Conversations With Raymond: The Taste of Cinnamon
It had been almost a month since I last saw or even heard from the LePages, so was pleased when Julie brought the phone and announced, as she handed it to me, “it’s Mr. LePage.”
“How’s the old married man?” I asked a soon as I had the phone.
“Hi Regi. Just wonderful, thank you.”
“And Mrs. LePage?”
“Christy’s wonderful too. She’s actually the reason I’m calling. We were talking about you and she reminded me that we haven’t seen or spoken to you for some time, so I want to apologize for that. You have no idea how busy we’ve been.”
“Talking about me!?” I hope it was nice,” I mocked. “You know you don’t have to apologize, Ray. I know how it is to move into a new home.”
The last time I had seen Ray and Christy was at the little dinner Julie put on to celebrate Ray and Christy’s wedding. I say, “little dinner,” but it was, in fact, a banquet in Julie’s typical home-cooked fashion. It was one of those meals that never really ends and we sat at the dinning room table all afternoon talking and picking at food and having a wonderful time. Both Ray and Christy have a wonderful sense of sardonic humor, and much of that afternoon was spent laughing at their sarcastic wit, of which I was a frequent victim. It was a real celebration with no, “serious,” discussion that any of us would want to share with anyone else, so I’ll not share it.
The only important thing that came out of that good time was the news that Ray and Christy had decided on a house and would be moving into their own home within a week. Julie and I were both delighted by that news, and I had to stop Julie from planning another banquet to celebate the house.
That was the last time I had seen or spoken to either of the LePages.
“So, Regi, Christy wants to make amends by inviting you to dinner this weekend. She says it’s also a way to thank you for all you’ve done for us.”
“Ray you know I could never refuse an invitation to see you and Christy. If she’s there, I’d like to tell her myself.”
I could hear Ray calling out to Christy in the background, “Honey, pick up the phone. It’s Regi.”
“Oh, hello Regi. I’ve missed you.”
“Same here, Darling. You know I would love to have dinner with you. Are you really ready to start entertaining? I’d be happy just to visit, you know. You don’t have to feed me.”
“I’m not listening, Regi. You always fed us, and sometimes without any notice. Now I get to feed you. I can cook, maybe not as well as Julie, but I won’t poison you, you know.”
I laughed. “OK. I trust you. I’ll come. Actually you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to it.”
“Regi, we’d like to have Julie come too. Do you think she would?” Christy asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said with mock doubt. “Sweetheart, you know how much she loves you and Ray, nothing could keep her from coming.”
I thought I knew the plan. Turns out I had no idea.
When I told Julie the LePages wanted her to come to dinner, she hesitated.
“You can ride with me,” I said.
“Oh, thank you Mr. Firehammer, but I…well, I can’t.”
She never did feel comfortable calling me Regi, but I was surprised she refused to ride with me. I would never have argued with her, though.
“OK,” I said. “Do you know the way?”
“Oh yes,” she said with confidence. “I mean, I’ll find it alright.”
I actually had a little trouble finding the LePages new home myself, because it was so well hidden, way off the road at the end of a long curved tree covered driveway. It must once have been a farmhouse, a huge one. It looked like it was all windows and porches and chimneys.
The front door opened just as I reached the porch.
“So you found us,” Ray said.
“Apparently,” I said. “Sure is beautiful on the outside.”
“Wait ’til you see the inside,” Ray said, “Christy’s just beginning on that.”
One word described the, “inside,”: simplicity. I’m not sure what I expected, I knew Christy would never have gone for a rustic or traditional style, and would despise any of the abominations that go by the name, “modern.” It definitely had a style, unique and quite obviously Christy. Simple sturdy furniture and chairs that looked invitingly comfortable. All the colors were soft, but darker than pastel. The wide plank wood floors were polished but all looked like their natural color. It was all so clean and simple it was elegant without any sense of exaggeration.
“C’mon,” Ray said. “The girls are in the Kitchen.”
Indeed they were, Christy and Julie saw us coming in, and Christy stopped what she was doing, wiped her hands and gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek. “Hope you like it, Regi.”
“I love it,” I said. Then, “Oh you mean the house. I thought you meant the kiss. Well I love the house too of course. How could I not, so long as you are in it.”
“But what is she doing in it?” I asked nodding toward Julie. “You naughty girl,” I winked.
“Well, Mr. Firehammer, Christy asked if I would mind helping her a little with dinner, and of course I had to do it.”
“Yes. Of course you had to,” I said.
“Now you two get out of the kitchen, so we can finish dinner,” Christy said, ushering Ray and me out.
It was a lovely ham dinner with mashed white and sweet potatoes, greens, biscuits, and a ham gravy that tasted suspiciously like the one Julie makes. The pies, peach and Ray’s favorite lemon merangue, where entirely Christy’s doing, and I’ve never tasted flakier or lighter pastry in my life.
The girls refused our help, and were clearing off the table while Ray and I were enjoying our coffee.
“Christy wants to ask you something, Regi.” Ray began. “She was afraid it might seem too personal, but it’s not Regi. We’ve talked about it several times. I tried to tell her she could talk to you about anything, but I don’t think she’s convinced.”
“Well, I can’t make her talk to me, Ray, and wouldn’t if I could, you know that. Do you know what it’s about?”
“Err, well sort of. She knows you’re an athiest,” Ray saw my eyebrow go up. “Oh sorry, I mean, that you don’t believe in anything supernatural, and that you also do not believe the physical is all there is. I think she wants to ask you, if the physical is not all there is, what is there that is not physical if it’s not supernatural?”
“I don’t mind broaching the subject, if you think she wouldn’t mind and won’t be offended by my answer. Do you think she’d mind your telling me about it.”
“No, not at all. You know Christy. She’s not at all like that.”
When the girls returned from their clean-up I told Christy that dinner was one of the most enjoyable meals I ever had.
“Everything was delicious, but the company made it all perfect,” I said.
“So glad you enjoyed it,” Christy said. A lot of that thanks belongs to Julie, you know.
“I do know,” I said looking directly at Julie.
“Christy, Ray told me you would like to ask me about views regarding the non-physical in light of the fact I don’t believe in anything supernatural. Is that right?”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s how I was thinking of it, but I do have a question.”
“Why don’t you put it your own way, Christy. I’d love to know what it is.”
“Well,” she began, “I know you don’t believe there is a God or anything supernatural. But Ray said, you do not think consciousness is physical. Is that right?”
“That’s right. But it is more than just consciousness that is not physical. There are three aspects of reality which are not physical: life, consciousness, and the human mind,” I said.
“Then I have two questions. If life, consciousness, and the mind are not physical, what are they? The other question is based on something you once said to me, “how do you know?” I know you think what Christians and other religious people believe is not based on reason or evidence,” she looked at Ray, I think to be sure she was saying it right, “but on faith, for which there is no evidence. So my second question is, what is the evidence that life, consciousness, and the mind are not physical?”
“I can see you and Ray have discussed this some,” I said.
“Yes, we have,” Christy said.
“Christy, I am simply amazed. I know Ray is a good teacher, but you do have a wonderfully clear understanding of things. I do not think your questions could possibly have been articulated more clearly and succinctly. Perhaps I’m forgetting your success as a writer. Forgive me.”
Christy just nodded.
“I want to answer your questions which are actually several. If you are willing, I’d like to answer them one part at a time, because I don’t think I can do an adequate job trying to answer them all in one piece. I promise I’ll get to everything, but I’d like to start with what I consider the basic one. Why I know consciousness is not physical, then we’ll go on to life, and the human mind. When I’ve explained how I know consciousness is not physical, I’ll explain what consciousness and other non-physical things are. Is that OK?”
“Of course, Regi.”
“And Christy, I know I don’t have to say this, but I don’t expect you to accept anything I say as fact unless you can see for yourself why it is true. So please ask any questions that come to mind.
“Oh, you know I will Regi,” Christy assured me with a grin.
“Christy, I have a question for you. There was something different about your sweet potatoes. If it’s not a secret, what was it?”
“Oh, its just a tiny bit of cinnamon added with the butter, salt, and pepper. It’s how my mother always did them.”
“Ah, yes. I did taste the cinnamon. It was very light but very nice.
“Now I have one more question. Can you describe the taste of cinnamon?”
Christy thought for a minute. “Well it’s spicy but mild, and has a kind of sweetness to it, …” she tried.
“Christy, if you tried to explain the taste of cinnamon to someone who had never tasted it before, could you make them understand what it tastes like?”
Christy thought about the question and finally admitted, “No. The only way to know what cinnamon tastes like is to actually taste it.”
“That’s because tasting cinnamon is a conscious experience. The only way one can know what cinnamon tastes like is to actually have the conscious experience of tasting cinnamon. It is what cinnamon consciously tastes like that is consciousness. No explanation can ever make one know what cinnamon, or anything else tastes like, that has not had the actual conscious experience of tasting it.
“It is the same with all conscious experiences, Christy. You can explain to a blind man what light is, what it’s property’s are, what refraction and reflection are, and even the differences in the color spectrum. No explanation, however, can ever make a blind man know what any color ‘looks’ like, or what a beautiful woman looks like, or what a sunset looks like. One can only know those things by actually consciously experiencing them.
“You can explain to a deaf person what sound is in terms of the physcial nature of sound waves, frequency, and harmonics, but no explanation can make a deaf person know what a pealing bell sounds like, or a car horn, or a human voice, or what the beauty of an operatic duet sounds like.
“The reason no explanation can make anyone who has never had a conscious experience of what is seen, or heard, or tasted, is because there is no possible physical explanation of those conscious experiences.
“The Taste of Cinnamon, for example, is actually the ‘taste’ one experiences when the olfactory nerves are stimulated by a chemical called an ‘ester’ with the name ‘cinnamaldehyde.’ The physical behavior of the nerves in response to cinnamaldehyde, and even the behavior of those aspects of the brain involved can all be described, but none of that physical, electrical, chemical action is a description of the conscious experience we call ‘tasting cinnamon.'”
“Any questions so far, Christy?”
“Not really. I’ve never felt that consciousness was physical, but I was brought up believing in the soul as something separate from the physical body. I always thought it was my soul that was conscious, not my physical brain or body. I was just curious why you would think consciousness was not physical if you don’t believe in a soul?”
“I do not believe in a soul as you have described it, but I have at times referred to the conscious aspect of human nature as the soul. But the soul, or consciousness, does not exist as a separate thing from the physical body, it exists as an attribute of a physical organism that is conscious, and cannot exist independently of the organism it is the consciousness of.”
“I see,” Christy said.
“That does not mean you agree with me, I know, but you at least understand what I mean, then,” I asked.
“No, I actually agree with you, Regi. I have not held the religious view for a long time, but still could not accept the pure physicalist view. I know my consciousness is not physical, but I could not accept the supernatural view either. But, if it is not physical, and not supernatural, what is it?”
Christy had quite surprised me. I had assumed she was just curious about my views, but she apparently had come to her own non-mystical views, or at least to doubt mystical explanations. I was just a little unsure about how to proceed.
“I actually already answered that question, Christy, though I wasn’t thinking of it that when I said it. Remember when I said, ‘the soul, or consciousness, does not exist as a separate thing from the physical body, it exists as an attribute of a physical organism that is conscious.’ That’s what consciousness is. It is an attribute of a living organism, a perfectly natural attribute, just not a physical attribute.
An organism as all the physical attributes of any other physical thing, but it also has an attribute no other physical thing has, the attribute of life. A conscious organism also has all the physical and life attributes of any organism with the additional attribute of consciousness.
“What is life? Life is that natural attribute of some physical existents that distinguishes them from mere none living entities. What is consciousness? Consciousness is that natural attribute of some organisms that distinguishes them from the simplest organisms such a plants.
“But I don’t think that is the question you are really asking. What I think you are really asking is for an explanation of the nature of consciousness, in the same way one can describe the nature of physical attributes in terms of physics and chemistry. Is that right?
Christy thought for a moment, then seemed to realize something.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I want to know, although I don’t think I realized that when I asked the question. Can you really explain that, Regi?”
“Well I already have explained to my own satisfaction and will gladly share the explanation with you, but I cannot say it will necessarily satisfy your own questions, though I think it will.”
“But …,” I began, when Christy interrupted me.
“But, what? Just tell me. I’m a big girl.”
“Oh, it’s not that, Darling. It’s just that it is getting late and I’m afraid we are beginning to bore both Julie and Raymond, who have both heard most of this before.”
“Not me, Mr. Firehammer. I always enjoy your explanations and I learn a little more each time,” Julie said.
“Thank you, Julie. Then we’ll stop now for Ray’s sake, and mine, because I want to think about the best way to answer Christy.”
Christy was obviously disappointed, but would never have complained.
“By the way, Julie, when would be the best time to have the LePages over to finish this converstion?”
“This afternoon would be fine,” she grinned.
“It already is ‘this afternoon,'” I said.
“Tomorrow afternoon then?” she suggested.
“That’s fine with me, but what about the LePages.”
“Oh, that would fine with us,” Ray and Christy said almost in unison. Christy was obviously pleased we would get to complete our discussion.
“Well as long as you don’t come expecting the lavish spread you put on,” I said.
Which was all followed by some laughs, hugs, and goodbyes until tomorrow.
[NOTE: We did get to complete our discussion and I’ll post those discussions (which turned out to be more than one) at some later date. Except for the way the material is covered, and the conversational nature, there is nothing in those discussions I have not previously covered in the articles, The Nature of Life, and The Nature of Consciousness.]
"The creator is the man who disagrees." -- Ayn Rand