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Other Creatures: A Few of Many Philosophical Beasts
Paul Matthews opens his philosophical bestiary.
You may not be able to see Other Creatures, because they’re never the ones you’re looking at. But just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.
The Curiosity Cat
The curiosity cat was always asking questions – questions like: Why don’t animals have their tails at the front? How long does a moment last? Where do thoughts come from? What’s the biggest number? Why can’t things float on land? Why are there no hairy snakes? What was there before everything began? Where does your lap go when you stand up?
The other cats, who were stupid, spiteful creatures, didn’t like the curiosity cat’s never-ending questions, so one day they attacked it and tore it to pieces. That’s how curiosity killed the cat.
The dreamers are born asleep, and spend their entire lives asleep, dreaming. They dream they are born, make friends, grow up, get married and become old. They dream they live in a world that has a history, countries and oceans, and is in a universe with stars and galaxies. But in reality they’re asleep, and all these things are just passing dreams.
The dreamers even dream that they go to bed at night, fall asleep, and have dreams. Once the dreamers dreamed a very strange dream indeed. They dreamed they were born asleep and had spent their entire life asleep, dreaming.
General Dog isn’t the commander of a dog army, and he doesn’t bark out orders to other dogs. He’s just a dog that is no dog in particular, but all dogs in general. He’s not an alsatian or a beagle or a boxer or a bulldog, a chihuahua or a collie or a corgi, a dalmatian or a doberman or a dachshund, a greyhound or a labrador or a pekinese, a setter or a spaniel or a terrier, or even a mongrel – he’s a sort of averaging-out of Doginess. Unlike particular dogs, General Dog doesn’t fight particular cats; but he does fight General Cat. All the time.
Ghosts can walk through locked doors, walk through walls, and even walk through you. In fact they pass through everything, whether they want to or not. If they try to sit down they go through the chair – and if they try to stand up they sink through the floor. Worst of all, they cannot touch anything – not even each other.
We can’t see ghosts because they’re invisible, and being invisible, they can’t see each other either, of course. Unable to see or touch each other, ghosts are very lonely. No wonder ghosts howl at night.
The Giant Pigmy Sheep
The giant pigmy sheep is a truly remarkable animal. It is the only one of its kind. It looks just like any other sheep, but is in fact very different.
Normally a pigmy sheep would be tiny, no bigger than a mouse; but this pigmy sheep is even more remarkable, because it is a giant pigmy sheep. This makes it exactly the same size as an ordinary sheep (which is massive for a pigmy sheep). None of the other sheep realise how special the giant pigmy sheep is. But then, sheep are remarkably stupid creatures.
The insect has compound eyes made up of countless thousands of eyes, which are in turn made up of countless thousands of eyes, which are in turn made up of countless thousands of eyes – and so on ad infinitum. Even if you lived forever you could never count all its eyes.
Because of these remarkable compound eyes, the insect has remarkable vision. Indeed, it can see all sides of an object at once. For example, it would see a dog from the top, from the bottom, from the front, from the back, from the left, from the right, from close up, and from far away – all at once. You might think this would be a good thing, but in fact seeing all sides of a thing at the same time can be very confusing, and results in the insect seeing little more than a confusing blur. No wonder insects are always walking round in circles and flying into windows.
Mayflies live only for one day, which is a terribly short life. Fortunately mayflies are born with a complete set of memories, so that they think they’ve been alive for years and years already. Unfortunately, this means they spend their one day of life looking back on the good old days – which never existed in the first place.
Neanderthals were people just like you and I, living in a world just like our own: a world where things fell downwards, Tuesday came after Monday, sugar was sweet, and all the other laws of nature were loyally obeyed, just as they had been for millions of years. But just because things have behaved one way for millions of years, this doesn’t mean they’ll behave that way now. And sure enough, one day, the Neanderthals’ world stopped obeying the laws of nature. Things fell upwards, Tuesday came before Monday, and sugar was sour; the sun shone at night, cats barked, and fire was the coldest thing there was. Worst of all, instead of growing older, the Neanderthals started to grow younger, until they were all helpless babies. That’s how the Neanderthals became extinct.
The perceptosaurus is an animal that only exists when someone sees it. This has the result that it somewhat inconveniently keeps popping in and out of existence.
If you engaged a perceptosaurus in conversation, it would be astounded to learn that you existed all the time – even when no one was looking at you! It may not believe that such a thing is possible. (And indeed, no matter how hard you try, you can never see a perceptosaurus without looking at one.)
But although the perceptosaurus isn’t very good at existing, it is very perceptive. It always knows when it isn’t there.
The Perfect Pilchard
You may not think of pilchards as being perfect – and indeed, ordinary pilchards are far from perfect – but the perfect pilchard is different. It is never wrong, never bad, and never unhappy. It never lets down friends, never gets toothache, and never smells fishy. It never gets caught by fishermen, never gets sick, and never grows old. Perfect pilchards can sing, dance, play guitar, read music, program computers, speak Spanish, water ski, fly helicopters and design cathedrals.
Perfect pilchards can do thousands of things that ordinary pilchards can’t do. But there is one thing an ordinary pilchard does that the perfect pilchard doesn’t. It exists.
Even ordinary pilchards are perfect on toast.
The Six-Legged Cheetah
An ordinary cheetah is the fastest animal on four legs; but the six-legged cheetah is much, much faster. In fact, it runs faster than sound – with the result that if you hear one running towards you, you know it’s already been and gone. It can even run faster than light (although some scientists say this is impossible) – so that if you even saw one running towards you, it would have long since gone past. In any case, because light travels much faster than sound, you can never see a six-legged cheetah when you hear one, and you can never hear a six-legged cheetah when you see one. Thus if you could hear and see one at the same time, it wouldn’t really be there. And even if it was there, you could easily miss it.
The six-legged cheetah is so fast that it can be born, live a long and happy life and die of old age in less time than it takes you or I to blink.
The Three Minute Goldfish
The three-minute goldfish has a memory of just three minutes – less time than it takes to boil an egg. Anything which happened before three minutes ago is already forgotten. Even if you’ve known a three-minute goldfish all of your life, every three minutes it would ask you who you were. Every three minutes, the three minute-goldfish begins its life again.
Unlike other goldfish, the three-minute goldfish doesn’t get bored swimming around a tiny bowl day after day. It doesn’t have time. It doesn’t even have time to remember that it has such a short memory. You might think the three-minute goldfish is a rather sad and pathetic creature, but in one lifetime it lives a thousand and one lives.
The Time Eater
Have you ever wondered where time goes? It must go somewhere, otherwise yesterday would still be here today, which would make today very confusing. The creature responsible for making time disappear is the time eater. The time eater eats time, and it never stops eating. It has already eaten the past; it is eating the present now; and soon it will eat the future. But if it eats tomorrow, where will we all go?
A unicorn is a glorious white horse with a single horn on its head. Some people say that unicorns don’t exist. But how can something that doesn’t exist have a horn on its head?
Badgers, however, don’t really exist – they’re just pretending.
© Paul Matthews 2010
Paul Matthews is a freelance writer and Lean Change Agent. He is married, lives in north London, and studied philosophy at Lancaster.