Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I love Gene Weingarten

The following illustration and explanation were created by the hilarious humorist, Gene Weingarten for his Live Discussions on washingtonpost.com:
"As you can plainly see, the line representing Presumptions of Magic has a steadily downward slope of approximately 43 degrees, beginning in the era when hominids attributed all observed phenomena to supernatural causes. These include such things as Thor creating lightning with thunderbolts, dyspepsia being caused by disruption of bodily humors, torrents being attributed to the weeping of Matlalcueitl, the Aztec rain goddess, plus your occasional Cacodaemons, Simulacra, Succubuses and whatnot. EVERYTHING had a mystical explanation. That's because people were fearful, ignorant, and desperate to give meaning to life.

If a philosopher or social scientist were to try to encapsulate a single principle that yoked together the intellectual process of civilazation, it would be a gradual dismantling of presumptions of magic. Brick by brick, century by century, with occasional burps and hiccups, the wall of superstition has been coming down. Science and medicine and political philosophy have been on a relentless march in one direction only -- sometimes slow, sometimes at a gallop, but never reversing course. Never has an empirical scientific discovery been deemed wrong and replaced by a more convincing mystical explanation. ("Holy cow, Dr. Pasteur! I've examined the pancreas of a diabetic dog, and darned if it's NOT an insulin deficiency, but a little evil goblin dwelling inside. And he seems really pissed!") Some magical presumptions have stubbornly persisted waaaay longer than others, but have eventually, inexorably fallen to logic, reason and enlightenment, such as the assumption of the divine right of kings and the entitlement of aristocracy. That one took five millennia, but fall it did.

There remain many unanswered questions about how the world works, how our bodies work, where we came from, and so forth. We're workin' on 'em. When you think about it, though, there is only one fire-from-the-sky booga-booga notion left. But it's a biggie.

So here we are in 2007. And the question we must ask ourselves, as dispassionate truth seekers, is: Which is the most likely place that civilization will find itself in the year 3000? Will it be position A, or position B?" - Gene Weingarten

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