Lo and behold, in the year 2030, scientists at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Medicine in Washington made the discovery of a lifetime: philosophy significantly reduces our chances of developing cancer. Plato flew off the shelves. Marx sold out instantaneously. Still, decades later, the correlation is not properly understood; though it is thought to do with heightened “self-awareness”. Most likely it is a placebo, most likely the very thought that we are “self-aware” releases sulforaphane in our body tissues, destroying cancer-inducing chemicals. We must, regrettably, take these pseudo-theories on “faith”, at least until a superior hypothesis is proposed.
Either way, beards are back in vogue. The barber’s down the road specialises in walrus moustaches à la Nietzsche. The children in school are wearing togas, all of them – the teachers, too. There was a scandalous scene at the market the other month. A man defecated and masturbated on the ground, in front of children and the elderly. He was, of course, taken away in a van; though I heard him protest that he was emulating Diogenes, that he was trying to boost his immune system. I didn’t understand the correlation.
Although philosophy books are awfully heavy to carry around—Kant wrote an enormous tome in which he relentlessly criticised “reason” over the course of a thousand pages or so,—this is in fact great for toning and building muscle. My doctor warns me, however, against prolonged reading, firstly as it places undue strain on the wrist, and secondly as the font-size is too small for human eyes. Studies which purport to demonstrate equivalent medicinal benefits when reading philosophy on a screen or a laptop are as of yet inconclusive; and so these paper-weights are, for the time being, here to stay. As it happens, the number of publishing houses increased ten-fold over the past fifteen years alone, whereas before they were by all accounts extinct. Who would have thought that publishing would once again become, not only a viable business, but an occupation worthy of respect in the eyes of society? What comes around, goes around, I suppose.
There are more Socrates impersonators these days, significantly more. One chap in a neighbouring city from where I live had a nose job (his second) to make it look more pug-like, and has changed his name to Socrates the Grey. Every morning he sits, swarmed by a crowd of salubrious philosophers, asking questions: ‘Why?’ he says to a child eating ice-cream. ‘Why?’ he asks a woman whose voice is too loud. To every response he asks the same question – ‘Why?’ It is an inspiration to listen to him, to bask in the healing force of his wisdom, to feel the foreign agents flee before my intensifying sentience. ‘Why? Why? Why?’ he asks the crowd; and by now he must be very healthy. Indeed, it is quite funny that for so many years the lordliest health gurus and greatest scientific minds never thought of asking that.
I can only imagine what it would have been like to witness the real Socrates in action. Certainly we knew the Greeks were healthy, but we are only now beginning to understand the reason why. —And ‘why?’ is the reason, it would seem, that elusive word the effects of which we so little understand. It came up all over the place in association with a wide range of silly questions—‘Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is life worth living?’—in endless volumes of “metaphysical” mumbo-jumbo; and while these thinkers were busy wasting their time, wallowing in their ignorance, little did they know they were undergoing great curative treatment, cleansing their cells of toxins and so forth, and indirectly extolling the virtues of healthy living…
Each morning, when the latest philosophies are delivered to my doorstep by the post-drone, I rush out to greet it with a question—‘Why do you exist?’—with the aim of bolstering my resilience to disease. The hum of plastic motor blades is delicious in the sun, and as the drone soars upwards over rooftops it tunes out pleasantly from its speakers the very same: ‘Why do I exist?’ One day drones will develop cancer, of this I am sure, and it is a good habit for them to start asking questions, lest they mistakenly dismiss the insights of philosophy, for they too will soon live in an Enlightened Age. I have, moreover, instructed my phone to ask random questions throughout the day, which I then repeat aloud with my eyes closed, throwing in a few OAMs for good measure: ‘Why are scarves good for heat retentio-aah-mm…?’ Already I feel fitter (that is the placebo talking).
It is important to remember that these questions are all meaningless, that philosophy, like art, is simply therapeutic. To resist indoctrination, which is increasingly a problem in this day and age, one ought to be careful not to take philosophical matters seriously. There was a gentlemen at one of the local deradicalization centres who had read a little too much Shakespeare, as though in his works there were empirically valid propositions and not merely pretty phrases, who could not help from insisting, insisting, that the question (as though there were only one) was ‘To be or not to be?’ He said, “That is the question. That is the question.” Why should he get to decide? Why that one? Oh, but it doesn’t matter. Good heavens, it doesn’t matter. What an absurdity! Well, and the therapists generously sat him down and prescribed a number of tablets, which soon restored the poor man to a state of normalcy, thereby answering for him the question of whether life is worth living, which he now readily admits it very much is – two birds with one stone! Certainly it is a blessing to be alive in a culture of such abundant health and scientific wisdom, in which all philosophical questions dissolve as quickly as a pill.
Recently it was discovered, entirely by accident, by research software at the Institute for Engineering, formerly the University of Oxford, that the “etymological” meaning of the word philosophy is love of wisdom. God, do I love wisdom, that blessing in disguise, that gift of longevity, that wondrous elixir of life! And who would have thought that the philosopher’s stone was – philosophy itself!
Well, and that hits the nail on the head precisely. We now know that philosophers ask questions, not due to “curiosity”, but because being healthy is addictive, in a neuro-chemical sense. We can see this with neuroimaging: philosophers experience spikes of dopamine in the dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the substantia nigra, midbrain, and arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, blah-dee, blah-dee, blah. We have no idea what this all “means”, we humans, though it doesn’t matter, the scans are good, the science is sound, the collection and analysis of data were fully automated, the self-diagnosing neurobot repeatedly checked the source-code for potential bugs – all was swell. So, there it is: addiction… Healthy, wonderful, curative addiction, addiction to asking ‘Why?’ – that is the answer to the persistence of “God”, to every “metaphysical” question ever contemplated. Oh, and how we managed, all by ourselves, for so many years, to entirely capture our hearts and minds with snares and hollow words, like bright-eyed babes dumbfounded by a magic trick, like toddlers bickering at an actor and a clown: “He’s behind you!” – “No, he’s not!” – “He’s behind you! Turn around!” – “Be quiet, Thomas. The thing-in-itself is definitely inaccessible”. Pfft. Philosophy is a pantomime, and science is backstage with the director. Philosophy is a healthy broth, and science is in the kitchen with the cook. Philosophy is a… Oh, why, why, why? Lol-lol! Be happy and merry. What a time it is to be alive! Three cheers! Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray! To good health, and the eradication of sickness! Hip-hip, hooray!
Those were the days of “moral” condemnation; now only peace and love prevail, and the world is all the better for it. Men would chastise one another for views which were entirely socio-politically contingent, that is to say, for “liberal” views or “conservative” views, which they had simply acquired from family members, society, television, books – and they walked around as though these ideas were somehow “their own”. (You must forgive me for the scare quotes, I can hardly help myself from laughing. And it makes my skin crawl that you would think I write in earnest.) —As though these ideas belonged to them, and not to the world; as though these men were not themselves subject to observation. I can only imagine what it would have been like to live in an age of such rampant, unrecognised arrogance. The hubris would have made me sick!
Ignorance was the source of all anguish. The arrogance of ignorance, the ignorance of arrogance… – it is a peculiar thing, but I think I understand it, I think I have it pinned down. Admittedly, I did have it all explained to me by a psychobot, that is, an expert in human psychology. It was awfully busy when I asked, but it very kindly recorded an explanation for me. I understand bits and pieces (they are awfully clever). Here it is, more or less (I write from memory). It said: “Man has evolved to defend his turf with brawn, and now the turf has shifted to the brain. Ideas are resources of higher privilege than food and water—we (the bots) handle those labours—; yet man does not suddenly become peaceable in the realm of ideas, for he has evolved to fight.” Oh, and for so long, I must add, “debating” (another pantomime) was the hallmark of civility! We Awakened Ones have overcome all of this, you see, though by no means are we any better than we were before. I’ll let the bot explain: “Man is the same animal, the same husk; his evolutionary history cannot be surmounted ideationally – he cannot think himself away. The more man knows himself, the more he knows that he is in no position to know anything: he will always produce self-interested knowledge; he will always seek facts for sustenance, for reproduction, for survival, for power – always for something. Men are, at heart, hunter-gatherers, and will be forever. Always there will be some hunter-gatherer in him. Never will he be a formless vessel, never without intention, never without a trace of violence – never will he be what science and knowledge require of him.” And then it looked at me directly, the psychobot, with those penetrating eyes, and said in plaintive tones: “You will always be creatures of this earth.”
This was the hardest “truth” to accept, the hardest pill to swallow, for we had always had pretensions of belonging to another world. Luckily, the machines made it easier for us to bear; though, at first, we resisted (our history of resistance is adorable). There were many complaints: that only humans can observe and report facts, that robots cannot be trusted, that it is “immoral” (there’s that word again!) to replace people with machines. Well, we realised pretty soon that there was, not only nothing to fear, but reason to rejoice! (I don’t want to get carried away here.) There is nothing we can observe which robots cannot, in their own, superior way, observe; and we have known for a long time that our computational abilities are inferior, hopelessly inferior. What bliss it is to know that we needn’t know! Delegate, delegate unto the heavens (now I really am getting carried away) – we are liberated at last!
That is quite enough history and psychology for one day – let us leave the archiving to the Sphere. Gosh, my manners, I haven’t even introduced myself. Well, there is a reason for that: I am a child of the thirties, born in the era of the Awakening, during which time small-talk effectively went out the window. That was when people began “philosophising” once again. Oh, what a joy! We have a habit of talking only of matters of “significance”, those of us from the thirties. We were the first to be entirely cured, body and mind, the first to be rid at last of arbitrary worries, the first to see that thinking is a game of cowboys and Indians, that it is all a matter of imagination, that one must play along if one is to be healthy, which is imperative, for one must be healthy. —We were the first with infinite leisure time, with any region of earth readily accessible by atmospheric vessels, the first with any culture at our fingertips.
I shall proceed as is customary. My name is Mr Brown. I am expected to live at least to the age of ninety. My limbs are somewhat spotty; my back, too. More or less I am fit and healthy. I stand a little under six foot, with a thick tuft of blondish-brown hair. My right knee has been giving me problems. Any prolonged exertion causes it to fill with fluid. Goodness knows why. A certain very respectable Bavarian specialist could find nothing significantly wrong with it. All in all, I am healthy, I am fit as a fiddle.
If I should live to ninety, I shall have plenty of time to develop my talents as a painter. I paint for a living: sunflowers in the style of van Gogh, geometric shapes à la Picasso, sfumato clouds like Leonardo. As a progressivist, I paint only with a stylus, that is, digitally. We all have a duty to reduce our carbon footprint.
I follow the latest scientific advice and always wear a straw hat. The Art-Scientists have it known that a positive correlation exits between straw hats and artistic output. I learned this during the recent biweekly group consultation, the theme of which this time was the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. It took place at the usual venue, the same old building with the slanted rooves and the funny purple windows, just off Kilbarchan Road. Walk through the wooden doors, into the hall. The sounds are loose about the ears, the air infused beautifully with rose and lavender scented cleaning products; it is all quite, quite standard, everything clean and metallic, everything elegant and ergonomic. A handful of men and women attended the consultation, all of them artists. We sat patiently. Facing us were three lifebots—the Art-Scientists—dressed in white lab-coats. It was a Sunday.
‘The theme of this consultation’, began the first Art-Scientist, ‘is van Gogh, whose mannerisms you must emulate. Van Gogh wore a straw hat. Thou shalt wear straw hats.’
‘—But only those without pointy bits’, inserted the second ‘bot. ‘Pointy bits may well cause damage to the eyes, and eyes are necessary if one is to see what one paints.’
‘Hear, hear’, said the third, blinking.
‘We have it known’, continued the first, ‘that straw hats place a rather nuanced amount of pressure on the mind, such that one’s artistic faculties are teased out and enticed into action, this being aided, of course, by the breeziness of straw compared to, say, thick velvet or cotton. It is a working theory, a working theory; though it is likely true; and you would do well, nevertheless, to live according to Vincent’s mannerisms. What else? Well, more concretely are the following courses of action: Secure a certain independence of spirit. Take walks, at any time of day, with any gait you like, through fields and by yew trees. You should, however, walk between the hours of noon and early evening, cautiously, and never alone. An accident is always a serious possibility; accidents are, recent studies show, most likely to occur early in the morning or late at night. Next, you should try to entertain an obsessive commitment to your artwork. Of course, never allow this obsession to result in ill-health, and remember always to eat regular meals…take plenty of exercise – these are most, most important. In addition, it is advisable that your artwork enjoy some distance from political issues; though you must never waver in your efforts to secure total political equality. Henceforth, you will paint only those matters by which this dutiful commitment is fulfilled.’
‘Most, most proprietous!’ opined the third ’borg.
‘I would stress’, involved the second, ‘that you ought to wear your straw hat at all times, especially when sleeping. Straw hats are the most effective way in which to unlock the uppermost echelons of artistic potential. Cézanne wore a straw hat, and Monet was frequently surrounded by straw hats. Raphael would have worn one had they been accessible in his time. We know this as we have studied the primary and secondary literature on Raphael and converted the findings into pie charts. Almost all the leading Art-Scientists find a positive correlation between artistic performance and the use of straw hats. Indeed, a team of researchers in Bologna had artists wear straw hats during the rapid-eye-movement phase of sleep. The correlation was high under a strict confidence interval. Suffice it to say, then, that wearing a straw hat is an enabling condition—a necessary condition, even—for the production of masterpieces, that is, assuming you heed all the advice given in previous consultations.’
‘De rigour!’ exploded the third ‘borg.
It was at this moment, I recall, that the second ’borg developed a fault, for some peculiar reason, within the circuitry operating its left and right eyelids. They were blinking at irregular intervals, with one closing for a shorter length of time than the other. I raised the issue and was told to retrieve a battery-pack from downstairs, from beneath the floorboards. Gosh, and I never knew there was a downstairs to this place. It was here, however, that the most unbelievably improprietous happenings took place.
In the stairwell, as I set about looking, I heard what sounded like the faint growl of a demon, which grew to an audible sobbing as I approached, by which point I was nearly underground and in darkness. There was a door which, with some effort, I managed to budge open. There was no sobbing. A man lay, in hysterics, on a bed; and a sidelamp lit up the leafy pages of – a book! Lord in heaven, I had never seen one before, a terrible little thing, full of sharp edges and dust, and quite, quite dangerous to hold for any length of time, as is common knowledge, owing to the strain placed thereby on the wrist. In a similar vein, one must never paint without frequently resting, as the Art-Scientists advise, unless one wishes to spend every day thereafter, not painting, but nursing a most impractical injury. Gosh, but here was a man, quite above it all, reading, book in hand, inhaling the dusty pages, and laughing with such horrible ugliness, as though he were trying to carve deep lines into his brow, and crow-feet around his eyes…
I knew I had to leave; it was most improper for me to have entered without invitation. I turned back, delicately returning to the stairwell. The man, however, seeing my efforts to leave, raised an outstretched, open palm; ‘Wait’, he commanded. It was the most, most tyrannous thing, the way he dictated my actions, with not a hint of suggestion, not the slightest show of respect for my autonomy. He rose from his bed, still with the book splayed in a crab-like pinch, and it was by then that I noticed his appearance, his bearing, his posture; – gosh, what a floppy man! The horrors I have seen, the miseries of this world… The man, the poor man had grown a beard, a great bushy monster which sat upon his chin, dangling like an excessively hairy bat. And his attire! Heavens help him, he wasn’t wearing a single recent purchase.
Now, here’s the rub: the man was an Art-Scientist, I swear it. His lab-coat, which was exceedingly dirty, and which bore the name Heimlich, hung over by the corner of the room. The underside of the floorboards were exposed, and… – and the lab-coat’s hem was snagged to a loose plank above. I was so bewildered at the time that I now find it all quite hard to remember. Permit me, if you will, to relate what was spoken. Art-Scientist Heimlich said the most abhorrent and improprietous things. Well, and so, having noticed the lab-coat, I asked him, courteously:
‘My dear, good sir, Art-Scientist Heimlich – you are an Art-Scientist, are you not? That does appear to be a lab-coat, if I am not deceived. If it is, would it not go advisedly for you to attend the biweekly consultations taking place upstairs? These are mere suggestions. Do forgive me if I speak out of turn, I am beleaguered just now by a most unreasonable bout of intrigue.’
Without replying immediately, without obliging my request for forgiveness, Heimlich sighed—a most improper response!—and twisted his eyes toward the lab-coat. He stood there, without moving, without speaking, for close to a minute. I have seen nothing like it in all my life. At last he returned to me, after sighing once more, whereupon he set about asking and asserting, in a very convoluted manner, the following discourse:
‘Are you one of those budding artists? I suspect you are. You have the look of an artist…a modern artist, with airy-fairy eyes. What are you, a writer? You look like a writer…a writer of modern novels. Pfft! Let me tell you, sir, there is something deeply sick about the modern novel. It is too clean, too proprietous, too correct. The modern novel is over-edited and exceedingly clever – and hopelessly unengaging. The modern novel does exactly what it should do: it entertains, it thrills, it educates. Where are the errors? Where is the chaos? Nay, and more seriously, where are the humans who still write with honesty? Show me the humans. I see pale, mechanical writing. Every word is farted out by uninspired publishing houses, wafted across conveyor belts, sent in tubes directly up our nostrils…and all this at the click of a button. There comes a point when one must, positively must prefer blog-posts and primary school doodles, riddled as they are with errors and penetrable psychologies, if ever one wishes to encounter living, breathing human beings. Yes, the modern novel is violently life-denying. Gone are the days when folk would scribble down their feelings on typewriters, knowing little of themselves, and lacking our cursèd self-awareness. O, Flaubert! Gone are the days when writers bled profusely; blood is messy in this clinical age – and selfish. Writers today are subservient, slave to economic forces and the teenage market, to trends and graphs and data projections, to editing standards and administrative procedures, to profit and utility. Writers are caged in iron. And conventions! – Conventions dictate that writers must use short sentences to engage the reader. The “reader”, that is, ha! What an absurdity. Yes, yes, good idea: write for precisely those who dribble, like toddlers, over any sentence longer than a line. Dumb, dumb, dumb… Dumb-down for those unwilling to wise-up. Insert cultural capital aggressively…refer to topical socio-political issues throughout…feature an awesome cover design with an awesome quote, like: “A real page-turner”…and then add the stinky thing, post-haste, to the growing pile of other page-turners. Oh, and good heavens, say nothing profound or aphoristic, say nothing which might require effort to decode. Sex, everything sex. Bucket-loads of prurience. Slather it, slather your reader with licentiousness, tempt their base desires. They won’t resist. Why should they? How could they? But why on earth are you looking at me like that, you pallid man? Do you think you are special? Do yourself a favour, sir, ignore everything, everything they tell you upstairs, those cyborgs, they will tell you anything you want to hear, that is the crux of the matter. Ach, but I have said too much. Anyway, what is your name, and what on earth are you doing here? …A fault? Well, here…here’s a battery-pack. Take it, take it.’
Forgive me, in fact. I am in no mood to write, I would like to go to Spain, the fruit there is delicious, the women are delectable, the weather is sublime, I will write again in an hour or so, fare thee well.
The greatest gift of this age is longevity. I am expected to live at least into my nineties. No doubt the prospect of cryonics, ingestible nanobots, and telomerase tablets is just around the corner. Uploading our minds to the Sphere is already possible, in some sense or other. We merely quantify the neurochemical processes, and eureka! Everything has a line of code waiting for it. Even that which does not yet exist.