These are very short fictions. Two of them are in the minisaga form, which is to the short story what a haiku is to a ballad. A minisaga must have exactly fifty words, no more no less, not counting punctuation and counting hyphenated words as either one or two as required. Try: it's hard. Others are fables, and at the end there is a dialogue.
memotech.com (minisaga )
"So I can go work for the competition?"
"One condition. We reclaim any proprietary information."
"No problem, no notes."
"It's what's in your head. But these are days of safe neuro-psychic intervention. You'll experience no distress, no sense of loss."
"Got away with that! Didn't lose a single memory."
Walking to her place, in the drizzle. Damp hair, drips on their cheeks.
"Quick", he said, "or we'll be soaked".
"No hurry" she held him: kisses, rain, exploration, rain.
"Now it's time", opening the door "to take off wet clothes" before a roaring fire whose flicker filled the dark room.
The Garden (fable: transforming the Eden story into a thought about risk-taking.)
Once there was a garden. Inside it all was tidy and safe. The trees were arranged in pleasing patterns, and the animals ate only the fruit of the trees, never one another, and only when the fruit was ripe. Into this order the Gardener brought one element of disorder, two snakes. At first the effects were minimal. Unlike the other animals the snakes had no fixed taste in fruit but rather a constant curiosity, and went from one tree to another, nibbling and comparing, learning to imagine yet further tastes that fruit might or might not have. One day the more curious of the snakes was nibbling and imagining and could not tell whether the taste that came to her was real and wafting through the air or imaginary and filtering through her brain. She followed it anyway, left and right almost at random, as whim or tracking, she couldn't tell which, led her. She came to a fence, with oak posts and gold wires with little sharp knots at a spacing of one half snake-width. Through the fence hung a fruit, not very special-looking and indeed not very special- seeming, but somehow what she had led herself too. She took a bite and disturbed the branch so that the fruit swung up towards its tree beyond the oak and gold fence.
She snaked back to her mate. She told him of the fruit and how it seemed to correspond to the taste she had begun to imagine, perhaps. She led him to the fence, and beyond there were groves of not very special-looking trees, with not very special-seeming fruit. 'We've got to taste these' she said 'or at any rate, I must'. So they went to the Gardener and explained their desire.
He didn't say yes and he didn't say no. He said something much bigger; he fashioned the first if. There's a snake-sized hole in the fence, and I could show you where it is. But once you're through it you won't find it again to come back. And it is quite different beyond the fence. There animals eat other animals, and die. There some fruit tastes bad in a way that you cannot now imagine. But there are trees there that don't grow here, and some of them have fruit that is very fine.
The two snakes climbed a tree to decide. They twisted round one another and made a he- and-she knot and dropped to the ground, spinning. Heads is go and tails is stay. They landed on their heads, and once they regained consciousness the Gardener picked them up and took them to the hole. Still numb and unsure of what was happening they made the irreversible transition. And indeed it was very different beyond. Sometimes they were glad they had done it, and sometimes they longed to be back on the safe side of the fence.
The Focus (I think this fable is too mysterious for most people's taste.)
From one end of the cathedral the emperor walks towards his throne. From another his prospective bride. Centuries of conflict will soon be resolved, and twenty years of the emperor's careful plotting. And that of his ministers, who watch from a balcony, proud of their work, weary at its labor. Emperor and ministers are themselves watched. Waiting for from beyond space and time for the special moment, Destiny observes the result of centuries of tuned randomness and injected infinitesimals. Beneath the balcony a six year old girld, wheezing from the tuberculosis that will kill her in another two months, reaches into her smock and produces a crust of bread. She throws it in the air and an old dog follows it with his eyes, reminded for some reason of rabbits that he once chased. 'Ah' says Destiny to themselves 'right on target'.
Mrs J (fable – written for an epistemology and metaphysics class which had been discussing laws of nature, determinism, and the like. Someone in the class had quoted Einstein's "he doesn't play dice." And someone else had quipped "less plausible if your god isn't masculine." So this is an exercise in feminist metaphysics.)
Putting her cigar down on a plate Mrs J turned away from the table and opened the oven door. There were thirteen pies inside and she should decide when to take them out. They looked neither undercooked nor burned. A delicate business, as she explained to the other members of the valhalla poker circle. Cook it too little and it comes out bland, boring from the inside as well as uninteresting to consider. Cook it too much and it suffers, all the pockets of inspiration and joy turning to cinders. So she made each one different. A thicker crust protected the fillings of some, more cinnamon livened the apples in others, some even had a touch of lemon juice. You never knew what music, math, or romance would emerge; you never knew what misery, disappointment, or boredom either. She reached for a pie, just lightly browned and with a whisp of steam emerging from a crack in the crust, then paused and closed the door again.
"We'll see who wins this hand", she announced. "If I do I'll take that one. If Juno does I'll take the one to its left; if Freya does I'll take the one to its right, and if subtle Shiva has aces up her many sleeves I'll reach right back and take a brown and smoky one from the overheated rear of the oven." She dealt, and they began the new hand.
They had hardly gone round once when the door opened and Mr J came in. He waved his hand in front of his face, as if to clear a breathing hole in the clouds of supernatural smoke. Mrs J knew, though. He was hiding his disapproval. Games, chance, randomness: not the old guy's style. At least he approved of baking.
The smell of ripe crust finally penetrated the cigar smoke. The round warm odor of effort and accomplishment, sulphurous hints of malice and a little tang of unsatified need. Mr J strode towards the oven. "When did it go in?" he growled "smells done to me." He pulled the door open and paused, amazed to see the baker's dozen instead of one.
Mrs J was prepared. "Juno, Freya, and Shiva want one each, and some for their menfolk." A warning glance at the girls, an eyebrow arched. "And I do know which one is it." Another look at the table: "distract him". They began to call and raise.
It wasn't going to be that easy. "They all look different, even ones right beside one another. Can't you follow the recipe?"
Mrs J turned calmly round in her chair, her face settled now. "Of course they're different, J. We wouldn't want any mistake about which is the uneaten one. It's the one in the middle with the crack and the steam. All the others are the different ones. And look at the timer; it has three minutes to go, so close the door and get back to your billiards. Dear."
Mr J sighed and turned, never equal to Mrs J alone. And this time there were four of them. He stomped off back to his predictable sport of angles and impacts.
As soon as he was gone Mrs J rose. The game was ruined anyway. They cleared away the cards, the ashtrays, and the bottles. The oven door was opened and thirteen dappled pies graced the table, each one different and each as unpredictable as the next. When they had cooled one would be chosen for exhibit. No telling which.
How many gods?: a fragment of a dialogue This dialogue began as an appendix to a chapter of my book The Importance of Being Understood. It is meant to elicit sympathy for the idea that sometimes what it means to say "believes that p" depends on what p is. If this is true, then one way in which people coordinate what they mean by "believes" is by coordinating what they believe. The point is not theological, though it is with religious beliefs that the idea is most plausible. But the series editor, José Bermudez, didn't want light touches in his series. (There, José, suppress a smile and earn a tease.)
Polly and Mona are half way through a long discussion and several bottles of wine, which began when Polly claimed to be a scientific polytheist.
Mona: It's a strange experience arguing with you, and rather disorienting. I usually get trouble from philosophers because I think there is a god, and they think that is one too many. You think that is far too few.
Polly: Still, I have less trouble believing in many gods and also in the world of science and hard evidence, than you have believing in your one glommed-together theological monstrosity. I believe that people sometimes know things of whose sources they are completely ignorant, for example about what people to trust and what actions may be disastrous. It is as if this information comes to them from some power outside themselves. That power is Apollo; that's its traditional name. I believe that people are tied to other people by passion and devotion, so I believe that love is a real force in our lives. Sometimes I give that force a name and express my gratitude to it. I believe that it is good for people to express their gratitude for surviving voyages, years, marriages, unscathed, and so I think that it is good that they address their thanks to the gods. I think that now that we understand chance, randomness, and chaos somewhat differently we should rethink our attitudes to gratitude and hope.
Mona: I'm not sure how scientific all of that is, but that's not the issue now. The issue for me is how you move from banalities about everyday life to assertions that there are persons, powers whose existence you can use to explain things.
Polly: Explanation doesn't really come into it. More a matter of description and expression. I think the problem is that being a monotheist you've made religious belief into something heroic, and have trouble seeing how easy and ordinary it could be.
Mona: That is simply evasive; please answer the question. Give me half a reason to believe that there is a single force behind people having intuitions about the future, but a different single force behind the power of love, and a yet different force whenever people come through difficult times unharmed. I'd say each of these is a dozen things, and you have to step a lot further back, as I do, before you find a single factor, and then it - He - lies behind all of them.
Polly: Well, certainly you can carve things up different ways. Most people thank different gods for different kinds of good luck (when they thank any, that is.) And at some times one appeals to a quite different whole set of gods than at others, of course.
Mona: Your position is becoming more and more incredible. There has to be a reason for seeing one cause or another behind some set of events. You can't just believe things on whim.
Polly: Often there is no cause at all. If one child dies of meningitis and soon after the other is run down by a motorcyclist and then your partner leaves you the same day you loose your job it may be just coincidence, like a coin coming down heads eight times in a row. (You probably think there is one ultimate cause, the will of God.) You should still personalize your fate and talk to it, though.
Mona: But personalizing your fate is something you do, not something you believe. It can't be true or false: beliefs not only can be true or false, they have to be.
Polly: Let me try another tack. Suppose you take two sets of objects, like these three bottles and these four glasses. Now first I'm going to re-arrange the bottles (easiest if I empty the fullish one into the glasses), as follows. (Polly takes bottles ABC, and moves them around into the pattern CBA.) Suppose I want to do the same to the glasses. "The same" could mean many two things. The two that occur to me are first this, which will be easiest if we each empty a glass. (She takes the four glasses 1234 and reverses their order to get 4321.) Or then this. (She takes the rightmost and moves it to the left end, and then exchanges the two rightmost, to get 4132.) Sorry I spilled such a lot. Which operation on the glasses is "really the same" as what I did to the bottles? Neither or both. Both possibilities are there, both perfectly real: I could give you an algebraic formulation of each and apply them to absolutely anything. So there's no danger of their not existing, or of our having to look at the evidence to decide which one exists, so that we can abuse rivals who like to see the other. It's just the same with gods.
Mona: My God, at any rate, is not a bloodless possibility. He actually makes things happen (well, in a manner of speaking, but that's another discussion.) And there is a fact about what his actual true nature is.
Polly: And that is why there is considerable doubt whether he exists, and why those who think he does tend to do evil things to one another when they disagree about that actual true nature. One is different from many in more than just number. With one there has to be one fact, which is one way and not the other.
Mona: Many is beginning to sound a lot like none, to me. Let me try another tack myself. Do you accept that if you give thanks to a god then there is a god you give thanks to? And that if someone else gives thanks to a god there is a god that other person gives thanks to, so either they are giving thanks to the same god or to different ones?
Polly: Well, if two people belong to the same community and understand each other when they use the same names for their gods then of course they are dealing with the same gods. As Cicero said, "Religio, id est cultus deorum". If they do not, then there is not really an answer to the question. Are Freya, Aphrodite, and Venus the same goddess? Are gravitons the same as suitable distortions of space-time? Is the number two the unit set of the unit set of the null set? There is something very wrong about asking about identity and difference here. Wanting there to be only one right answer to such questions is a kind of disease, a trap. Very hard to think your way out of once it has grabbed you. If you believe in many gods then you can see how the same facts might just be described in terms of just one god, but if you believe in just one you think it is somewhere between a sad mistake and an awful crime to make god plural. Monotheism breeds intolerance.
Mona: I see what's wrong with you. You don't actually believe in these gods of yours. You just think it makes a kind of sense to talk about them and act as if they played a role in your life. That's not belief, it's make-believe. In fact, you're not really saying that there are all these gods. You're saying the words but it's a kind of a game, not really sincere.
Polly: Strange. I've been coming to a similar conclusion about you. You think someone doesn't believe something unless they can give a reason for rejecting all rival beliefs. If that were so most sensible people would have very very few beliefs. But people believe many things, so belief has to be a more flexible business. We can both accept that a belief makes a claim to be the true answer to a question: but it has to be an answer relative to a certain way of asking the question, with a certain background. You can't ask for more than that.
Mona: So from my point of view when you assert something it's a move in a game, and from your point of view when I assert something it's something impossibly serious.
Polly: Yes, I don't think I can take the universe, or myself, quite that seriously.
(The discussion goes on, and on.)