A quick glance at my watch - it's 4.20 pm on a warm, sunny afternoon.
I sit under the willow tree in my garden by the lakeside and as I lean
forward in my seat towards the water's edge the white swans swerve
expectantly towards the grassy verge then seeing no bread crusts in my open
hands turn abruptly and sail aloofly towards the moorhens and the shade of
the far bank.
I'm reading a scientific article that Jon Neivens posted to the AIT list and
I've printed it out - it's called 'Can Science Explain Everything.' It's a
good read like he said, and I settle back in my sunlounger and scan the
A tiny bright red spider-mite crawls slowly across the page, I recognise it
instantly as a tetranychid - a tiny web-spinning mite that attacks garden
plants and fruit trees. Without thinking about it - instinctively - my
finger stabs the page, and in an instant the insect becomes a bright
vermilion streak on the snowy white paper. I should say what WAS the
insect, for the tiny arachnid that existed a few moments ago no longer
exists - or rather it is not extant in the form of existence that it enjoyed
antecedently, but has metamorphosed or has been transfigured by me into a
streak of rapidly decomposing biologic matter, a red comet of moisture and
tissue on the lily-white necropsic slide of paper on my clipboard.
The moist parts are already drying in the sun and being absorbed into the
paper - but is the insect still present? My little boy sidles up along side
me and pushes his rabbit-doll in my face to kiss.
"Look! I say," pointing to the red blotch on the page, "Look! A spider."
"Pen." Says the child, "Daddy's pen."
It is obvious that Connor has taken the red trace to be the mark of a pen.
The debris of the insect remains on the page - the detritus is there present
in the sunlight in an altering mode of existence as the red turns slowly to
a dull brown.
What is existence, and how does it differ from presence? The mite's
insectness is no more - it has changed its state of existence. Is it now a
'smearness' or perhaps a 'bloody-smearness,' or something else?
What about these 'nesses' and 'hood's and 'ships' they all mean a 'state or
condition, or an instance and instant of existential modality - having
membership of a collection or group, or having a quality or condition of
some state of existence.
Can we say that the accumulate of organic molecules and proteins and DNA
that comprises the smear of biologic material on the page represents
features of 'smearness' or qualities of 'bloodness' and what are these
stages of 'nesses' and 'hoods' and 'ships' that we go through as we pass
through life, and is not life itself an 'aliveness' or long term modality of
existence - the course of existence of an individual entity - the actions
and events that occur in 'living out' the existence of ones presence in the
Why is it so problematical to talk and think about existence? Why do people
often become confused when thinking about the simple fact of existence on
the one hand, and of the activities, states and modes of existential
behaviour and experience on the other? Why do some think that 'being' a
doctor or 'being' a gambler is existence itself and not merely an ephemeral
event or series of events that a given entity undergoes as part of its
presence in the cosmos as compared to its absence? Why do they think that
so-called 'Being' is existence?
"So," I whisper to myself, " then the insect is an insect no more - but just
But at what stage in its death-by-crushing did it lose its insectness? Was
the quality or condition of insecthood still retained as my finger-pressure
increased to a certain point? At what stage in the compression process and
bodily disintegration did it lose its unique quality of existence? Was it
as the soft carapace slit open spilling the red claret of its lifeblood onto
the page - at the moment of death - was the instant of death the nanosecond
when insectness departed? Did it pass through a stage of dead insecthood
before the total destruction of its form signified its modal change to
Yes, the thing is dead. And what is a thing? My dictionary tells me that a
thing is an entity that is not named specifically. But I have heard people
refer to insects as 'things.'
"I've got a thing in my hair!" she shrieks.
"I found this dog with the name-tag 'Rover' round its neck and I couldn't
get rid of it - the thing followed me all the way home." It sounds a bit
disrespectful to the dog doesn't it?
"I met this woman in a bar last night and the thing agreed to meet me on
Thursday." Not right is it?
I don't think that I would refer to a chimpanzee or the dead body of a
monkey as a thing, and it seems to me that the higher one ascends in the
hierarchy of entities the less comfortable one is in addressing things as
things, and when you reach the dizzy heights of the human phylum 'the word
'thing' is definitely out.
Is a dead human body a thing?
"My mothers body is on the bed - I found the thing on the kitchen floor when
I came home." Not very nice is it?
In Heideggerian terms is a dead Dasein a thing? Is a passed on 'Being'
still a 'Being'? If 'Beingness' quits with death it shows that 'Beingness'
and 'Deadness' and 'aliveness' are merely modalities of existence, for all
three are none-existent in the simple existence of a lifeless body and
cannot be found, for they are just words that the English language uses to
indicate states of existence. The live 'for-itself' is converted and reduced
to the status of a dead 'in-itself' and whilst it still exists it is
incapable of 'being' anything other than a rapidly decaying lump of flesh
which has many correspondences of modal change to that experienced by the
smear of vermilion on my page.
Heidegger and Sartre speak of the 'Being' of a 'being' as it was some
proprietorial personal chattel - a sequential life-long block of presence
instead of the verb of the continuous present, which it actually is and in
which it is used to describe the many states and stages of an existential
For Heidegger the giving of a name 'Dasein' [being-there] to this
existential modal activity, means that he thinks that he can magically
gerundise 'being' into being a 'being' that can shoulder existence out of
the way and take over the stage of cosmic presence.
Sartre too attempts the same trick, but with more Gallic sensitivity, and
soon his 'for-itself' - his Parisian-sparrow - queue-jumps the 'I' and 'me'
chowline and permits the narrative of inter-entity interaction that the
logic of semantico-syntactical problematics had formerly blocked.
An entity exists somewhere on earth - let us call him Harry. Having said
that reminds me of the REAL Harry - yes I have an old friend called Harry -
lets talk about the real Harry - we might as well. We were old army pals
and have kept in touch even after all these years - I was his best man when
he married Eileen way back in.
We don't see much of each other these days, he moves around the world a lot
with his business - import and export. He's got a partner, a Spanish guy
called Pedro, and the last time I saw him, Pedro I mean, together with
Eileen, I sensed a sort of - you know - 'atmosphere' between them which made
me a bit suspicious - I'm very sensitive to that sort of thing. Anyway, I
didn't say anything to Harry about it and.Excuse me, my mobile phone's
"Hallo?" Jud Evans speaking."
"It's me Pedro Gonzales - Harry's business partner."
"Hello.Hi Pedro! You're not going to believe this - but I was just thinking
of Harry and.I was wondering if Harry still exists and."
"Look Jud," he interrupts, "I'm flying to London tonight on urgent business,
and can you put me up for a few days if I fly up north to Manchester?"
"Why yes, I'd be delighted to do that," I respond, but what about Harry is
"Sure the old guy still exists Jud, I'm looking right at him through the
"Window - what window?"
"The window that looks into the Conference Hall here at The Canberra
From where I am I can see him - the phone is just outside the hall."
"Where else? Harry's on the podium right now giving a talk to a crowd of
South Asian punters."
"So don't worry any longer, Harry exists.." continues Pedro, "and the nature
of his existence is that he is here in Australia in the Canberra Hilton,
he's dressed in a blue suit with a white shirt and."
"Go on" I say.
".and well his heart's beating and his blood is flowing around his veins and
arterial system re-oxygenating his tissues and feeding his vital organs, his
lymphatic system is carrying away the debris resulting from muscular
activity for later excretion. Food is being digested in his stomach and his
bladder is slowly filling up with fluid from the tea he drank at the
mid-morning break and."
"Stop!" I cry. "I don't want to know about all these physiological details.
"Sorry old son, but I thought that you were interested in whether Harry
exists or not?"
"Well yes, of course I am."
"So, I was just describing some of the ways in which he is existing."
"OK, OK " I answer weakly. "But I don't want a long rigmarole about what
processes are taking place while he is existing out there, I'm not
particularly interested if he is present at the meeting in the hotel or not,
but simply that he still exists."
"You have my word on that," answers Pedro. "Harry's in the Conference
Chamber and I'm in the foyer outside on the phone to you. But what's all
this emphasis on the fact that Harry exists in the Conference Chamber, and
not being interested in the nature of his existence then? Is there a
difference about being present in the universe and simply existing, and how
does that differ from the WAYS in which we exist - what are the
"Well," I answer slowly." I suppose you could say that to exist is being an
entity here and not to exist is being.well it's not being anything really is
it - as Parmenides said - you can't really talk about nothing, for there's
nothing to talk about?"
"Then why are you talking about it?" Pedro chuckles.
"So I can explain about what existing means, " I grate, allowing a little
tiredness to creep into my voice.
"And what DOES it mean?" He persists. "Being present in the cosmos -being
alive in the cosmos? He asks.
"No, not necessarily," I respond, "it's not necessary to be alive to exist."
"Hmm!" says Pedro.
"That's what I meant when I said that I'm only really interested to know
whether Harry still exists or not, and not in listening to a long
description of what changes of existential mode are taking place in his body
from nana-second to second-second in the time continuum. At this moment in
time, as you describe Harry on the podium in his brown etc the picture you
draw from your position in the phone booth sounds a fair correspondence of
his state right now, and the moment you mentioned his name he became
extantally imbued in my consciousness - in a way he came into existence the
moment your lips formed the word Harry."
Pedro was quiet for a moment then said: "What about the times when Harry's
name is not mentioned - when you are otherwise engaged and Harry's name is
not before you in your mind - does he become extantally unimbued?"
"Don't get confused with the reality of the real world and the way in which
the human mind processes the information that comes in from 'out there,'" I
I spot my wife Clare out of the corner of my eye and beckon her to me. I
cover the mouthpiece of the phone and hurriedly whisper something in her
ear, then uncupping my hand from the receiver I continue.
"There is very probably a discarded newspaper lying on a seat in the railway
station at Buenos Aires in Argentina right at this moment," I say slowly and
"Argentina? Lisps Pedro.
"Yes, you and I are unaware of the newspaper's existence, but that does not
say that it does not exist in the real world rather than in the world that
we perceive or comprehend because of the information that we receive from
"Well if it doesn't exist - how come that we are talking about it? And
since it has been mentioned by name, and therefore according to you has been
extantally imbued - it must now have been endowed with existence or presence
in the cosmos, or to be more specific on a seat in Buenos Aires railway
"Hahahah!" I laugh, "No, I was talking about the 'possibility' of the
existence of the newspaper - and knowing how untidy some people are - the is
a strong 'probability' of finding a paper on a seat there. The mere
hypothesis of existential presence does not ensure existence. For example,
if I say: "There's a discarded newspaper on a seat in Buenos Aires station
the 'is' word works on two levels. In one way it functions as an important
semantic and syntactical component of grammar which indicates the spatial
mode of situate and temporal existence of the newspaper, and in another way
it forms part of a truth claim."
"A truth claim," the tinny voice replies.
"Yes, the statement is making an assertion that something is true or
factual." I answer.
"Well, says Pedro, "what if I telephone the stationmaster at BA railway
station and ask him to get his staff to carry out a quick search of all the
seats and waiting rooms and toilets at the station and nothing is found?"
"Then you will have clicked the 'is icon' and discovered that the statement
is untrue." I counter.
"What are you talking about - the 'is icon?'
"I'll tell you later," I pronounce cheerily.
"Ok" adds Pedro, "But what if we had had this conversation last Wednesday,
or if we have it in the future - let's say a week next Thursday, and at the
time that you mentioned the newspaper in a statement or wrote it down the
WAS a discarded newspaper on the station, would that then automatically be a
statement of fact, or would it just be a coincidence?"
"It would be both. A claimed fact as far as our consciousness is concerned
is only a fact when it is confirmed," I enjoin."
"Confirmed by what," Pedro asks.
"Substantiated by further information that satisfies our cognitive
Pedro pauses, "But our 'cognitive faculties might not be up to the job of
"Exactly," I drawl.
"Anyway," stresses Pedro, "What's all this about clicking 'is icons?'
"It's only a figure of speech," I tell him, "it's only a figure of speech to
describe your actions when you are not satisfied with the information
contained in the predicate or verb phrase of a statement, and you want more
data from an independent source before you make your mind up whether the
assertion is true or not. That is exactly what you would be doing if you
rang the stationmaster and checked up about the newspaper - you'd be
clicking the 'is icon.'"
"You mean the 'is' word is about the truth or falsity of a statement?"
"Yes," I say, "the 'is' word indicates the 'existence mode' of any entity or
idea contrived by the human consciousness as it is being communicated to
another human being. From a syntactical point of view the 'is' word is not
concerned with the veracity or falsehood of a statement, but from a logical
and accuracy angle it is. If a person is not content with what the 'is
word' indicates, then he or she metaphorically clicks the 'is icon' and then
picks up a book, or rings a friend or someone who can substantiate or deny
the claim authoritively and."
"Hold on a minute," gasps Pedro, "there's a couple of policemen heading my
"Yes," I reply coolly, "I know - I was expecting that to happen."
"What do you mean you bastard," splutters Pedro."Did you.?"
"Of course I contacted the police" I gloat, "or rather I got Clare to ring
the Canberra Police department for me - I didn't believe for one moment that
you are speaking from the Canberra Hilton Hotel for my telephone
incorporates a function which displays the number of the person that is
ringing - and it showed Harry's personal number at his home apartment. I
knew that there was something fishy about it all - just as if there would be
a business conference going on in the Hilton at one or two o'clock in the
morning - I know that you are nine hours ahead of us, and it's only five
o'clock here in England now. I was also particularly suspicious when you
asked me to put you up at such short notice - and I know what's been going
on between you and Eileen.'
"Hello! It is a gruff official voice with an unmistakably Australian
accent. "Who is this?"
"Jud Evans in England - I'm a friend of Harry McCumisky - it was my wife
Clare who rang the police - I've been keeping this guy talking for you until
"This is Detective Inspector Phil Green," says the voice, "And I'm sorry."
"Never mind about that," I answer desperately, "how's Harry?"
"We have the dead body of a Caucasian male, aged about fifty years, bald
headed with a drooping moustache and ."
"Oh my God! I exclaim, "It's poor Harry."
"Were you a good friend of his - and who is this guy that shot them?"
"What do you mean 'THEM' - is someone else dead too?"
We have just found the body of a dead female in the bedroom - she's been
shot through the head too. Tell us what you know about this guy we have in
"I don't really know much about him other than he is Harry's business
partner his name's Pedro Gonzalez. I met him in London at a party last
year - I'll be glad to give you all the details I know about everything
"Is this guy Pedro Gonzalez Spanish or South American or something - what's
"I believe that he's Spanish.but .why.?"
"Well we've just found a copy of the 'Buenos Aires Herald' in his coat
"Hello - are you still there. I heard a click?"
"It's OK - it's just me clicking the 'is icon.'