St Peter’s College, Oxford
5th Jan 2004
Dear Caspar (if I may),
Thank you very much for your letter of the first of October last year. I am sorry to have taken so long in replying to it. Initially, I had put it to one side pending a time when I could give it the attention it deserved; I’m afreaid to say that it has only moved back to the centre of my attention now because i have realised that sucha time will not arrive unitl the summer. What delays me is the need to focus on finishing my book for a deadline at the end of June. I’d like to feel that I might refer you to this forthcoming book as itself being likely ot contain the answer to your question, but – to give the plot away – its argument is to the effect that reads interested in your question should address it to God, the very procedure which you – being an atheist, quite understandably – report youself not to have tried; and from your report oof not having tried it, one may perhaps infer you will remain unwilling to try it. In the event of you considering yourself more flexible on the issue of whether or not you’d ever attempt this, I mention the book’s title and publisher – ‘Evidence of Things Unseen’, OUP – which should be enough to enable you to track it down in due course.
When my pupils ask me, ‘What is the meaning of life?’, I tend to say to them, ‘State of functional activity characterised by organic metabolic reactions.’ And then I follow up quickly by asking whether what I’ve just siad has answered their question. If rather more is required for an answer to be a satisfactory one than that it removes from one’s questioner any desire to ask anything similar, then one might reasonably think I rather fail my pupils here – just as I am in this letter failing you. But asking oneself why this isn’t a satisfactory answer to the question might in itself go some way towards one’s putting oneself on the right track to find an answer to it that will be genuinely satisfactory. That – pending my book and divine intervention – is the best I can do I’m afraid. Sorry not to have been more help and best of luck with your continuing investigations.
I am yours sincerely,