By Rhiya Pau
About a year ago a friend of mine passed away. He was brilliant, compassionate and so talented. We weren’t particularly close and I wish I’d known him better, but we were similar. He studied Physics and Philosophy with me at Oxford. A niche degree course, full of thoroughly passionate individuals eager to question our understanding of reality. After the funeral, each of us remarked on how we felt we’d just attended our own funerals. We were all driven by the same intense curiosity, the same all-consuming intellectual hunger.The kind that can drive you mad.
In the following weeks I realised I needed a platform to articulate all the existential thoughts which plagued me. My natural instinct was to write. To produce something tangible that could be set aside and locked away when I had to deal with the real world. I settled on a medium that would enable me to communicate with my friends and family- to help them understand what really goes on in my head.
The following is the first part of a short film script that originally appeared on Rhiya’s blog ‘Brains, Belief and Revolution‘.
Waiting for the Tube – Part 1
In man’s headphones: They say my brain’s melted. And the only thing I tell’ em is I’m living for the present and the future don’t exist.
Man (pacing): Present.
Girl stares at him and then looks away, half in disgust.
Girl (muttering under her breath): Freak.
Zoom in on girl picking the nail varnish off her nails. After a few seconds she gets bored and looks up. The man is standing in front of her and staring at her.
Man: Does my presence irk you?
Girl (scowls): The present irks me.
Man starts to walk away, but turns back.
Man: But it’s all we’ve got.
Girl: Don’t kid yourself: we’ve got nothing.
Man: So if we haven’t got the present, how can it irk you?
Girl ponders. She is about to reply, but instead looks down and continues to pick off her nail varnish.
Man (unfazed): You don’t get it. (Pause as girl scowls at him) Sure most of life’s imaginary: our thoughts, our emotions, the past and the future. None of them really exist-
Man: -but the present moment, it’s the only real… tangible contact we have with life. It’s our checkpoint… our platform.
Girl laughs and walks away to create some distance.
Girl: Jeez, anyone would think you’re trying to get me into a cult. (Pause). You really are a freak.
Man: And you’re a walking contradiction.
Girl (turns back and retorts): At least I’m not a coward… not delusional. You say that most of life is imaginary but you’re too scared to acknowledge the obvious conclusion. You need this mirage (waves hands) of ‘reality’ to tell you that everything we perceive isn’t just an illusion. But it is exactly that. (Slow and sarcastic whisper) We have nothing.
Girl feeling as if the conversation is now over switches to picking the nail varnish off the other hand.
Man (smiles knowingly): Oh come on.. (Pause as girl ignores him) The skeptical road’s a dead end. Doubt the validity of your senses all you like, of course they’re inaccurate… but they exist. And you can’t doubt that.
Girl (dramatically putting her arms wide out and with a certain sarcasm): Welcome Neo, to the Matrix.
Man, confused for a second, continues.
Man: Look, I can’t speak for you, but I know I have to have something. Otherwise I couldn’t even experience this conversation. There is, at the very least, a subjective reality. (Triumphantly) Cogito ergo sum.
Girl: What does that even mean? ‘A subjective reality’. The very notion of reality is objective.
Man: (Sigh) Why tarnish philosophy with semantics eh?
Girl: Says the guy using Latin to deliver his “killer blow”.
Man: Hey! Descartes doesn’t bite.
Girl: Could you be more patronising? (Man attempts to interrupt, but Girl continues) I’m making a valid point here. So much so that you’re pretty much agreeing with me. For me, reality by definition must be objective. I deny objective reality. And so do you. The difference is you replace it with something bullshit enough to make any girl’s dreams a reality.
Man: And what makes dreams any less significant than reality? Our consciousness could flit between two realms. When we go to sleep in this universe, our mind might awaken in a different body, in a different universe.
Girl (interrupting): What are you on about now Neo?
Man: Come on, it would make sense. That other universe could have different physical laws, a different rationality… it’d explain all those nonsensical things that happen in our dreams.
Girl: JESUS… I just can’t .…I just can’t comprehend that. It’s one thing to believe in the present and this… this orthodoxy of reality. But to extend that reality to dreams! You think that there’s this all-pervasive… all-transcendent ‘consciousness’ that’s somehow more than a sum of its physical parts? (short pause) Seriously?
Man: Okay, okay. I admit my whole dreams theory was a bit of a long shot. But..
Girl (interjects): Long shot? You’re at it again Neo. Scared. Again. You’re too scared to think that we might just be insignificant in all of this (waves hands). We’re not special. I mean you call me a skeptic, but if I had to place my bets on something being real, I’d use familiarity to do it. And there’s nothing familiar about being special.
Man: Wait, what.. familiarity? How is that even relevant?
Girl (feeling now as if she has the upper hand, patronisingly): Learning from experience and all that… You drop a pen and you assume it’ll fall because it’s done so each time before, we’re familiar with that chain of cause and effect. (Drops to a deadpan tone) But there’s nothing besides ego to suggest that we as a species are special. (Back to patronising) And it wouldn’t be sound to base a logical prediction off that.
Man: But there is. That logic just breaks down when it comes to human life. Statistically, the chance of us and life as we know it existing at all is so slim-
Girl (rolling her eyes, mutters under her breath and, as if praying, clutches hands together): Please don’t get all creationist on me.
Man (ignoring her): So slim that we can pretty much treat it as a massive anomaly. (Girl rolls her eyes, arms folded) And if we treat it as a massive anomaly, we’re justified in making our theories of the unknown as outlandish as we like. We can add unicorns, leprechauns and whatever -orns we want. And it’s all just as likely as our current reality.
Girl: That’s ridiculous, you could argue that regardless…(raises her voice frustratedly) every reality has a slim chance of existence.
Man (trying to lighten the mood): Maybe, but imagine how mundane most of those realities would be-
Girl (digging around in bag): Mundane is relative, everything’s relative, your subjective reality is failing you again.
Man gasps as if to speak but pauses.
Girl (pulling cigarette out of her bag): You got a light?
Man digs around in his jacket pockets, finds a small box of matches.
Man: Will these do?
Slightly bemused, Girl nods and reaches for them. She struggles lighting the first one. Gives up, drops it on the ground and takes out another one. This time she is more successful. She lights her cigarette. She gives back the box
Girl: Thanks. Its so fuckin’ cold out here. Where you headed anyway?
Man: Amersham (looks at his watch) supposed to be there 20 minutes ago.
Girl: Where is this damn train anyway? (Peers into the distance, looking for the train) Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Man: What about you?
Man: Where you headed?
Girl: Oh, gotcha: Bethnal Green.
Man (chuckling): Yeah? I used to live around there.
Girl: Oh cool, really is a small world I guess. Although I suppose we’ll both be dead by the time this bloody train comes. Always knew TFL would be the death of me.
Man (laughing): So, where’s your next stop: Heaven or Hell?
Girl (chuckles): Neither, c’mon what do you take me for?
Man: You know, I think one day you’ll change your mind about all of this. You’ll get bored of being so angry and cynical.
Girl: You love your little presumptions don’t you? My views on reality have nothing to do with anger. You don’t even know me.
Man (sheepishly): Woah, woah. Chill- I’m sorry. I’m prone to jumping to conclusions. It won’t happen again. I’m really sorry.
Girl: No. Just think about it for a second. Really think. Heaven or hell, eternal pleasure or infinite pain, held forever accountable for the way you live this life. Frankly, I don’t know what scares me more, the existence of an afterlife or the lack of it. (pause) That this… this is it.
Man seems taken aback; he’s touched something personal (her fear) and doesn’t really know what to say.
Girl: But what I don’t understand is how this afterlife could ever manifest itself. Pleasure can’t exist without pain. Surely they define each other? Conceptually, they’re relative.
Man: Maybe, but surely it’s a tad naive to assume we can understand the technicalities of Heaven and Hell. I mean it would be somewhat contradictory if an all-powerful God couldn’t create absolute pleasure.
Girl: Potentially. I guess if I were omnipotent, creating absolute pleasure would definitely be top of my to-do list.
Man: And, in any case, even if pain and pleasure are, by their very nature, relative… then maybe our experience of both in this life and that contrast would stay with us after death.
Girl (pensively, as though she is giving away some big present): You know I had this thought once… they say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes in slow motion.
Man: Go on…
Girl: So how do we know…that we’re not dying right this second, and reliving our lives moment by moment.
Man: But then we’d get to the point where we die and our life would just flash before our eyes again.
Girl: It’d just be like an infinite flashback loop.
Man: That would explain… wait, what do you call it?
Girl: Call what?
Man: When you think you’ve lived through something already.
Girl: Deja vu?
Man: Deja vu. That’d explain deja vu. (Pauses) But you know, I really do believe that there is some sort of afterlife… in the same way that there must be some sort of God, otherwise life would just be a mockery. A taste of existence, it’s not worth the effort.
Girl: Alright, so suppose there is some God that created everything, the only raw material it would have had to create from would have been… God. Which would make everything from atoms to thoughts just made entirely of God.
Man (shakes head affectionately and then sarcastically): So you’re God then.
Girl: And so are you, Neo.
Man raises his hands in mock surrender
Girl: And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
Man: Hypocritical don’t you think?
Girl (confused): Eh?
Man starts pacing again and repeats: Present.
After a few moments, Man stops.
Click here for Part 2.