Saturday, April 11, 2009

Newer and Better Fantasies

"Are you listening to all that?"  Thorne said.  "I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.  It's just theories.  Human beings can't help making them, but the fact is that theories are just fantasies.  And they change.  When America was a new country, people believed in something called phlogiston.  You know what that is?  No?  Well, it doesn't matter, because it wasn't real anyway.  They also believed that four humors controlled behavior.  And they believed that the earth was only a few thousand years old.  Now we believe the earth is four billion years old, and we believe in photons and electrons, and we think human behavior is controlled by things like ego and self-esteem.  We think those beliefs are more scientific and better."

"Aren't they?"

Thorne shrugged.  "They're still just fantasies.  They're not real.  Have you ever seen a self-esteem?  Can you bring me one on a plate?  How about a photon?  Can you bring me one of those?"

Kelly shook her head.  "No, but . . ."

"And you never will, because those things don't exist.  No matter how seriously people take them," Thorne said.  "A hundred years from now, people will look back at us and laugh.  They'll say, 'You know what people used to believe?  They believed in photons and electrons.  Can you imagine anything so silly?'  They'll have a good laugh, because by then there will be newer and better fantasies."  Thorne shook his head.  "And meanwhile, you feel the way the boat moves?  That's the sea.  That's real.  You smell the salt in the air?  You feel the sunlight on your skin?  That's all real.  You see all of us together?  That's real.  Life is wonderful.  It's a gift to be alive, to see the sun and breathe the air.  And there isn't really anything else."*

So--are we getting closer, or are we running in circles?

*Michael Crichton, The Lost World.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

I submit that there is some progress. I can't remember the source, so I'll paraphrase: "The belief the Earth is flat is wrong, just as is the belief the Earth is a perfect sphere. But if you believe those two beliefs are equally wrong, you're wronger than both of them combined."