Saturday, September 3, 2016

PKD's Cat Joke

“I felt,” Barney said, “about him a presence of the deity. It was there.” Especially in that one moment, he thought, when Eldritch shoved me, tried to make me try.

“Of course,” Anne agreed. “I thought you understood about that’ He’s here inside each of us and in a higher life form such as we’re talking about He would certainly be even more manifest. But – let me tell you my cat joke. It’s very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she’s got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room – has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak – and it’s gone. And there’s the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing it’s face.”

“The cat got the steak,” Barney said.

“Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all give pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. ‘Weigh the cat,’ someone says. They’ve had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weight the cat on the scale. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and one guest says, ‘Okay, that’s it. There’s the steak.’ They’re satisfied that they know what happened, now; they’ve got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, ‘But where’s the cat?’ ”

“I heard that joke before,” Barney said. “And anyhow I don’t see its application.”

Anne said, “That joke poses the finest distillation of the problem of ontology ever invented. If you ponder it long enough – ”

“Hell,” he said angrily, “it’s five pounds of cat; it’s nonsense – there’s no steak if the scale shows five pounds.”

“Remember the wine and the wafer,” Anne said quietly.

He stared at her. The idea, for a moment, seemed to come through.

“Yes,” she said. “The cat was not the steak. But – the cat might be a manifestation which the steak was taking at that moment. The key word happens to be is. Don’t tell us, Barney, that whatever entered Palmer Eldritch is God, because you don’t know that much about Him; no one can. But that living entity from intersystem space may, like us, be shaped in His image. A way He selected of showing Himself to us. If the map is not the territory, the pot is not the potter. So don’t talk ontology, Barney; don’t say is.” She smiled at him hopefully, to see if he understood.

- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, chapter thirteen, by Philip K. Dick.

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Review of this bizarre little book on deck ...

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