Now the kids have got to the stage when they don't set the house on fire anymore, Mrs Pickwick and I ventured forth to try something new in our relationship - an intellectual date. We attended this brain Zumba class at a nearby cultural establishment to hear a talk from a learned Philosopher on the subject "Why Philosophy Matters".
The speaker was introduced as having been recognised by the Observer as one of the UK's top intellectuals. And the biographical notes reported that he had once been the subject of a question on "University Challenge". What it neglected to say was - did anyone get it right?
It is fair to say that Mrs Pickwick is the intellectual in our union. When she suggested the event, my answer was not an immediate yes. Reflecting on it, I agreed concluding the evening may release my inner Kierkegaard but if it did not, we could smooch in the back row.
Our speaker was definitely one of the big brained fraternity. There were two things that distinguished him as a philosopher. Firstly, he had not dressed for the event. His choice of clothes resembled what is currently sitting at the bottom of our dog's basket and occasionally dragged to the centre of the lounge to be chewed contentedly. Secondly, he possessed a small beer shelf above his trousers, likely to have been grown from hours spent in the pub discussing Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Religion and the use of Occam's Razor (as well as Occam's Shaving Brush and Occam's After-Shave Balm).
He spoke for one hour with only minimal notes, taking questions afterwards for a further thirty minutes. Beginning slowly (what is the cause of a fire? The match, the person who lit it, the oxygen in the room, etc), he accelerated to the relationships between the various branches of philosophy, philosophy and science and culminated in that old chestnut - the Meaning of Life.
I clung on for dear life as he moved from Metaphysics to Aesthetics, from Plato to Aristotle. However, as one subject was added, I dropped the previous one. When he reached the Meaning of Life, everything he had spoken about had gone, crushed under the wheels of the articulated lorry of life following me on my road to the unknown where it left a sickening stain.
When he asked for questions after one hour, my brain was still clinging on to his talk for safety, relieved it had survived but needing a drink and a rub down before it could do more than the animal patterns of behaviour he had spoken about. I had lost the power to challenge, to ask why or how, the very things which distinguish human from animal behaviour. To remain in that state much longer, there was a danger I would eat my young when I returned home.
Thankfully, the ice was broken and questions appeared from those around me - the case for Atheism versus Agnosticism, the evidential basis for right and wrong. My particular favourite came from a woman whose booming voice declared she did not need a microphone before asking whether life should have a plot or a narrative of life should have a plot. As the learned one spoke, the questioner and her companion nodded energetically and rather impressively in perfect synchrony.
Throughout the talk, I realised there were a number of men in the room, shuffling in their seats, their gaze wandering all around the room from the beautiful women in Row 2 to the fineries of the Victorian room we were sitting in. They were sat next to partners who were concentrating so intently on the talk, it seemed they were glued to their seats. The silence was shattered when the man in front of me knocked over his empty beer bottle causing his companion to move for the first time.
On waking the following morning, I lay in a semi-comatose state with Mrs Pickwick contemplating the fundamental questions in life - to get up or not to get up. After a while, Mrs Pickwick declared "I thought his response on the question about the reason his basis for his Atheism was not good enough". She said this out of genuine conviction but also knowing that my inability to respond would force me out of bed to get her a cup of tea. These actions however raised the philosophical question - can altruism exist?
On balance, I was glad I went to the talk and reflected on what I had learnt from it during my journey to work the following day. As I waited to get on the morning bus from my Essex home, a girl appeared from the bus who was orange owing to her propensity for self-tanning. This reminded me of what he had said about the difference between Human and Animal behaviour - "Animals do what Animals do". The orange one who had passed me was doing what animals do. She had not asked why or what was the point. However, she was orange and I was not. At least that was a positive thing. Everything else in life is a bonus.
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