Sally (atreic) wrote,

Hmm. Network notwork. I'm sure I ought to use this as a unique opportunity to read some of that really dull thesis which is glowering at me in a guilt inducing way, but it's very hard to do it in an engaged way when I can't even look at my own data (Matlab is sulking because I don't have a license*) arnhem will now be tutting disapprovingly and starting to write comments about procrastination by construction of artificial critical paths, but I'm going to pretend I can't hear him ;-)

Instead I'm going to write about the stripes of understanding.

A lot of the time, when you start trying to answer a straightforward question, you find that the answer toggles the more and more information you get. For example, as the famous Scientists of History investigated the nature of light they saw it diffract and bend and behave in a generally wave like manner, and were able to feel vastly superior to the Scientists of History Further Away who just thought it rolled around the place like billiard balls. And then you get the Quantum Scientists** who looked at things even further and found light behaving in a way that could only be explained if it were a particle. One assumes this made them feel superior to the Scientists of History, but one doesn't assume it made them think the Scientists of History Further Away were really clever.

This isn't just a phenominom in Obscure Science. It crops up all over the place. Ring-a-ring-o-roses is the only other example that crosses my mind at the moment*** (Everyone knows that Ring-o-roses is Just A Nursery Rhyme. But the slightly better educated class of Everyone knows that it's actually all about the Plague. But the even more educated Everyones have written well researched arguments on why it probably hasn't come to us from the Plague at all, but is just a nursery rhyme) If you've ever sat in a pub quiz or an exam thinking "I know what the 'right' answer to this question will be, even though I know why there are deeper**** reasons why that's not true at all, so I'd better write that down to get the mark" or sat with a child who happens to have said something true but for completely wrong reasons, and you've had to patiently explain to them why their reasons are wrong, you've been working on the idea that where you are on the stripes of understanding may be more significant to answering a question than what the answer truely is.

Can you see it? Stand with me. It's beautiful. It stretches away further than my eye can see, a bold striped scarf running off to infinity that just begs us to walk along it*****. And look to the horizon. There, right on the edge of our understanding, the stripes are so far from us they begin to blur into one.

I don't think I've become a complete moral relativist. I am only human, and some things are dear and important to me. But it reminds me to beware of certaincy, for neither I nor anyone else is capable of walking all of the rainbow stripes and finding the golden pot of truth at the end.

And what is dear and beautiful to me? Who do I love? Not the people who by happy chance of the moment happen to be standing on a far distant stripe of the same colour. They may wish to parade under the same banner and label us into the same box, but if they cannot even begin to see how I think and where I have come from they have little in common with me. I love the people who have made the effort to walk up the stripes. The people who think, and reason, and study, and bite bullets, and see the other persons point of view, and debate, and once the dust has settled in their mind do it all again. What does it matter what colour the ground they stand on is? If they are Christian, Athiest, Whig, Tory, pro-Grammer schools, anti-War? Why, it only matters in as much as it gives us a talking point to start from, as we walk together in good company off to the horizon, where who knows what the truth will prove to be?


*My license lies over the Notwork.
My license lies far from this lab
For someone has stolen my Notwork
And I think they're a rascalous cad.

**You can never know where they are and what they're thinking at the same time. Which when they're you're supervisor is a bit of a bummer

*** Although I'm hoping my esteemed readership might come up with some more, as the blank state of my mind is slightly embaressing. There'll be a Prize for the best example :-)

****Or perhaps just more pedantic :-)

***** And that description in itself is only one stripe on the scarf, if we could walk up the stripes of understanding of the stripes of understanding we would see that it is a vast rainbow coloured patchwork quilt, with a thousand positions and opinions and misunderstandings and shades of grey and flashes of gold.
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