Friday, August 18, 2006

“Is Earth even a planet?” asks befuddled earthling

August 14, 2006 – Notoriously ponderous earthling, Quincy Quibble, has been thrown into existential angst upon learning that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) may downgrade the official status of Pluto from planet to “big lump of rock.”

“First it’s Pluto, is Earth next?” asked Quibble, breathing erratically, and visibly perspiring from his face and armpits. A faint cloud of marijuana smoke hung in the air at Quibble’s hastily scheduled news conference, because without his customary joint, the young philosophy student is liable to have a panic attack.

“Why are you so worried?” asked one of the gathered reporters.

“Why aren’t you worried?” snapped Quibble, irritably. “Good God, man, as we speak, astronomers from around the world are deciding the question of how to define a planet. Think of it. Could there be any bigger question? The very substance upon which we walk – this very floor that my feet stand on – could turn out to be part of, not a planet, but instead, an as-yet undefined ‘something else.’ What is that ‘something else?’ And what is the defining essence of that ‘something else’?”

The assembled reporters scratched their heads contemplatively. Quibble took another frenzied toke of his cannabis spliff.

“I mean, Lord almighty,” he continued. “Ever since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has considered itself a fully-fledged member of our solar system – a paid-up planet, just like we are, or Mars, or Venus, or Neptune – or even Saturn, with its bizarre but majestic rings! But now the discovery of a new rock in our solar system called Xena has cast everything into doubt, because Xena is BIGGER than plucky Pluto! Is Xena going to brusquely shoulder Pluto aside and consign him to obscurity? And like I have already asked, will Earth be next? What are we if not a planet? Can we continue to call ourselves ‘earthlings?’ And if I am not an earthling, what then, am I? What then, is Man?”

“If you don’t mind me saying so,” said a reporter, “I think it’s supposed to be us asking the questions.”

“But what makes you think I have the answers?” asked Quibble.

“Well, why don’t we try asking some questions and see?”

“Touché!” Quibble exclaimed suddenly, and erupted into a fit of giggles, then laughter, followed by teary-eyed silence. “I am late for my customary pint with my fellow philosophy students,” he said dejectedly, moments later.

“Why is this question so important to you personally, Mr. Quibble?” asked the intrepid staffer from the M.o.M.

“Why is your question so important to you, personally?” retorted Mr. Quibble, crossly. “Why are the definitions that determine the lexicon of our lives so important to one man and mere distractions to another? What is the signifier and what is the signified? Is God dead? I don’t know. Maybe the IAU in its infinite wisdom will also resolve these questions, but I for one sincerely doubt it. They are irresolvable, I tell you, irresolvable. Am I really here? The sky isn’t blue, but we perceive it that way. My introductory philosophy text says asking questions is an instrumental part of philosophy – indeed, may be philosophy’s ultimate aim. The unexamined life is not worth living. Why did my girlfriend leave me? Did I fail to satisfy her? How goes the search for a theory of a meta-theory? Was my girlfriend’s love for me real or illusory? Why are human relations so ephemeral? Were her groans of pleasure genuine or contrived? Why is Squidward so depressed all the time? What did Pluto ever do to anybody? Does anyone have any sympathy for the solar system’s smallest planet?”

Mr. Quibble ran from the podium, tripped over his untied shoelace, fell on his face, grazed his chin, and got up again. “That is the essence of man: we fall over, we get up again, we don’t know why.” Then he continued running, pushing aside the reporters, uttering breathlessly, “Still… late… for… beers…” And next he had charged through the door, out into the summer heat, and was bolting down the street towards his favourite pub where his friends awaited him.

Astronomers will announce Pluto’s fate next week.