Correspondence with Phillip Adams
Letters and Essays of Phillip Adams used by permission.
Other material Copyright © Kevin Solway & David Quinn 1995-96
Phillip Adams has made himself a part of the scenery here in Australia by contributing weekly columns to a leading "high-brow" newspaper, as well as hosting ABC Radio National's Late Night Live (supposedly an intellectual chat show) most nights of the week. He presents himself as Australia's Knight of Reason in the battle against religion and new age nonsense.
In our push for publicity, and material to write about, we offered him honourary membership to The Atheist Society of Australia. I sincerely thought that once we explained our case to him, he would see reason, reach certainty, and become at least a bit of a philosopher. But I was mistaken. I soon realised that his association with us would make us a laughing stock. The ties had to be cut completely, and without delay . . .
(for progress in religion) winner Charles Birch.
To: Phillip Adams
19th July, 1993
Watching "Face the Press" recently forced me to consider that perhaps your association with this Atheist Society is not justified. Are you agnostic or what? Certainly, the small degree of respect you showed to Birch was infinitely more than he deserved. Someone who claims to know that "God has changed since the Big Bang" and then shortly follows this incredible statement by saying that "for something to have value it must be permanent" has no right to call himself a human being. I understand that Birch can make a fool of himself without your help, but no one I know would tolerate such an imbecile for a moment.
Through popular demand the next issue of "The Atheist" will aim to establish your credentials as an atheist. We make no excuse for being fanatical about reason and truth. Only the Birches of this world believe that "ideas cannot be proven".
Phillip, are you an Atheist or a Birch? A or B?
If you wish to defend yourself then you are welcome to do so, because, to be honest, we are having trouble finding anything genuinely atheistic about you (given our lofty conception of what it is to be an atheist).
How about having Dan Rowden and myself on your program to explain why it is impossible for a God to exist? Dan and I would be happy to make the journey to Sydney to appear on your program. We are both in our thirties and I think you would find us to be quite articulate on these matters.
Remember the next issue: "Adams: Man or Mouse?"
From: Phillip Adams
To: Kevin Solway
10 August 1993
Given your growing concern about my credentials as an atheist, I hereby resign as a patron of your Atheist Society. God forbid that I should hang around when I'm not wanted.
I've spent a life-time attacking religious beliefs and have not wavered from a view of the universe that many would regard as bleak. Namely, that it is a meaningless place devoid of deity.
However I'm unwilling simply to repeat the old arguments of the past when, in fact, God is a moving target and is taking all sorts of new shapes and forms. The arguments used against the long bow are not particularly useful when debating nuclear weapons, and the simple arguments against the old model gods are not sufficient when dealing with the likes of Davies et al.
For example, the notion that God didn't exist, doesn't exist but may come into existence through the spread of consciousness throughout the universe is too clever to be pooh-poohed along Bertrand Russel lines. And if I had the time I could give you half a dozen other scientific theologies that will need snappier footwork from the atheist of the future.
Birch is, in my view, a pretentious fart whose philosophies are opportunistic and unconvincing. If people can't see that, that's their problem. In the context of a hydra-headed SBS interview, one hopes that he hoists himself on his own petard.
Incidentally, if there's one thing more infuriating than a silly theologian it's an arid, doctrinaire atheist. I've had dealings with plenty of them over the years, including a famous monster from the US. To profess atheism is not to prove anything, let alone intellectual merit. Some of the narrowest, most dogmatic and silly people I've known have been atheists - or have loudly professed themselves Humanists or Rationalists.
Let the last contribution of your erstwhile patron be to warn you against intellectual arrogance. I've never believed, for a moment, that atheists have all the answers. Just that they pose better questions.
James Randi, Aka The Amazing Randi, magician and escapologist, has been staying with me. When he wasn't amusing us with re- enactments of the Uri Geller repertoire (psychic spoon bending etc) he'd regale us with anecdotes about his friends - the likes of Carl Sagan, the late Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
However, the best yarns concerned someone who's been described as "the most brilliant, iconoclastic, and influential physicist of modern times". Such was his combination of genius and eccentricity that a group of fellow scientists were moved to hold a half-serious debate on the question "Is he human?"
His name was Richard Phillips Feynman, and he liked James Randi to instruct him in magic and conjuring.
To teach Feynman how to pull rabbits from hats was to take coals to Newcastle, given that he shared responsibility for the greatest conjuring trick of all time. He helped turn a few equations on a blackboard into the atomic bomb.
As the mathematician Mark Kac wrote: "There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre."
Feynman liked to turn up at a dinner party and, during the course of the evening, ask a couple of women guests to search the host's library. They were to secretly select a book and read a page of it together. During this time Feynman would be out of the room and earshot, only allowed back when the book had been returned to the shelf. Whereupon Feynman would star intently at the umpteen spines, invariably discovering the chosen book and the selected page.
Though Randi is universally admired by the scientific community for his ability to see through the likes of Geller and other "paranormal" charlatans, he couldn't work out how Feynman was doing it. Finally Feynman confessed. He'd choose the women wearing the heaviest perfumes who, in turn, would invariably choose a book that was out of the way, on a high shelf or a low one. And because they'd been asked to read a selected page in it entirely, their combination of Chanel, Dior or what-have-you left its impression. Feynman had taught himself the olfactory skills of a bloodhound.
Mind you, he was always amusing himself with improbable tasks. As his biographer James Gleick remembers: "While dreamily wondering how to harness atomic power for rockets, he worked out a nuclear reactor thrust motor, not quite practical but still plausible enough to be seized by the government, patented, and immediately buried under an official secrecy order." With no less diligence he taught himself how to train dogs to do counter-intuitive tricks, and learnt how to make columns of ants march to his bidding.
Feynman was centre stage in physics for 40 years. He stood astride the science of the post-war era like a colossus. Although his early work would infuriate the likes of Niels Bohr, and trouble Einstein, it would win him a Nobel Prize - specifically for remaking the theory of quantum electrodynamics. His colleagues, however, felt he deserved at least three others - for his theories on superfluidity, a theory of "weak interactions" and a theory of partons, hypothetical hard particles inside the atom's nucleus.
"No other physicist since Einstein so ecumenically accepted the challenge of all nature's riddles," writes Gleick.
Inevitably and unfortunately one of these riddles involved nuclear power, and J. Robert Oppenheimer would privately concede that Feynman was the most brilliant physicist in his team at Los Alamos, the most highly powered brains trust in history.
Feynman couldn't be contained within a single scientific discipline. He had an alarming habit of wandering into the laboratory or office of a distinguished colleague who'd been working in another realm of scientific inquiry, and asking them what they were up to. No sooner had the scientist begun to explain what he'd been grappling with for the last 10 or 20 years than Feynman would hush him. "Have you ever thought of trying this?" he'd say, prior to wandering off. More often than not, the scientist would be slack-jawed with astonishment, at once awed and humiliated.
Feynman's final TV appearance involved one such insight. The Challenger spacecraft had exploded and NASA couldn't begin to explain why. At a crowded press conference, Feynman sat among the obfuscating NASA heavies conspicuously toying with a rubbery O-ring. At one point he dropped it into a glass of iced water. When it was his turn to talk, he didn't. He simply extracted the ring and dropped it on the desk. It shattered. It had taken Feynman only hours to deduce that frozen O-rings had caused the tragedy. The gathered media were both astonished and impressed.
I urge you to read James Gleick's book, simply and appropriately entitled Genius. His account of Feynman's peripatetic life is enchanting.
"Feynman was a gadfly, a rake, a clown and a naif." writes Gleick. "At the atomic bomb project he was the thorn in the side of the military censor . . . He was the enemy of pomp, convention, quackery and hypocrisy. He was the boy who saw the emperor with no clothes."
Alternating between fascinating accounts of Feynman's scientific work and his eccentricities, the quirks as well as quarks, it reveals that Feynman regarded the likes of philosophers as third-rate thinkers, that he didn't look at paintings, didn't listen to music, didn't read books, even scientific ones. Yet, he never ceased playing with ideas.
"He experimented for months on end with trying to observe his unravelling stream of consciousness at the point of falling asleep . . . experimented with inducing out-of-body hallucinations in a sensory deprivation tank, with and without marijuana . . . taught himself the tricks of mental arithmetic, having long since mastered the more arcane arts of mental differentiation and integration . . . how to keep track of time in his head . . . to make impromptu xylophones by filling water glasses." While working on the atomic bomb, he'd request "to learn how to defeat the iron clamp of an old fashioned soda machine, how to pick Yale locks, and then how to open safes".
"He taught himself how to mimic foreign languages, mostly a matter of confidence, he found, combined with a relaxed willingness to let lips and tongue make silly sounds . . . He taught himself to make perfect free-hand circles on the blackboard. Knowing nothing about music, he bet his girlfriend that he could teach himself to play one piece, 'The Flight of the Bumblebee', and for once failed dismally."
Having taught himself how to write Chinese, he also learnt "how to discourage autograph seekers and refuse lecturing invitations, how to hide from colleagues with administrative requests, how to force everything from his fields of vision except for his research problems of the moment, how to hold off the special terrors of ageing that shadow scientists . . . then how to live with cancer, and how to surrender to it."
Yet in his entire life he couldn't teach himself to tell the difference between right and left, relying on an observation of his mum's that he had a mole on the back of his left hand. He always had to check for the mole when he wanted to be sure.
In Feynman, James Gleick has a marvellous subject. In Gleick, Feynman has an admirable biographer, better at explaining Feynman than Feynman. (The scientist gave accounts of himself in books like "Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think", best-sellers in the 80's)
Of those who are scientifically literate, few can explain the whirling ideas of chaos theory and quantum mechanics to a lay audience, and those who can are frequently blind to the importance of idiosyncracy. Gleick rejoices in Feynman's humour but, as well, knows when to be serious. And he also knows a fine aphorism when he sees one, noting that Feynman would labour over his for hours, so that he could astonish students with their apparent spontaneity at subsequent lectures:
"Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry."
"Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?' because you will get 'down the drain' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that."
Gleick also records a sort of haiku found on the last page of Feynman's olive-green dime-store address book, used mostly for the phone numbers of women (the scientist became a desperate womaniser, who claimed to have developed a foolproof method of picking up women in bars).
"Principles. You can't say A is made of B or vice versa. All mass is interaction."
"Why is the world the way it is? Why is science the way it is? How do we discover new rules for the flowering complexity around us?" Gleick asks. "Are we reaching towards nature's simple heart, or are we merely peeling away layers of an infinitely deep onion? Although he sometimes retreated to a stance of pure practicality, Feynman gave answers to these questions, philosophical and unscientific though he knew they were."
People would ask Feynman whether he was looking for the ultimate laws of physics. "No, I'm not," he'd reply, "if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it - that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers - then that's the way it is."
And Feynman said something that reflects my own deepest convictions. Something that encapsulates my entire belief system. (Or is it a disbelief system?) "I don't have to know an answer, I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me."
When Feynman died many colleagues tried to define his contribution, to write his epitaph. One colleague, a pre- eminent rival, chose these words. "An honest man, the outstanding intuitionist of our age, and a prime example of what may lie in store for anyone who dares to follow the beat of a different drum." I prefer, however, Gleick's summary: "The science he helped create was like nothing that had come before. It rose as his culture's most powerful achievement, even if it sometimes sent physicists down the narrowing branches of an increasingly obscure tunnel. When Feynman was gone, he had left behind - perhaps his chief legacy - a lesson in what it meant to know something in this most uncertain of centuries."
He certainly knew how to die. Feynman's last words were magnificent. Briefly surfacing from unconsciousness he said: "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."
From: David Quinn
To: Phillip Adams
5 September 1993
An Analysis of the Wisdom of Richard Feyman
For the Edification and Entertainment
of Philip Adams
(Who, it is hoped, will give the subject disclosed the serious attention it deserves.)
Text for the Day:
"I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me."
Thus spake Richard Feyman. Surely a fitting view from such a brilliant scientist. But what is more, this short paragraph neatly encapsulates everything about the man: his fundamental world-view, his psychology, his loves, his lifestyle. Indeed, it more than adequately serves my own purpose, which is to investigate the question: Was Richard Feyman, acclaimed physicist and eclectic genius, a man of wisdom?
True, many have sung his praises. Philip Adams heads a long list of eminent people who have spoken out in admiration for the man. And who am I to fault their reverence? The life of Richard Feyman makes impressive reading: he was an outstanding physicist who was instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb; he was one of the powerhouses in the development of modern physical theory; he regularly astounded his colleagues with quick and original solutions in a whole variety of scientific disciplines; his talents spilled over into the non-scientific world where he learnt to draw perfect circles on blackboards, taught dogs counter-intuitive tricks, perfected the art of seducing women, and a whole lot more. Without doubt, here is a man who possessed that rare combination of great talent and prodigious energy. Yet the question still remains. Did Feyman possess wisdom?
In my view, this is the one question of importance and I direct it to each and everyone, including those held in high regard. Especially to those held in high regard. For it is precisely with these acclaimed geniuses, saints, and philosophers that the risk of deception is at its greatest. As a lover of truth, I make it my business to study these people meticulously. So I ask again: Did Feyman comprehend reality or not? Did he spend his life in serious pursuit of this comprehension? Or did he do what he could to escape the issue?
But first, wisdom must be defined. It is nothing other than the complete understanding of ultimate truth. It is the possession of that rock-solid certainty which naturally comes with pushing reason fully, to the very end.
Did Richard Feyman possess this certainty? Let's look at his fundamental view of the world. It can be summarized as follows: "At bottom, all knowledge grasped by the human mind is inherently uncertain. Or to put it more succinctly, ultimate truth is unknowable. Furthermore, it is more or less irrelevant to human life. Any conceivable ANSWER would have to come in the form of an equation, or a set of laws, or some other form of intellectual conception, and as such could play no significant role in the emotional life of mankind. In short, it is all a bit academic, more so considering that the existence of an ANSWER is doubtful, owing to the uncertainty of all human knowledge."
Funnily enough, this view is not unique to Feyman. It is held by many an esteemed person. So many esteemed people, in fact, that one could fairly say it forms the very linchpin of the entire culture of the modern age. Yes, from all corners of the globe, philosophers and scientists are implicitly and explicitly spending their time preaching this great doctrine on a daily basis. (Even Christians adhere to it. One can regard their fantastic theologies as bizarre attempts to escape their innermost conviction, namely that everything is uncertain.)
It follows that if Feyman was truly a man of wisdom, then the world is in very very good hands indeed. Our humble little world must be literally infested with sages. So many sages that one could almost be forgiven for thinking that they are bred like rabbits. With so much wisdom about, mankind's long-term survival and well-being is assured.
There is, however, one tiny flaw to this beatific vision, and it is this: The doctrine upon which all these sages place their trust is composed of an inherent contradiction. If the highest wisdom is defined as knowledge of ultimate truth, and if this ultimate truth consists of "the unknowability of ultimate truth", then what?
It is time to be direct. Is the doctrine "Everything is uncertain/Ultimate truth is unknowable" the ultimate truth or not? If it isn't, then the doctrine is meaningless. If, on the other hand, it is the ultimate truth then the contradiction involved makes it equally meaningless.
If one looks carefully into it, one sees that the doctrine of uncertainty rests on many a certainty. For example, the belief that there exists an objective reality, that things really do exist in their own right, that Truth should be contained in human concepts and symbols, that the empirical scientific method is the only valid means of ascertaining truth, that Truth must necessarily be complex and therefore be beyond our finite thought processes, that Truth should even refer to something real that can be known or unknown, and so on. Let it be known that I take issue with all these "certainties" and upon investigation have found them wanting.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in something Feyman uttered in the Text for the Day: "I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell." Note the "as far as I can tell." These six words dramatically expose the man's mind. For me, it simply confirms what I already knew, namely that Feyman lacked the character and mental capabilities to have even an inkling of what the ultimate is all about.
It is obvious that Feyman was steeped in the common delusion that Nature must either have purpose or else it must lack purpose. In other words, he couldn't conceive of the alternative.
It is very easy to see how Nature cannot have purpose. This is because Nature (ie, utterly everything) is infinite. It has no beginning or end in any shape or form. But what must also be seen is that the idea of Nature being purposeless is equally false. Nature cannot lack what cannot possibly exist. Purposes or lack of them belong to the realm of the finite - it is meaningless to apply them to the infinite.
Not only did Feyman fail to grasp this essential point but he went on to assume that the issue can be resolved one way or the other on the basis of some form of irrefutable evidence. In other words, he created the whole idea of "purpose" out of his imagination and projected it out onto the world. Then he attempted to resolve the resultant dilemma (of Nature's seeming lack of purpose) by looking outwards for empirical evidence! What is this but insanity.
Imagine if a God were to suddenly descend upon us and declare that he created our world for a purpose, and suppose He backed his claim with irrefutable evidence - would this decide the question of whether Nature (i.e. utterly everything) possessed purpose or not? Not a bit! As far as infinity is concerned, it would have about as much significance as a human declaring he made his breakfast for a purpose.
Or suppose it were found that Nature possessed universal consciousness (whatever that means) and that this consciousness directed all events in accordance with its purpose - would this have any bearing on the question of whether or not Nature possessed purpose? Not a bit! For all processes in Nature, including those we term conscious, are composed of a deeper reality, namely cause and effect. And cause and effect, which is infinite, has nothing to do with purpose or the lack of it. (These thoughts apply to all forms of God or Consciousness, even the modern "sophisticated" versions of evolving deities.)
In short, all empirical methods of deciding the issue are of no use, as are all the various theological constructs. As far as ultimate reality is concerned, the gods of science and religion merely masturbate distractedly.
One needs a particular type of mind to grasp the significance of what is being said here. Richard Feyman didn't have it, and he therefore pictured the universe as purposeless and bleak. But then, look into it more deeply, his view formed a necessary basis for the structure of his entire life - a life of manifold pleasures and purposes. He was more than content to rest in his philosophical bleakness, I assure you.
After reading what I have just written, I see that I could be accused of acting in bad faith. After all, I have been criticizing a man who hasn't been given the opportunity of defending himself. I admit this to be the case, and in deference to it I will allow Feyman to have the final say:
"Well, I have been listening to David's spiel with only half an ear and that which I did hear didn't impress me. Just the usual outpourings from a third-rate thinker whose sole intention seems to be to make himself appear ridiculous. I mean, I would be an object of ridicule if I were to go up to my bank manager, for example, and criticize him for failing to win Wimbledon. He would only laugh incredulously and say, "But good sir, I have never even stepped onto a tennis court, let alone strived for top honours in the sport. Your criticism is meaningless to me." And since my bank manager is a decent sort of a guy, he would dismiss my barb with a wave of his hand, putting it down to a momentary loss of normal functioning. This is how I would like to regard David.
"If only he would stop pontificating and actually begin to look at what he is saying! Otherwise, if he continues in this vein and fails to realize the insanity of his position, then all he will do is make himself appear ridiculous.
"What he simply fails to understand is that I have no interest at all in this so-called ultimate truth of his. It is completely irrelevant to me. I tell you, my life and happiness have never hinged on the presence or absence of the "ANSWER". As such, I cannot be accused of failing to be a man of wisdom.
"Yes, it is true I did study philosophy in my time, but not, as David supposes, for the dubious purpose of discovering some great philosophical truth. No, there is a far more noble cause which philosophy can serve, one for which I believe philosophy was specifically designed, and one which I myself have dedicated my life to. What is this noble cause? The preservation and promotion of ignorance.
"I realized very early on in life that my interests would be best served with the elimination of all wisdom from the world. If you were honest with yourself, David, you would find it to be in your interests too.
"Just reflect a moment on how life would be if we were to discover the ultimate secret of everything. It would be horrible! All of life's mystery gone in a flash! No longer could we satisfy our emotional need to worship something greater than ourselves. How could we go on regarding Nature with awe if we just strip Her bare and expose Her secret? No, if we humans wish to lead a full and happy life, it is better to keep our distance and respect Her privacy.
"Reflect a moment on what would be destroyed if wisdom were to appear in this world. There would be no more cosmic challenges for our great minds to overcome! It would spell the end of the road for physics, I bet. Philosophy too, for that matter. What a great disservice this would be to our children, and to our children's children. The joys of great intellectual purpose and yearning for higher things would be denied them.
"And what of those exquisite pleasures involved in consoling one another over the helplessness of mankind? Gone! How could we bond together in the face of this bleak and meaningless universe if it were discovered the universe was not so bleak and meaningless after all? At the very least, it would become a lot more difficult to wail and gnash teeth with our friends! Our poetry, our music, indeed the romantic image of Nature would be severely undermined. One could go on and on, but it is enough to say that everything we value as human beings would be placed in jeopardy by the uncovering of Truth.
"It is clear, then, that if a person wishes to serve mankind to the best of his ability, he should endeavour to do everything he can to stop people becoming wise. He should regard wisdom as he would a killer virus, which must be eliminated completely. Otherwise, it will run rampant and begin to infect our conscience. Ours would be a bleak future, I tell you, if that happens. It would be pointless to continue living.
"But do not despair! This may never happen, especially with so many gifted people on our side. They are in the thick of it, day after day, all of them dedicated to ensuring victory in the holy war of Ignorance vs. Wisdom.
"You know, I'm not usually given to sounding my own trumpet, but I can fairly and with good conscience say that I have done everything in my powers to further the cause of our blessed ignorance. And considering my great talents and prodigious energies, it can be assumed I was no minor bit player in this cosmic drama. No, indeed! I lead from the front and was an inspiration to all men!
"If you do not believe me, then just look at my life! Now tell me, did I waste time in serious pursuit of the highest wisdom? Did I endeavour to apply my great talents to honest enquiry, pushing it as far as it can go? Did I strive to eliminate every shred of delusion from my brain? I dare you to find anything of the sort, my friends, for it would only come to naught. I'm as pure as they come. I served the cause of mankind's happiness well. Everyone who knows me well, knows this. They know I spent my time creating atomic bombs, teaching myself party tricks, drawing perfect circles, seducing women and the like. They know I was a shining example of how to live a responsible life. Oh, I loved to play games and shock people with my unconventional behaviour, but no-one ever doubted my heart was in the right place. Frankly, I deserved all the accolades showered upon me.
"And do not forget I also spent many years teaching the young. Thousands of young gifted students, I'm proud to say, gave up all forms of philosophical idealism because of me. Yes, I did my bit to impress upon them the uncertainty of everything and the bleakness of our purposeless existence. I made sure they lost themselves in the meaningless complexities of academia. No stone was left unturned in my efforts to ensure their lives were devoted to the glories of nonsense and trivia. Watching my students, especially the exceptional ones, develop into mature responsible human beings gave me a source of satisfaction almost unequalled elsewhere in my professional life. And what is more, I did it all with wit and style.
"It may be thought a young person would become disenchanted with the prospect of a meaningless universe and fall into deep despair. In my experience, however, this almost never happens. And why should it? There is so much for these young people to look forward to: career, marriage, children, hobbies, friends - the list is virtually endless. In truth, they can look forward to a life stuffed with so many purposes that they'll come to be glad at the thought of life's purposelessness, if only for a breather. And when, finally, they secure everything they need and want, and life is but a steady stream of pleasurable experiences, they will be able to say, with perfect sincerity, that Nature's bleakness and uncertainty doesn't frighten them in the least. I warn you though, only a lifetime spent absorbed in countless distractions can give one the strength to say this, and mean it.
"Obviously, it is important that everyone be given every opportunity to develop this strength. More to the point, it is vital that as few as possible escape our sophisticated and cunning indoctrination, and it is vital that we marginalize those few who do. Here we can never thank our forefathers enough. It was they who devised all those timeless philosophical and emotional tricks so good at bringing down the potential thinker. It was they who taught us how to make a lie seem like a truth and a truth seem like a lie, and to be able to do all this effortlessly, without a moment's thought. If there exists any young misfit who has turned away and started thinking for himself, he will very quickly learn the whole world is against him. His every movement will be made redundant. Wherever he goes, he will be branded a misguided dried-up humourless fanatic who is too immature to appreciate the full complexities of life. His truths will be made null and void. Our world is safe.
"Let me conclude by repeating those timeless words from our holy scripture. May everyone everywhere continue to engrave them onto their hearts, and so ensure a happy future for all mankind:
I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.
From: Phillip Adams
To: David Quinn
16 September 1993
Thank you for allowing me to eavesdrop on your little chat with the late Richard Feynman. But I'm afraid you lost me early in the piece when you defined wisdom. "It is nothing other than the complete understanding of ultimate truth."
Really? Well, that eliminates everyone from contention. Except, of course, for the odd fool who thinks that he or she possesses the aforementioned "complete understanding". If I wanted to define wisdom, which I most emphatically do not, I'd probably begin by inverting your definition. I'd see wisdom as having something to do with accepting that no understanding can be complete, any more than any truth could be ultimate.
If I wanted to define wisdom, which would be as fatuous and pointless an exercise as defining, for example, love, I'd probably suggest that wisdom is about knowing what you don't know. All my life I've bumped into idiots who profess certainties - for example, in the realms of political or religious fundamentalism. What I find attractive about Feynman is his happy acknowledgement of his and our species' limitations.
Incidentally, you spelt his name wrongly. And mine.
"As a lover of truth," you write, "I make it my business to study these people meticulously." Not meticulously enough, David Quinn.
Some of your ideas are amusing and deftly expressed. But, David, there's an underlying smugness in the way you write that worries me - and should worry you. The longer I live the less I know. In my experience, certainty diminishes just as dogmas disintegrate. I find that exhilarating.
Try it some time.
From: David Quinn
To: Phillip Adams
17 October 1993
"If I wanted to define wisdom, which would be as fatuous and pointless an exercise as defining, for example, love, I'd probably suggest that wisdom is about knowing what you don't know".
The whole point of defining anything at all is so that we can do something constructive with our time. Concepts are the tools we rely on to act in this world. If I want to do some philosophical work, then I need concepts - more specifically, I need concepts with precise meanings. That is, I need to define.
We can't escape this, Phillip. In order to form any conclusions about wisdom, or love, or whatever, we are required to provide these terms with good working definitions. Even the purpose of trying not to define wisdom, for example, is only made possible by the mind entertaining some notion of what wisdom means. Otherwise, such a purpose would be incomprehensible. One wouldn't have the faintest idea why wisdom should not be defined.
I, David Quinn, define wisdom to be "nothing less than the complete understanding of ultimate reality". The question then is: Is wisdom, as defined by David Quinn, possible to the human mind? I say "Yes", Phillip Adams says "No".
Now, Phillip, I ask you. Are you certain of this "No"? Have you got to the very bottom of all existence such that you can positively and unequivocally say that ultimate knowledge is impossible? You know you haven't! Your own philosophical standpoint admits as much. Then why on earth do you automatically dismiss anyone who claims such knowledge?
My only concern is with a man who easily possesses the brains to understand reality, but who seems to lack those elements of character needed to make the required steps. For some reason, Phillip, you seem to switch off whenever thought starts to get a little serious. I mean, you've obviously uncovered some minor truths: for example, the ever-changing nature of a society's truths, the constant flux of belief-systems and moralities, the relativity and uncertainty of all knowledge, and so on. But when it comes to following up the logical implications of these truths, your brain inevitably decides to short-circuit.
Let me repeat my essential philosophy and, please, this time do me the honour of making an effort to understand it.
It is true that all scientific/empirical knowledge is inherently uncertain. Any knowledge which relies on evidence is open to doubt. Even the seemingly unshakable theories of inertia, thermodynamics, evolution, etc could easily be overturned by the uncovering of new evidence.
It is equally certain that science will never establish anything of ultimate significance. This is simply because any explanation it could devise to account for anything at all will itself require explanation. Physicists could spend eternity conjuring up the most exotic and sublime formulations, and yet for all this they would not come one whit closer to the ultimate.
The same applies to all theology, for the very same reasons. It all comes down to trying to stuff the infinite into the finite - it just cannot be done.
In your letter, you asked me to try your philosophy of uncertainty and Socratic ignorance some time. Phillip, the uncertainty of all concepts, formulae, explanations, philosophical constructs, etc is something I realized a long time ago. Indeed, it was through serious reflection upon this very truth which led me to the highest wisdom! If only you would look!
Why is everything uncertain? Because everything is subject to change. And this, in turn, is because a thing's existence is utterly dependent on things other than itself. In other words, a thing cannot truly exist in its own right. It is only when the mind isolates some phenomena with the view of trying to establish certainty, that uncertainty immediately arises.
By now, you will have grasped how impregnable my position is. Nothing can undermine it precisely because I hold no position whatsoever. Or to put it another way, my position is that all positions are untenable as they necessarily rest on the false concept of "existence".
This is wisdom. Socrates went around proclaiming that he knew nothing. How infinitely sublime was his ignorance! How wise he was! How wise! This is far removed from "the older I get, the less I know". In truth, Phillip, your mind possesses too many certainties to appreciate this.
From: Kevin Solway
To: Phillip Adams
October 7, 1993
Just to let you know that we received your resignation from our Society.
We are a small group of probably the finest intellectuals alive today. Certainly, we have not heard of anyone living whose thoughts approach the clarity, depth and power of our own. Neither have we ever met or heard of atheists who think even remotely the way we do.
Australian intellectual mediocrity, of which you are a mouthpiece, is something we are determined to spurn. We are united in our determination to set an example for young people everywhere, and we will never compromise with the herd, be it the Australian herd or any other.
You are determined to look in the other direction as far as our ideas are concerned. Someone has to tell you. None of us has any idea of how you might have seen a similarity between our arguments and those of Bertrand Russell, or how you are able to imagine a God that falls outside the scope of our basic argument, which disposes of both finite and infinite Gods. You must have been trying very hard.
God must be either finite or infinite. If God is finite, then he is like us (limited) and not all-powerful - in which case he isn't really God. The only alternative is that God is infinite, in which case God is absolutely everything, or in other words Nature - which again does not fit any of the Gods that people like to believe in. Now what is all this drivel about a "clever" God who is coming into existence through the spread of consciousness throughout the universe? Do you really think that such a God falls outside the scope of our argument?
You may believe the task of an atheist is only to "ask questions" but I have discovered that if you ask the right questions you get ANSWERS. Has this notion ever occurred to you? Have you ever asked the question whether there is a difference between empirical truths and purely logical truths? Empirical truths are always uncertain, but purely logical truths, which are independent of measurement and observation, can be deduced with certainty. The truth that it is impossible for a God to exist is a purely logical truth, independent of measurement and observation.
You warn us against intellectual arrogance, but I would say that the greatest arrogance of modern times, while not intellectual in the slightest, is the narrow-minded and cowardly certainty of the herd that all knowledge is uncertain.
I believe that one of my colleagues wrote to you recently about Richard Feynman. Feynman is popular among academic insects precisely because he was too cowardly to ask the obvious questions. He is a shining example of the mediocrity I despise - mediocrity with a dash of pepper, mediocrity with "wisdom" and women. I wouldn't judge him so harshly if he showed some tendency towards the ideal of honesty - but there is no trace of such a thing to be found in him - he didn't even try.
I hope you are not so sure of yourself after reading this letter.
From: Phillip Adams
To: Kevin Solway
10 August 1993
Dear Kevin Solway,
First you ask me to be the patron of the Atheist Society. Now you reveal that, all along, you've regarded me as "the mouthpiece of Australian intellectual mediocrity". This doesn't say much for your ethical standards. Indeed, anyone reading our correspondence might feel that you're just a tad hypocritical.
But that's the least of your problems. You're also breathtakingly arrogant. So I shall take solace by paraphrasing Groucho Marx. "I wouldn't want to be the patron of a society that would have me for a patron." Particularly if Kevin Solway is its progenitor.
Mind you, to be condemned by Solway puts you in good company. So Richard Feynman is "popular among academic insects precisely because he was too cowardly to ask the obvious questions". So Feynman is "a shining example" of the mediocrity you "despise".
Kevin, I'm never sure of myself. Never have been, never will be, never want to be. That's the essential difference between you and me. You have revealed yourself, not for the first time, to be a rigid, dogmatic little shit.
From: Myles Thresher
To: Phillip Adams
After reading some of the heated letters between yourself and Messrs Kevin Solway and David Quinn of the Atheist Society, I have been inspired to enter the fray with the enclosed dialogue.
It is clear you are becoming annoyed with the antics of the Atheist Society, but I would urge you to pay serious attention to the arguments and not get emotional.
I find it ironic that one moment you say `you are never sure of yourself', then the next you are sure enough of yourself to say that Kevin is a `dogmatic, little shit.'
Anyway, enjoy my modest effort at outlining what I perceive as your philosophy and its contradictions.
"THE QUESTION OF SMUGNESS"
Phillip: Yes, of course, Socrates, ignorance is indeed no trifling matter. Over the years it has been the cause of too much violence and far too many wars. It has also been the nadir of cultural progress. But as to David's smugness, I say this because he writes with a certainty and strength of conviction that I find irritating. He is like one of those arid, doctrinaire fundamentalists: anally retentive and about as inspiring as John Hewson's aesthetic taste. David's smugness worries me and it should be a worry to him. Do you know what I mean?
Socrates: No, I do not know what you mean, for we have not yet determined what it is that David is smug about, and why, if at all, he should be worried. Do you not agree that we should investigate this matter further? Pray, let us not forget that our chief task here is to arrive at the truth so that David and I may profit from your wisdom.
Phillip: Hmph, it should soon become obvious. For in my career as an atheist, waging the good war against superstitious nonsense, I have found that claims such as David's are typically the fevered product of a mind which fears a universe bereft of meaning. Which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. The fundamentalists I am speaking of make no effort to conceal their shallowness and have a shocking willingness to believe in literally anything at all. The more crazy an idea is, the more they believe in it. I don't know how many files I have packed with letters from people who claim to know what God is thinking, and from others who even claim to be God. Almost every day I receive letters from unrecognized geniuses who claim that they have reinvented the Wheel.
David's ideas are essentially no different to these. I find it preposterous that he can say with certainty that God does not exist, that there is absolute Truth. It is absurd. I think it...
Socrates: One moment, do not think ill of me if I interrupt you here, for I think it critical that we clear up a small yet important matter of definition.
Now you said you were an atheist, did you not?
Socrates: Presumably this means you know that God does not exist, as opposed to an agnostic who is uncertain whether God exists or not?
Phillip: No, I object to your definition of Atheist. It appears to be too narrow.
Socrates: How would you define it then?
Phillip: I would define an Atheist as someone who finds no evidence for the existence of God and therefore does not believe in such a thing.
Socrates: So it is still possible that God might exist and your atheist altogether mistaken in his belief?
Phillip: Yes, my atheist certainly does not claim to have all the answers.
Socrates: But it is still possible that your atheist could be completely deluded in his thinking. Do you not agree?
Phillip: Hmph, yes.
Socrates: If there is always this possibility that your atheist could be deluded, then there is always the possibility that he is promoting the spread of ignorance in the world. Your atheist's faith, which relys upon the lack of evidence supporting the existence of God, is, at bottom, as equally uncertain as the theist's faith in the existence of a God. Do you not agree? Your atheist's philosophy is ultimately just as untenable as the theist's, because all the evidence he relies upon could be misleading. Do you not agree?
Phillip: Hmph, as I said, an atheist does not have all the answers.
Socrates: Dear me, do you not find this disconcerting? I wonder if this being the case, how you arrived at the certain conclusion of David's smugness. You could be wrong, do you not agree?
Everything David has claimed could be absolutely true. Would he then be smug if he was speaking the truth? Is this not possible? I wonder if you have considered this, and if you have really payed any serious attention to his arguments. I would remind you here of your earlier promise to divulge that superior wisdom of yours from which David and I might benefit.
Phillip: What was his argument again? Maybe I was too busy with engagements that day. From memory I think I pooh poohed it along the lines Bertrand Russell would use, saying that the theistic arguments of today are much more clever. Oops, maybe that was another letter. However I do remember finding his essay on Feynman annoying. He was so meticulous that he even spelt my name and Ricard's incorrectly.
Socrates: David's argument is simple. Most children could understand it if it were part of their education. All it needs is a clear, logical mind. I shall go through it slowly so you may raise any objections. Once more, here is the argument: A thing can only exist relative to another thing. For example `tree' exists only relative to `not tree', `self' to `not self' and so on and so on. This is the way our minds, starting from when we are young, go about cleverly dividing up the world into categories. Do you not agree?
Phillip: Yes I would have to agree with that.
Socrates: Are you sure?
Phillip: Yes, Yes! I can not see how we could develop an idea of a thing with out making some sort of comparison with what it is not.
Socrates: Now that you understand that, let us examine the relationship between a thing and its opposite. If for example `self' does not exist without `not self', how would you describe the relationship between all opposites.
Phillip: I would say one creates the other.
Socrates: True, but another way we could describe this relationship is `causal'. `Self' causes `not self' to exist and vice versa. Do you not agree.
Phillip: I can not argue with that. What is your point!
Socrates: Well if all `things' can not exist without their opposites, then all `things' must have causes. And if all `things' have causes, nothing is separate. Do you not agree?
Phillip: Yes, but what has this to do with David's proof for the non-existence of God?
Socrates: Do you not see that it is impossible for God to exist, because it is impossible for any `thing' to possess independent existence, in other words, to be without cause.
Phillip: I think I see what you mean.
Socrates: Well then, there is no God. Such being the case I ask you how could David have been smug in his correspondence with you if he was but speaking the Truth. One can not feel smug if one is completely right, for such a person has nothing to gain. Our discussion has indeed been profitable. It was not as it first seemed, for it is surely you who could profit from David's wisdom and not the other way round. Do you not agree?
From: Phillip Adams
To: Myles Thresher
16 September 1993
Feel free to speak Socrates, but allow me to provide my own talk balloons in the comic of life.
Mind you, your style is less abrasive than Kevin's. For which I thank Bertrand Russell, in the absence of God.
But Myles, fundamentalism takes many forms. Sadly it is not unknown amongst those who identify themselves as atheist. And whilst debating the cosmic tooth fairy is a diverting pastime, fundamentalism, whether it wears a kaftan, a yamulka or an intellectual's beret, is so boring.
The Australian, July 30, 1994
Copyright © The Australian
Knowing what you don't know has to be the beginning of knowledge. This isn't to suggest that ignorance is bliss. It isn't. Ignorance is annoying and embarrassing. Not to mention dangerous. But to acknowledge what you don't know is to take the first steps towards intellectual self-improvement.
"When you know a thing to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it: this is knowledge." said Confucius, who many regard as perceptive, in the 6th century BC.
Other voices come crowding in with comments. "Knowledge is power," says Francis Bacon, while the Bible warns that "he that increases knowledge increaseth sorrow". Benjamin Franklin interrupts with "to be proud of knowledge is to be blind with light", while Thomas Fuller butts in with "tis not knowing much, but what is useful, that makes a wise man".
Samual Johnson can't have enough of it. "All knowledge is of itself some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable that I would not rather know it than not." Yet John F. Kennedy, probably reading a speech written by Arthur Schlesinger, said: "The greater our knowledge increases the greater our ignorance unfolds."
For me, the wisest observation was provided by a British scientist, whose name escapes me, an aphorism that should be printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers at a time when our species seems over-excited by its learning curve. "Data isn't information. Information isn't knowledge. And knowledge isn't wisdom." Ten out of 10, say I, and a koala bear stamp.
Writing in Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne said something that verges on the profound: "The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it." Spot on. Once you develop a taste for it, you tend to become insatiable, an intellectual junkie who can't get enough of it, who pigs out on knowing anything and everything. I notice it in the way I can't stop reading. If there isn't a newspaper, I'll read the label on the sauce bottle. And I'll read it while I'm listening to the wireless and, simultaneously, trying to eavesdrop on a conversation. Thus Eve's eating of the apple not only gave knowledge a bad name, but has led to widespread gluttony.
Yet I find myself agreeing with Voltaire that, at the end of the day, all this desperate ingestion of information, this feasting on fact, this ravenous need to know, leads to a strange feeling of emptiness. "The more I read, the more I meditate, and the more I acquire," he wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary, "the more I am able to affirm that I know nothing."
Yet there are those among us who claim that, within moments, human beings will possess GUT and TOE. The former stands for the "Grand Unified Theory" and the latter means the "Theory of Everything". Tomorrow or, at the latest, next Thursday, a scientist will write the final formula, the fundamental equation on a blackboard at Oxford or Cambridge or a whiteboard at Harvard or Yale. It will be as elegant as E = mc^2 and will have unmasked God or made him redundant. There are others, however, and I count myself among them, who suspect that GUT will turn out to be JAT, or "Just Another Tautology". That the universe will continue to be a wonderful mystery, a cosmic striptease, the dance of the infinity of veils.
Which brings me to someone I've interviewed recently, a philosopher from Tucson, Arizona, called Dr Ann Kerwin. She's into ignorance in a big way, seeing it as a useful and creative notion. Where knowledge and ignorance are usually portrayed as polar opposites, as dualities, Kerwin sees them as intermingled, symbiotic.
She presented me with what she calls an explorer's guide to ignorance, which takes the form of a sort of map of a strange country. And just as Italy resembles a boot, her country looks suspiciously like a question mark. As you explore its latitudes and longitudes, you come across the following forms of ignorance.
- The known unknowns. That is, all the things we know we do not know.
- The unknown unknowns. That is, all the things we do not know we do not know.
- Error, or all the things we think we know, but don't.
- Tacit knowing - all the things we do not know we know.
- All taboos - or forbidden knowledge.
- All denial - the things to painful to know which we energetically suppress.
Now let me contribute some variations on the theme. Think of the things you know that are no longer correct - as distinct from errors. These are the areas where knowledge is simply left behind my medical or scientific progress, not becoming wrong so much as insufficiently right. (Isaac Newton's beliefs about the universe can't be described as errors - they represent some of the greatest thoughts in human history - but knowledge has moved on, not mocking be transcending his, containing it.)
Then there's the knowledge that some people claim about the universe that involves notions of deity and the supernatural, knowledge that isn't known at all but, rather, felt. In this category, people who say "I know" are really saying "I believe" or "I have faith". Yet they regard this as the highest form of knowledge, as ineffable.
Kerwin is right that ignorance is a vast and fertile domain, a dynamic source of learning. So how can we approach our ignorance productively? "With humility, with honesty and wonder, with questioning, humour, relentless scrutiny, with imagination and creativity."
I think Kerwin deserves another of those koala bear stamps. And she's right to point out that ignorance is interdisciplinary, that it exists in all disciplines, in any subject, at all levels.
Believe it or not, Kerwin prepares a curriculum in medical ignorance for the college of medicine at the University of Arizona. Surrounded by medical colleagues, she is billed as "philosopher-in-residence" and runs seminars and clinics on what is not known. Not so people can wallow in ignorance but so they can acknowledge it as a prelude to dealing with it.
"If we knew all, there would be no object, no motive for inquiry," says Kerwin. "No cause to wonder."
Kerwin was brought to Australia by HERDS, the improbable acronym for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia, and at seminars around Australia she told people that learning presupposes ignorance, that from ignorance stems wondering, questioning, pondering, poetry, fantasy, mystery, intuition, silence, imagination and self-reflection. She sees ignorance as driving research and knowledge, that it is in no way its antithesis or enemy.
You can see her point that the dangers lie in the intellectual censorships of taboos and in the self-censorship of denial. And she's certainly right that there's much to be learned from things such as tacit knowing - the knowledge of the "I didn't know I had it in me" variety. Because often what distinguishes significant people is the confidence they place in "experience", in intuition or gut response. Yet it is in that tacit knowledge that, it seems to me, a great deal of wisdom resides.
Take my grandfather, long dead. He lived and died in the working class and had virtually no formal education. Yet while he was short on data (to return to my scientist's aphorism) and information and, indeed, on objective knowledge, he was a wise human being. Somehow he just seemed to know. He particularly seemed to know about human beings. And he had something that many gifted academics lack: judgment. Grandpa reminded me that, at the end of the day, knowledge is proportionate to being. You know in virtue of what you are.
Think about all the things you know you don't know. Be aware that there are things you don't know you don't know. Acknowledge you errors - all the things you think you know but don't, and work to destroy taboos and denials. But take comfort from all the things you don't know you know, in the knowledge that research in neurophysiology and cognitive psychology support the efficacy of tacit powers of learning. Because the more we know about knowing the more we realise that there's more to knowledge that we ever knew. If you know what I mean.
And if you don't, don't worry about it. Confess to ignorance and use it as an aphrodisiac for learning. And take comfort from the fact that there are a lot of people out there who know a great deal, but who can hardly dress themselves in the morning. Not all the idiot savants are in institutions or Rain Man. Over the years I've met quite a few who are faculty heads.
Australia needs a few philosophers in residence such as Kerwin. While she teaches her doctors about their medical ignorance, I'd like to see others reminding our politicians about their political ignorance, and our business leaders about their social ignorance. Because what each of us doesn't know would make a great book. In my case, and I suspect in yours, a great library full of great books.
From: David Quinn
To: Phillip Adams
1st August, 1994
I am responding to the article you wrote about knowledge and wisdom published in The Australian on July 30. You may or may not remember me but I wrote a couple of letters to you last year on this issue, using Richard Feynman as an example.
To confess, I am not sure why I am writing to you again. I know from previous experience that to discuss important matters with you in an intelligent and rational manner is virtually impossible. Like a Christian, you have a particular world-view to protect and, like a Christian, you reject out of hand anything which does not appear to support it. The only difference is that whereas Christians used to apply the term "heretics" to the people who didn't conform, you simply call them "fanatics".
Wisdom is a tremendously important subject and can only be approached with absolute sincerity. That is, you have to actually want to understand the highest wisdom and you have to be 100% intellectually honest in your thinking. I question whether you qualify on either count.
You can praise intellectual honesty all you like, Phillip Adams, but what is the use if you don't actually practise it yourself? There is neither consistency nor clarity in your thinking. You may be able to process information in the quick and capable manner needed for working in the media, but when it gets to the nitty-gritty of actually understanding the fundamentals of our existence your mind literally folds up and your precious intellectual honesty goes out the window.
Look, let's have it out. Just what is this wisdom that you go on about? Although, you see fit to devote an entire column to the subject, you are remarkably silent when it comes to actually defining what it is. The most I can garner from your article is that it is a kind of intuitive knack for "knowing" people. Is this what the ultimate wisdom of the universe is? A knack for reading people's characters?
Christians have rightly been accused of being human-centred in their thinking. They think that Nature revolves around the human race. Your grandfather's "wisdom" is just another variant of this theme.
You state that the wisest observation on the whole subject is "Data isn't information. Information isn't knowledge. And knowledge isn't wisdom." Just what does this mean? Does it mean that every type of knowledge is unrelated to wisdom? That if you know "something", then this "something" is by definition not wisdom? Don't look to Phillip Adams for answers to these questions. A deafening silence is about all you will get.
Oh, all right, I am being a bit unfair. You do mumble something about "tacit knowledge", which "seems" to you to be a source of wisdom. But I wonder whether it also "seems" to you that intuition and experience is also a source of error and that just as many invalid bits of information come from the gut as do valid bits and that in any case all of them without exception have to be scrutinized by the logical thought processes of the brain before they can be declared either true or false. In other words, reason is more fundamental to the determination of wisdom than is anything gained by experience or intuition.
Your Dr Kerwin is a particularly mediocre fish. She is of the Richard Feynman variety, one of the millions on this planet who are not the slightest bit interested in Truth yet feel the urge to denounce it anyway. "If we knew all, there would be no object, no motive for inquiry. No cause for wonder," she purrs. Translate: Truth would destroy human happiness, so let us stay as far away from It as possible.
It is a strange kind of logic that she puts forward. I mean, the purpose of inquiry is to understand reality, is it not? And yet we are told by Dr Kerwin (and the millions of her soul-mates) that if we actually came to understand reality our lives would become bleak and meaningless and unhappy. In other words, she wants us to inquire into reality but to avoid being successful in this inquiry! It would be like urging a dedicated young athlete, one who trains arduously on a daily basis, to avoid at all costs winning the Olympic Gold Medal as there would be nothing left to strive for afterwards. Oh, the humour of it all! Only this feminine age of ours could possibly come up with such a farce.
Like your grandfather, I too am able to judge people, and I judge you, Phillip, to be nothing other than an old woman. Whatever spark of masculinity you may have had in your youth has vanished long ago. Your mind has entirely given itself over to the feminine, probably because it guarantees you a legion of female admirers (with a legion of male supporters in tow).
Yes, to be popular in this world, all you have to do is mumble on about the unknowability of ultimate truth and the sagacity of intuition. Nothing else is needed. Women will love you.
Again, I don't know why I am writing these things to you. I know you have no interest in wisdom. Your whole life, one of gorging daily on information and knowledge, announces this loud and clear. No doubt you will throw this letter away without giving it a second thought.
But please, I urge you to stick with the usual drivel that you normally write and leave the important issues to those who actually care about them. In that way, at least, you would do less harm in this world.
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