WHY ARE WE HERE?  WHAT’S OUR PURPOSE?  WHAT’S THE POINT? 

Great questions!  We’re glad you asked.  Besides getting to know Why, gettingtoknowwhy.com is here for the purpose of archiving and exhibiting the fruit of several writing projects, the focal point of which is Getting to Know Why: a monthly column that considers the great questions of meaning by agonizing over the intellectual development of yours truly, “Dr. Why.”  The primary author/editor of the series is my long-time mentor and friend, “Dr. X”; but I also contribute quite a lot.  Getting to Know Why is first published in the Norton-Lakeshore Examiner under the direction of visionary editor Cynthia Price before it is republished here with my assistance.

Unlike most blogs and newspaper columns, Getting to Know Why is a serial: each installment builds on the one that precedes it and leads into the one that follows it.  Maybe that’s the only reason Editor Price classes it with works by Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Herman Melville.  In any event, because it’s a serial, Getting to Know Why installments are best read in the order in which they appeared, and they’re numbered for just this reason.  If you’re a newcomer trying to decide whether Getting to Know Why is worth getting to know, however, then I recommend you start with installments #2 and #3.  You can go back to #1 later if you decide you’re interested. Continue reading

#1: Introduction
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* Why, it’s for you! *

Greetings from Firenze, Italy—also known as “Florence.” I’m in a café drinking cappuccino at the moment. It might seem strangely forward of me to start off reporting on my circumstances like this, as we don’t yet know each other; but since this is to be the first in a series of columns, and since you are my target audience, I hope to change that. So please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Dr. X.

Continue reading

#2: Introduction Continued
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* For Our Parents *

Warm groeten from Amsterdam.  I’m in town for a conference—always a good excuse to have some fun.  I enjoyed dinner, conversation, and a tour all at the same time last night on one of the city’s many canal-boat restaurants.  The boat was motorized, but my hosts said that it used to be drawn through these very canals by horses.  Gezellig!

If you read last month’s installment, you know that I’m “Dr. X” and that this is a sort of critical intellectual biography of my friend and dialogue partner, “Dr. Why.”  Rather than bore you with an orderly procession of all the significant moments in Why’s life, however, I’ll share something of his current intellectual position and then zig back and zag forth from that in subsequent installments.  I will thereby prepare the ground from which to examine some of Why’s other—shall we say, more interesting—ideas. Continue reading

#3: The Dead-Head-Eve Scenario
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* For The Dead *

Jerry Garcia w purple skin and background TO USE 3

HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY TO THE DEAD! (Click to view image credits.)

Hello everyone.  I’m “Dr. X,” and you’re reading the third installment of a serial biography I’m writing about my good friend and dialogue partner “Dr. Why,” who has some very interesting things to say about science, religion, and their relations—among other things.  Why surprised us with a visit last time, and I’m pleased to report that he’s returned once again to continue our conversation.

We were discussing the importance of founding hypotheses when we concluded our last installment.  Why had illustrated his belief that the historical sciences reason in circles against interventionist theism by pointing out that uniformitarian geological methods assume rather than prove that no God has intervened in Earth history.

Welcome back, Dr. Why.  Is that a fair synopsis?

Y:  Glad to be back, Dr. X.  Fair enough, except what I last remember is discovering the gender-bending implications of your suggestion that creationists can’t think male nipples were useless back in Eden.  Continue reading

#4: Critique of the Dead-Head-Eve Scenario
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* For Rent: To rent a GTKW dedication line, please contact Dr. X.*

If you’ve never joined us before, welcome.  If you have joined us before, welcome back.  I’m “Dr. X,” and the subject and star of this column is my good friend and fellow traveler, “Dr. Why,” who has many very interesting ideas to share with us.

Why has been telling me for years that inquiry of all sorts builds on “founding hypotheses” that may always be doubted and may often be replaced, sometimes with grandly surprising results—conceivably even creationist results.  So last time—challenged by me to render belief in Adam and Eve “even remotely plausible” while accommodating the historical sciences—Why donned his comedian hat and shared an entertaining rendition of the so-called Fall-of-Man story of Genesis 3.  By interpreting the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as an hallucinogenic mushroom, Why created a scenario showing that the experience of any one person—no matter how much science it includes—is compatible with the hypothesis that s/he’s really Eve dying of a drug overdose in Eden. Continue reading

#5: Caricature of Young-Earth Creationism
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* For Ann Reid and Eugenie Scott *

Hello everyone.  I’m “Dr. X,” editor and principal author of this rather unorthodox biography you’re reading about my friend and colleague, “Dr. Why.”  I wrote this paragraph while relaxing in an evergreen-forest campground dotted with electrical boxes disguised as giant  Christmas mushrooms.  Given Why’s appeal to psychoactive fungi in his comedic rendition of the “Fall of Man” story two conversations ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if I really am Eve dying of an overdose in Eden!

(Click to read Dr. Why’s comedic rendition of the “Fall of Man” story in GTKW #3!)

We’ve been recounting Why’s past to explicate his present thinking on science and religion—a topic about which he has some valuable things to say.  Why is unavailable at the moment, however, so I’ve decided to introduce you to an old friend from his formative years, nicknamed Yec.  Why’s dealings with Yec were mostly extra-curricular, as Yec was expelled from Why’s school when they were both quite young.  The school said the expulsion was justified by Yec’s irrepressible tendency to blurt out ridiculous nonsense in class, and the government concurred with a statement that cited constitutional limits on free speech.  But Yec’s supporters attributed it to a sort of bigotry inspired by Yec’s gross deformities and bizarre mannerisms.  And Yec really is grossly deformed, so I won’t ask you to shake its hand during this introduction, only to stare at it long enough to get a sense of what we’re talking about.  Yec’s full name, after all, is young-Earth creationism. Continue reading

#6: On Miracles in Young-Earth-Creationist Method
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* For John Whitmore *

Back in the Precambrian several thousand years ago, coveting culinary adventures beyond the provisions of Paradise and talked by a walking snake into eating the only fruit God strenuously warned them against, our Greatest Great-Grandparents traded everlasting nudist bliss—theirs and ours—for leathers and harsh discipline by a neophyte Grim Reaper, who, mere generations later, in a Flood higher than Everest and a Grave deeper than Grand Canyon, overzealously drowned and then buried everything that breathed save the fortunate residents of a floating zoo called Ark.  Or so we heard last time from an old friend of my usual guest.

Overzealous, Neophyte Grim Reaper

Continue reading

7-12: Transition to Chapter 2
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*Forgive the mess!*

Dear Friends:

Those of you who followed Getting to Know Why as it unfolded online prior to the appearance of installment 20 may have noticed that ten installments—numbers 7 through 12 (previously of Chapter 2) plus the four entertainingly argumentative “comments” known collectively as The Mythic-Man-Breasts Subseries—have disappeared from GettingtoknowWhy.com.  They disappeared because we took them down.  What you are currently reading is intended to fill the gap they left behind. Continue reading

#13: Dr. X’s First Encounter with Why, Part 1
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*For Pat McManus*

 I really hope you’ll lend me your ears today, dear readers.  I can promise to repay you by earning your interest, as I’ve a memory that will grow fonder if you fondle it: a memory of my first meeting with the fit subject of this serial, my dear friend and colleague, the hefty-yet-quick—the Olympic—Dr. Why.

I’d like to keep the details of when and where to myself, so I’ll start like this: Once upon a time . . .

I was reclining on the chaise longue in my comfortable office library, on a great campus of a greater university in the middle of everywhere the modern Academy can take you.  The term was done, the students were home, and my staff was gone at last.  I had no task at hand, no plans afoot, neither gleaming typewriter nor blinking computer in sight, and only nothing on my mind.  It was a rare and precious and consummate moment.  I hoped at heart to keep it and resolved to try as I relaxed there—on my long chair, in the great midst—into nix . . . .

But then, as if possessed, my office door spoke to me:

“Knock, knock,” it joked. Continue reading

#17: Grandma and The King
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* For Grandma and The King *

When the man on the radio announced the bad news, my mother, who had been inducting me into The King’s biggest-fan club ever since I was old enough to listen, paused a moment from her work in the kitchen to wipe my face and tell me sadly that he was gone for good.  I was impressed by my mother’s sadness, so I quietly asked questions and felt distressed by what I understood.  And when Grandma came over for dessert that evening, I paused in the middle of an ice-cream headache to tell her that The King was now with Jesus.

“It means no more records or movies or live specials on TV,” I informed her, sadly. Continue reading

#18: On Lima Beans
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Boiled mixed vegetables: flaccid wax beans, puckered peas, rubbery carrots, passable corn, and just-plain-evil Lima beans.

For all I know, it really is true that Lima beans (properly pronounced Leemah beans) arrived in Europe back in the mid-16th century as a gift sent to the Dutch Royal Family by a notoriously prodigal, second-born usurper of the rightful child-king of Peru.  I doubt that’s true, but if it is, I know why the kid sent them.

Boil them a little while and Lima beans feel chalky and taste of dust.  Boil them a little longer, and they feel mushy and chalky and taste of dust.  I hate Lima beans.  And I’ll bet that little tut-tut of Peru did too.

“No Mother,” I can hear him say in the affected tones of a twelve-year old boy fully convinced of his mother’s love and the divine right of kings, “I will not eat my beans.  In fact, neither I nor any of my good subjects shall ever eat these horrid beans ever again.  I order you—no, not you, Mama; I’m talking to the Admiral—get these revolting things out of my kingdom immediately!  Round up every nasty little bean in Lima, load them onto my three fastest ships, and send them with whomever grows them to The Netherlands; they’ll eat them gladly there if anyone will.  Feed whatever’s left to my royal piglets.  Not my royal ponies!  Or burn them to ash, for all I care.  Only do not boil or bury them or I’ll have your head!  Is this clear?” Continue reading

#19: Out Fishing
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*For Dad*

God knows what we had to do to get them sometimes, but we tried hard nonetheless.  After sleepy, rushed breakfasts on foggy, blue-moonlit mornings and dark, rain-clouded mornings and even mornings when we only hoped the rain would pass, slicing in an aluminum craft toward a far shore through insect-rippled glass or battering along atop rolling, broad chop full of weeds and cold and God knows what: we two boys and Dad, a bag of Mom’s sandwiches, three tackle boxes, four rods and a bucket of live bait, out fishing. Continue reading

#22: All I Wanted for My Birthday, Part 2
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*For Mom*

(Continued from #21)

I realized eventually that I was probably being unreasonable.  Her pleading commands and exasperated gape said it clearly.  Her staunch inflexibility modeled it perfectly.  But we were nonetheless deep into a screaming fit before I got the point: You can’t resist this like vegetables, protest it like Sunday mornings, avoid it like hot ovens, or expel it like shit: Aging is unstoppable as sleeping.

So I drew a long, shuddering breath and turned my back upon the glories of innocent youth.  I swallowed at dreaded gains in responsibility, sighed for lost ignorance, sobbed for lost incontinence, sniffled, snuffled, snorted, moaned, and resigned myself to turning four.

“What are you making?” I peeped through pouting lips, rubbing one eye with a fist.

“It’s your birthday cake,” my mother answered sweetly, her hand still working a spoon.

“My birthday cake?” I asked doubtfully.

“That’s right.”

Its uniform, brown color and long, low profile confused me.  “It doesn’t look like a birthday cake,” I observed ruefully, remembering rounder forms, brighter colors, and lollipops.

“It’s a different kind of birthday cake,” Mother answered, bugging her eyes at me for effect: “This one has ice cream in it!”

“Ice cream?” I repeated, astonished.

“It’s an ice-cream cake!” she answered brightly.

Ice-cream cake?” I whispered back as if in church.

“That’s right,” she nodded, smiling and bugging her eyes even further: “Chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream stuffed inside it!”

Chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream stuffed inside it?  Dear God, could it be?  The mere idea seemed miraculous.  Ice-cream cake?  Just to think it was delicious.  Ice-cream cake?  I could hardly wait to taste it.  Ice-cream cake! 

“But won’t it melt?” I pressed, doubting it again even as my concern for it mounted.

“Not anymore,” my mother said, and spirited the cake away to slam it in the freezer.

So it really is an ice-cream cake!  I was stunned to blinking and grinning.  Ice cream cake!  I felt unsure about the look of it, but it sounded even tastier than my last birthday cake!

And then I knew that I’d been very, very naughty.  Here my mother had been cracking golden eggs, pouring holy oil, sifting flour by the omer, and dividing chocolate loaves to make a supernatural treat just for me, and I’d been hindering her efforts the entire time.  Good God, I’d been thwarting an ice-cream cake!   I momentarily feared she might smash it the trash, and guilt overwhelmed me.  But then, gripped suddenly by the awesome fact that I had just surpassed even the stunning achievement of turning three the year before, I decided not merely to resign myself to growing older but to embrace it, even to take responsibility for how I had been treating this poor woman who had given me not merely life, as I’d often heard, but even ice cream cake.

“Mom?” I dared.

“Yes, honey?” she answered sweetly.

“I was naughty, wasn’t I?”

“Yes,” she agreed, “you were.”

“Very naughty?”

“Very naughty,” she repeated.

“Very, very naughty?”

She took a few moments before she answered.  “You were naughty,” she finally said.  “But that’s over now.”

I considered her reply but decided despite it that I had indeed been very, very naughty.  I risked getting spanked when I was naughty, almost always got spanked when I was very naughty, and rarely even dared to be very, very naughty.  Had my mother gone easy on me for my birthday?  Had I been taking advantage of the situation?  I realized that a breach of justice had occurred, and in the newfound wisdom of my several years, I decided to make it right.

“Why didn’t you spank me?” I asked.

My mother cocked her head at me, blinking.

“You should have spanked me.”

“I should have spanked you?” she repeated, amused.

It seemed silly, and I had mixed feelings about it, but that’s exactly what I was thinking.  My parents, after all, had often told me that they spanked me to keep me safe and well-behaved and to make sure I grew up happy and healthy.

“You were supposed to spank me,” I mumbled.

No reply.  Only the stunned look of an exhausted authority figure wondering if she really needed to worry prematurely over rapidly eroding powers of negotiation.

“You should spank me,” I asserted more confidently now.

“I should spank you?” she repeated somewhat loudly, suddenly squinting under raised eyebrows.  “You want a spanking?”

I didn’t, of course.  And yet I did.  I wasn’t sure how to explain it.

“Don’t you love me?” I asked.

No answer.  I felt a twinge of anxiety.

“Because you say you spank me when I’m naughty because you love me.  But I was very, very naughty and you didn’t spank me.  Don’t you love me?  I think I need a spanking.”

My mother strode forward looking bewildered, somewhat disgusted, and only slightly amused, and she swatted me on the ass just once, gently.  It didn’t even hurt.  I wasn’t even frightened.

“Enough?” she demanded.

I frowned, disappointed, but thought I’d best agree.  No telling what I’d get if I didn’t like this one!  I nodded decisively, then vigorously.  And as my mother walked silently into the kitchen shaking her head, I wisely turned my attention back to ice cream cake.

To rent a dedication line or to comment, write to Dr. X at contactdr.x@gmail.com or to Dr. Why at contact.dr.why@gmail.com.

All rights retained by the authors.

#23: For the Record
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* For the record *

‘Dr. X’:  Your story has one thing wrong—but it really doesn’t matter much.  I have a photo album that shows that your 4th birthday cake was a Mickey Mouse cake….  But oh well, so stories go.  Did you REALLY ask for a spanking?!?!   

                                         -Dr. Why’s Mother, Dec. 2016

In Getting to Know Why #22, Dr. Why remembers his mother making an ice-cream cake for his fourth birthday.  But his mother wrote recently to say that she really made a “Mickey Mouse” cake that year.

What’s going on here, Dr. Why?  Have you been lying to us?

Y: My mother wasn’t suggesting that, Dr. X.

X: Really?  Judging by how she addressed me, she doesn’t even believe you have a co-author.  She evidently thinks you’re Dr. X.

Y: It isn’t that she thinks I’m dishonest.  It’s that she’s misinformed.

X: She’s got photographic evidence, Why.

Y: About the cake, yes.  But that sort of detail “doesn’t matter much,” as she says, and—

X: Facts matter to an auto/biography, Why.

Y: and—I was going to say—and I may have encouraged her misunderstanding to help protect your identity.

X: So she doesn’t think you’re dishonest because you actually lied to her?

Y: “Encouraged her misunderstanding,” I said.  And I don’t know why you should object to that.  You yourself warned that GTKW is written with “poetic license” in our very first installment—though that’s perhaps not the best term for what occurred in misreporting the cake.

X: What would you call it?

Y: I wasn’t terribly concerned about what sort of cake I had for my fourth birthday—

X: Because you find facts unimportant?

Y: —because the sort of cake I had isn’t important, because it’s beside the point I wanted to make.  Besides, ice-cream cake fit the story well enough.

X: So you just made it up?

Y: I remember an ice-cream cake from my early childhood and find that the dialogue I produced about it has an authentic ring—authentic enough to persuade me that there’s a lot of memory in it—even if I am unsure which birthday to associate it with.

X: Your lack of concern for accuracy here is a little disturbing, Why.

Y: I was four, X.

X: Not when you had the ice-cream cake you weren’t.

Y: Ok, then I was five.  Or six.  Nevertheless, the memory of the bit about the spanking is from my fourth birthday.

X: You’re certain of this?

Y: Unless I dreamed the whole thing, yes.

X: The real story is the spanking then?  Everything else is details?

Y: The real story is—I’m not sure how to say exactly.  After publishing two nice memories of my father, I wanted to share one or two of my mother.

X: So “Out Fishing” and “How to Clean Fish” are both inspired by true stories?  As are both parts of “All I Really Wanted for My Birthday”?

Y: Those installments are all rather as I remember them.  I don’t have memories that correspond with their every detail, of course, but they’re true in the sense that imprecisely remembered real events lie behind them: I really did go fishing a lot with my father and little brother, really did struggle with the ethics of filleting fish my first time at it, really did throw a fit over turning four and insist on being spanked for it.

X: And how should our readers separate impressionism and false memories from what really happened?

Y: Why should they have to?

X: Because you think your life story significantly warrants belief in your inclusive vision of reality—even for other people.

Y: Yes, I do think that.

X: So can you offer any general principles that might help readers determine the real life these stories are based in?

Y: I can think of a few.  First, since I’m not making anything up just to make it up—

X: But not even your mother believes that.

Y: On the subject of your existence, perhaps.  But not on the subject of ice-cream cake.  She knows she made ice-cream cake for me when I was quite young and probably finds my account of the wonderment I experienced over it fully believable.  I merely misremembered the date of it—an insignificant detail.

X: I’m no insignificant detail.

Y: You’re certainly not, X.  Nevertheless, I suppose my mother won’t be the only reader to imagine that I’m having a conversation with myself here.  Some might think you’re a sort of literary device, an attempt to obscure my identity, a personification of the academy or the modern scientific worldview or some such.

X: That would make the whole of my account of our first meeting pure fiction!  But minus the knock-knock joke at the beginning—which is almost true to life—#13 is just as I remember it.

Y: Come on, X; no it isn’t.  You exaggerated my behavior for comic effect.

X: I’m afraid that isn’t so, Why—though for all our readers know, of course, I invented your neurotic symptoms entirely out of thin air and you along with them as a literary device; an attempt to obscure my identity; a personification of the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, anti-intellectualist underbelly of modern Western society; etc.

Y: Please don’t encourage this interpretation, X; it could ruin the series entirely.  And I won’t be part of GTKW if it’s going to be read as a work of naturalistic propaganda.

X: All the more reason to answer my question: What criteria might our readers use to separate fact from fiction in the vignettes you’re writing?

Y: Yes, ok.  My aim is to communicate key moments of my development in the form of entertaining or otherwise engaging stories.  The events are reported as I remember them except where the facts are misleading or distracting or aesthetically unsatisfying.  Where I lack memory—and my memory really isn’t very good that far back—I aim at plausible reconstruction.  So “Mom” says the sort of things Mom would have said, at least, and the details of the events I report at least suit the personalities of the people involved, where we lived, what was happening, etc.  Occasionally, I entirely fabricate a moment to round out an installment and/or to communicate something true that can’t otherwise be put briefly. For example, “Grandma and The King” has me return to my room after my argument with Grandma to listen to Elvis sing church songs on my turntable.  That certainly didn’t happen—because I never had the turntable in my room and don’t recall ever developing much affection for Elvis’ hymns—but it does bring the piece to a neat and ironic close, and it communicates something of the sense of relief I felt at having successfully saved my hero from Grandma’s damnation by the music he published.

X: And the other pieces?

Y: Well, I don’t really know what Bible passage my father read on the day I first planted evidence of swinishness under my brother’s side of the table, but it could have been the story of the prodigal son, and “On Lima Beans” knits together nicely if I suppose it was.  Besides, including a reference to that story gives me a window through which readers can witness the sort of religious education I received as a child.

X: What about “Last Valentine’s Day” and the account of your temptation to suicide and subsequent illumination: #15 and #14, respectively?

Y: Those installments are as true as brevity allows.  Well, and of course #14 includes some obvious metaphor.

X: You’ve asserted several times that I give an exaggerated account in #13 of how you behaved the day I met first met you.  But did you at least tell me honestly back then how your habits originated, whatever their true extent?

Y: Exaggeration aside, your recollection in #16 of the account I gave of their origin both rings true and gets the details I remember right—though I’m sure I never made any sacrilegious references to a “tire-man god.”

X: No, that’s a gloss of my own.

Y: Made because it suits your ingenious dedication to the piece, no doubt.

X: Naturally.

Y: To round it out and make it more aesthetically pleasing?  Perhaps even to say something you think is true that can’t be said briefly if you stick to just the facts?

X: Perhaps.

Y: Perhaps indeed.  So what criteria should readers use to sort fact from fiction in your pieces, X?

X: Don’t be smug, Why.

Y: Don’t criticize me for something you do yourself.

X: My concern is that you’re being a bit too loose with the facts.  But of course I have to admit to indulging in a bit of poetic license myself, and I suppose the criteria you’ve given for your short pieces might help our readers recognize it in my pieces also.  We have other goals for the installments you’re now writing considered altogether, of course, but we’ll address those another time.  And perhaps it doesn’t make much difference in the end if I’m read as yet another figment of your imagination, as my overall aim is largely therapeutic.

Y: I certainly don’t want you to be interpreted as any mere figment, X.  But “therapeutic”?

X: Thank you, Why.  And I meant to say diagnostic: my goal is to call readers in to help us determine what to make of the radically inclusive theory of reality you’re developing—which we’ve merely hinted at so far.

Y: That and to have a little fun, right?

X: That’s right.  And I certainly do hope you’re enjoying it as much as we are, dear readers.  Please join us again next month!

To rent a dedication line or to comment, write to Dr. X at contactdr.x@gmail.com or to Dr. Why at contact.dr.why@gmail.com.

All rights retained by the authors.