By Gareth Edwards

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Smoothies of Good and Evil, and Unconsidered Tigers.

Thank you for your many excellent questions, each in some way a facet of the larger question "What does it all mean"? Here are answers to a few of them, each in some way a facet of the larger answer that will one day become apparent, although to be honest, probably not soon.

Why are people different heights?
Human bodies are designed to be, when standing, exactly the right length to fill in the gap between the human head and the floor. You’ve probably noticed that different people keep their heads at all sorts of different distances from the floor, and so bodies have to be all kinds of different sizes.

Is my daughter correct when she tells me she is “a sheepy”?

As adults we confidently navigate our way through the three dimensions of up, sideways and along and forget that this is a learned convention. Children, unaware of this arrangement, often find themselves in seven or eight other dimensions that we can’t even imagine. That’s how the teapot got broken that time even though none of my children ever even touched it or anything. Children have also not yet acquired the adult trait of travelling at a constant speed through time, so it can take them five adult seconds to do something quite difficult such as spreading jam all the way up the stairs but three quarters of an hour to put on their shoes. Thus it’s quite possible that when your daughter says she is a sheepy she is describing her state in some dimensional space you can’t perceive. As we grow older this tendency to move in and out of different dimensions at variable speeds through time deserts us except just after we have rung our partner to say we are “just about to leave” the pub.

Is it true that Innocent Smoothies can never be convicted of a crime?
Not really. The makers of Innocent Smoothies are not using the word "innocent" in its legal sense. Their point is more a theological one. Innocence can be described as a lack of experience of sin, but the word must also imply the possibility of experiencing sin at some point. In other words innocence can’t really exist without free will. Thus for example you can’t have an innocent brick because a brick has no free will to choose between good and evil, and you can’t have an innocent seagull because seagulls are horrid. Just as Adam and Eve fell from Eden, in time Innocent Smoothies will inevitably be tempted and become Smoothies Made of the Fruit of the Tree whereof they were Commanded not to be Made. This will be much harder to fit on the label, but on the plus side, their marketing will be less cutesy and sanctimonious.

How can I not think about tigers?
Begin by not thinking about a jungle at dusk, then don’t think about a bush rustling behind you though there is no wind. Then don’t imagine turning too late, your helpless shriek cut short by the rushing onslaught of a powerful stripy carnivore hurtling at you, its jaws agape.  There are about 3,000 tigers in the wild, so if you follow this procedure once every day in a little over 8 years you’ll have not thought about all of them.

That’s all that our arbitrary adult conventions say there is "time" and "space" for. Do keep the questions coming and watch out for unconsidered tigers.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Monkey black holes, and what badgers think about rainbows.

Your many challenging questions this week reminded me that the quest for truth can sometimes be frightening. It's as if we are benighted travellers, and the universe is one vast black forest. Together let us find the gateau.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows?
As well as the three human songs about rainbows, pretty much every other species of mammal also has at least one song about a rainbow. Surprisingly this even includes the Ganges River Dolphin, which despite being functionally blind has a song which roughly translates as “What if there were another sense besides the four obvious ones, and what if there were a phenomenon whereby the thing that that sense could distinguish were to be broken down into its component parts by passing through thousands of tiny water drops? Wouldn’t that be lovely, and by the way does this river taste of dead people to you?” Although they only see in black and white, badgers sing a lot of songs about rainbows, including “The stripes of my beloved’s face are both the colours of the rainbow.”

Why is there beetroot?
People often have terrible misconceptions about beetroot, but actually you can cook it in seven or eight different ways before disposing of it. It can be boiled and then thrown away. Roast and then thrown away. Baked au gratin and thrown away. It can even be grated raw straight into the bin. Probably the main reason for beetroot is for dividing up the world into people who like beetroot and people who don’t.  No other vegetable serves this exact purpose.

Why is God so bad with money?
Ever since the world’s major currencies moved away from the gold standard money has relied on a shared belief in its value. God’s problem with money is that He doesn’t share this belief. He is massively into Book Tokens though.

What is the best use for an infinite number of monkeys?
If you have an infinite number of monkeys you don’t need to worry about what you should use them for as they can do an infinite number of tasks in an infinitely short time, or maybe even quicker if they are using predictive text. To put it another way, there’d be no problem you couldn’t solve by throwing monkeys at it.  You’d probably want to start though by addressing the problems of catering, accommodation and infrastructure that go along with owning an infinite number of monkeys. Chief among these is that if you didn’t spread them very carefully throughout the universe then their infinite mass would cause a monkey black hole and all that randomly-generated truth and beauty would be lost in an implosion of anguished simian whoops.

If I haven’t answered your question then please be reassured that it is the aim of this blog at some point between now and the last syllable of recorded time to provide an answer to every possible question in the universe, and I see no reason to assume that goal will not be achieved, monkey black holes permitting.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gemma Arterton and the problem of Rat Copyright

In your questions this week several major philosophical issues have come up, and if I can resolve them below then I see no reason why we shouldn’t achieve a coherent explanation for everything in the universe in a slightly shorter infinite amount of time than the infinite amount of time I was expecting. Which can only be good. Here are this week’s answers.

Why is Gemma Arterton?
There is no straight-forward answer to this seemingly simple question. That’s because Gemma exists simultaneously as an actress and as a particle. For example, Gemma is readily observable on a cathode ray tube under certain conditions such as that you have an old telly and are watching Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in this respect she is an actress. But if Gemma is fired at very high speed at a strip of metal then electrons and small angry squeaks will be given off, and Gemma will tend not to behave as an actress at all. This is known as actress-particle duality. One theory suggests that Gemma’s state is determined by her observers and that if nobody observes her she will cease to be an actress altogether.

Did Dickens own a cat, or was he a dog person?
This seems to me a false juxtapostion. One of the more surprising things about Dickens was that as well as being the third best writer in history he was very much a dog-person in that from the chest down Dickens was actually a large poodle. This canine lower part of the great novelist had his fur trimmed into the shape of a Victorian gentleman’s lower torso and legs and the deception went undetected except that he often fell over when urinating. But Dickens did also own a variety of cats on which he based many of his books, although anyone who has just tried to think of a list of amusing cat-related versions of Dickens titles will know it’s a far-from-open goal. Ooh, Tail of Two Kitties. That’ll have to do.

Do photos steal your soul?
The answer is of course yes. For example, if you were to take a photograph of a loved one right now, there would be no risk whatsoever to the loved one’s soul. However, if you were to repeat the process many times, photographing loved ones, neighbours from when you lived in Yeovil, some slightly historic buildings you saw in Holland, and especially some babies, and you were to keep those photos in a box, and then much later if your teenage grand-children were to come round and you were to take out the box and show them all of these photos one after the other for nearly three hours they would very likely lose the use of their soul, and if you didn’t even offer them a biscuit or anything, their souls might very easily be destroyed.

Can fish fist bump?
Yes, but they choose not to. Fish are not team players. Except whitebait.

Why do people lie?
I answered this very convincingly but then rats stole it and published it on the Rat Internet and asserted Rat Copyright, which is watertight.

That’s all I’m pretending there’s time for this week, but the universe is still largely baffling so do keep your questions coming in, or we’ll never get through it.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Largely on Cats and Thumbs

I've had several important-sounding questions asked since the last blog and as there's only a potentially infinite quantity of words and time for these questions to be answered I feel I should crack on.

Many of your questions related to cats, and there was one question asking where would we be without thumbs. I think these two areas of inquiry illuminate each-other. After all, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that cats have not bothered to evolve opposable thumbs, and look at where that’s left them. They have to get another species to open all their tins. Also if a cat has owners who move house to Bristol and take it along and then the cat for reasons of its own wants to get back to the house it used to live in Chippenham it has to try and walk there as it is too thumb-less to hitch-hike. That is what happens when you skimp on thumbs.

I was also asked -

Why do cats have faces?
Cats have three faces, a surface, to keep cats' insides in, a fur-face for showing where the front is, and a north face for defying mountaineers.  A geometrician will tell you that with three faces and no corners cats must be cylindrical.  Geometricians are like that. They can’t be trusted. 

But can we prove cats even exist?
Having said all of the above, I'm afraid there is bad news for cat lovers and cats, because there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of cats (other than physical evidence). A lot of people claim to derive a kind of reassurance from a belief in cats, but of course a desire for something to be true rarely makes it true. The “Cat Delusion” seems harmless enough until you consider the feelings of small birds, people with allergies, and the feelings of small birds with allergies. I know some people will point to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats as proof of the existence of cats, and there are people who feel moved to believe in cats by the beauty of the music, the sense of spectacle and the furry leg-warmers. But it is not so, for these ‘cats’ are simply costumes worn by ordinary people and actresses.

Do fish bump into each-other?
Fish never bump into each other because they are on rails which are in a dimension that we cannot see.  The visible part of the fish comprises only the nine tenths that are under the water. The mechanical aspects such as the pulleys and clockwork arms are elsewhere.

Why do people feel guilty?
Because they know what they’ve done, and the sooner they own up the sooner we can all enjoy our break time.

Why don't eggs taste of chicken?
Eggs do taste of chicken, but chickens don’t.

I hope that's cleared up some things once and for all, and if it hasn't then I think that in its own way is a valuable lesson on human fallibility, which is always handy. I may deal with the other questions, which were about luck, rain, hypothetical dogs, slow tortoises and questions in another post. But meanwhile let me know if there are other things you believe need some kind of explanation.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Why the world deserves this blog.

I’m often told by colleagues and loved ones that they feel they deserve “some kind of explanation”.

This blog sets out to provide just that - an explanation. Not just for the soup in the photocopier that one time, or the failure to see the label that said “Dry Clean Only” which is apparently unforgiveable even if someone was only trying to help. Rather, I aim to take a look at all the bigger picture – existence in general -  and see if I can’t provide you all with the explanation you deserve.

It can’t be explained all in one go, obviously. I think that’s where philosophers and physicists have gone wrong – trying to sort it all out at once. It clearly makes more sense to divide existence up into really a lot of quite small manageable bits such as “Which is the best cheese?” “Shouldn’t you be wearing a cardigan?” and “Which is heavier, a ton of feathers or our guilt at failing future generations?” Sooner or later that way we’ll end up with an answer to every possible question, and we’ll have some kind of explanation.

I’ll start with the question that I’m imagining I would have been most commonly asked, if I hadn’t tackled it in this first post. Here goes.

Why do people fall in love?
I think the most important point to make here is that love ought to be covered at all times. If the cover is left off and the love is poorly signposted then it becomes what lawyers call “an attractive nuisance” and unfortunately people can and do fall in.

What happens next depends very much on the relative density of the faller-in and the love. If the person is less dense than love they will float along on the surface. In extreme cases, such as a person of low gravitas falling into unusually heavy love they may even be able bounce around on the surface tension in blissful ignorance of the risks, like a wet dog on a paper trampoline. Conversely, a dense person falling into a frothy kind of love will sink like a granite otter unless they use some kind of a flirtation device, or the love turns out to be shallow enough to stand up in.

If you do manage to climb back out of love then it can usually be rinsed off with a mixture of alcohol and tears over a period of nineteen months.

For next week, why not pose your own question that you feel deserves some kind of explanation? Obviously you could have perfectly legitimate reasons for not doing that, in which case I shall be asking myself… “How we can ever truly prove the existence of cats.”