Dialog 1 - Mark Virtue

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So, you know everything, do you?

Yep.

Everything? The answers to all the great questions? The answers to the Universe?

Everything.

And youíre ten years old.

So?

So youíre doing pretty well to have worked it all out in just a few years.

What makes you think I "worked it all out?"

Isnít that how one comes up with answers like that?

I suppose you could do it like that, but it would take an awfully long time.

You have a better way?

I donít have a "way," as such. I just know.

OK. Iíll play along. How does one just know?

Well, itís quite simple, really. If you look inside yourself, all the way in, youíll find that you already know the answer to any question you care to ask. Itís all there in your mind - you just have to be able to ask the right question.

Must be nice to have such a well-stocked mind. All I see when I look inside myself is a big jumble.

Youíre not doing yourself justice. You have all the answers too. You, me, everyone. The answers are all in there. The hard part is not trying to work out the answer; the hard part is trying to work out the question.

Oh lovely. Very enigmatic.

Get the question right and the answer just flows out. Itís very easy when you get the hang of it. You also have to be able to recognise the correct answer, of course.

All right, seeing as you claim to have all the answers, let me ask you a question, if itís not too much trouble?

Not at all.

I might start with a straightforward one.

Fire away.

All right, how big is the Universe?

Iím sorry, I canít answer that.

Aha! So you donít know everything!

No, itís just that the Universe doesnít have a size.

Everything has a size.

Pretty much.

So the Universe is infinite then.

No, the Universe couldnít possibly be infinite. Itís actually a meaningless question. Youíll have to ask me a better one.

Sounded like a pretty simple question to me - "How big is the Universe?"

No, sorry, it doesnít make any sense. Itís like asking, "How loud is noise?"

What noise?

All noise.

Compared to what?

Exactly.

Well, how would you put it?

I wouldnít bother with a fatuous mechanical question like that. Iíd ask an important question.

Oh, yes, very nicely dodged. An important question, huh? Like what?

Some important question that doesnít get asked enough.

Such as?

"Why do we sleep?"

"Why do we sleep?" That doesnít sound particularly important to me. I mean, we sleep because weíre tired. I would have thought that it would be more important to ask, "Why do we dream?"

Yes, thatís a good one too. But just saying we sleep because weíre tired is a pretty poor excuse for an answer.

Oh really.

Sure. If weíre tired, canít we just rest? Why do we actually have to become unconscious?

Well, we get sleepy.

Oh, we sleep because we get sleepy? Very good. A bit like saying the main purpose of eating is to stop feeling hungry. No, no. If all we are trying to do is recover from weariness, it would be quite sufficient simply to rest. Lie down, stretch. It seems completely unnecessary to actually lose consciousness. Dangerous even, if you think about it. There might be wolves about.

Wolves.

Certainly. Itís patently counter-survivalist to spend eight hours of your day asleep. Youíre very vulnerable asleep, remember.

Iím not an idiot.

Of course. Anyway, couldnít it have been possible to design a creature such as a human being in such a way that it didnít need sleep?

Youíre assuming that humans were designed.

Yes, I am, for the sake of argument, but it doesnít actually make any difference. Do you agree that we could have been designed without the need for sleep?

I suppose so.

So. Iím taking for granted the fact that we donít do something as important as sleep, for as long a time as a third of our lives, without a good reason. Fair enough?

Fair enough.

So what do you suppose the reason is?

Iím sure Iím about to find out...

Itís only when weíre asleep that we carry out the actual purpose of our existence.

What? Dreaming?

No, not dreaming. Let me finish.

Go on then.

I think Iím going to have to sidetrack a bit here. There are a couple of truths that Iíll just ask you to accept for the moment, OK?

Letís hear them first.

OK. Firstly, the mind is more powerful than we give it credit for. Nobody yet fully understands, or even claims to understand, the workings of the mind, yet scientists go around glibly announcing that we "use" only ten or twenty percent of our brain. Donít you think itís funny that man has a use for virtually every part of the body, but something as vital as the brain is supposedly eighty percent redundant matter?

Well I donít think they mean it like that.

Well, however they mean it, itís simply wrong. The brain is wholly utilised, but only a small fraction of it is used for purposes that our conscious minds can fathom, or even detect. The rest is given over to our far more powerful subconscious. Thatís my second point, that the powers of the mind are vested primarily in the subconscious. Put differently, the subconscious mind is orders of magnitude more powerful than the conscious mind, the bit we use every day. The third point I want you to accept is that itís only when weíre asleep that the subconscious has the opportunity to exercise all its capabilities.

Iím sure this is all going somewhere.

All right, let me ask you this. What if, and this is the crux of it, what if the activities carried out by your subconscious while you were asleep were the prime activities of your life? What if all the stuff you do while youíre awake, for the other sixteen hours a day, is merely the mechanical business of keeping the organism alive. Keeping yourself sheltered and well fed, protecting yourself and your family from threats to your survival, procreating - all of this is just to ensure that the subconscious mind is kept intact and healthy, so it can do the real work of your life during the eight hours that you are asleep.

Are you trying to tell me that our entire waking lives are just the support services for some higher part of our mind? That all the stuff we do all day long is totally irrelevant, as long as we keep ourselves alive?

Youíve obviously never entertained the idea yourself.

Of course not! Itís ludicrous!

And why is that?

Well - look at all the great achievements of the Human Race over history - technology, philosophy, culture, civilisation. All created during our waking lives. I canít see a creature that spent all its waking hours merely in the quest for survival coming up with achievements like that. What about art?

Ah! Now Art is different. Donít classify Art along with all those other trifles.

Trifles!?! Technology? Civilisation?

All right, tell me how a few useful tools and clever gadgets, along with some sophisticated rules of behaviour, serve to make up a purpose for existence.

Well they donít obviously, but noone has worked out the purpose for existence yet.

And why do you suppose that is?

.. Er ...

Nooneís ever going to deduce the meaning of life from the trivial machinations of our daily lives. Civilisation, technology Ė their only purpose is to further our own existence - individually and as a species. Make us stronger, more successful. If you think about it, if that was all there was to it, life would all be more than a little pointless - the purpose of life being to keep itself alive? I donít think so.

Yeah, but maybe we just havenít worked out the secret of it all yet.

And weíre not going to if we donít take into consideration the most important part of our identity...

... Our subconscious. Yeah, I gathered. So back to the subject - what is my all-powerful subconscious doing every night while Iím drooling into my pillow?

Youíre asking about the actual nature of your subconscious.

Yes, what are all these mystical powers of mine that my subconscious is hogging eighty percent of my brain to play with?

Cute. Iím not sure that youíd understand.

Don't insult my intelligence!

Iím not insulting you at all. I donít think anyone can understand the answer to that question. Even me.

Is that just a fancy way of saying you donít know?

Now whoís being insulting? Look, how much do you suppose one of the cells in your liver understands why you go to work every day?

Say that again - my liver?

Sure. You have billions of cells - individual living entities - within you right now, some of them in your liver, all merrily going about their work, living, dying, reproducing, without the slightest idea of why theyíre alive, the purpose of their lives. If you tried to explain to them the concepts of life, death, society, love, beauty Ė even their own simple individual purposes Ė youíd have a bunch of very bewildered little cells. Theyíre just not capable of understanding such high-level concepts as that.

My liverÖ

Yet you, as a larger, infinitely more complex entity have no problem with exactly the same concepts.

What was the middle bit ... ?

The whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts in this case. What Iím trying to say is, following the analogy to its obvious conclusion, that simple creatures such as ourselves are not equipped to understand the activities of the larger being that we form a part of.

We are part of a being?

Of course. An unfathomably more sophisticated being that is, metaphorically, comprised of all of us in the same way that we are comprised of our cells. An entity that doesnít exist in any material sense, but is the very essence of Life, combining every mind on the planet into a vast lattice of Being, but being ever so much more than simply a league of minds.

Where did this higher being bit suddenly come from? I thought we were talking about sleeping.

We are.

We are?

Sure. Itís all related. You canít have one without the other. You canít just say "Sleeping is more important to our existence than waking" without putting it into some kind of context.

And that context might be?

Our higher being.

Your higher being! Iím not up to that yet. Iím still trying to get a handle on that stuff you mentioned about sleeping. You said weíre alive only so that we can do whatever it is we do when weíre asleep.

No, I said thatís primarily the reason.

Thatís still pretty outrageous. Go on then - what are some of the things that we do when weíre asleep?

You already asked that question. I told you you wouldnít understand.

Try me.

OK. You dream, for a start.

That I already understand.

No, I donít think you do. What did you dream last night?

Whatís that got to do with anything?

Just humour me. What did you dream last night?

I donít remember. Something about clouds in a tunnel.

You donít remember. And what do you remember about the first two years of your life?

What? When I was a baby?

Yes. What do you remember?

I donít remember anything at all. So what?

The two are related. Do you see how?

No.

Why donít you remember your infancy?

Well, it was a very long time ago.

Your dream last night wasnít.

No, so the two obviously arenít related.

If you ask a five-year-old boy if he remembers the first two years of his life, do you think heíd remember?

I guess not.

So itís got nothing to do with how long ago it was.

All right, so why donít we remember our early years?

Because we didnít comprehend them.

I donít follow you.

You cannot remember things you donít comprehend.

Not true! No. Thatís completely untrue.

Really?

Really! Whatís a good exampleÖ? OK. I might hear a sentence in a strange language, say Swahili, which I clearly will not understand. But I might be able to recall the sounds of the sentence later, and even repeat them back to someone else. I might be able to remember the sentence perfectly, even though I didnít comprehend it.

Thatís not what I mean at all. Those foreign language sounds, even though you donít understand them, appear like most of the sounds you are already familiar with, just jumbled up a bit. Youíre ears donít have any trouble comprehending the noise, and your brain immediately recognises that it is hearing some foreign language. However, a one-week-old baby, hearing the same sentence, will probably not even realise that it has heard anything at all, even a couple of seconds later.

Eh?

Not only will it not understand the language, it may not even understand that something called speech has occurred in its vicinity. Speech, and indeed noise, is completely beyond the comprehension of a week-old baby. It will not be able to match the sensory input of its ears against any of its recognised experiences. It doesnít have any experiences yet. Its ears will have picked up the noise, but the brain will not register the data, as it cannot categorise it. Subsequently, there will be no recollection Ė memory Ė of the noise, as it was never stored by the childís conscious mind in the first place.

But surely if you hear something youíll at least remember what youíve heard.

Not if you donít even understand noise. Memory is a bit like a filing cabinet, and itís heavily dependent on perception. If you are not able to put a label on something youíve just experienced, you wonít be able to put it into a file. Youíll simply discard it.

All right, so whatís this got to do with dreams?

Canít you make the connection?

No, sorry. Iím only using twelve percent of my brain today. Itís Thursday - you should have caught me on a Monday.

You canít remember the parts of your dreams that your conscious mind cannot comprehend.

Thatís rubbish! I remember my dreams all the time!

Every part? Just as if you had experienced the same things awake?

Well no, there is always a certain fuzziness about a dream - you always know which memories are dreams and which are real.

Iím not saying you canít remember dreams. Of course sometimes you remember bits about a dream - sometimes the "plot," sometimes the emotions it conjures up in you. But you only ever remember the parts of your dreams that you would be able to comprehend if you were awake. The bits of the dream that donít make any sense are effectively lost on your conscious mind. Sometimes itís the entire dream. Sometimes itís just the background, or some of the more obscure events.

But I can often remember parts of my dreams that are extremely bizarre.

"Bizarre" and "incomprehensible" are two totally different concepts.

Not really.

Totally

How?

OK, I should give you an example. "Bizarre" is easy. It might be, say, seven pink elephants dancing a minuet on the head of a pin. But itís virtually impossible to come up with an example of "incomprehensible." But Iíll give it a bash. Er Ö off the top of my head, an incomprehensible concept might be something like a thunderclap of sickly-sweet grey silence interspersed with pockets of superficially noble intentions.

What?

Or probably something far more obscure. The first will be able to be remembered, usually visually, but the other simply defies conscious experience, and is lost through the rather selective sieve of memory.

This is getting a little incomprehensible ...

You want a concrete example?

If itís not too much trouble.

What was my example regarding "bizarre?"

Pink elephants on the head of a pin, or something.

Correct. Now what about "incomprehensible?"

Er, Iím not sure. Run it by me again?

No. This is the point. Try to remember it.

Er, Thunder, and something about "noble."

Come on, it was only a few seconds ago. You can do better than that.

Um Ö no. I canít remember it. It was too weird. I didnít understand it when you said it.

Ah! Now do you see what Iím getting at?

Not entirely ...

You didnít remember it because you werenít able to picture the original idea in your mind. You couldnít recall it because you didnít comprehend what I was talking about in the first place.

Thatís for sure.

Do you get it now?

Where was this all going?

Put simply, you have trouble remembering your dreams because your conscious mind cannot comprehend the images that they contain. These dreams, these images, are a faint echo of the processes going on in your subconscious while you sleep. These images are a conscious manifestation of a subconscious world, barely comprehensible to the waking mind. It is this world, this realm, that encompasses the important aspects of your existence.

This is getting a little beyond me.

You did ask.

Are you saying that if I could simply understand everything about my dreams then I would understand what my subconscious does all night?

Not quite.

Not quite?

Well, you actually dream only during a transitional period between consciousness and total subconsciousness, for want of a better word. When your mind is totally given over to its vastly more important subconscious activities, you donít dream at all. That period is utterly incomprehensible to your conscious mind. Itís only on the fringes, going in and coming back out, if you like, that you enter the dream state. That state is partially comprehensible. As I said, itís a transitional period.

So all this is just a fancy way of saying Iím not going to understand what I do when Iím asleep.

Youíre not going to be able to understand it, and Iím not going to be able to explain it.

Why, donít you understand it either?

Iím a conscious being. It is beyond me.

So you donít know everything!

It simply wouldnít fit in my mind. My conscious mind, that is.

I donít think youíre such a storehouse of wisdom after all. You havenít really told me anything this entire conversation that I didnít already know. Iíve "learned" that I canít understand my dreams, and that my waking life is a waste of time.

Youíve learned that you are part of something bigger than a human being. That you are a part of it, and it is a part of you.

"Something bigger," huh? How come something so huge and so much a part of everyone doesnít have a name?

It has many names.

Name one.

God.

Oh now, hang on a minute! I thought we were having a nice, harmless conversation about some theoretical entity that gives us obscure visions in our dreams and lets us inhabit its liver... There we were, passing the time of day, when suddenly you go and get personal by bringing God into it.

Do you believe in God?

Absolutely!

And which god would that be?

What do you mean, "which god?" God! You know, Heaven, Hell, angels, virgin births ... That God!

Why?

Why what?

Why do you believe in "that God?"

What a dumb question. The Universe was created by God. Man was created by God, in His image. He is all-knowing, all-powerful. He is everywhere. How many more reasons do you need?

Sounds like pretty much the same thing to me.

What sounds the same as what thing?

Your God and the god we were just talking about.

We werenít talking about a god. We were talking about sleeping, and subconscious minds, and stuff.

You werenít listening to what I said.

Yes I was. You said that all the subconscious minds of everybody formed some sort of bigger mind-being.

And that doesnít sound like a god to you?

Not particularly, no.

So what sort of features do you typically look for in a god, then?

What sort of question is that? God is God!

Clearly. But what is it about this being that causes you to revere Him as a god?

Well, He created the Universe.

Did you see Him?

What?

Did you watch Him create the Universe?

Of course not!

Then how did you know He did?

The Bible says so.

So you canít be sure it was God?

Iím quite sure it was!

All right. Maybe He did, and maybe He didnít. How about something a little more contemporary.

What do you mean?

Can you tell me something a little more recent, more observable about God that makes Him a god?

Why do I get the feeling that youíre just going to contradict whatever I say?

Iíll try not to. There is actually a point to these questions. Iím interested in the nature of the god you believe in.

OK. God is everywhere.

Meaning what?

God is part of everything. He sees everything, He knows everything

Would you say thereís a little bit of God in all of us?

Thatís one way of putting it.

Where?

Huh?

Iím curious about where to find this God of yours, in what part of us. In our heads? In our stomachs? In our livers? Where exactly?

Youíre being juvenile. In our souls, of course. In our spirits.

Souls ... spirits ... Interesting, most interesting. Another related question: Can you tell me something about Godís impact on our daily lives?

Easy. We should all live according to Godís laws.

Says who?

Says God.

And how does God tell us all these things?

Well, in the Bible, mostly.

Doesnít God communicate with us directly at all?

With some people.

Has He ever spoken to you?

This is getting a little personal. Why are you so interested in the Christian God all of a sudden? Werenít we talking about sleeping?

Itís all connected. Just humour me. I was just wondering if God has ever spoken to you.

Well, as a matter of fact, He has.

I donít suppose it was a booming voice from the heavens?

Actually it was from within.

Go on.

Well, to cut a long story short, I needed guidance in a crucial part of my life, I asked God for help, and I felt a revelation flood through me.

What, an answer?

Yes, an answer to my problems seemed to spontaneously fill me like a warm glow. Iíll never forget it. God was speaking to me.

So your only direct experience of God was an answer revealing itself to you from within your mind?

Well, thatís a crude way of putting it.

I think weíre talking about the same thing here.

What thing?

Your God and my God, my subconscious being.

Nonsense! Theyíre not even remotely similar.

OK. You say God is in your soul, and indeed in everyoneís souls. I say God is, put simply, in our subconsciousnesses. You say God speaks to you from within your mind. For me it is the same, only God is part of me, always there, ready with the wisdom of the entire history of Humanity, requiring only that I ask. You are one of Godís children; I am a component of God Himself.

This is all just so many words. My God has the power of Heaven within Him. I donít see any sort of power coming from your subconscious being.

Power. OK, describe this power of your God.

Surely you can see the power of God all around you?

Maybe Iím looking in the wrong places.

Look Iím getting just a little bit tired of this! Go and pick on somebody elseís god. I know that God exists, and thatís good enough for me!

Look, don't get me wrong. Iím not trying to say that your God doesnít exist, or that your faith is meaningless. All Iím trying to do is convince you that you and I actually believe in exactly the same thing.

Well Iím not convinced.

Whatís missing?

I already said. The undeniable power of God. God causes wonderful, and dreadful, things to happen in the world. Miracles, punishments, everything. He controls the direction of the world. I canít see your "being" having that kind of power.

What you call a "power" I call a "Life force". A power certainly, but a power coming not from some ethereal external source, but from the combined energies of the entire species. All the miracles you attribute to God I simply attribute to the Life force. It just doesnít seem necessary to introduce the concept of an external God, when the united will of the Human Race is easily profound enough to encompass all the phenomena youíre talking about.

But God is out there. I just canít embrace the fact that my subconscious mind is God.

Don't you feel part of something bigger?

Sort of. All right, all right. Answer me this. If your God is the True God, how did so many people throughout history become confused into believing in my God?

Well, in a nutshell, God was created in the image of Man.

No, youíve got that back-to-front.

Have I?

Certainly. "Man was created in the image of God."

The concept of God you share with so many others evolved because Humans have a hunger for answers to the Great Mysteries, especially answers that can be readily comprehended and transcribed into easily digestible pearls of wisdom. The truth of the answers is not such an important consideration. Ultimately, man needs a god whose motivations are clearly related to manís own motivations. What better than the "Wise Father" concept. An easily recognisable figure, with relatively simple and tangible intentions that we can relate to, and with the added bonus that each and every one of us can feel the fatherly love of an extremely important being.

God does love us!

He does?

Of course he does!

So tell me, why is there so much suffering in the world, if our God loves us and is infinitely powerful?

Yeah, Yeah. The standard question. I donít know the answer to that. Nobody knows the answer to that, except God. That was a cheap shot.

Any theories?

About our suffering?

Mmmm.

I suppose Heís punishing us.

Punishing us for what?

For our sins. Weíve committed a fair few sins, you know.

Speak for yourself. So then all the starving millions around the world are being punished for various sins theyíve committed?

No, no. The sins of the whole human race.

What, so some murderer somewhere strangles his wife, and on the other side of the world a child dies of malnutrition?

All right then, you explain it.

OK. Think of yourself as this higher being.

Which one, yours or mine?

Mine. You are a composite entity, a collection of smaller beings, call them cells for the sake of argument, yet you live a life no cell could ever comprehend. If you had to name a purpose for the lives of your cells, you might say they existed for the purpose of keeping you alive. OK?

So far, perhaps.

Itís just an analogy. Now, how often do you feel pain?

Pain?

Yes. How many times a day would your body experience pain?

Oh I donít know. A couple. A few.

Is any of that pain ever self-induced?

What am I, a masochist?

Do you ever exercise?

Yes.

To the point of pain?

Sometimes.

Do you ever put stinging antiseptic on a wound? Do you ever try to remove a splinter with a needle? How about forcing yourself to go hungry for an hour or two because youíre in the middle of something important?

Of course. So?

So what do you think your cells think about the suffering youíre causing them?

Which cells?

The cells on the receiving end of your decision. All this is causing pain and suffering, even death, to some of the cells in your body. Donít you care about them?

Who cares what my cells think? I always have a good reason. Iím not going to worry about a couple of cells when my personal health is at stake.

So itís a sort of a sacrifice?

Well. Itís not as if I want to cause them pain, its simply necessary for the good of the whole.

Exactly. And then there are simply accidents.

What, like slamming your fingers in a car door?

Anything. In an accident youíre causing yourself and your cells pain for no particularly good reason at all.

OK, so what are you getting at?

Donít you see? The sufferings of the millions throughout the world are not a punishment. Theyíre not happening because God doesnít care about us, either. They are necessary as part of some higher plan of Godís, of which we are ignorant. Whatever the reasons are, they are going to be for the good of the species.

How do you figure that? How does a million people dying of starvation improve the species?

Well, it makes the rest of us that much more motivated to develop ways of preventing it happening to everybody else, for a start. With new methods for avoiding starvation, or controlling over-population, we become a stronger species - more capable of surviving. But thatís an overly simple example.

That was simple?

Getting back to God loving you, I doubt that it works that way. The part of God that exists within you - your subconscious - loves you wholly, if "love" is the right word for it. But if the higher being itself has a consciousness of its own, it would feel no more love for you than you feel for a cell of your liver. Donít take it personally, just try to think of it in its true perspective.

Iím just trying to think how I got into this conversation. I should just learn to shut up when I hear people boasting that they know everything. Are all these ideas really just there in your head, or did you swallow a philosophy book when you were a baby?

I donít remember.

Er, that was a joke.

Sorry, Iím a bit slow when it comes to jokes.

You probably just donít get to hear enough. Iíve got one for you. Youíll like this one: "What do you get when you cross an agnostic, a dyslexic and an insomniac?"

Do I get three guesses?

"Someone who lies awake all night wondering whether thereís a dog."

I donít get it.

Maybe weíd better get back to the subject.

Maybe weíd better.

OK. Suppose I grant you that the "life force" youíve been explaining and the God I believe in are in fact the same thing, then why should your version be right? You havenít shown me any arguments that your answers are closer to the truth than my own answers. If your explanation is better than mine, surely it should fit the observable facts better.

I would have thought that was clear by now.

I must have missed it. Give me some examples.

Examples, examples Ö. OK. When a man is hit by a bus and killed, and his mother wakes up with a start from a dream on the other side of the world certain that something has happened to her son, where do we turn for an explanation? Science? Hardly. Scientists donít ever acknowledge that such things actually happen. It doesnít seem to fall under the heading of religion, at least not conventional religion. We are left struggling with concepts like "supernatural" and "psychic", or perhaps even "hoax." Yet if we are all linked via our subconscious minds, then it almost seems surprising that such things donít happen more often. They do, by the way, we just donít know how to recognise them.

That seems a pretty trivial example.

Oh, I could give you hundreds of trivial examples. Think of all the unexplained paranormal phenomena around the world. Things that usually get dismissed because "science" canít explain them.

Such as?

Such as any number of so-called psychic powers, extra-sensory perception, ghosts, astral travelling, miracle recoveries, faith healing, Indian swamis with fantastic powers over their bodies, karmic energies, memories from past lives. Iím just quoting some of the more popular ones. Thereís no end to them.

Are you trying to say that this catalogue of mysterious phenomena is all magically explained by your simple theory?

Iím not trying to say that this "theory" can explain any of them. I simply think they should all be re-examined in the light of a different perspective on the mind and God. Maybe some of them are totally fraudulent. But most have been happening regularly for centuries. They canít all be fakes. Just because science canít explain them doesnít invalidate their credibility. And itís not a theory.

Of course. Itís a truth from the depths of your subconscious. Sorry. Look, explaining away unusual phenomena is nice and everything, but I was kind of hoping for something a little more illuminating.

Like what exactly?

Answers to some of scienceís hitherto unanswered questions. Shouldnít your schemeís ramifications fill some holes in our picture of the world?

I already explained one. No, two.

Which were?

How Godís love can be reconciled with the worldís sufferings, and why we sleep.

OK, but I was thinking of more sciency things.

And what do you think science is struggling with?

I was hoping you could tell me.

Iíll tell you one area that itís got it all wrong.

And that is?

Evolution.

Iím sure Iím going to regret this, but why evolution? I mean, thatís one thing that science has provided us with an answer to. Even I believe in evolution. You know, survival of the fittest, and all that.

Itís not the "survival of the fittest" concept that is flawed.

No?

Itís the other bit.

What "other bit?"

Darwin put forward a theory that had two main ideas. One was that every species mutates, or "evolves" into different forms, over time, and the other says that the fittest of these forms, the ones most suited to their environments, survive. It was suggested later that the mechanism for the evolution was provided by the bombardment of a life formís genetic material with radiation, causing mutations to be born. Supposedly, some of these mutations are more adapted to their environments than others, rendering them more likely to survive in times of shortage.

Yes, I know all that.

Most modern biologists think that this is a little over-simplistic, but have accepted the general principle. Theyíre quite mistaken. Certainly a stronger species will prevail over a weaker one, but how does a species progress from one form to another?

Well, by mutation caused by radiation, like you said.

Yes, that is what I said, but thatís the part that doesnít hold water. Random mutations Ė acts of chance, shall we say Ė are simply not a sufficient mechanism to create the fantastic array of creatures that we share the planet with.

Thereís been an awfully long time for them to evolve, you know.

Not nearly long enough, if you ask me. These animals that are perfectly adapted to their environments, it is simply not right to suggest that they have achieved that perfection through some accident of genetics. Doesnít it all seem somehow more directed than that?

Youíre going too fast again. What is the problem with this random mutation thing?

OK, Iíll give you an example. Say itís ten million years ago and the sunspots are acting up again, and the next thing you know, a hundred different mutations of prehistoric giraffe are born and somehow survive to propagate their own little sub-species of giraffe. There are giraffes with black spots, giraffes with club feet, giraffes with necks that are two inches longer than normal, giraffes with necks that are two inches shorter than normal, etcetera, etcetera. With me so far?

Iíll shout if Iím not.

Right. Then a crisis period occurs and ninety-nine of these sub-species die out, all except for the slightly-longer-necked giraffes, because only they can reach the branches of the trees that still have leaves. Hey presto! All surviving giraffes are now magically two inches taller. Then a million years later it all happens again, and the giraffes grow another two inches. Doesnít it all seem just a teensy bit unlikely?

Given enough time, Iím sure it would happen.

So do you think that given enough time, you might find moths whose wings are the exact same texture as the bark of the trees they like to live in, or lizards whose necks flare up to scare away foes, or great horse-like animals that live in the desert that store water in humps on their backs, or bushes that sting you or prick you if you venture near them, or flowers that eat insects, or bacteria that resist antibiotics effortlessly? How about hairless apes that can write poetry?

Isnít a billion years enough time for all those things to evolve? I mean, they have.

Frankly, no. Maybe one or two cases, but we have an entire planet teeming with creatures far weirder than that. Furthermore, would you grant me that evolution must be still going on today?

Possibly not. Manís been interfering with the environment.

Even more need for evolution. How many species does man drive to extinction each day? I would have thought the urge to survive would be far more immediate nowadays. No, evolution is still going on all around us. So I wonder whatís happened to the ninety-nine doomed varieties of giraffe that should be out there, waiting for the next ice age, or drought, or something. Doesnít Darwinian theory predict that they ought to be there?

All right. Youíve made your point. Iím waiting with bated breath to hear how weíve yet again got it all wrong.

The collective mind of the species shapes the direction of the evolution of that species.

Run that by me again?

In other words, it is an act of will on the part of the species as a whole that determines the shape of the evolution of that species.

Oh! Right! Of course. The old short-necked giraffes all got together one day, put it to a vote, and just decided to grow longer necks. Itís all so clear now.

Metaphorically speaking, youíve just about got it in one, in a puerile sort of a way.

So why didnít they go and vote themselves a special Lion-Destructo-Matic poison-tipped tail-spike while they were at it?

Some animals did virtually exactly that. Except for the "voting" part.

You know what I mean. Canít a species acquire itself any sort of powers it wants?

Well, yes. Within limits. But you have to understand a few things about the process. First, it happens extremely slowly. Secondly, any special power you create for yourself will come with its own particular set of side-effects and disadvantages. Youíd want to make sure you choose a sensible feature to burden your entire race with. Finally, every competing species is doing exactly the same thing at the same time. The pressure is on to get it right first time. Many species donít, of course, and pay the ultimate penalty. Species are born and die, just like individuals. The whole process is perpetually in this kind of delicious balance. Donít you think?

Slow down a bit. This whole concept is just too far-fetched. Just how exactly do you convene a meeting of all the members of a species and garner their opinions? When could it possibly happen?

When theyíre sleeping, of course.

Are you sneaking back to that business about what we do when weíre asleep?

Itís all the same concept.

So now youíre going to tell me that animals sleep for the same reasons.

Didnít you think it applied to animals?

So, what are you saying? That every animal is also part of its own god-organism?

Why should that be any harder to swallow?

Itís just too many new concepts at once. First you tell me that weíre all part of some greater entity, and that we commune with it when weíre asleep. Then I learn that Iíve been silly enough to think of this being as the Almighty Father. Now youíre asking me to swallow the idea that we have a whole planet full of these so-called gods, one for every type of animal Iíve ever heard of.

You have a remarkable knack for over-simplification, you know.

Iím only just warming up. Thereís a regular society of beings existing, playing together right under our noses. Thereís a dog-being, a cat-being, a tarantula-being, a Loch Ness Monster-being. And, of course, our old favourite Human Being-being.

Indeed.

All living together harmoniously in their little neighbourhood called Earth. "Knock knock." "Hello, my nameís Spiny Anteater. I live next door. Could you please ask your boy to stop evolving on my front lawn?"

I get the feeling this concept bothers you.

Thatís a relief. I was afraid I might have been too subtle.

Exactly whatís the problem?

Seriously?

Seriously.

OK. My problem is this. You don't seem to be taking into account that humans are different from other animals. Special. These god-beings, they canít all be the same, can they? Our own Human-being must be somehow different from all those other ones. Unique in some way.

In what way?

I don't know. For a start weíre more advanced. More civilised.

Iíll grant you that weíre more powerful and capable, certainly. But "civilised?" Weíre pretty immature, if you ask me.

Why do you say that?

We havenít fully grown up yet.

One more time?

We have yet to properly mature as a species.

We are the pinnacle of evolution. How can you possibly say we havenít grown up yet?

Well, if you knew some fellow who systematically destroyed his own environment, fought with and regularly injured himself, and generally behaved in a totally irresponsible manner, what would you think of him?

Iíd think he needed serious help.

Or perhaps he needed to grow up?

Just how does an entire species "grow up?"

Just like an individual.

Youíre getting silly again.

Look around you. Do you see man behaving as a mature, responsible citizen?

So how old are we then?

Oh, early to mid teens, I would say.

And how do you arrive at an age like that?

Look at how we behave as a species. Weíre self-centred, obsessed with our marvellous collection of fancy toys, and have an inclination to show off. We keep our home in a disgraceful state, and we have a tendency to fight at the drop of a hat. We are starting to understand our responsibilities to our environment and fellow creatures, but are more inclined to indulge our insatiable appetite for self-gratification. We ponder our place in the Universe, and then behave as if the Universe was put there solely for our benefit. Typical behaviour of spoilt or disenchanted adolescents, really.

I was just going to say that.

Iím waiting for the day when we fully mature as a species. Iím sure it wonít be in my lifetime, but think what a joy that would be - being a member of a truly mature and productive race. I don't think it would be pushing the analogy too far to suggest that we would even be ready to have children.

Oh no you donít. Iím not touching that one. Youíre just winding me up.

Not at all. Itís obvious weíll have the technology. It might be nice to create a species for a change, rather that simply drive them to extinction. Now that would be a worthy endeavour for a species. A true act of creation.

Mmmm.

Donít you think that would be something?

Maybe, but Iíd rather not get into it, if itís all the same to you.

You don't like that idea?

Itís a lovely idea, but, um, havenít we filled our new idea quota for the day already? Iím sure my left cortex will blow a fuse if I try to assimilate another one.

Thatís a shame. I was just thinking about introducing a second idea that Iíve been thinking about.

What do you mean a second idea?

A different idea from the one we just talked about.

Which idea? The business about the race needing to grow up?

No, I mean the whole thing. The entire discussion we just had.

All those things we discussed were one single idea?

Well, one main idea with a few different aspects.

Thatís absurd. I could probably count at least six separate topics.

I assure you there was only one.

No wait. There was the importance of sleeping, and evolution, and God, and dreams. Not to mention those Life-beings.

As I said, all aspects of the same central idea. They canít be separated, because theyíre all fundamentally connected.

OK. Iím obviously not completely on the ball. Give it to me one last time, this central idea of yours, and Iíll make sure I pay attention.

Canít you see it?

Didnít I just say that?

OK then. We, mankind, cannot think of ourselves as a population of individual organisms. Nor can we entertain the idea of a God that is external to us. Every person on Earth, indeed every life form on the planet, is spiritually a part of a greater entity. This entity does not have a physical form, and can be thought of as a sort of a god, with machinations and powers that are correspondingly beyond us. The greater portion of our mind is devoted to the activities involved in perpetuating this entity, yet our conscious mind is not capable of comprehending the nature of these activities.

Ten out of ten for succinctness. Is that it?

Almost. Our interactions with this entity are primarily performed when weíre asleep, rendering our waking lives little more than a survival mechanism.

Why do I still find that hard to swallow? Nothing we do while weíre awake has any significance whatsoever?

Except Art.

Art. You mentioned that before.

Art is special.

Please, I thought weíd finished with the new concepts.

Itís just a little one.

All right. I give in. Whatís so special about art?

Art is your identity. Your Art is that which you create, your only contribution to the wealth of the Human Race. There may be other fine and noble things that you do throughout your life, but without Art you have created nothing. Art is the essence of our conscious existence. It defines us, individually and as a species.

That all sounds very lovely, but I donít think itís quite as simple as that. I mean, Iím not the worldís greatest painter, and I really donít think that just because of this Iím somehow not a worthwhile individual.

Who said anything about painting? Art is anything you create, as long as it comes from your soul. It may be beautiful, or it may be simply an expression of your essence. Music, writing, dance, love, bringing up children, fixing a road, staring out a window daydreaming - thereís Art in everything. It just has to be an act of creation.

What if youíre stuck in a job that has no room for creative thought? How do you create works of art if you, say, shift boxes around a warehouse for a living?

It doesnít matter how mindless the activity, you just have to put something of yourself into it, make it somehow unique to you. Find a clever new way to clean your teeth. Express your individuality. Make mistakes, create things that are embarrassing, or things that donít make any sense or have a purpose. All thatís important is that you create. Art is about using your mind to learn how to think individually.

So clearly they don't teach us enough art in school.

Art is not something you are taught. Oh, you can be taught the techniques of transferring your inspiration to a tangible medium, such as painting, music or sculpture. But all that is simply talent. Art is not talent. Have you ever watched a three-year-old dancing, or playing the piano? This is simple, untalented, unadulterated self-expression. Art in its purest form. Art cannot be taught, only encouraged.

I just had a thought.

Yes?

Could it be that Art is what separates us from the animals?

Go on...

Well it just seems to me that these individual acts of creation that youíre talking about are unique to human beings, that animals live and die in a preordained, unthinking pattern, incapable of expressions of individuality, incapable of Art.

Great!

Whatís great?

That you had an idea.

Well, do you think itís right?

What does it matter what I think? Look inside yourself for the answer to that one. The important thing is that youíre thinking for yourself - your own thoughts, your own little acts of creation!

You know, that just made me think of something else! Do you want to hear it?

No.

What? Why not?

Youíll sort it out in your head much better if Iím not around. I think Iíll go for a little walk.

I would have thought youíd be interested.

Iíll be back soon. Think about it some more and tell me when I get back. Ciao!

Er... bye.