Monday, September 28, 2009

97. Berkelium


Vindicating Bishop Berkeley

Two more beers, please. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes.

"Thus I refute Bishop Berkeley!" Samuel Johnson famously cried, and kicked a rock. What lay behind this incident was the bishop-philosopher's "subjective idealism"—the theory that all qualities are known only in the mind and that therefore matter does not exist apart from its being perceived. Johnson's homely counter-argument—that matter exists because it does—was marred by the fact that his stubbed toe was in itself an instrument of perception.

In fact, the good bishop was right. As was demonstrated by a recent experiment designed to determine once and for all whether a tree falling in the forest when no one is there makes a sound or not. An isolated tree was sawed through to the point where a strong breeze would topple it, a tape recorder was set running, and the researchers departed from the area. After enough time had passed to ensure the tree must have surely fallen, they returned.

The result? Not only was there no recording of the tree falling, but the tape recorder was gone! As were the tree itself and the section of forest it was in. In the absence of perception, they had all ceased to be.

To confirm their startling finding, the scientists placed one of their number in a soundproofed closet, closed the door, and opened it again. The closet was empty. That instant of imperceptibility had rendered him nonexistent. Proving that all that stands between any one of us and oblivion is the presence of other people.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? Baby, it's because I care for you. I really do. Even though we just met, I'd feel terrible if anything were to happen to you.

And, well … I don't think you should go home tonight alone.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

1 comment:

  1. Uncle Mike, from the bottom of my heart,I thank you for this story. The last line has gotten me through many a bad day.