“Fish simply do not exist.”
My son, well used to the odd phrases that make it past my internal censors, merely grunts; his expression that of a man very well aware that to ask for elucidation would start a debate that could last for hours. This is good, it leaves me with the silence in which I can explore my thoughts.
We are watching his fish on TV. Not as silly as it might seem; although undoubtedly it is beautiful to stand in the sunshine gazing down at the water, the camera which brings the live video feed into the house is submerged, taking you right into their world. You see them from another angle completely, watching as they move in what appears to be a multitude of dimensions to which our bodies have no access. You do get up close and personal with the fish that appear on the screen.
Except… there aren’t any.
The huge screen is full of light and movement. Bubbles swirl like a billion stars in the night sky. But of the sixty or so fish in the pond, some of them as much as three feet long, there is not a sign.
It occurs to me that, right at this moment, there is no way I could actually say for certain whether such a thing as a fish exists… had, indeed, ever existed…
Of course, I remember fish, both in general terms and at a personal level. In my mind, I remember feeding them moments earlier. I can call up the image of the sturgeon we had rescued when the pump had died… of Simon, the bubble blowing character with the voracious appetite… of Bent-Tail fish, whose appearance had sparked a whole train of thought… I can, indeed, call up an image of most of the fish allegedly in the pond, right back to when they were fingerlings. And all the other fish I have seen, even caught and occasionally cooked.
But how can I, in the isolation of my own mind, be certain that all these memories are not just some figment of my imagination? Creatures dreamed and on an evolutionary par with, say, pink elephants?
I could, of course, turn to my son and asked his opinion of their existence. I could call my younger son, ostensibly intent on catching a few carp today… but folie à deux or even trois is a recognised disorder… a shared believe in the existence of fish is no guarantee that we are not all affected by the same delusion.
I could, of course, simply get up and go outside, lean over the pond and verify their existence for myself. Or could I? Who is to say that what I see is real? I could, at best, only be assured that I perceive something I choose to refer to as fish, swimming in a perception I call water….
But anyway, that isn’t my focus right at that moment. It is simple… if I cannot see fish, I can only believe that they exist. I cannot know for sure.
Through personal experience I can say that I have had empirical proof of their existence. Except that, in fact, right at this moment, I can’t do more than say that I believe I recall having experiential evidence of their existence. I can look at circumstantial evidence… we are sitting on the sofa watching a screen full of bubbles in the stated hope that fish will appear. The camera was specifically installed for this purpose, to compensate for my son’s damaged vision. So he could watch fish. Would we have gone to all that trouble had we no proof that fish exist? Would we, in fact, have even dug the huge pond and purchased fish were we not certain of their existence?
Yet, unless I can see them… and right at this moment I cannot… how on earth can I be certain of anything? The bubbles on the screen swish and swirl, changing direction with the passage of something. I can only believe that they must be fish.
Whether or not fish exist, I know that my belief in them has changed the world and continues to change it each day. I am, in a very real sense, in service to fish… each day I tend their environment, offer them food and learn their ways. Work has been done, things crafted, built, made beautiful, because of a belief in fish. I have risen above my phobia of wet worms to serve their needs, finding courage because of their existence and my love for the beauty they bring to life.
Even though I cannot see them, I sit here watching the shadows of their passage, seeing them move the bubbles, themselves unseen, and feeling the effects of their invisible presence as my body relaxes, my mind lets go of care and I watch expectantly for a golden glimpse of beauty.
Their presence is, to my subjective view, the only plausible explanation for the effects I see, and feel, their existence to have caused. It does not matter if my perception of fish is flawed, that perception serves them, changes my world… and changes me for the better. It does not matter if my perception of fish is not the same as, say, your perception. I can’t change that for either of us… can’t even be certain of the clarity of my own vision in any provable way… All I can do is hope that your experience of fish is joyful. As for me? I choose to believe… I have faith in the existence of fish.