The third date is often the one in which you find out if you and your companion are compatible in the most important sense – epistemologically. This story depicts two women feeling their way through a conversation that may well seem familiar to you. On the surface it’s about religion, sexuality and social politics … but beneath the covers it’s a duel between two different ways of knowing.
I wrote this story, like all the pieces in this collection, based on personal experience, inspired by conversations and informed by academic research. The stories are about philosophy and people. Each shows someone engaging with an abstract thought problem in their own idiosyncratic context. The characters are diverse, ranging from an Indonesian punk to a South African shaman to an elderly woman dying in hospital, what they have in common is the central feature of humanity the ability to, or perhaps the inevitability of, doubt.
In Pillow Talk I wanted to capture that feeling of something shifting beneath you. The moment when you’re discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the efficacy of some herbal remedy or a supernatural claim and, mid-conversation, you realise that you’re playing by different rules than your interlocutor; that you have reached your beliefs on the subject via different routes
In his 2014 article Religious Credence is not Factual Belief, Neil Van Leeuwen describes two distinct cognitive attitudes and presents evidence which demonstrates their unequivocal differences. He suggests that religious credence shares characteristics with hypothesis, fictional imagining and assumption. Where factual beliefs meet the philosophical prerequisites for knowledge, “religious credence” often falters on the “justified” and “true” criteria.
The question we leave these two characters with is whether a relationship with such dramatic epistemological incompatibility can work. When one partner answers difficult existential questions with intuition and the other wants to assess the evidence, can they even talk about the big three-o’clock-in-the-morning questions? Are they even speaking, or thinking, in the same language?
I’ve asked several readers whether they think there will be a fourth date for these women and have got varied answers. I’m still not sure what to think. But I know that, whether we acknowledge them or not, our epistemological foundations are deeply wound into who we are and who we love.