London Science Museum

Francis Crick was possessed with the idea that consciousness was a discoverable thing. Most people believe this; they believe it’s a thing, that it’s in there, somehow; and sure, why not. Why not discover it.

Because it’s a word. Psychologists of a certain type, mind you–have reduced science to the 3rd grade level and gotten away with it for so long, valid disciplines are starting to sink as well. It’s now common in neuroscience, for example, to begin with a word–something people are comfortable with–and make dizzle-dazzle with their scanners until something happens that allows them to say they found it.

But all words are made up; they’re definitions, implicit or explicit. You can’t take a word and assign it to something you observe. It has to go the other way: observe something new and interesting, and if it’s fitting, make up a word for it. Otherwise you can’t say you discovered anything.

Anyway Francis got it in his head that one of my experiments had produced evidence of consciousness. I grew up worshipping this man, but I couldn’t help myself; I had to argue. I did this for about half a year, and then we just stopped talking about it. We drank a lot, giggle about nothing, and I listened to stories I never thought I’d hear from the man himself.

Anyway when the London Science Museum opened a new wing, the Wellcome Wing, devoted to neuroscience, Francis insisted they put up an exhibit about this experiment of mine; the consciousness experiment. There was a formal opening ceremony with the Queen and the Duke of this and that, and the mayor of London and the secretary of state. And they had those trumpets with flags hanging down. It was spectacular.

After the Queen gave her speech, everyone was walking around looking at exhibits. My wife and I were approaching an exhibit and some guy stepped out in front of her and rudely said “Get back!” I was stunned that he would insult her like that. I started to move quickly towards him–to explain my point of view–when I saw a holster inside his jacket. I knew he wouldn’t shoot me inside a museum. What stopped me, though, were the letters SAS on the holster. Unless that happened to be the brand name of the holster, it would mean he was trained by the most elite special forces group in the world. Quickly my imagination flashed an image of my proud colleagues back home, waiting to hear about my visit to England, then me trying to explain the broken arms and the broken jaw. So I said “Excuse us!”, grabbed the wife, and headed back.

My wife complained to some lady we knew to be in charge. Apparently that was the bodyguard for the Queen’s husband, the Dick of Who gives a fuck. I wasn’t going to complain; I had read about the SAS, how they were consistently ranked best in the world, better even than Seal Team 6. It was only later, years later, that I realized: the story wasn’t worth telling because he was SAS. It was worth telling because I, a contributor to the museum, was going to grab a guy by the neck and balls–during this formal affair–and tell him to show some respect. So yes, he was rude. But, oh lord, I was stupid.