Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: humor

‘Crocodilism’ – a dem⦁n’s definition

crocodilism, n.


  1. The political principle whereby a state claims or occupies smaller states, territories, or disputed regions; extended to any corporation, body, or individual who appropriates possessions by virtue of their proximity rather than by any recognised right.


  1. The practice of girls walking in a long column of twos whilst holding hands; extended to the progress of any slow-moving procession of objects close together.


  1. The practice of weeping or making any pretence of woe for the purpose of entrapment; extended to the general philosophy that such pretence and the gaining of an advantage by it is acceptable.


  1. The worship of Sobek.


  1. The deliberate eating of something considered by others to be unnatural or unacceptable.

    “Thes forsothe among polutid thinges shulen be holde, of hem that ben meued in erthe; a wesil, and a mouse, and a cokedril, eche after his kynde.” Leviticus 11:29 Wycliffe version (1395)


  1. The practice of a philosophy where captious or sophistical argument is used; extended to any deliberate use of trick questions.

    “A woman sitting by the side of Nilus, a Crocodile snatched away her child, promising to restore him, if she would answer truly to what he asked; which was, Whether he meant to restore him or not. She answered, Not to restore him, and challeng’d his promise, as having said the truth. He replyed, that if he should let her have him, she had not told true.” Thomas Stanley, The History of Philosophy vol. II, viii, 57 (1656)


  1. The affectation of flattery, clemency, or any other favourable behaviour by a person holding any power or influence over others.


  1. The habit of removing irritations from a person from whom one wishes to gain favour.


  1. The hoarding and bringing into use of things past their time of practical usefulness.


  1. The condition of being all mouth and no ears.

[I recently rediscovered this introduction to a poetry project. I thought it might be worth popping here. M.]


A cautionary tale for Editors

In 2007 I had a run-in with an editor who, in my opinion, was WAY above himself, as a result of which I wrote a poem called ‘The Pope and Michelangelo’, subtitled ‘A Song of Editorial Prerogative’. Since then of course, not only have I become even better acquainted with editors, I have been an editor myself for several years, so maybe my perspective has shifted a wee bit. Still, I thought I would share this piece of rhyming nonsense with you, just for the heck of it.


The Pope said, “Buonarroti,
Paint on this ceiling tall,
Some scenes from Holy Scripture
And frescoes on the wall.”
The Artist set about it.
He laboured all year long,
And every wondrous brush-stroke
Was like an angel’s song.

Ars longa – vita brevis.
Pontifex esse nolo.
I don’t want to be the Pope,
I’m Michelangelo.

The Pope came for a look-see;
He gazed around and said,
“Oh yes, it’s very nice, but
You should use much more red
This work just isn’t finished,
It’s not a perfect ten.
Splash on some extra scarlet,
I’ll papal-seal it then.”

Ars longa – vita brevis.
Pontifex esse nolo.
I don’t want to be the Pope,
I’m Michelangelo.

The artist started over
(I must say – in a huff!).
The Pontiff popped his head in,
And said, “Still not enough.”
The artist mixed his colours
With sunset-crimson full,
And, making his work ruddy,
Said, “Ruddy Papal Bull!”

Ars longa – vita brevis.
Pontifex esse nolo.
I don’t want to be the Pope,
I’m Michelangelo.

His Holiness came back there,
And said, “You’ve used too much.
The way it was a month ago
Showed such a gentle touch.”
The artist held his temper,
And started work once more,
To make the Sistine Chapel
The way it was before.

Ars longa – vita brevis.
Pontifex esse nolo.
I don’t want to be the Pope,
I’m Michelangelo.

The Pope came to the Chapel,
And thence to Mich’s home,
To say he thought the ceiling
The best in all of Rome;
But leaving, paused at David
And, pointing with his stick,
Said as an afterthought, “Put
A fig-leaf on that dick!”

Ars longa – vita brevis.
Pontifex esse nolo.
Would you rather be the Pope,
Or Michelangelo?


The moral of this story
(easy enough to follow);
Ars longs – vita brevis,
Pontifex esse nolo!
Crowds flock to the Chapel,
For Buonarroti’s fame;
But as for the poor Pontiff –
Why! – no one knows his name!

The split infinitive: advice to and entertainment for writers

To split or not to spilt, that is the question. If the object of splitting is an infinitive, my rule is simple – split it or don’t split it, but have an eye to ambiguity, to the verb you want to qualify, and to euphony. Nobody in her right mind would correct the world’s most famous split infinitive, that of Starship Captain James T Kirk, because to do so would be to disturb its ringing prosody, even though its sense would be as solid as a rock despite the change.

If all fails, say it another way.

Henry Watson Fowler is often granted the last word on the subject, and I’m going to quote him in full here, not because I regard him as authoritative, but because this is one of the wittiest pieces of writing on the subject. I chuckle to myself whenever I get to the place where he uses ‘readier’ and I want to yell “More readily!” – I suspect that he did that deliberately. Although he does come down very heavily against avoidance of the split infinitive where such avoidance is obsessive to the point of fetishistic, he is gracious enough to quote one of the ugliest splittings ever.

Let me give you a word of warning – don’t use Fowler, or any other source, as a bolster for your own prejudices. ‘Magister ipse dixit’ is never a good argument. I try not to, and I’m one of the most consistent contributors to grammar debates on Facebook that I know; I find them difficult to resist. Here he goes:



The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish.

(1) Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes. ‘To really understand’ comes readier to their lips and pens than ‘really to understand’; they see no reason why they should not say it (small blame to them, seeing that reasons are not their critics’ strong point), and they do say it, to the discomfort of some among us, but not to their own.

(2) To the second class, those who do not know but do care, who would as soon be caught putting their knives in their mouths as splitting an infinitive but have only hazy notions of what constitutes that deplorable breach of etiquette, this article is chiefly addressed. These people betray by their practice that their aversion to the split infinitive springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of the misinterpreted opinion of others; for they will subject their sentences to the queerest distortions, all to escape imaginary split infinitives. ‘To really understand’ is a s.i.; ‘to really be understood’ is a s.i.; ‘to be really understood’ is not one; the havoc that is played with much well-intentioned writing by failure to grasp that distinction is incredible. Those upon whom the fear of infinitive-splitting sits heavy should remember that to give conclusive evidence, by distortions, of misconceiving the nature of the s.i. is far more damaging to their literary pretensions than an actual lapse could be; for it exhibits them as deaf to the normal rhythm of English sentences. No sensitive ear can fail to be shocked if the following examples are read aloud, by the strangeness of the indicated adverbs. Why on earth, the reader wonders, is that word out of its place? He will find, on looking through again, that each has been turned out of a similar position, viz between the word be and a passive participle. Reflection will assure him that the cause of dislocation is always the same — all these writers have sacrificed the run of their sentences to the delusion that ‘to be really understood’ is a split infinitive. It is not; and the straitest non-splitter of us all can with a clear conscience restore each of the adverbs to its rightful place: He was proposed at the last moment as a candidate likely generally to be accepted. / When the record of this campaign comes dispassionately to be written, and in just perspective, it will be found that … / New principles will have boldly to be adopted if the Scottish case is to be met. / This is a very serious matter, which dearly ought further to be inquired into. / The Headmaster of a public school possesses very great powers, which ought most carefully and considerately to be exercised. / The time to get this revaluation put through is when the amount paid by the State to the localities is very largely to be increased.

(3) The above writers are bogy-haunted creatures who for fear of splitting an infinitive abstain from doing something quite different, i.e. dividing be from its complement by an adverb; see further under POSITION OF ADVERBS. Those who presumably do know what split infinitives are, and condemn them, are not so easily identified, since they include all who neither commit the sin nor flounder about in saving themselves from it — all who combine a reasonable dexterity with acceptance of conventional rules But when the dexterity is lacking disaster follows. It does not add to a writer’s readableness if readers are pulled up now and again to wonder — Why this distortion? Ah, to be sure, a non-split die-hard! That is the mental dialogue occasioned by each of the adverbs in the examples below. It is of no avail merely to fling oneself desperately out of temptation; one must so do it that no traces of the struggle remain. Sentences must if necessary be thoroughly remodelled instead of having a word lifted from its original place and dumped elsewhere: What alternative can be found which the Pope has not condemned, and which will make it possible to organise legally public worship ? / It will, when better understood, tend firmly to establish relations between Capital and Labour. / Both Germany and England have done ill in not combining to forbid flatly hostilities. / Every effort must be made to increase adequately professional knowledge and attainments. / We have had to shorten somewhat Lord D——’s letter. / The kind of sincerity which enables an author to move powerfully the heart would … / Safeguards should be provided to prevent effectually cosmopolitan financiers from manipulating these reserves.

(4) Just as those who know and condemn the s.i. include many who are not recognisable, since only the clumsier performers give positive proof of resistance to temptation, so too those who know and approve are not distinguishable with certainty. When a man splits an infinitive, he may be doing it unconsciously as a member of our class 1, or he may be deliberately rejecting the trammels of convention and announcing that he means to do as he will with his own infinitives. But, as the following examples are from newspapers of high repute, and high newspaper tradition is strong against splitting, it is perhaps fair to assume that each specimen is a manifesto of independence: It will be found possible to considerably improve the present wages of the miners without jeopardizing the interests of capital. / Always providing that the Imperialists do not feel strong enough to decisively assert their power in the revolted provinces. / But even so, he seems to still be allowed to speak at Unionist demonstrations. / It is the intention of the Minister of Transport to substantially increase all present rates by means of a general percentage. / The men in many of the largest districts are declared to strongly favour a strike if the minimum wage is not conceded.

It should be noticed that in these the separating adverb could have been placed outside the infinitive with little or in most cases no damage to the sentence-rhythm (considerably after minersdecisively after powerstill with clear gain after besubstantially after rates, and strongly at some loss after strike), so that protest seems a safe diagnosis.

(5) The attitude of those who know and distinguish is something like this: We admit that separation of to from its infinitive is not in itself desirable, and we shall not gratuitously say either ‘to mortally wound’ or ‘to mortally be wounded’, but we are not foolish enough to confuse the latter with ‘to be mortally wounded’, which is blameless English nor ‘to just have heard’ with ‘to have just heard’, which is also blameless. We maintain, however, that a real s.i., though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, and to patent artificiality. For the first, we will rather write ‘Our object is to further cement trade relations’ than, by correcting into ‘Our object is further to cement …’, leave it doubtful whether an additional object or additional cementing is the point. And for the second, we take it that such reminders of a tyrannous convention as ‘in not combining to forbid flatly hostilities’ are far more abnormal than the abnormality they evade. We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial; more than that, we will freely admit that sufficient recasting will get rid of any s.i. without involving either of those faults, and yet reserve to ourselves the right of deciding in each case whether recasting is worth while. Let us take an example: ‘In these circumstances, the Commission, judging from the evidence taken in London, has been feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time to meet reasonable Indian demands.’ To better equip ? We refuse ‘better to equip’ as a shouted reminder of the tyranny; we refuse ‘to equip better’ as ambiguous (better an adjective?); we regard ‘to equip successful candidates better’ as lacking compactness, as possibly tolerable from an anti-splitter, but not good enough for us. What then of recasting? ‘intended to make successful candidates fitter for’ is the best we can do if the exact sense is to be kept, it takes some thought to arrive at the correction; was the game worth the candle?

After this inconclusive discussion, in which, however, the author’s opinion has perhaps been allowed to appear with indecent plainness, readers may like to settle the following question for themselves. ‘The greatest difficulty about assessing the economic achievements of the Soviet Union is that its spokesmen try absurdly to exaggerate them; in consequence the visitor may tend badly to underrate them.’ Has dread of the s.i. led the writer to attach his adverbs to the wrong verbs, and would he not have done better to boldly split both infinitives, since he cannot put the adverbs after them without spoiling his rhythm? Or are we to give him the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that he really meant absurdly to qualify try and badly to qualify tend?

It is perhaps hardly fair that this article should have quoted no split infinitives except such as, being reasonably supposed (as in 4) to be deliberate, are likely to be favourable specimens. Let it therefore conclude with one borrowed from a reviewer, to whose description of it no exception need be taken: ‘A book … of which the purpose is thus — with a deafening split infinitive — stated by its author: “Its main idea is to historically, even while events are maturing, and divinely — from the Divine point of view — impeach the European system of Church and States”.’

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.



“SORROWBACON is a webcomic about a cat, a badger, and a sentient custard,” says Millie Ho. Who am I to disagree? It started out as doodles which are now “raw and bloody and more lo-fi than a Brooklyn alleyway” and “exposed and vulnerable to whoever happens to stumble upon them.”

Millie has been hinting at its existence for some time, dropping clues about its nascence on her blog. Her latest post announces its launch and it can be found right here. It appears to be executed entirely in ball-point and highlighter, reveling in that everyday, almost banal, technical simplicity. I’m not going to say much about it except that it’s different and makes me want to do wild, fangirly dances.

Mongolian Limericks


Five years or so ago, the late Vera Rich, poet and translator, let slip some ‘Mongolian’ Limericks just for fun. I replied in kind and tickled her. Here’s an exchange or two between us.


A Mongolian dealer in koumiss
Told his daughter: “I’m angry with you, Miss!
Last night’s supper was spoiled,
For the tea was not boiled,
And the dumplings were sticky as glue, Miss!”


His daughter’s voice came from the yurt:
“To say the least, you’re very curt!
No need to be cocky –
Those dumplings were gnocchi,
Green tea is drunk tepid – I’m hurt!”

Apparently Vera wrote a whole series of these as a divertissement at a Mongolian Studies Conference in the 1980s – a far cry from her serious work translating Ukrainian and Belorussian poetry. Here’s some more.


Said a PR man in Ulan Bataar,
“I really don’t know what’s the mataar!
But that cursed foreign press
Writes of us less and less,
Saying it has too much else on its plataar!”


The cleaner (whilst shoving her Huva)
Said, “No Mongol is the prime muva
Of things international.
Anonymity’s rational…
It could be worse – this could be Tuva!”

It does you good to let your hair down once in a while. Vera is very much missed by those of us who knew her and worked with her.

Mabel’s Fables: ‘The Three Blind Men and the Elephant’

elephant fable

Little one, many folk tell the tale of the three blind men who, unaware of each other, came upon the same elephant.

The first blind man, putting out his hands to feel his way, touched the elephant’s mighty trunk, feeling it flex and move, as though it had a life independent. He took it for a great snake.

“Surely,” he thought, “This is the greatest, most magnificent snake ever!”

The second blind man bumped into one of the elephant’s legs and, putting out his arms to try and encompass it, was certain that he had found the bole of a tall tree.

“Surely,” he thought, “There is no tree in all the world like this!”

The third blind man felt the elephant’s tail brush his face, and when he caught it in his hand, he was convinced that it was part of a gigantic vine.

“Surely,” he thought, “A man could live in the shade of this vine and want for nothing.”

Now folk who tell this tale, little one, usually stop at that point, and say it proves that in matters of faith and belief, all men perceive a little bit of the truth, never all of it. But they are not wise, little one, for the tale does not stop there. It goes on…

The first blind man became devoted to his notion of a snake, and began to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O divine Serpent… O divine Serpent…”

The second blind man became devoted to his notion of a tree, and began also to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O ineffable Tree… O ineffable Tree…”

The third blind man became devoted to his notion of a vine, and began also to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O miraculous Vine… O miraculous Vine…”

Then they heard each other, and became angry.

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the first blind man. “This is neither a tree nor a vine, but the Holy Serpent!”

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the second blind man. “This is neither a snake nor a vine, but the Heavenly Tree!”

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the third blind man. “This is neither a snake nor a tree, but the… er… Divine… Vine!”

So they all began to sing and chant more loudly, in order to drown out each other’s voices; and soon there was cacophony.

“… ineffable Tree… divine Serpent… miraculous Vine…”

Then their anger blazed into fury, and they began to shout and scream at each other.




Now you are aware, little one, being the wisest of children yourself, that elephants are very patient animals. But even the patience of the most forbearing tusker wears very thin, when such a hullabaloo happens around his feet. For this elephant was perfectly certain in his own mind that he was neither snake, nor tree, nor vine, but an elephant. And indeed he was. Elephant through and through. Elephant right to the core of his being. He knew well enough that each of the blind men did not have some of the truth, part of the truth, or even a little bit of the truth. All three were totally, completely, utterly… wrong!

Eventually he could stand no more. He shook his trunk free of the first blind man’s hands, and trumpeted loudly in his ear.

“Ow!” said the first blind man, his head ringing. “No snake ever did that!”

Next the elephant lifted his leg, and trod on the toes of the second blind man.

“Ow!” yelled the second blind man. “No tree ever moved!”

Next the elephant – I’m afraid – evacuated on the third blind man, who was impudently tugging his tail.

“Ugh!” said the third blind man. “Those are neither grapes nor oranges!”

In that moment, when the elephant manifested himself to them, little one, all three were enlightened, and knew the true nature of what they had worshipped separately.

Little one, foolish though these blind men were, eventually they were enlightened. Not so, I fear, those story-tellers who stop short, and do not themselves wait for the elephant to manifest itself. You see, because our god or our gods are known to be greater than we are, it is often assumed that they are wider and more complicated than we can conceive.

But they might just be simpler, more straightforward.

Like an elephant, little one.

Now be patient. You might dream of an elephant.

Go to sleep.


© 2008 Marie Marshall.  Twitter @MairibheagM

© 2008 Marie Marshall.
Twitter @MairibheagM



Ratty had been emailing me faster than I could reply, not that I’m all that savvy with electronic communications. Actually I spend most of my time down my hole engrossed in World of Warcraft, deep in the wizard-world of Azeroth – I’m a Night Elf from Outland – currently operating at the fourth level of Cataclysm and on the run from Hakkar the Soulflayer… not relevant, not relevant… but on the other hand not much need for emails either.

Ratty’s emails, they went along these lines… hang on, let me open one up and cut-and-paste it for you, here we go…

“Hey Mole, I’m due to fly out to Cyprus today and go on board the Wildwood Warrior. We’re going to sail for the Gaza strip in a couple of days time with a cargo of humanitarian aid to see if we can get past the blockade. There is still nothing, Moley, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats! LOL. Follow me on twitter @riverbankratty.”

That was last week. I can’t look at his tweets, I fear for the dear fellow. The world out there is a big place and a dangerous place. ‘Messing about in boats’ is one thing, messing about in big boats in a sea full of bigger boats bristling with guns is another thing altogether. Oh well, at least he can swim, and he always was an adrenalin-junkie, Pan knows! Like I said, I get my adrenalin rush from virtual wargaming.

Talking of which I bumped into Badger the other day coming out of the Red Lion. Bumped literally. He had his head down and his nose in his Mac Book Air, which was open. As we collided he let it slip and it would have shattered into a thousand very expensive pieces on the cobbles of the pub courtyard if I hadn’t fielded it like Alastair Cook taking a slip catch. Of course I couldn’t help noticing what was on his screen – World of Warcraft! It was an irritated ol’ Badger who snatched the lappie out of my hands.

“Hey Badgie,” I said. “Didn’t realise you were into ‘the Craft’.”

“You make it sound like the confounded Freemasons,” he said with a frown. “Yes I do the odd bit of gaming.”

“Well maybe we have crossed swords at some stage,” I said. “I’m Dalforstin the Night-Elf. Who are you?”

He mumbled something I didn’t catch.

“What was that?”

“I said I’m Kolkhatana, Warrior Princess of the Dwarves. Satisfied?” he snapped, and stalked off in moderately high dudgeon. I was silent – gobsmacked actually – as his hunched figure hurried away. He was cutting quickly round the hedge at the end of the lane when a sudden thought struck me.

“Kolkhatana? Hey, didn’t we…” I called. But he had gone. And it didn’t bear thinking about.

I decided it was time to drop in on Toad Hall. Things had been quiet there for some time. I did know that the upkeep was rather steepish these days and that Toad, bless his silly heart, had been threatening to give it to the National Trust and move into the gamekeeper’s cottage. Presumably that would mean  that the gamekeeper would have to move out – Toad wouldn’t have thought of that, of course. Anyhow, I ambled along what had once been a leafy lane… well it was still a leafy lane for most of its length but the here at the village end of it there was a tightly-packed knot of new houses – Toadfields. His Toadfulness had sold a patch of the old estate off to a developer in order to settle a tax bill. So anyhow, like I said, there I was ambling along the lane which led eventually to Toad Hall, when I realised I wasn’t on my own. Stoats and Weasels, rucks of ‘em, were popping out of the trees and hurrying excitedly down the lane. I could see the increasing crowd three hundred yards away funnelling through the lodge-gates and on to Toad’s gravelled driveway*.

Momentarily I paused. I wondered whether it was another invasion such as the one we four – me, Ratty, Badgie, and Toady – had fought off back in the day. But these stoats and weasels seemed in good spirits, not belligerent, as though setting off to have a good time. They were all relatively young ‘uns too.

I accosted a ferret in a cap and shades (incongruous those, because the sun was about to set) and asked him what was afoot.

“Hey bruv,” he said. “It’s ‘im, innit. It’s da beats, bruv, da beats. It’s totally sick, sick as aids, bruv!”

I resisted the temptation to say “No hablo Chav” and let him go on his way. Still I stood and wondered what in Pan’s name my ol’ pal Bufo Bufo was up to this time. We’d been through the camp site, the theme park, the WW2 vehicle museum, the health spa… none of those had attracted a surge of young mustelidae like this and, crucially, none of them had made any money either. I straggled behind the crowd as evening fell.

Toad hall was in darkness, but by the light of the hundreds of glo-sticks the stoats and weasels were carrying, and the luminescent screens of hundreds more iPhones, I could make out some sort of bulky structure in front of it – a stage? A dais?

Suddenly a siren sounded and a great cheer went up from the crowd. Then the cheering itself was drowned by a deafening swell of electronic music at (I guess) one-hundred-and-thirty beats per second – the unmistakeable sound of Euro-Trance. Then fireworks exploded, lasers and strobe lights flashed, the stage was lit up by spotlights and there… there… there behind what could only be a set of decks bristling with controls, screens, sequencer keyboards, all the gubbins of Electro… there in a brilliant white T-shirt, cycling shades, and headphones was Toad! Toad grinning from ear to ear. Toad punching the air in time to the music, while the stoats and weasels danced and bounced and punched the air in response.

“TOADMEISTER! TOADMEISTER!” they yelled in unison.

You could have knocked me down with a wet piece of hedge-sorrel. But as I became swept up in the euphoria, began to bounce, began to dance, began to punch the air, I realised that at last, at last, Toad had got what he had always wanted.



* I would be grateful to know, by the way, why Americans park on a driveway and drive on a parkway.

Time for Tea

George and North

I don’t usually write doggerel, but this morning someone (who makes her tea by putting a teabag into a cup of cold water and heating it in the microwave) challenged me to write a poem in five minutes, instructing Americans how to make a decent cup of tea. The verses below took a little longer than five minutes and are fairly creaky, but they’ll do, with a downhill slope, a following wind, and a shove.

“The contrabanders took our stock
Of tea, and dumped it in the dock
At Boston!” spluttered Royal George,
As anger raised his Royal Gorge.

Lord North replied, “It gets much worse
– enough to make a bishop curse.
They never ever warm the pot
With water that is boiling hot,

 Stand for three minutes, pour it out
Quite slowly, to heat up the spout;
Two spoons of English Breakfast ‘tay’
And one heaped likewise of Earl Grey

 Into the pot, then pour more water
Hot as Herodias’s daughter,
Leave it to stand, put out a jug
Of milk, also a china mug

(Likewise pre-heated, as the pot,
With water that is boiling hot;
There is a slight controversy –
Add tea to milk, or milk to tea?

  It really is a case of taste –
Just never let heat go to waste!)
And don’t forget the bowl and tongs
For sugar. This array belongs

 To Britain! It’s the only way
To make a British cup of ‘tay’
The Yankees’ tea’s a bloody joke –
Colonials? Let them drink coke!

King George burst out, “How do they make it?
Look… tell me, Freddie… I can take it!”
Lord North replied to him, “God Save
Your Majesty – the microwave!”

(I’ll get my coat…)

Time, the holographic universe, and Schrodinger’s Tiger

Schrodinger's Tiger

“I’m not a scientist and I’m not a mathematician,” a friend said to me. “I’m a philosopher. So when my daughter – she was of primary school age at the time – asked me what there was before time, I told her this: ‘Time is simply a measurement of the rate of change; for when there was no such thing as time, you have to imagine a state of things which is absolutely static, nothing moves, nothing changes, nothing can be understood to exist.’ That satisfied her for the time being – at least it made her silent on the subject.”

He went on. “Scientists are talking about the universe existing as information, and that that information is contained, stored, located at the event of a black hole. Thus the information is in two-dimensional form. However, the universe as it is perceived is three-dimensional. A three-dimensional object generated from two-dimensional information is holographic, therefore the possibility exists that the universe is a gigantic hologram. That being so, it could be a simulation. But of what, and initiated by whom? However, I see a flaw in that, and it’s a big one. If the event of a black hole is two-dimensional, then it has no depth whatsoever, it is simply where two different states – call them zones if you like – meet. If it has no depth, if it is simply where two discrete things meet, how can it be said to exist? If it does not exist, how can it hold information, how can it hold anything? If it holds something, it must exist. If it exists discretely, it can’t simply be where two zones abut. It has to have depth, no matter how small that depth is. If it has depth it is three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. Therefore the universe is not holographic.”

It seems to me that ever since the great Voltaire lampooned and overturned the optimistic principle of a priori in favour of the rational a posteriori, science has been trying to bump things back the way they were before. Well, maybe not precisely ever since, but at least since Einstein told us that the laws of the universe were the same at any point in space or time. That must mean that they existed, in all their complexity, an infinitesimal moment after the big bang, and that they have governed everything that has happened since. The scientists who propose that we are a holographic simulation – and who will probably be able to point out the flaw in my pointing out the flaw in their thinking – must also propose that the parameters of the simulation have governed, a priori, everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen.

As I sit here in my lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I am looking at the forward section, covered by a tarpaulin. Under the tarpaulin there is a tiger. The tiger may or may not be alive, or may be simultaneously alive, under the Copenhagen interpretation rather than the tarpaulin. Or it might simultaneously be under the tarpaulin and the Copenhagen interpretation…

If I, or the tiger, ever get out of this situation, then there’s a novel in this. Maybe even a blockbuster film. Knowing my luck someone will have already beaten me to it by the time I reach land.