Some years ago my father, one of the most interesting people I know, created a list of arbitrary subjects, for debating or when conversation lulls. (He hates being bored.)
Me: What’s number 4, Last Thursdayism?
Him: The universe was created last Thursday.
Him: It was created chock-full of records of the non-existent past. You know: fossils, historical artifacts, ruins…
Me: But I remember things that happened longer than a week ago.
Him: Ready-made memories came as part of the (new) universe.
Me (walks away)
So much for a flagging conversation…
Since then, I discovered the Church of Last Thursday
They note in their creed that, You, the reader, are the Creator of the universe.
What caught my eye this time was the second-person point of view (POV) of the doctrine. You created the world, but You don’t remember doing it.
Second-person POV is awkward in fiction
Probably because it addresses the reader directly. Fiction aims to draw us into the story, so we forget we’re reading. In its very directness, second-person POV can be exhortative. It tells the reader what they’ve done or thought. So if the reader isn’t engaged, it can confront and alienate. Many find it bossy or presumptuous.
Italo Calvino used second-person POV in If on a winter’s night a traveller (1979). This postmodern classic is clever and witty, as is all his work. But, while at first I was intrigued by the second-person POV, it eventually grew tiresome.
If the universe was created last Thursday…
Then Calvino’s book and the list of arbitrary subjects are among the many artifacts created at that time. Last Thursdayism is an extreme parody of the idea of a Young Earth.
Taking the Bible as the ultimate authority about all reality, the earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old.
Since the earth is young (according to the ultimate source), the scientific methods that determine age are obviously erroneous. (At least over long time periods, though more recent records may be accepted.)
But what if things that appear old were created to appear old
Then it’s impossible to use observations as evidence.
However this radical position isn’t new, nor is it always meant in satire. In 1857, Philip Gosse argued in Omphalos that the fossil record was created to make the world appear older. The title (the Greek word for navel) refers to the idea that God created Adam and Eve with navels to prove their human ancestry.
Artists usually represent Adam and Eve with navels, like in the 16th century painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Of course, that doesn’t constitute evidence.
Can we prove Last Thursdayism is wrong?
Last Thursdayism and Omphalism aren’t scientific premises, as they can’t be falsified— all evidence is tainted by definition. As Stephen Jay Gould said in The Flamingo’s Smile (1987):
Omphalos is the classical example of an utterly untestable notion, for the world will look exactly the same in all its intricate detail whether fossils and strata are prochronic or products of an extended history.
Last Thursdayism is a straw man argument because its exaggeration misrepresents the position it wishes to critique.
Last Thursdayism can be a little zen
Many Eastern philosophies note that the past is gone and the future may not arrive.
There is in each moment only that moment. Our compulsion to plan our next steps, to fantasize about future events or to worry, and the equally common tendency to ruminate about the past can get in the way of appreciating and living the present.
On the other hand, we can be considered a sum of what happened before, as famously expressed by William Faulkner (Requiem for a Nun, 1950):
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
But just maybe, we aren’t obligated by it.
It might not matter. The universe will end next Thursday. (Or in five minutes.)
What’s your experience with second-person POV? Any books where it really worked? Do you think Faulkner’s right? Do you ever fall into obsessive remembering or worrying?
And, most importantly: where were YOU last Thursday?