‘It looks like you’re writing a letter,’ interjected Dr. Paperclip. ‘Can I help?’
‘Oh!’ responded the young Spandrel, startled. ‘I didn’t know anyone was here. How long have you been sitting on my desk?’
‘Don’t worry, I’m not really here. Now, about that letter…’
‘Er…’ Spandrel began, ‘…well, it’s nothing really. And it’s not a letter, more of a… tweet.’
‘Yes, yes, very good,’ replied the doctor, ‘how technology has come on.’ With this, the doctor rested one eyeball wistfully for a moment on one of his wire extremities, then began again, ‘I couldn’t help noticing that you were writing about… What are they calling them, now? Embodied cognitions?’
‘Um,’ replied Spandrel, ‘I’m not sure about that. I was just posting a link to this video of a robot dog. Have you seen it? Watch! There’s a guy comes along in a minute and kicks the thing and it doesn’t even fall down!’
‘Yes, yes, I’ve seen it,’ the doctor waved. ‘And I wasn’t in the least impressed. You see, you come to get a feel for this sort of thing after a while. Back when I was in graduate school there were all these old geezers around who liked to spend their days stuffing pigeons into boxes. “The pigeons can teach us how language works,” they said. Well, you don’t see too many of those guys around anymore.’
‘What a strange thing to do,’ Spandrel remarked.
‘Of course!’ declared the doctor. ‘I see you’re a fast learner! The point is, those guys died out. It’s evolution, my dear boy!’
‘Yes, I suppose that makes sense,’ replied Spandrel.
‘And now there are these new people,’ the doctor continued. ‘They call themselves the radically embodied cognitive science gang, if I’m not mistaken. I feel sorry for them, really.’
‘Ah!’ said the doctor, ‘Funny you should ask! You see, these new people like to make a big noise about these silly little things like your dog video here. “The dog doesn’t have a mind,” they say. And then do you know what they say next?’
‘They say that because the dog doesn’t have a mind, this means that you and I don’t have a mind either!’
‘What a strange the thing to say!’ Spandrel ejected.
‘Isn’t it!’ said the doctor. ‘Of course, they don’t admit to saying this, if you ask them. They’ll tell you some story about how we don’t need a “mind”—’ the doctor used both of his wire ends to gesture the scare quotes, ‘—we don’t need a mind because we “see the world directly”.’
‘What does that mean?’ Spandrel asked.
‘Well exactly, it’s absurd isn’t it!’ the doctor agreed. ‘But I can prove that they are dead wrong! And you know how?’
‘Physics!’ the doctor exclaimed. ‘You see, I’ve been hanging out at the physics department lately (I was pretending to hold some loose sheaves of paper together) and I’ve picked up the most amazing gossip.’
‘What’s that?’ gasped Spandrel.
‘Well… It turns out… The world you think you see… It’s a complete fiction. An illusion. There’s nothing there at all! The world is just one big quantum soup!’
‘I beg you pardon? Then how do I see it.’
‘Ah! Well here’s the clever bit. Your mind has been selected to see what it needs to see. Your mind, you see, is a particularly well-adapted quantum crouton. You never see the soup that you’re floating in because, as I told you, it’s not there. You only see the inside of your crouton, and that’s enough to keep you floating happily along.’
‘Wow, that’s mind-blowing,’ admitted Spandrel. ‘But I have one question. If I’m a crouton. And you’re a crouton. How do we know there’s any soup out there at all?’
‘We don’t!’ the doctor announced. ‘But you’d better hope I’m right. Because if I’m wrong, it would mean that everything we think we know about quantum physics is mistaken. And it would also mean that the world does not contain any croutons. Physics says!’
‘Wow, that’s fabulous. Thanks, Dr….’
‘Dr. Paperclip!’ said Dr. Paperclip. ‘Glad I could be of help!’
With this, Dr. Paperclip briefly folded himslef into a working hydrogen atom—one eyeball serving as the nucelus and the other eyeball flying around a wire orbit like a googly electron—before quickly shrinking into nothingness and disappearing into an inkpot.