Was the Bishop a Complete Idiot? (ii)

The previous post was about how Bishop Berkeley was right (if properly understood) when he said that whatever is not being perceived does not exist. There indeed is a sense in which what we call the Moon is not ‘there’, when no one is looking at it – when no human mind is converting the invisible electro-magnetic data received from it, into a purely mental image which has been embellished with shape, colour and ‘location in space’. What we ‘see’ is nothing other than that mental image which exists inside our own skulls. What is actually ‘out there’, when you and I ‘see’ the Moon, is nothing other than a particular pattern within the universal dance of the intangible Energy that alone constitutes fundamental Reality. That is how things are – and we can like it or lump it. 

The good Bishop, being a man of his time, knew nothing about 21st century sub-atomic physics, but was concerned to counteract the picture, (mockingly painted by detractors such as Dr. Samuel Johnson), of things continuously popping in and out of existence depending on whether or not they were being looked at – which is, of course, a most counter-intuitive and disconcerting idea. Bishop Berkeley, however, was well prepared with an ‘oven ready’ answer. God, he said, sees everything, all of the time. So the postulated problem was thus immediately, efficiently and expeditiously solved ! 

It was a ‘solution’ which, in 1924, provided the inspiration for Ronald Arbuthnott Knox to produce a delightful duo of limericks …

History, particularly perhaps in the religious realm, records a fair number of questionable ‘solutions’ to arguably needlessly created, and actually non-existent, ‘problems’. The best trick, as demonstrated by Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, is not to take any of them too seriously. In that way, they can remain interesting while being helpfully rendered more or less harmless.

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