the last post and chorus


Beatrix Kondo had a magical crystal radio set. They talked a lot.


The 'magic' in the crystal radio set was in its ability to tell the truth about anything she asked it.


However, it was right only about half the time.


"Do the past, present and future all exist?" asked Beatrix. The crystal radio set seemed a bit annoyed. How should I know? its attitude seemed to communicate. But this was just its way. In fact, it had a fifty-fifty chance of knowing full well.


"The past is gone, isn't it?" said the radio. "So it doesn't exist." Fair enough, Beatrix's expression seemed to say.


"But what about the question I just asked? Isn't it in the past now?"


"How do you know that you asked it?" demanded the radio. "Because you remember it? Is that all? Next question!"


Beatrix did her best to think ahead. "So you'll probably say that the future doesn't exist either, on the same principles as the past." The radio made no answer.


"And that the present is only the thin film between the nonexistent past and future," pursued Beatrix. Again, no answer from the radio. If you'd like to think so, fine with me, its attitude seemed to suggest.


"Do we live in the past, present or future?" asked Beatrix.


The radio gave a satisfied crackle. Finally a decent question, its expression said. "A question for you, then. Have you ever contemplated suicide?"


"No," said Beatrix at once.


"I have." The magical crystal radio set spoke matter-of-factly. "But something gave me pause. What do you think it was?"


"Fear of loss," guessed Beatrix. "But not loss of the past. You just told me the past is gone and doesn't exist."


"I did," agreed the radio. "With a fifty percent chance of accuracy. Did I fear to lose the present, then?"


Beatrix thought for a moment, then gave the answer that had initially occurred to her. "No. If you were thinking of dying in the first place, the present meant nothing to you."


"One gets the impression," said the radio, "that you began this line of inquiry already knowing the answer you wanted. But, yes. If we fear to die, it is to fear to lose the future. Ergo, we live in the future."


"But you said the future doesn't exist either," protested Beatrix.


If you'd like to think so, fine with me, the magical crystal radio set's attitude all but said.