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A Philosopher Writes #27

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

As a philosopher, I am often asked: do I exist and what has that got to do with the price of fish? This is not an easy question to answer, since - if we are to take it seriously - it is one which must be approached on several different - though by no means discrete, autonomous or self-referential levels. At face value and somewhat superficially [one might even say trivially] it is an essential, indeed existential, question inviting a simple binary choice. No, you do not exist: end of. Unless of course one allows that the fish might exist independently of your consciousness in which case it/they may not have a fixed or negotiable value since you are not around to "make the deal". In this instance, the fish are, as it were, outwith our consideration or as we philosophers say: "off the menu"*.

*NB This is not to be confused with issues of choice. Fish are also "off the menu" for a variety of food warriors - eg. vegetarians [some], vegans, fruitarians etc as well as some, whose existence is beyond doubt [they are too annoying to be otherwise] and are simply fish-averse. Pescatarians, on the other hand, prioritise fish [and by extension its price] above all other foodstuffs, though there is real doubt as to whether pescatarians - in pure form - actually exist. There is a branch of psychiatry specifically dedicated to such subjects - taboos, fads, aversions, fashions, obsessions etc - but this is beyond the scope of the present discourse.

Returning to the original question we might, alternatively, say: Yes, you exist and, as a sentient being, the price of fish may be of some relevance to you, assuming you live and work in a capitalist economy where the price of fish will be of material interest as a source either of sustenance or exchange. [Anyone living and working in a use-value economy should disregard this particular plank of the argument and concentrate instead on survival - assuming of course that you still exist and that the man from Oxfam has given you a rod rather than a fish.]. So far so good.

Sir Brian Kant made a famous distinction which allows us to acknowledge the radical difference between the price of fish at two [but not more] rival retailers.

All this said, the 18th-century philosopher Sir Brian Kant, famously asked us to consider the distinction between "things as they are and things as we wish them to be" [I think that's "things as they are and things as we perceive them to be" [Ed]] in which case the waters muddy somewhat [consequentially making the fish harder to perceive!]. Take for example our little fish - swimming mindlessly in the river. [For the purposes of this argument we are assuming the fish has little or no cognition either of its own existence or that of the man even now standing over it rod in hand.] Though the fish is undoubtedly an object of the man's apprehension - he may even have intention towards it - we can still ask: is it real or is it a figment of his overactive imagination, he being, as it were, a tad overexcited by the rhythmic tugging on his rod? If we further assume that the fish [being real] is caught, transported and offered for sale, then the man's existence and the price of fish become established instances in a "chain of events" and - allowing for the butterfly effect - that small act may alter the price of fish worldwide.

MRI scans of the brain have established that the brain has two halves: female [LEFT] and male [RIGHT]. Tests suggest that the male side is responsible for determining whether or not we think we exist, whilst the female side prioritises motor function and is thus capable of controlling a shopping-trolley and so better at comparing the price of fish.

Finally, heightened states of consciousness or of perception [eg euphoria - naturally occurring or narcotically-induced] may encourage one to see and connect objects which are either imaginary or unreal in another sense, allowing one, for example, to fantasize that a savoury lemon-grass economy Thai fishcake at Waitaminute's is better value than a basics smoked haddock fillet from Threadboneextra's. But here, once again, we stray beyond our remit and into the realms of psychology, which is to say, to places darker than even a philosopher can imagine.

Next time: Can Curly-Wurly's bend time?

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