We were in IKEA restaurant. We had chips and salad but then Laura wanted a cake and I went to get it for her. She wanted a slice of the chocolate-moussey gateau but an elegant woman in the queue ahead of me - as soon as I spotted her, I thought, uh-oh
- grabbed the last piece. So not to come back empty-handed I chose a different cake, I didn't really know what it was but it was lemon cheesecake. It turned out quite well for me because Laura ate half and said The rest is yours
. However, I'd only brought one fork with me. I was too lazy to go back to the servery so I thought I might as well re-use the fork I'd eaten my chips with. But it was mucky, it still had ketchup on it. I stuck it in my mouth to suck it clean and then I pulled it straight back out again, because it was hot.Ouch
, I said. Wait a minute, the fork was Hot
?? Was I mistaken?
I sucked more attentively - yes, definitely hot. Not the handle, but the other end with the curved tines and shoulder. I made Laura feel it, she laid the back of the fork to her cheek and she agreed, even then it was still pretty warm though cooling down rapidly. I set it back in the empty bowl just where it had been and we stared at it for quite a while. The bowl was stone cold by the way.
Well, there's only so much staring you can do. I picked up the fork, now cold, and finished off the cheesecake. But I was still thinking about it. There was no source of heat anywhere nearby - how could metal heat itself? This must be some weird thing that happened sometimes, though I'd never read about it. Perhaps microwaves, kinetic energy? We threw around phrases we didn't understand. Then we filed it in that convenient category of unexplainable phenomena, "just one of those things".
I was in no doubt about what I'd felt. Later, I had another thought - could there have been a chemical reaction, perhaps between acid in the ketchup and something alkaline in my mouth, that had generated the heat I felt in the metal? No, surely I would have experienced such a reaction in quite a different way - wouldn't it fizz and burn?
Of course you don't believe me. I mean, you politely credit my experience but you naturally suppose there was a ready-to-hand quotidian explanation. A few days later (I was still bothered about it) I began to think like this myself. Was there really no
source of heat anywhere nearby? Well of course there was. When I bought the cake I also bought myself a cup of tea. I had discounted this cup of tea at the time. I was perfectly certain that the fork had never come anywhere near the tea. But now, on a workday morning thirty miles away, I thought heretically. Wasn't the heat I experienced exactly like what I'd feel if the end of the fork had just been plunged in very hot water? And hadn't there been, in fact, a cup of very hot water sitting there on the tray right in front of me? Ah - but I "don't remember" doing anything of the sort? But I am "perfectly certain" I would never ever plunge a mucky fork in my nice fresh cup of tea? Bah - how weak these objections sounded now...
You remember Hume's argument against miracles. No account of a miracle can ever be countenanced. Miracles by definition are not susceptible of naturalistic explanation and are incredibly rare. It is therefore always more likely that the narrator is in error than that a miracle occurred.
A curious consequence of this argument is that, if a miracle (or, let us say rather, a rare and incomprehensible event) ever does occur, then it will go unremarked.
The witnesses themselves, if they are thoughtful and rational beings, will discount their own witness. With the passing of only a little time, the fabric of everyday experience will knit itself together again. They must have been mistaken.
Or if the witnesses refuse to be thoughtful and rational beings, but on the contrary are wilful and hysterical egotists who insist on the primacy of their oh-so-special experience, they will soon grow tired of asserting what no-one can ever be persuaded to believe, and what, in the absence of a naturalistic explanation, they never can defend. The memory of the miracle dwindles until it becomes "just one of those things". I think in my life I may have experienced quite a few such phenomena, some of them more dramatic than hot cutlery; yes, I did think so, but the memories are vague. Did I dream them? Does it matter?
Until these rare events become open to public scrutiny they remain outside scientific discourse. We can fancifully imagine "seers", people who have access to a range of phenomena unknown to our science, but we do not imagine them as merely witnesses, we have to imagine them also as having an understanding
of their experience, that is, as possessors of their own "science", an "explanation", though a mystical one to our eyes. Their science, like ours, proceeds stepwise; what it is not ready for, it cannot yet see. Of course many types of rare and inexplicable events probably do occur, it would be arrogant to suppose otherwise, but there's nothing to say about them.