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not commonly seen

13 August 2010 one comment

I put together this little thing after a quick intellectual exercise I went through:

Please estimate, on a scale of one to ten, the technology level required to perform the listed action by an alien space-faring race:

Travel across the universe at hyper-light speeds __________
Avoiding bullet-sized interstellar objects by
scanning them from billions of miles away __________
Probing farmer anuses _________

Containing a pressurized atmosphere in massive metallic objects ___________
Locating lifeforms on a planet no less than 4.3 light-years away  ____________
Using crop circles as your primary means of communication  _____________

I don’t think I’ve ever referenced the quote I used in my page header, but this one bears mentioning.  I have, however, commented on this phenomenon before: the perversion of the principle of Occam’s Razor.  Succinctly, Occam’s Razor posits that the simplest explanation is the most likely one.  That is not always the case, but given the frequency that it is, one is better off employing it.  Herein lies the problem, however: since the simplest answer often takes a bit of logic at which to arrive, and (as I have blogged about before) the modern world evinces a paucity of logical thought, the quick answer often gets substituted for the simple one.  Thus, it is not alien beings that plague the rural among us, it is the alien concept of sensibility – the ego of the claimant is too fragile to admit that he or she has been fooled by a trick of light against glass, or of a cleverly-designed hoax (“why would somebody DO that?”).  Additionally, we rely on education to impart knowledge to us: what denizen of the modern world still believes that the Sun is not, in fact, a ball of nuclear-fusing hydrogen, but is a male god on a chariot, sustaining his people?  Yet, to the ancient mind, this unquenchable fire in the sky that was regular as clockwork, provided all we needed to survive, yet could still kill with enough exposure, seemed a perfect candidate for an intelligence that was at work looking out for our well-being (as long as we kept it placated).  Clearly, an easy explanation – but not a simple one.

The mechanism, for example, of reducing the intake of calories and increasing the burning thereof causing one to lose weight is a simple one.  It is not, in fact, easy.  “Satan hid my car keys this morning” is an easy belief, but in no way simple.  “Easy” and “simple” are not synonymous.  It may be easy to think that the ancient Egyptians could not have built their empire without the help of alien intelligence, but it is not the most simple of explanations.  The simplest is that we have been guilty of a type of racism which implies that ancient culture is necessarily more backward than our own.  While this may be true socially (a major point of debate, in some cases), technologically, it does not bear fruit.  A freshman physics major can often dream up a method of aligning two linear objects miles apart from each other in an afternoon.  The Egyptians had hundreds of years to come up with it, and no jobs to get to after school.  Thus, it is not a matter of intellect, but a matter of time – something our ancient cousins did not squander in the manners we have become fond of.  It becomes incumbent upon us, in turn, to improve the way we think about things.  As John F. Kennedy once said: “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”  We should not hold others accountable for negative opinions of us when we give them ample ammunition and a large target at which to shoot.

One Comment »

  • Deb said:

    Parts of this post had me roaring with laughter. “Satan hid my car keys,” was fantastic. I’ve used that myself this week, to much hilarity. Funny funny!

    You make the important, even requisite, point: simple is rarely quick, at least when it comes to involved processes like thinking. For cooking, which is far less complex than thought, simple is often quick, and even preferred, at least in terms of healthy eating and doing so in a sustainable manner. (Wait until I make you my berry cobber; the crust is just ground nuts. No flour! No dough rolling. And it’s simplicity itself.) But I digress. You frequently blog about what are essentially arguments from ignorance, and it’s one of my favourite fallacies because it’s so easy to observe in the wild. (I use the label ‘fave’ loosely, since I really wish it was RARE, but oh well.) And I suppose I’m always blown away by its pervasiveness, because it reveals such an utter lack of curiosity and comparative thinking. Meaning, if the quick answer isn’t right about what’s wrong with my car, why would it be the answer for what’s wrong with my health (i.e., God has cursed me, the crops, etc.). It’s such a simple (dare I say quick?) comparison to make, to just check for consistency in my own approach, and yet it’s done so little by the human race. I can’t even say for sure how I came to be this way when it’s not common. Certainly it’s not something I see displayed in my family dynamic, nor was I taught it in school (not even college — I was a business student, where one isn’t taught to Think, one is taught to Do).

    I wonder if it really is just a matter of time and how we squander it. I used to think education would be enough, that it would cure plenty of ills we suffer from, but laziness seems to trump education. And I despair.

    Oh, and using the word “paucity” made my day. Your vocabulary impresses *me,* and that’s hard to do.