Richard Dorkins Has a Fall
(And Daniel Denieitt comes to Call)
-A short story,
by Ben Iscatus.
This story is dedicated to Michael Prescott and all contributors to his blog.
Cast of characters:
(Sarah Dorkins –his wife)
Douglas Addams (deceased author of “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe”)
Daniel Denieitt (American Philosopher)
Jesus (cameo appearance only)
Richard Dorkins’ Oversoul
(Other characters mentioned:
Susan Blagmore- psychologist,
Antony Flaw- American philosopher
Steven Plummer, Chris Kitchens)
Names may have been changed to protect the guilty.
A few years after retiring from his post as Professor for the Promotion of the Materialist Paradigm at Oxford University, Richard Dorkins had a Near Death Experience.
He was printing off a page for his autobiography My Genes and Me when the sheets of his half-finished manuscript toppled over; in an unstoppable slow motion, they tumbled down, flop, flop, flop, and started to arrange themselves in an annoying Fibonacci spiral around the leg of his desk. Furiously trying to prevent the inevitable, Richard tripped over a large double-helix model of DNA, presented to him when he retired from his chair at Oxford. He fell heavily, cracking his head hard on the floor.
Richard somehow found himself looking down on his crumpled body from the ceiling. Thinking that this must be a misperception caused by the blow to his head, he was about to dive back in to reanimate it, when a figure suddenly appeared beside him.
Richard recoiled in fear. “Help! Who in God’s name are you?”
“Easy does it,” Douglas said. “You’ve had a bit of a fall.” Douglas Addams smiled his old, irreverent smile. “Been trying to get in touch with you for ages, old bean. This is the first chance you’ve given me.”
“Douglas?” Richard said. “But you look twenty years younger.” He marvelled at the tricks played on him by his befuddled brain. (Was his brain befuddled? His mind seemed clearer than it had for years!)
“I’m afraid you’ve been getting a bit off-track, old chap. You even led me astray, if you recall.”
Richard vividly recalled that two of his early books had converted his friend to atheism – one of his lesser triumphs. He gazed benignly at the apparition, wondering how much longer it would linger. “Imagine that,” he mused.
“I’m not a figment of your imagination, Richard. Look.” He pointed at Richard’s inert form. “You’re outside your body.”
“Oh really?” Richard muttered, as if to himself. “Next you’ll be telling me there’s a god in heaven.”
“Hmm,” said Douglas. “I knew this wouldn’t be easy.” He seemed to be in two minds. Then he said: “You want to see a god in heaven? Hitch a ride with me.”
The two of them whisked off skywards. At incredible speeds, without any need for a Vogon ship, they circled the Earth; then, at even more incredible speeds, circled the galaxy. As they did so, Richard became aware of biological life forms inhabiting other planetary systems, and was irresistibly drawn to a world populated by primitive, reptilian-like aliens, many of whom worshipped the image of a humanoid figure bearing a remarkable resemblance to Richard’s earthly form. Richard stared goggle-eyed at his own idol. It stared back at him under the strange yellow sun. He admired its resolute posture, standing there with legs astride, folded arms and downturned mouth. The only unfortunate fly in the ointment was: it sported the tail of a lizard.
Douglas said, “I knew you’d love it. With due allowance for phonic differences in their alphabet, they do actually worship him as ‘Dorkins’.
“Did you do this?”
“I have to confess – I had a hand in it. I just couldn’t resist.”
“My God!” Richard spluttered.
“Right!” said Douglas. “So it is.”
There was a loud buzzing noise, and Richard found himself instantaneously transported back to the vicinity of planet Earth. He was staring down a dark tunnel towards a very bright light. The tunnel seemed to be populated by drunks he’d seen in Oxford, people who had stolen his bicycle or let his tyres down when he’d been an undergraduate. There was also the choirmaster who’d fiddled with him when he was an innocent young choirboy. Somehow, he clearly recognised them all.
Douglas was there to guide him. “Just go through. If you focus on the light, the lowlife can’t hurt you.”
“Why should I trust you?” Richard said.
“I know, I know,” said Douglas. “You’re wondering how someone who makes Dorkins World can be a spirit guide.” He waved his arms. “But I did all that beforehand.”
“Before your granny left. She was your last guide. I took over.”
“What did you do to her?”
“Nothing! She moved on. She said you never listened to a word she said.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Douglas showed a flash of anger. “Look, Dorkins World was a skinful of bad karma for me and now I’m trying to work it off. So get in that tunnel!” He gave Richard a mental shove.
Once inside, Richard was drawn down the tunnel. As the light grew closer it resolved into a brilliant glowing figure, emanating love and bliss. Richard recognised it as a representation of Jesus.
Despite appearances and his protesting feelings of rapture, Richard smelled a rat. “I don’t actually believe in you, old son. You’re just some sort of mythical projection from my subconscious mind, aren’t you?”
At that thought, Jesus dissolved, and was replaced by a shining golden energy field. This being emanated the same love and bliss as Jesus, but communicated telepathically with him. With an air of great amusement, it asked, “DO YOU WISH TO ARGUE WITH ME, TOO?”
Richard tried to shake off his feelings of ecstasy. “Reason is impossible when I am flooded with such joy.”
The joy let up; Richard’s normal phlegm returned.
The Golden Globe of Light projected a mirthful thought: “SO YOU STILL THINK THAT NATURE IS MINDLESS?”
Richard found himself floating close to a shallow ocean floor. He was observing one of his favourite sea-creatures as it changed colour to camouflage itself against the bedrock. In a trice, he was actually occupying the body of the squid. He was inside every one of its cells, trillions of them, as they communicated with each other by chemical message and electrical signal. He felt the holistic, synchronized pulse of gazillions of simultaneous processes and experienced the unity of purpose of the whole organism.
“CAN MORTAL REASON DO THAT? CAN MORTAL REASON CREATE THAT?” the Golden Globe asked, radiating an obvious merriment.
At first Richard’s heart was too full to reply. But then he recovered his aplomb, and countered: “No. But only human reason can ever hope to understand it.”
The Golden Globe projected a stream of what Richard could only interpret as hilarious laughter.
Then he felt as though he was being turned inside out. He seemed to move down through himself, level by level, past the biological and the chemical, to the physical and the subatomic. He saw clouds of virtual particles inhabiting a vast field. Here everything was possibility; there was no actuality. Then he rose back up, observing how the limitless cloud of possibilities was reduced to a fuzzy finite probability, at last coalescing into the tiny-but-definite certainty of a being called ‘Richard Dorkins’. As atoms became molecules, molecules became cells, and cells became an organism, Richard saw how everything was utterly dependent on what was below it.
It struck him with great force that there appeared to be no freedom; everything, including his mental processes, must be determined by something below the cloud of possibilities. Richard was taken back down and shown that something: a primal, transcendent Awareness, singularly present in Unmanifest Euphoria. He was being introduced to the primary substance of the universe, and he was astonished to find that it was a stuff of life.
He watched in awe as the stuff of Life used will and desire to manifest an almost infinite pink haze, then focus of attention to contract and brighten the haze into an electromagnetic field, and finally, ongoing intention and sustained commitment to precipitate it as an apparently solid coral reef. He was presented with a powerful image of humanity as a community of coral, each person waving his tentacles around and believing himself to be an independent polyp. As he witnessed that, one of the polyps stopped waving its tentacles about and became still. In its stillness, it understood that it was actually connected. It expanded in size and swallowed the whole reef.
Richard now appreciated why there was no arguing with the Golden Globe of light; why it outshone him in every way. It was his own Oversoul. He was just a small splinter who had separated off from it to incarnate on Earth.
With that realisation, his Life Review commenced. It moved with supernatural speed, in perfect detail. It was as though he was inside an accelerated film of his own life.
He experienced again his early life with his mother and father in Kenya, then his Anglican upbringing...
He was twelve years old. He had stolen down to his school chapel. All was quiet. He fell to his knees to make his bargain with God. “O Lord, let me have visions of you. I know you have an extraordinary role for me, I feel it deep within. Give me the power of prophecy, and I shall forever preach your Word.”
His words echoed around the empty pews. Later, it became evident to him that God was not going to offer him a private audience or the special patronage he deserved. He became angry. He saw with a shiver how his immature mind took that anger deep within; how it became a fuel, powering his conversion to neo-Darwinism, Humanism and Rationalism.
Later, when he was teaching in Berkeley, California, he saw himself protesting against the Vietnam War. He was surprised to have gained no spiritual benefit from this at all. He had only been following a trend; the dominant legacy was a feeling of smug self-satisfaction.
Then Richard relived his life as a best-selling author...
He saw a young man brought up in a Christian fundamentalist home, reading ‘Your Selfish Genes’ and ‘Your God Delusion’ under his bedcovers at night. These books gave the young man the strength to break away from his family’s outmoded beliefs. Richard felt the man’s exhilaration and sense of freedom.
Then he saw an elderly woman reading the same texts. Her faith in a meaningful universe was replaced by a sense of pitiless nihilism. He felt all her pain; he suffered her bewilderment and despair.
Everything appeared to him in a new perspective. He had always thought of himself as radical; now he saw how conservative he was. In a secular age, he was a professor fighting for Reason against Faith. In a religious age, he might just as easily have been an archbishop fighting for Good against Evil.
A thought struck him: suppose he had never lost his faith? What would his life have been like?
A huge branching map of his life-plan appeared before him, looking like a grid of roads. The main highway, Route One, was wide and dark; no conscious connection with spirit was needed to travel it. Side roads had different tints, to illustrate their spiritual significance. Some were silver, one was pure gold – a narrow path, branching from his teenage years. He visualised turning into it.
Instantly, he fast-forwarded through a whole new adult life, viewed from the outside. But he thought all the thoughts and felt all the feelings.
In this alternate reality, Richard’s doppelganger, Dickie, was more intuitive. He hypothesised that the phenotypes of many species, being so different from their nearest relatives in the fossil record, must have evolved very quickly in response to sudden environmental change. Random mutations would have been much too slow. He proposed a new theory, ‘coherent evolution’. Nature provided what he termed ‘Platonic templates’. In response to climatic triggers, a species could quickly move from one template to another in an adaptive cascade of mutations. The template would then be fine-tuned by Natural Selection to match local, real-life physical conditions. A new species was born.
He revised Charles Darwin’s legacy. He saw that Darwin’s greatness lay not simply in his theory of evolution, but also in his humility - the way he agonised over God’s role in creation. Dickie emphasised this humility instead of playing it down, enhancing people’s appreciation of the great naturalist. Dickie used his new insights to move people gently away from belief in a transcendent external god, towards the idea of an immanent God; or, as he now put it, a creative Intelligence, permeating and informing the whole of Life.
Experiencing what might have been, Richard judged himself wanting. For most of his life, he’d done nothing improbable; he’d stayed on Route One. But his Oversoul soothed him: his life had been valuable, in ways he didn’t realise. Even a man in conscious denial of his divine nature could sometimes stray on to a silver path:
A self-made multi-millionaire was listening to Richard talk on the radio. The man was impressed to hear Richard say that human beings are not bound by ‘the survival of the fittest’; that we can rise above our selfish genes. The following day, the businessman wrote out a million dollar cheque for an African charity.
At last, Richard’s Life Review ended. His Oversoul moved him to a place of repose. He was left, spiritually exhausted, in a dark and restful somnolence.
After an indeterminate period, he felt somewhat refreshed and a new vista appeared before him. It beckoned with astonishing allure, offering glimpses of a heaven world with people he had known, not all in his current life. He somehow remembered a long history of involvement with them, and he had an overwhelming sense of purpose and destiny. But just as he was about to enter in, he felt a sharp tug on his energetic form.
Douglas reappeared beside him. “You have a choice, Richard,” he said, with unusual gravity. You can go on into the Summerworld, or go back to your body. Your body can be revived. I would recommend you return to it.”
“Return for what?” Richard said, still smarting from the shame of his failures. “It’s old. It’s nearly worn out.”
“There are good reasons to go back, old stick,” Douglas said. “You’re a man of influence.”
“But I couldn’t change now. I’d be a laughing stock,” Richard confided.
“Nonsense. Three marriages - and each time you promised ‘till death do us part’. Now three changes of worldview. There’s a certain symmetry in that.”
“Whose side are you on?” Richard said.
“Yours of course – well, your Oversoul’s to be precise. Think about it. It will be awfully good for your karma. And you’ll get much more kudos up here afterwards.” His manner became confidential. “Not many people get this sort of chance, you know. You should feel honoured.”
Noting Richard’s discomfort at this thought, he put an astral arm around his shoulder. “You don’t have to go at it with the same fervour you had for your atheism. You could start by saying sorry to the Archbishop of Canterbury. That’s not going to be too hard, now, is it?”
A decision seemed to have been made, and Richard found himself violently flung back into his physical body. He opened his eyes to discover a large form leaning over him, pummelling his chest. He gulped a huge lungful of oxygen, pushed off the mask covering his mouth and gasped, “Help! Who in God’s name are you?”
“Easy does it,” the paramedic said. “You’ve had a bit of a fall.” He grinned and nodded reassuringly to Richard’s wife Sarah, who was standing distraught beside him. “Thank your wife –she’s your real saviour. She called us in the nick of time. You were completely gone, you know, I couldn’t find a pulse at all. We’d better get you off to hospital for a check-up.”
Sarah travelled with him in the ambulance, and he gazed at her lovingly, but despite a couple of abortive attempts, he couldn’t bring himself to talk to her about a meeting with Douglas Addams in the afterlife.
Three nights later, back at home, Richard couldn’t stop fidgeting. Physically, apart from a few bruises, he was fine. But mentally, he was in turmoil. He didn’t have perfect recall of his NDE, but he remembered enough for it to tear at his soul. What should he do? Should he come clean, make a public announcement, accept the furore this would create? Or should he try to forget the whole thing? At last, he decided; he’d call his closest friend, fellow intellectual Daniel Denieitt for advice. Dan, an American humanist philosopher, had for some years been a confidante and Richard looked up to him like an elder brother. Yes, he would consult Dan first, before he did anything else. He picked up the phone and dialled.
“Dan,” he said. “I need to talk.”
“That’s a coincidence,” said Dan. “When the phone rang, I thought it might be you.”
Richard took this for a sympathetic stance, and immediately launched into a breathless description of his brush with death and his NDE.
“Ah”, Dan said, rather flatly. “Interesting. Amazing thing, the human brain.”
“Dan, it’s not something I can easily dismiss. I’m inclined to take it as gospel…I mean, as real.”
Dan’s voice sounded somewhat strained. “Hang in there, Richard. This is bound to take a bit of work on your part. The obvious explanation is that you are still upset about Douglas’ death.” Without further ado, he launched into an explanation of how Richard’s unconscious brain, unnaturally and suddenly deprived of its normal diet of pure reason, had - for want of proper nourishment - tapped into his memories of Douglas Addams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe.
But Richard seemed unimpressed. “I really did seem to be outside my body. And my mind was actually clearer than normal. Much clearer.”
There was a short silence on the end of the line. Then: “You do seem to have a rather serious case, there.”
“Yes!” Richard said. “ I can’t get it out of my head. I think I’ll have to go and discuss it with Susan.”
“NO!” Dan said, a little louder than he intended. He knew Susan Blagmore pretty well. Years ago, he’d quite fancied her, though unaccountably she’d never returned his interest. She had once been a very useful ally in the fight against Faith, particularly because, as a psychologist who had undergone a drug-induced OBE, she had come to the conclusion, after years of agonizing and research, that ‘nothing left the body’. Recently, however, she had been subject to a degree of backsliding, and now, rather disappointingly, appeared to be agnostic on the whole issue. She also continued to practice that Zen stuff, which he had always seen as highly eccentric. Dan saw her as ‘not quite sound’. In his head, an equation had formed: Richard’s Unsound Experience + NotQuiteSound Psychologist = Definite Trouble.
“Richard, I’m the only one who really understands you. I want you to go to bed with some tranquillisers or a good bottle of claret. I’m going to get a plane over and I’ll see you tomorrow night. And Richard…”
“Don’t tell anyone else, not Sarah, and especially not Susan. Do you promise?”
“Yes, Dan. If you insist.”
To get away from Sarah’s prying eyes, the two met in a room at the back of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Daniel had suggested this, as he felt that stuffed animals, skeletons and shrunken heads offered a reassuring confirmation of the finality of death.
Daniel had devised a plan of campaign. First off, he would appeal to reason. “Richard, you say that you travelled round the galaxy in less than a minute. You do realise that faster than light travel is impossible, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” said Richard. “There’s no need to patronise me.”
“So what are we saying here? That Einstein was wrong?”
“No, of course not. Not in the physical sense.”
“So you think your consciousness left your body. You do realise that there is no means for consciousness to exist outside the body, don’t you? You know there are no brain cells in space?”
“You’re still patronising me, Dan. ”
“I’m appealing to your considerable powers of reason, Richard. I know they’re in there somewhere.” He tapped Richard’s head.
“I actually died, Dan. The paramedics told me my pulse stopped.”
“Well clearly, you didn’t die, Richard. You’re here now, talking to me. You’re not claiming to be a ghost, are you?” Dan prodded him several times, hard, bringing tears to Richard’s eyes.
“What are you trying to do?” Richard wailed.
“Richard, I think the blow to the head has temporarily caused you to take leave of your senses.”
“They tested me for concussion. There is none.”
“Was this testing done by the NHS or privately?”
“The NHS. Do you think I might be concussed? I do feel very odd.”
“Well I certainly hope so, Richard. Because there is another alarming possibility.”
“Is there? What’s that?”
“Is there any Alzheimer’s in your family?”
“No…not as far as... Dan, I’m not senile.”
“Well, the way I see it, if this doesn’t clear up, people are going to put that interpretation on it. They’re going to say you’re demented. And I may have to concur. I couldn’t accept that a man who thinks of exposing himself to public ridicule would be in his right mind.”
Dan went to make them a coffee, then returned to his seat. Richard was drumming his fingers on the table, obviously in a dilemma.
“But it’s the qualia, Dan. They were so…real.”
“I’ve told you not to use that word, Richard. There are no such entities as ‘qualia’. There are simply patterns of firing neurons. Listen. You mentioned drunks and bicycle thieves. And a paedophile choirmaster. Something unresolved from your id must have been brought to the surface by this blow to your head.”
Dan noted with dismay that his arguments were not having the desired effect - Richard still had the expression of someone away with the faeries. He moved on quickly to his next point. “You said this Jesus phantasm evaporated when you challenged it. Doesn’t that prove something to you? As a child you were heavily indoctrinated with religious memes. Those memes all surged up into a lucid dream when you lost consciousness. Then you banished them.” He hoped that this reference to Richard’s quirky invention of ‘cultural genes’ would do the trick and bring his friend’s old ego rushing back to the fore. But alas, after a brief pause, Richard started to shake his head again.
“I’m sorry, Dan. I was inside a squid…”
“Inside a squid? Listen to yourself!”
Dan forced himself to take a deep breath. He stopped pacing around, sat down and fixed Richard with a steely stare. “Richard, what are you trying to tell me?”
“It's just that I've had this overpowering insight into how Nature brings order out of chaos. She has coherence, pattern, coordination. She has inward organisation.”
“Inward organisation? Be very careful here, Richard. You’re on the verge of embracing some weird form of panpsychism. Or worse, Bergson’s élan vital.”
“What’s your specific objection to vitalism?” Richard said defensively.
For a moment, Dan looked dumbfounded. Then he said: “That it can never be scientifically verified. That it has zero utility. It’s a pointless hypothesis.”
“On the contrary. As a philosophy, it would have great survival value. It would lead to biomimicry as our foremost industrial strategy.”
Dan blinked in disbelief. “Survival value?”
Richard waxed lyrical. “I of all people can appreciate the sheer resourcefulness and efficiency of biological processes. How spiders produce silk stronger than steel from the bodies of dead insects. How from seawater and sunlight a diatom produces glass and an abelard produces the strongest ceramic known to man. Nature is much more skilful than us. If we are to survive, we need to appreciate Her distributed intelligence.”
“You seem to be redefining the meaning of intelligence," Dan snapped. “What you are talking about is information. Intelligence is different. It makes predictions. Intelligence solves problems.”
“Nature solves problems! You yourself have written how Natural Selection is based on algorithms – what works survives, what doesn’t is eliminated.”
“Well, yes, but…”
“And there are plenty of algorithms in Nature: Like Phi, the Golden Mean.” Richard was still recalling the way his manuscript had spiralled, Fibonacci-Style, around the leg of his desk.
“Well, yes, but it’s all blind, isn’t it? Mechanical! It’s Man that understands the algorithms; it’s Man that exhibits reason and Intelligence. It’s Man that does science.”
Richard sighed. “Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. Nature created the Laws. Our math simply models what’s already there.”
“Naturally! What’s already there is a given.”
“What’s given is that Nature evolved life, and was clever enough to evolve Man’s reasoning brain. Without any help from us.”
There was an uneasy silence, which Dan finally broke with a snort. “I haven’t heard you ramble on like this since you combined Susan’s ‘carrot cake’ with my single malt.”
Dan’s contempt propelled Richard into even more exotic territory. “Suppose I said to you that Nature evolved Man for a reason: to extract carbon in the form of coal and oil and gas, and return it to the biosphere.”
Dan’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “If you were to say anything quite that daft, I’d say Bishop Usher must have possessed you. Why would Nature conspire to wreck her own biosphere?”
“Nature is not short-termist like us. She works in geological time. She simply begins again, with all that sequestered carbon we’ve released.”
“Maybe not. It’s geo-logic combined with bio-logic.”
“Those are man-made sciences!”
“Is Man really as intelligent as we assume? With a vitalist philosophy, consciously adopting bio-logic, acting sensitively, dropping our wasteful, unnatural depletion of resources, yes, we might get to stay as dominant species. But the jury’s out. It’s up to us. Let’s face it, Dan. We’ve got to think sustainably. We’ve got to learn from Nature. If we carry on fouling our own nest, we show ourselves to be anything but intelligent; in fact, we prove ourselves to be profoundly un-intelligent.”
Dan resumed his pacing up and down. Like a Premier League football team a goal down in a cup tie against non-league opposition, it was time to raise his game. “If you ever started to spread this story around, it would reflect badly on us all. Very badly. Think what the Brights would say. What would Steven say? And Chris?”This had a noticeable effect. Richard winced as he thought of Steven Plummer and Chris Kitchens. How could they understand this? Chris in particular – a bit of a firebrand who took no prisoners in the war against Unreason.
“Chris in particular, “ Dan said, as if reading his thoughts. “He’d certainly disavow you. You know what he said about Antony Flaw.”
Invoking Flaw was another shock tactic. Mention of his name was strictly taboo in the Brights community. A former atheistic philosopher, Flaw had, in his dotage, been persuaded to Deism by the ‘Argument from Design’.
Dan looked pointedly at Richard. “I think I can remember Chris’ exact words,” he said slowly. “‘Infected, in his second childhood, by the medieval meme of teleological obscurantism’. ”
Richard flinched, but he was not yet won round. “I’ve known Chris a long time,” he said. “I hold out hope that he’ll listen to the truth.”
“Truth? What truth? There’s no truth here, Richard. Chris isn’t like me. He has no empathy at all. He’d say, ‘Richard, where’s your evidence? If you’ve got no evidence, it’s all a flight of fancy. Really.’ Brights alive, you’d have said that yourself last week! You wouldn’t want to lose his friendship, would you?”
“No! But friendship must mean something. Privately at least – surely- people should believe me,” he said weakly.
“Richard! Get a grip! Believe what? As a scientist, you know perfectly well that anecdotes are no better than fantasies. Without objective evidence or statistically significant data from peer-reviewed, double-blind trials backed up by a sensible hypothesis, nothing at all is real.”
Richard’s shoulders slumped, and he put his head in his hands. Dan’s eyes narrowed. Was he actually starting to penetrate Richard’s mental block?
“Well what shall I do, then?” Richard said.
Dan was ready. “Simple. Keep telling yourself it was an hallucination. Which of course it was. A traumatised brain flooded with endorphins. And, above all, don’t tell anyone else. It’ll be our little secret. The public out there are idiots. They’d mock you. And think what the Press would say. They’d hound you mercilessly for months. And Sarah would be dragged in. Would you want to see her humiliated?”
That last should have been a killer. And indeed, Richard’s lips were now stretched thin, his eyes distant. Dan could see he was on the edge of making a decision.
Suddenly, Dan grunted and clapped his hands to his chest. A pained expression appeared on his face.
Richard’s eyes widened. “Dan! Is it your heart?”
Dan had suffered a heart attack two years before, and Richard had feared then that he might lose his best friend.
Dan groaned. “I’ve got some nitrate tablets. Quick – in my jacket pocket.”
Richard hastened over to the peg where Dan’s jacket hung to remove a large brown bottle full of tablets. He passed them to Dan, who put two white pills under his tongue, grimaced, then seemed to relax a little. Richard fussed around him like an old hen.
“I should be OK now, Richard. I have to say, it’s reassuring to know that you wouldn’t want to lose me.”
“Good God, no, I mean…what would I do without you?”
“Well, you’re going to have to stop scaring me like this, Richard. I can’t do without you, either. We’re two of a kind. We have to stick together. Now, I’ve got a speaking engagement in New York in less than twelve hours. You can accompany me back to the station.”
As he was boarding the train, Dan grasped Richard’s arm. “I came a long way to help you, Richard, because I see you as my little brother. Don’t let me down, eh?”
“I do appreciate it, Dan.”
“This nonsense will all fade. Just give it time. After all, you and I - we’ve only got a few more years left to hold out." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Let’s keep the faith, eh?”
“Faith in Reason, I mean. It’s our god, isn’t it, Richard?”
“Yes, yes. It is. I suppose.”
“I can’t have you going all woo-woo on me, Richard. My heart couldn’t take it.”
“OK, Dan. I promise. I’ll say nothing.”
“Good man! Keep in touch -every week. We’ve got that popular science book to work on. I’ve forgotten the title, you know, the one about the genetic and cultural heritage we all leave behind us.”
“Why Death Is Not the End ”, said Richard without enthusiasm.
Dan raised a smile. “That’s the one! I’ll be sending you my ideas inside a month. I guess there will be good money in that for our grandchildren.” He winked and nudged Richard conspiratorially. “Those are the ones who will be carrying our genes, Richard. We can’t let them down. In the meantime, I suggest you leave off writing your autobiography for a while. Just till you get your equilibrium back.”
On the train heading back to the airport, Daniel wiped his brow with his handkerchief, mightily relieved that he had accomplished his mission. The effort had taken its toll, however; he felt a slight tightening in his chest. From his jacket pocket, he removed the large brown bottle, placed two red tablets under his tongue, sighed and closed his eyes. Ah, the wonders of modern medicine! What would Man do without Science? Then a thought struck him. He emptied the contents of the bottle into his hand and weeded out the remaining white tic-tacs given to him by a little boy on the plane. He hated peppermints. He dropped them to the floor and crushed them under his heel.
“Placebos begone!” he said to himself, with a chuckle.