Monday, July 03, 2006


Avallon-Auxerre-Sens-Fontainebleau

Trip dist: 179 kms. Trip time: 9 hrs, 3 min. Tot dist: 3,445 kms.

Ha ha. Extraordinary circumstance (don't for a minute think I can do this kind of riding as a matter of course). The ride was downhill for the first 110 kms from Avallon to Sens (yes, pretty much all of it! but after that--not so much--rather hilly, actually), but I also woke up early (Avalon sleeps early--by 8 p.m., but wakes up even earlier and by 6 a.m. I already had cars and lively people passing busily--and noisily--below my window. Besides my room is oriented such that the sun with its associated summer heat comes in quite strong by this time, so I woke up about 1 hour earlier than usual), which gave me about 1 extra hour of riding as well (even though the high kilometer count is due mostly to the downhill, since as you can see I didn't really ride all that much longer than usual, what with the "lemme check my email, I haven't had internet access in 4 days" lunch stop in Auxerre--a rather pretty city-town, by the way--which is never a "just email" check, websurfing temptations as strong as they are, etc.).

Not much else, but during the ride I just somehow thought that someone ought to re-write the Bible (or whatever holy book have you) and call it something like "The Fundamental things a 21st Century Earthling Should Know", and the first sentence should read exactly this:

"In the beginning, man appeared on Earth approximately 2.5 million years ago via a process called Natural Selection. We know this thanks to the fossil record and radio-carbon dating methods."

And then provide links/references to Darwin's "Origin of the Species" (to explain what Natural Selection is) and to all or as many as possible papers and articles giving evidence of what we know supporting the first sentence (i.e. explanations of how radio carbon dating works, locations of oldest human fossils, etc). The book then, basically simply contains a set of "verses" that are very simple statements of what humans in the 21st century know about the world, but most importantly how we know. And differently from the encyclopedia, not all the info is contained in the book, but simply the book is the starting point, a collection of knowledge and facts that we know for sure are true, and ways for the reader/student to go off and deepen such knowledge or question it via references to the original articles. So, in terms of controversial/still unknowns, the book would state what we know for sure, and acknowledge the unknowns. For instance, with respect to the origins of the universe, it should read something along these lines:

"We as yet do not know how the universe began, but we do know that it is expanding. We know this because we have measured the doppler shift from nearby stars and can see that they are moving away from us and from each other."

Again, with links/references to explanations and measurements (yes, even the conflicting ones!) of Hubble's constant, an explanation of what the doppler shift is and derivations of the Doppler equation, etc.

Not only that, the book would not simply contain information of what we know about the natural sciences, but also basic laws of mathematics, logic, deductive reasoning, and the principles of critical thinking. For instance, a brief listing, explanation, and example of logical falacies in argumentation just as much as an explanation and examples of basic syllogisms should be included. So should basic principles of formal mathematical reasoning: the fundamentals of Calculus, set theory, probability, but only the fundamentals, explained in such a way that even a layperson can understand, and from which more complex things can then be derived by the intrepid and interested reader (perhaps through the assiduous consultation of the supplied references).

Also, basic practical 21st century every-day living common knowledge, for instance: how compounded interest works. What the NASDAQ is. What it is that determines the price of a commodity. What real and nominal price are. Etc.

Then there should be a section about us, as a people. Basic geopolitics but without getting partisan (this will be hard to write, so one has to be careful). For instance:

"As of the date of publication, there are X number of national entities including K republics, L countries, and M federations" (or whateverhaveyous), and include a definition for what we mean by "national entity", "republic", "state", etc.

Then the culture section: include what we know of how many languages are spoken, by whom and by how many, and where, and how they developed, for instance.

Sounds long and complicated? The trick is to keep it to 300 pages or less (shorter than your average Bible). But that's not too hard considering that you can simply refer the details to the original readings/publications (it is harder to keep it "balanced"--I purposely did not say "objective" since it is hard to do this with non-scientific subjects, and also because the adjective has been taken over by the "objectivists" a.k.a "randroids" and flooded for me with a series of very negative connotations I shall rant to you about if you trigger-topic me, but the hope is that the distillation of "verses" as simple common, provable truths with acknowledgements of the controversies or conflicts or uncertainties in measurements and references for the reader to resolve them if so inclined should be able to handle this shortcoming). So all in all, a collection of "This is what humans in the 21st century know for sure." And therefore, this is what every human should also know or at least ponder and question as a matter of course since childhood.

It is amazing, how intellectually lazy we can become, and how thought can be so quickly and irreparably discouraged.

Take for instance a mother explaining how movies work to a child. Not many can do so, I'm sure. And the problem is, it is not because they don't know how it works, but because they are too lazy to stop and think about how it would work if they don't know (anyone who has ever operated a photographic camera can soon figure out with a minimum of thought how a video camera works and how several pictures in quick succession with small progressive changes in the position of the subject between them can give the illusion of movement when played back fast enough), with the result that the child soon learns not to ask questions because the question in the end is never satisifed and often comes accompanied with unpleasant reprimands along the lines of: "Don't ask silly questions" or "I'm too busy" or "Let's play another time" (ever seen a 3 year old always ask "why?" for a full 20 minutes straight regardless of the answer? Seems like a silly game, but it is of vital importance that the question always be taken seriously, I think). And this, of course, is tragic, because the minute we stop asking questions is the minute we become intellectual slaves to whatever we accept as spoon fed because we are too lazy to evaluate or reject it.

And it is that one, isn't it, the only true freedom that exists, the one that no one can ever take away from you no matter what, unless it was denied to you by a lazy upbringing and never given to you in the first place (and in which case you probably don't even miss it, a greater ironic tragedy than most): the freedom.....to imagine.

2 comments:

Ian said...

Let's get to work on that book.

Thought is in a sad state, indeed. Even less elevated faculties like basic perception seem to be suffering.

(haha, 'randroids.')

Elisa said...

Blah. Don't have time/too busy. I'm just the idea person. ;P