primed.
“All I can do is offer what I have… what I know…”
“What do you…?”
Smith opened his canvas satchel, revealing a very colourful collection which the dim light really didn’t do justice to, but did suggest a certain indefinable value which they might not have possessed in the full light of day. “I’ve got books, pamphlets, treatises… I’ve got answers to questions, lists of questions without answers, aphorisms by the greatest minds from Nietzsche up to modern times… epistemology – what can you know?… metaphysics – what can you be?… ethics – what should you do? Where’s my soul? Can I feel your pain? Why am I here? Why are you here? Where’s god? What is god? Where is god buried?”
“God’s buried?” A note of disbelief.
“Haven’t you heard?” Smith was the fount of all knowledge… at least all knowledge that was now laid out on the dimly lit bar before him, soaking up the spilt beer. And Smith stood up and stood back and took the floor for his final assault.
“The meaning of life. The location of the soul. How things can change. The meaning of a word. The nature of the beast. The beginning and the end. Which way’s up. Look before you leap. What is the self? What is beauty? The absolutely last number. Appearance and reality. The truth about altruism. Free will or determinism. The hidden logic. The language of the gods. ”
Smith swung his arms about to indicate the sheer bubbling over, bursting out volume of the learning he had there before him on the bar and now available to buy.
“You got anything on the pharaohs?”