A Walk in the Park
“You have a grand gift of silence, Watson,” said Holmes, “which makes you an invaluable companion.”
They had walked briskly through the cold, quiet streets to St. James’s Park, and having warmed up now strolled at a more leisurely pace through the fallen leaves of the great elms that lined the southern promenade.
“Well, I suppose that is something.”
“It is a great deal, Watson. Perhaps more than you know. Have you given further thought to our problem?
“I can’t make head or tail of it. There seems to be no piece of evidence that might not be doubted, in which case there is nowhere to begin.”
“And yet we must begin, Watson, and we must do much more than that. If we cannot solve this problem then we cannot rebut the charge laid at my door by your fellow in the Times, who predicts that an obstacle in my intellectual make-up will prevent me from ever doing so.”
Watson shakes his head in wonderment.
“It is surely only you, Holmes, alone among all men, who would see in this speculation a personal affront.”
“That may be so, Watson, but I rather doubt it. By implication the charge is levelled against all men equally.
“No doubt. But I don’t suppose many of them would feel so offended as to attempt to refute it personally. To me it seems more reasonable to assume that if it is beyond the abilities of professors of philosophy to overcome this mysterious obstacle then there wouldn’t be much point in me trying. Whole thing is far too confusing.”
“Such an assumption may well appear reasonable, Watson, or not, as the case may be, but it remains an assumption either way. If we took this attitude whenever we were consulted by a client with a problematic case then where would we be? We would be of little use to them if we began by assuming that because they cannot solve the problem, nor can we.”
Watson claps his gloved hands together to warm his fingers.
“Well, if you put it like that, Holmes, I suppose you’re right. But is it not true that more often than not in our investigations we depend as much on your ability to uncover fresh evidence as on your painstaking methods of deduction? What if there is no more evidence to be found than has already been found and is already available to everyone. This lessens the likelihood of your succeeding where so many have failed.”
“A good point, Watson. I think it more than likely that this is the case regarding the evidence. At any rate, I must admit to being temporarily at a loss as to where any fresh evidence might be sought. Here we seem to have one of those cases where the art of the reasoner must be used rather for the sifting of the essential data than for the acquiring of fresh evidence. The problem is so uncommon, so complete, and of such personal importance to so many, that the outcome can only be a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. This muddies the waters. The difficulty in such cases is to detach the framework of facts – of absolute, undeniable facts – from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Having established ourselves on this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn, and which are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.”
“All the same, Holmes, I still cannot see where your deductions will begin. After playing the guinea pig in your experiments this morning I’m having some difficulty deciding what I do think is a fact and what I don’t. How on earth do we know anything at all?”
“We must begin where we always begin, Watson, with the facts as they appear to be. Later, perhaps, we will discover that they are facts only in appearance, or that they are irrelevant facts, or even that there are no certain facts to be found, but we must start from what appear to be the facts. We have no other option. When asked to solve a difficult case we do not usually ask our clients to go away and come back when they are more certain of the facts. It is our first task to discover the facts, and we can only start with the facts as they appear to be.
“Alright, yes, I see all that. But what I mean is that there don’t even appear to be any facts.”
Holmes stops and consults his pocket watch.
“Let us turn for home here, Watson. If we do so now we can stroll along and still be in time for Mrs Hudson’s glorious tea and crumpets.”
“I certainly shan’t object to that. Indeed, I daresay I’d rather walk more briskly and persuade her to make tea a little earlier than usual.”
“A capital idea. Let us make haste.”
Half an hour later Watson and Holmes are once again settled in their armchairs by the fire. They do not speak for a while. Watson breaks the silence.
“So, Holmes, what are your thoughts? Can the obstacle be overcome?”
Holmes carefully places his cup and saucer on a table at his side and takes up his pipe and tobacco.
“Of that, Watson, I am not yet certain. But I have begun to discern the shape of it, and I see now that almost as soon as we have begun to examine the problem of consciousness we are confronted by this obstacle.”
“Consider, Watson, the simplicity of this problem. In virtue of tight shoes, drops of water and suchlike, there is no doubt that material objects appear to exist, and in virtue of the thoughts that we have about these objects there is no doubt that mental objects appear to exist. To whatever extent either of these phenomena are real or illusory, it remains the case that either one gives rise to the other or both arise from something else. Your two philosophers have concluded that they could not have arisen one from the other. Were they not very sure of this they would not be speculating in the Times that we cannot solve this problem without an extra ingredient and talking of metaphysical problems. They conclude that in order to explain mind and matter we would need an extra ingredient. The case is quite clear.”
“Why not God, then?”
“Why not indeed. This was my first thought. But during our walk I realised that He is not the only suspect. There is at least one other.”
“And this would be …?”
“Awareness, Watson, or what your philosopher chap calls ‘what it is like’, the very thing we are trying to explain. You were aware of what it was like to feel discomfort at the tightness of your shoes, but for which you would not have needed to borrow a pair of mine for our walk. This awareness cannot be the same thing as the experience, otherwise you would have become unaware when you took them off. ”
Holmes gazes into the fire and follows his thoughts. . .
“Had there not been something that this discomfort was like for you, Watson, then you would not have noticed they were too tight. Yet what is it that noticed? Awareness must precede experience, for experience, or ‘what it is like’, if it is not identical with awareness, must be contingent. As for the rose we discussed earlier this morning and my remarks about religion, it was not the rose that turned my thoughts to God while I examined the window frame for clues on that summer’s day, but my experience of its beauty, for while it seems undeniable that this beauty was in my experience, nonetheless it seems inevitable that its beauty lay only in my eye as the beholder, and not in the rose itself. That we may experience the beauty of the rose despite this therefore seemed suggestive. But I am wandering. It is an odd idea, I must admit, that it may be the thing we are trying to explain that is what is missing from our explanation, and I cannot say it will not turn out to be a red herring of an idea, but as we noted this morning, if there is a mysterious ingredient missing from our mind-matter theories, in the absence of which we cannot explain experience, then the fundamental condition for experience will be what is missing. Yet immediately, before we have hardly even begun to explore this innocent idea, we meet what is surely at least a temporary obstacle in our make-up, for it is not easy to imagine a phenomenon that is neither mental nor physical, yet which would serve as the condition for experiences, including our experience of our thoughts and even of the tightness of our shoes.”
“Some believers say that we cannot imagine God. Perhaps this is not a coincidence.”
“The point had not escaped me, Watson, but I would rather refrain from making such bold conjectures quite so early in the investigation. Let us rather follow the facts.”
A light knock at the door is followed by the entrance of Mrs. Hudson, but it is not, as expected, for the sake of the tea tray.
“Mr. Holmes, I’m very sorry, but there’s a gentleman downstairs says he won’t go away without seeing you. I told him this is Sunday and not a day for calling without a by your leave, and at tea time as well, but he takes no notice, and so I must leave it to you to send him on his way. This is his card.
Holmes takes the card and examines it with his customary care.
“It is alright, Mrs. Hudson, perhaps our visitor might provide us with a break from our arduous philosophising. You may scold him and tell him that I will make an unusual exception, and that I require five minutes to become presentable. Please show him up at the end of that time.”
Holmes turns back to his friend.
“Quickly, Watson, we must make ourselves ready for visitors.”
To be continued….