Tuesday 17 February 2009

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© John Sawyer – December 2008

Another episode in 1001 Pots
- Conversations overheard in pubs

The dining room, Park Hotel, Abbotsford.

Rachael (bustling in and sitting at the table for two):

I’m sorry I’m a bit late Jack. I was held up looking through a telescope up the end of the street.

A telescope?

Yeah, a telescope. This bloke has set up a couple of telescopes on the footpath up near that other pub near the end of the street…

The Retreat.


The Retreat Hotel; where they used to shoot the bar scenes for “The Sullivans”.

Yeah, the Retreat. Anyway this bloke has set up these telescopes on the footpath and is inviting people to explore the stars. He’s made a chalk sign on the footpath – “Footpath Observatory – Free”.

It was pretty good; clear as day… err night. He showed me Venus and Jupiter right there together. Really very close. I could see them both without moving the telescope. It was just magic.

A conjunction.


A conjunction of the planets. It’s when planets appear to be close to each other. They’re not really close, probably a few hundred million miles apart.

Right! Anyway, I asked him why he’d set up out there in the street. Basically he doesn’t have much room in his yard and he gets a clearer view of the sky from the street. He also likes to meet people.

While I was there, this Indian bloke came past and had a look. He told us that when he was a kid, he used to play cricket on the beach with Arthur Clarke. You know, Arthur C. Clarke, the bloke that wrote “2001 – A Space Odyssey”?

Sri Lankan.


Sri Lankan. The Indian looking bloke was from Sri Lanka.

What? How do you…?

Clarke retired to Sri Lanka and lived there for thirty odd years before he died.

Geeze, Jack. You’re so bloody pedantic sometimes.

Well I’m just… You know… Sorry.

Do you want another drink, Jack?

Ta! A beer thanks. They’ve got Draught on tap here.

Jack (taking a long mouthful of beer):

Haaaa… Thanks Rachael.

You know Clarke was a pretty smart bloke. Before he started writing, he helped develop a radar system during the war. They didn’t really use it until after the war when they had to fly supplies into Berlin to beat the Russian blockade. It was at the start of the Cold War. They flew in everything; food, clothing, petrol and coal. That radar system meant they could fly planes a lot closer together.


I remember one of Clarke’s quotes: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ It really appeals to me. Even in your time, Rachael. Think about what you’d thought when you saw Maxwell Smart talking into his shoe phone. And now 10 year olds have mobile phones to talk to their bloody baby sitters. You can take a photo of a product barcode from your phone and Google will download information about the product right back to your phone.

Bullshit…, really? It’s all magic to me. I’ve got no idea how any of this stuff works. I get in the car and turn the key and drive. Who cares how the engine works? There might be a whole lot of elves turning handles for all I know. Ha! Sometimes I image there are. It doesn’t really matter.

But it does matter, Rachael. That’s the whole problem with the planet. The whole society runs on people’s beliefs and half-baked ideas. No one seems to care about science anymore. People really believe that the drug companies are holding back information about miracle herbal cures because they don’t have rights to the plants.

They had the so called monkey trial in the states, in the 30s. The fundamentalist rednecks wanted to stop the schools teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution because it’s in conflict with the bible’s 7 day creation statement. They lost, but it still goes on. Now they’ve built an “Intelligent Design” theme park that tries to prove Darwin’s theory is incorrect. They’ve even faked some fossil evidence for the show.

Last year the yanks did a survey and found that more people believe in a real life devil, UFOs and witches than actually believe in Darwin’s theory. Don’t you find that scary, Rachael? I do. No wonder they can be rushed into a war by some clown who just “knows” that there are weapons of mass destruction because he heard the voice of god telling him.

But what’s magic anyway? After all, evolution is just a theory. And a pretty weird one I’d say. Just take your hair, just one strand. Do you really expect me to believe that humans actually evolved all the cells into a structure that we call hair? If it’s so easy, why don’t you just sit there and grow a hair now? I defy you.

… Err, I choose not to.

You can’t can you? Go on Jack, show me.

Shit Rachael, of course I bloody can’t. But that’s not the point. We’ve all been developing for millions of years. Look at me. Ha Ha Ha. This magnificent body and brain are the product of a herculean development effort. I’m a walking bloody gene pool of refined humanity. Ha Ha Ha.

Pleeeease. Just look at you. And those bloody jeans of yours have seen better days. Ha! They were full of holes when you bought them at the Salvos last year. They’re even worse now.

The problem with you Rachael is that you don’t read enough. You plough through the WEB devouring articles about the current crazy lifestyle or health conspiracy. They’re about as plausible as the astrology section of “New Idea” and about as useful as stories about what the celebs are wearing in “Who Weekly”. All they have is an attractive simplicity that appears to explain the complex nature of our existence and environment. You should try Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” or “Blind Watchmaker”. Then you might understand.

Do you understand Jack? Explain it to me.

Well sort of, 80% maybe. But your arguments are just what Dawkins warned about in “The God Delusion” … anyway I can’t really remember them all just now. Just trust me.

You might be right Jack. You know I’m no lover of fundamental conservatives, but some things just seem a bit hard to explain. Don’t you think there’s some magic involved when people react so positively to a baby smiling or the feeling of wellbeing you get when you meditate.

All just pre-programming Rachel. The selection process has set us up so that we react positively to a gurgle and a Cupid’s bow mouth. All part of the survival process. The US Air Force teaches their fighter pilots to meditate. No mantras, no magic, all science. If you know how to do it, you can sit and breathe correctly and release the chemicals that give you a feeling of wellbeing and a detachment that enables you to react well when things are going badly around you.

I suppose you have some scientific explanation for people falling in love Jack. You probably have some putdown for the attraction you and I feel for each other.

I certainly don’t want to detract from how I feel for you or the err … joy I get from being with you, but the attraction is probably more to do with our sense of smell and that we are genetically opposites.

Orr… piss off Jack… You’re an annoying bloody nerd sometimes.

It’s true, some Swiss scientists experimented with used T-Shirts. Women inevitably chose the T-shirt that was worn by the bloke whose genes were very different to their own. It’s just more survival stuff. Selecting a male who has different genes and different immunity systems will give her offspring a better chance of survival.

Being “in-love” has a particularly useful survival outcome. Having two people googly eyed for each other means they’re not wasting time and energy pursuing alternative mates.

Orr yeah, right! Well what’s with you and that silly bitch from the library? “Here, have this seat Jane!” Your eyes almost jumped out of their sockets looking down her dress for a glimpse of boob. You’re certainly not a good example.

That’s not true Rachael and you know it. Anyway, they reckon that even divorce is a manifestation of the survival mechanism. Without society and church to force people to stay together, partnerships now tend to break up after 4 or 5 years. The critical danger period in for an infant’s survival.

Gee you’re a bloody fool Jack. Well what about singing then? Why do we feel so good when we sing together?

Just some chemicals released to make us feel good about being together. Another survival technique. Safety in numbers.


Well what about singing on Fridays? What about the way people with all sorts of weird demons feel good about themselves and laugh and sing together? What about how it makes you feel so happy and loved? Why did you tell me that if they stopped you volunteering, you’d actually pay to come along and sing? Go on Jack, why?

Hmmm. Yeah the idea of magic is very attractive, but I’m not convinced that it can’t all be explained scientifically.

Yeah good for you Jack! I choose to reject your scientific mumbo jumbo. It’s just as bad as any voodoo witch doctor’s incantations over his smoke and baubles. You and your scientist mates have got your mathematical formulas, your so called logic and your completely indecipherable scientific texts. Your ideas are just degrading to the human spirit and the community ideals you purport to hold highly.

Anyway, you’re not completely scientific with your views on everything, Jack. Take nuclear energy. Science and logic tell you that nuclear power is much safer than burning fossil fuels, but you choose to reject the evidence and cling to the political views you picked up in the protest movements. Good on you. I agree, but if your going to be science based, you ought to be consistent or admit that there are some things like instinct that are more important.

Yeah Rachael, but …

Maybe there is no magic, but there is definitely something different about humans. Something that makes people care about others, something that makes humans show kindness to each other. Even something that makes people like you think about things. I’m pretty sure that we’re the only species that has these traits and I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of “magic” involved.

Yeah and there must be something magic about the fact that I still love you, even with your nerdy ideas. You hopeless bloody dope.


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