The First Philosopher in the Land of Doze
©John M. Williams
The First Philosopher in the Land of Doze
You, as I, would find the Land of Doze charming. A land of languor, a natural garden, of one beguiling scene melting into another. And the mild inhabitants, were you to ask them how unusual they are, would not understand the question.
They live in curious dwellings, one soul to a spot. Or I should say, their dwellings seem curious to me, as they would to you, though not to the inhabitants themselves, who know no other kind. Domiciles of perfect accident—never planned by mind nor built by hand—but shaped by the deftness of time from caves, outcroppings of rock, cool and fragrant groves, and tangles of vines spaced randomly throughout the land. Some of the occupants, accidentally, find themselves unique, but in most cases the dwellings are in view of at least one other, so that each inhabitant, standing quietly in his place, can see, if he chooses, the silhouette of some neighbor standing quietly in his. These placid creatures eat the fruit that grows within reach on the vines around them and have no other wants, as the weather stays ideal yearround and there are no predators, spiders, scorpions, or snakes. No ticks. They live for a very long time—untempted to reproduce, leaving their cells an idea undreamt, the notion of doing something unconceived.
Or rather, unconceived, in anyone’s memory, up until the time of this story—a story concerning an event which planted a seed, at once ominous and wonderful, in the midst of this motionless folk.
The protagonist in the drama had no name, since like everyone else in the Land of Doze he had no need of one. So let’s call him Howard.
Howard lived by custom. He awoke every morning at the same time, attended to his natural functions, ate a piece of fruit, then stood in the center of his dwelling for three and a half hours. Then, as hunger would politely return, he would eat another piece of fruit, and stand for four more hours, sometimes moving a few steps in one direction, sometimes a few steps in another, sometimes gazing out through the florescent vines at this or that neverchanging scene, occasionally at the dwelling of his only visible neighbor, a stone’s throw away, before taking his evening fruit, standing a few more hours in the gently fading light, then reclining in the spot where he stood, to sleep. Because Howard was never curious, he was never curious about his neighbor. What was there to be curious about? He could plainly see the anonymous denizen standing there doing nothing in his place like himself.
What we don’t do is everything in the world minus what we do do. We cannot grasp being without doing, and find inconceivable Howard who could.
Until a certain day.
At first it seemed like any other. The sun rose, as always; Howard awoke, attended to his natural functions, ate a piece of fruit, and began standing. A few odd minutes passed. Then, as a scalpel of inquisitiveness nicked at the corners of his eyes, it became clear that some sly difference had insinuated itself into the scheme of things during the night.
Howard found himself host to a new presence. It lurked inside him like a sinister whisper. He moved his inner eye round this haunting new thing, mentally sniffing it, feeling it as a bruise in the act of perception itself.
Sometime about mid-morning, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, he said, “I’m bored.”
To the Hindus God wakes up after his long sleep, has a flash of awareness followed by a flash, almost instantaneous, and inevitable, of self-awareness. But that these two flashes cannot really be distinguished and that one can only be aware one is wondering whether being aware one exists is the same as not existing leads to the conclusion that existing and not existing are, in fact, the same. Twin sensations—that which enables the one precisely the fuel of the other. The number of things one can know without existing is equivalent to that one can with, plus or minus one. The non-asking of the identity of taking form and becoming aware is only a more subtle version of the asking. And is there any mathematical basis for supposing anything, such as the number of things that haven’t occurred to God, almost infinite?
I do know that in the case of Howard, becoming aware of his existence and knowing he was bored were equivalent mental sensations. And once he knew he existed, put it into words so to speak, there was no going back. He knew he could never not know he existed once he knew he existed. He also knew that not only was he aware of his existence, he was aware that he was aware of it, just as when he had not been aware of it, he had not been aware that he had not been aware of it.
So here stood Howard—thinking therefore he was—bored.
The more bored he felt—that is, the more he experienced his existence—naturally the greater grew his wonder that he did not not exist. But as he realized that he could no more prove his existence before he had been aware of it than he could will himself out of it now, he understood the impossibility of being once again the Howard he could not know whether or not he had been, even if he wanted to be. But did he? Not an easy question. But I don’t think Howard ever arrived at a preference so much as he hit upon the revolutionary concept of doing something.
Another day arrived. Howard’s neighbor, standing alone in the center of his dwelling gazing through the intricate pattern of the trees towards Howard’s house, saw something so unprecedented he knew he was seeing it. He saw Howard walk outside. As he watched, the extraordinary emotion of incredulity spread itself through his thoughts like an exotic fragrance. He watched and watched. He watched Howard lie down in the soft cool grass a few yards beyond his spot with a view of God knows what where he remained a long procession of bizarre days, foregoing his sustenance which rotted on the ground all around his newly haunted house, until even his eyes quit blinking and he strangely melted into the earth leaving only his bleached memorial frame. He watched, not once averting his gaze—until one day he turned to look at his neighbor in a way he never had.