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The Dining Cryptographers' Problem

No, not the Dining Cryptographers Problem (that sounds rather too much like the sort of thing I should be writing about, now that I'm officially 'writing up'). Rather, I refer to a recent outing with the wonderful research group that is nurturing me through my PhD, the experience of which struck me profoundly enough to depart slightly from my 'usual' themes and turn temporary restaurant critic.

And so I give you: the 'all-you-can-eat' buffet. All the flavours of the world on one plate...and when you reach shiny ceramic - in that pause before you go up for more - a mirror to your soul. What a worthy service - forcing us to hold our appetites up against our actions, throwing into sharp relief a fundamental characteristic of the human condition: the stark contrast between what we want to do and what we do.

Of course, we all have our different battles, and perhaps it is just me after all…but every time I set out with the intention to ignore the invited challenge and instead go for the 'eat-all-I-would-like-to-eat' option. That is, at least stop when I stop enjoying it…And, every time, I fail. Normally, nowadays, by decreasing margins. But still, there remains that feeling of frustrated self-recrimination.

Paul devotes a big chunk of one of his letters to the bigger struggle of which this is symptomatic. To quote: "…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (See Romans 7 for more - including, eventually, the hope of some hope!)

And C. S. Lewis based a whole argument for God on the existence of objective moral law:
…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in  a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly,  that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
He develops this argument in the early chapters of 'Mere Christianity': it doesn't (to me) hold decisive weight as a 'proof' on its own (there seem rather too many other good explanations for the emergence of morality), but as part of a cumulative case it makes an awful lot of sense.

Perhaps Alvin Plantinga could add the 'Argument From All-You-Can-Eat' to his big old list of theistic arguments. Yes, I am being flippant and philosophically naive... but Plantinga, Lewis, and most especially Paul have said many things well worth investigating so if you're surfeited with my musings (or even -- dare I hope it -- if you're not) let me encourage you to check them out instead :-)


sounds like a serious thought. I totally agree and having had a not great weigh in today goes to show how true it is in my life too! (need to avoid set meals at Indian restaurants and all you can eat buffets!)
Oh dear - I *really* wasn't intending to pile food-related guilt on anyone (my comically clumsy childhood endeavour to learn ballet earned me the nickname 'fairy elephant' from my mum - which I now fear rather describes the way I have stomped all over such a potentially sensitive issue)…It wasn't really supposed to be about food at all, more that general frustration of being able to recognise the 'better' option and still not managing to choose it!