Yesterday, I Talked to a Crow

Thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami

A man talks to cats, dreams are real, reality is a metaphor, and leeches fall from the sky. Moments of philosophy in the front room of the library, or in the cabin in the woods, between scenes. All the while modern colloquialisms, baseball caps, and cell phones remind us that this story takes place here, today, around us.

I won’t lie and say I have any clue what happened in the 500 pages I just read, because I don’t. For me, it was a journey into another perspective. I’ve always imagined the East to be more spiritual,  less captivated by reason, and more by experience. This book reinforced that.

It makes you wonder if the man next door can’t actually talk to cats. And if he told you he did, would it be so unreasonable to believe him?

Kafka’s father had a philosophy that’s repeated throughout the book – believe anything until you have counter evidence to disprove it. A Rabbi once told me that. ‘We call skepticism intelligence,” he said, “but why?” Why not believe what your father told you until you have reason to think differently?

That idea – believing something until you have proof otherwise is completely inconsistent with the Western worship of reason where it is a virtue to accept nothing unless it is proven by hard evidence.

Try it. Ask someone, “Do you believe in God?”

Imagine if they answered, “Yes, because I have no reason to believe otherwise.”

You say, “But can you prove it?”

They say, “No. But do you have evidence that puts the premise in question?”

You look at the believer, “Seriously? You believe that G-d came down on a mountain top carrying two stones and that’s where morality comes from?” Preposterous!

He looks at you squarely and repeats. “Do you have evidence that puts the premise in question? No? Well then why shouldn’t I believe it?”

Or how about when a man comes knocking at your car window at a busy intersection asking for a handout. He lost his job and doesn’t have anything with which to feed his children, he says. Your skeptical and sophisticated mind immediately sees through the ruse. “That’s code word for ‘I need drugs!'”you scoff.

You have no way to prove that he will indeed use the money to feed his children, or that he has children at all – not within the next two minutes until the light changes. But you have no reason to believe that his story is not true. True, there are many homeless people who are there because they’re on drugs and they will not use your money wisely. But this man? What can you tell from his clothes?

But we live with a certain fear of being duped, of being naive – of trusting.

Opening yourself to possibilities that you can only sense, but can’t prove, is a mark of maturity. You’ve grown strong enough that you can make yourself vulnerable, that you don’t need to prove it to believe it.