The Most Natural Thing in the World

Let’s get this out of the way: no, sex is not the most natural thing in the world. Next to falling down, it is about the least natural thing in the world,

Natural things are what they are and do what they do according to what they are – according to their natures, right? When we say, for example, that a forest is natural, we mean that all the trees and plants and animals that make up the forest are doing what it is that such things do: consume, grow and reproduce each in its own special way. So, both the forest and each creature in it are just being themselves – and that is what we mean by nature and natural, if we mean anything by them.

So, back to the original issue: what is the most natural thing in the world? We find, upon reflection* that different kinds of things have different natures arranged in a hierarchy. No, really. At the bottom, rocks, being rocks, fall when you drop them – but then, normally, so do petunias and elephants and heads of philosophy departments. The trick is, rocks do precious little else, and specifically *don’t* do any of the things that distinguish petunias, elephants and, one hopes, philosophy chairs from rocks.  Plants do much of what rocks do, but what distinguishes them is that they consume, grow and reproduce, something no rock does.** Animals do everything plants and rocks do, and move around and respond to stimuli in a uniquely ‘animal’ way.

Up to here, I think there’s no argument that what we mean by nature is things doing what it is that makes them what they are. Mountains and sky, oceans and forests, and all the living creatures in them, these are Natural Wonders, after all.

It’s the next step that throws people. Human beings are animals, but only in the sense that a tree is also dead matter, and an elephant consumes, grows and reproduces just like a tree (in the functional sense: the mechanics are matters of style, one could say). Human being do ‘by nature’ everything that rocks, trees and elephants do, PLUS some other things.

There’s a cottage industry (ha!) of disputing the claim that people do anything really different than what animals do. Now, if there was anything obvious to all peoples up to modern times, it was that people were different from animals. It should be noted that people everywhere before modern times had much more first hand experience with animals than modern people do – they hunted them, rode them, raised them, saw them at market and on farms every day. It is curious that those who lived each day in close contact with animals had no thought that people weren’t another order of thing entirely. Not that people didn’t have all the characteristic behaviors – the nature – of animals. Of course we do, We also have something more.

The least, most basically natural thing is what rocks do. More natural are the things that plants do. Even more natural are the things that animals do. The most natural things in the world are what people, and only people, do. How about:

Money? That pretty natural, as it works because of trade, which requires industry and planning and abstract thinking. so that’s pretty natural. But not the most natural.

Cities? Now we’re talking. Cities are made up of many things unique to people, such as laws and rational government, and justice.

How about Civilization? The highest nature of human beings is expressed in civilization, under which falls commerce and cities. Human beings building civilizations is the most natural thing in the world.

In the same manner, the most natural thing in a civilization is its churches.

So tomorrow at Mass, in addition to praising God, I’ll be admiring Nature at its finest.

* By which of course I mean ‘reading Aristotle’ – few of us, least of all me, could be this lucid left to our own devices.

** Possibly the right place to mention: the existence of twilight does not disprove night and day. Of course, we can see crystals that grow and, squinting a bit, imagine they are consuming and reproducing thereby. Some plants move around; some animals remain always in the same place. In the words of the Philosopher that I just made up – yea. so? The questions these cases raise are only raised because the general natures of rocks, plants and animals are so clear in the first place. If it were really the muddle some people want to make it out to be, classification would never have arisen in the first place.

*** One more thought: we should not confuse natural with inevitable. Just because it is possible, indeed common, for humans to try to live as animals, and civilizations often fail, does not mean that civilization isn’t natural.

Know Thyself & The Post Post Modern Age

To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

- Mouse, the Matrix, right after he is correctly identified as a ‘digital pimp’

The latest newsletter from Diablo Valley School ran a piece of mine that contained a thought perhaps worth expanding on. In it I observe that the classic admonition to Know Thyself, and the classic understanding that there is no freedom for those enslaved to their passions, are considered today, if they are considered at all, a mere truism and utter nonsense, respectively.

To the modern well-schooled mind, however, the first seems a truism – how could I not know myself? – and the second simple nonsense – what am I if I am not my passions?

The human being who knows himself and controls his passions is a very difficult creature to herd.

Neo Know Thyself

Wise. Don’t buy what self-proclaimed Oracles are selling is probably on the list somewhere, too.

A wide variety of cultures have held these notions as central ideas under a variety of guises.   To live a good life, one must always evaluate one’s own self, who one is, what one has done, and what are one’s goals. Are we being truthful to ourselves? We are, after all, the first target of our own lies. As Socrates put it: the unexamined life is not worth living. Second, the idea that what we want is not who we are, that our desires must be judged and moderated by the self-knowing person, frees us from easy manipulation, in modern times both the carrot of political and advertising pandering, and the stick of being defined out of social groups.

Yet the idea that Mouse expresses above is now the gold standard of self-awareness: our impulses, so current wisdom goes, are what define us as humans. To know yourself is simply to know what you want.

We are what we want. In the Matrix, this is the wild, defiant claim made in the face of the radical determinism of the Machine World. One after the other, the programs – the Oracle, the Architect, Agent Smith, the Merovingian,  the Key Maker – tell the humans that choice is an illusion, all is cause and effect, that a program and a person both derive whatever meaning they may find in their lives from a purpose they did not make or choose.

This conclusion is inescapable if one starts from Materialism. In the material world, the only meaning  we see is cause and effect* – and it’s a mere desperate word game that makes us call mechanical inevitability ‘meaning’. So, we’re slaves in a meaningless world.

Unless… Unless we can be saved by some mysterious outside force. In the same movie, the Oracle, a character who looks like a grandmother baking cookies, tells Neo, right after telling him he is fated to make a horrible choice:

Oh, don’t worry about it…As soon as you step outside that door, you’ll start feeling better. You’ll remember you don’t believe in any of this fate crap…you’re in control of your_own_ life…remember?

But as Mouse points out, if the workings of the world are such that everything is fated – determined by the laws of nature – the only way we can have any control is if we are somehow touched by something outside the mechanistic world: it is our impulses that make us human. not just another machine.

And, weirdly, this make a certain amount of sense. We can either accept that eved our impulses are merely a manifestation of materialistic determinism, or we can cling to them as, somehow, divine messengers, as things from outside, that make *us* both divine and outsiders as well.

It’s ultimately nonsense, but if it’s all you’ve got…So, in our day, which has rejected any idea that our purpose might be a freely chosen gift from God, the only meaning left in life is to be had by deification of impulse: we are what we want.

If it weren’t for the sickening human cost of this belief, it would be amusing to watch its logical impossibility being played out. What do we do when our impulses conflict? What about my impulses to destroy? To dominate? The shrill reaction to any attempt to challenge the rightness – righteousness, even –  of a claim that anyone is whatever it is they say they are is just the first level reaction. It is getting worse. The bottom is very, very low.

* Of course, it must be mentioned that cause and effect, like math, logic and free will, is not something it is possible to derive from observations of the physical world, even in theory. Materialism turns out to be a very mystical belief system, built as it is on immaterial phantasms.

 

Science! And Careful Notes!

Google’s Science News feed, as usual:

1. Scientist stumbles upon spider eating a puppy

Or something like that. It’s fascinating that all the news services used exactly the same size comparison – the spider is not as big as a cat, or a cantaloupe, but just exactly as big as a puppy. Newfoundland or Dachshund? Inquiring minds want to know.

The spider's leg span is nearly 30 cm, or about one ft.  <span class=meta>(Piotr Naskrecki)</span>

I’m thinking fire ants could take ‘em. Heck, looks like dessert after a Burmese python dinner.

I know bear baiting and cock fights are very much frowned upon – but what would be the harm of putting, say a dozen of these spiders loose in a room with, oh, supermodels or congressmen or the White House press corps – and then turning the lights off? Just for a minute?Nobody needs to get hurt or anything, beyond the inevitable years of therapy they’re probably already doing. And the spiders look as though they could take care of themselves.

Just an idea. Get it on film.

2. Could a tsunami destroy Hawaii?

Sure! Why not? Could insectoid space aliens devour all the pineapples? Leave it open ended enough, and what, exactly, *couldn’t* happen.

Yes, I know I’m being a little (little?) pedantic, but can’t headline writers make a little effort at capturing what’s going on? The actual science part of this story: there’s evidence that huge earthquakes have in the past caused much larger tsunamis than planners had been preparing for. So, evacuation plans need to be revised accordingly. Seems to happen about every 1,000 years. ‘Destroy’ is probably a little overstated.

But I guess that won’t drive clicks.

3.  Fishes like to play with objects: Study

So, I suppose we can’t eat them, either, now? Why can’t they discover that kale, for example, engages in some behavior that suggests it’s too much like us for us to eat it? Huh? Why does it always have to be something yummy?

Slightly more seriously, from a science perspective, we have several questionable things going on here. First, what, exactly, is play? I’m pretty sure we could reach broad agreement that fish play if they were to drag out a Monopoly board and while away the hours. But these fish attacked a weeble-style thermometer, that righted itself right after they knocked it over. Is that play?

“Play is repeated behaviour that is incompletely functional in the context or at the age in which it is performed and is initiated voluntarily when the animal or person is in a relaxed or low-stress setting,” said Burghardt.

I think this definition introduces more terms that need defining, for a net loss of understanding. Good effort, though.

I would speculate – and please note that I have not spent a couple years watching a tank of tilapia – that animals that move around and are predator, prey or both, benefit from understanding their environments. Depending on the animal, behaviors that result from this survival advantage are called ‘curiosity’, ‘play’ or maybe ‘boredom’. My son’s corn snake spends some time regularly slithering around his glass house, climbing stuff, checking every square inch of the lid to make sure it’s on good and tight. Is he playing? Curious? Bored? I don’t know, but I can easily imagine that a hunter benefits from knowing its territory, and so this behavior makes sense, given enough food and security to do it.

Another just-so story saves the day!

What if we are like tilapia? Am I delicious if prepared right? The mind boggles.

But calling stuff ‘play’ seems too anthropomorphic. We’d like to think animals play – I think they do, as every one who likes dogs or cats does. But if we’re going to put on the Sacred Lab Coat of Science, we need to be more precise and reserved in our claims. Especially when certain wackjobs enthusiasts will use this information to claim we should treat tilapia with more respect*.

* I treat tilapia with great respect as follows, and they’ve never complained:  Prepare a little cabbage slaw, dressed with mayo into which one or two finely chopped chipotle chilis have been stirred. Set aside some of the mayo mixture. Cut up some tomatoes and fresh cilantro. Warm up a nice pile of corn tortillas.

Cut the tilapia fillets into long strips, salt, pepper and apply red chile powder, then fry lightly in a little oil – only takes a minute. Now, take 4 tortillas – 2 sets of 2 – and spread a little of the mayo mixture in a strip down the middle of each set; add a strip or two of fish; apply slaw, tomatoes and cilantro. You can squeeze a little fresh lime on it if that sounds good.

Margaritas or Mexican beer go good with this.

Trying to Write

Autobiographical nonsense follows. I’d skip it if I were you. The only excuse for this wallowing: maybe if I write about them, I might actually get these projects done. One can hope.

So I’ve written a couple decent length novels in blog posts over the last couple years. And, in other venues,  I’ve cranked out a similar volume of stuff – mostly humor for an internet publication. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of often surprisingly coherent prose. So I suppose that makes me a ‘writer’ in some baseline, mechanical sense, sort of how somebody picking out a tune is ‘playing the piano’.

Meanwhile, over the last getting on towards 30 years, I’ve written the occasional short story, and even outlines and a good number of pages for a couple novels. There are also dozens of essays in there – that’s what this blog is about. I’ve started one book project – an analysis of Catholic education – that I may get to if I ever retire (no time soon, that). I’d write that book out of a sense of duty, if I do.  All the rest of it runs from utter crap to interesting ideas buried in utter crap.

Other than three, I think, letters to the editors (I’m 3 for 3 in getting them published, if I’m recalling correctly), the only things I’ve ever submitted to an editor were those humorous pieces and jokes. There was no money, but quite a bit of warm fuzzies involved in getting my stuff published. Bragging a little – I got something like 8 or 10 fan letters for stuff I wrote, which was, I think, the best of the stable of writers. But if the highpoint of one’s literary career is getting sparse fan mail for humor published for free on the internet – and that’s about it – then, ‘literary career’ is quite the reach.

I never dreamed of being a writer as a child. I didn’t even discover I liked writing until well into my 20s, and, even then, didn’t actually do much. Did once ask a writer friend (published and everything!) to read a short story I wrote, and she came back with several pages of comments – overall, encouraging, although I got the feeling she didn’t really like the story – it was insanely dark, I’m not even sure I liked it.

Anyway, these thoughts are occasioned by my now trying to finish an essay and a short story for real publication, like maybe even get paid. In doing so, I rediscovered two things I’ve long known about myself: I’m a coward, and I’m lazy.

I hate rejection. I hate failure. The options are to become insanely driven, or just to not try. I’m a coward, so I don’t try. This takes the form of wasting enormous amounts of time. Lazy.

Once, 25 years ago in business school, I made a conscious effort: I was going to do the best I possibly could in this one class. Generally – and, for business school, this is probably a sane approach – I coasted as much as I could get away with, which turns out to be a lot. But, this once, I was going to try.

It was a programming class, something I can certainly do, but have less than zero interest in. The teacher, in a classic programmer type move, published the cumulative scores for everybody in his classes on his office door, names ever so slightly encoded for privacy. So, I could see how I was doing both absolutely and relative to everyone else whenever I passed his door – which happened regularly.

So I went for it – how well can I make myself do in a subject I do not care for? By the end of the class, I was getting emotional. I almost cried when I did in fact get the highest scores. In a small, private way, I managed to put myself on the line – and it was tough.

Yes, I am insane. Was there any question? Even putting myself on the line in private like that for something I didn’t really even care about was incredibly trying.

So, imagine what it’s like to write something for real, with the intention of throwing it out there, of releasing it into the wild. No hiding behind ‘I’m just doing this for kicks, it’s not *really* writing.” The major difference: in the ensuing 25 years, I’ve almost grasped one of the major blessings of age: not giving a crap what other people think. Almost. But the problem really resides where *I* think.

I’m trying to finish the first piece tonight. Wish me luck.

Full Plate/No Time Roundup: Synod, Schooling, Climate

1. Advice to all Catholics: do not read anything about the synod. If it’s from the popular press, that goes double. What could possibly be the point, what good could it possibly do you or anyone else to get involved here? The press will get it wrong. Very few of us are in any position to understand and interpret; none are or should desire to be in a position to influence. It not our job to watchdog the bishops in synod.

They’re not done yet. When they’re done – at least a year out from now – there may or may not be a document that may or may not have much of anything new to say.

We are falling into the trap of thinking a synod is just like modern politics: white collar crime as a spectator sport. Reality TV. Just say no; just say a prayer.

2. Via a tweet from Wm Briggs, this needs looking into: New schools turn back clock to train Russia’s girls in virtues of nobility. Russians, who, based on the historical evidence, tend towards holy, stoic and insane, have decided to reinstitute a form of schooling designed to train up Russian girls to be the kind of women the Tzar would be proud of:

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, Russian Empress Catherine II (the Great) issued a decree establishing Russia’s very first Institute for Noble Maidens – the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg. This institution was tasked with “giving the state educated women, good mothers, and useful members of the family and society,” as the decree reads.

Note: “giving the state” – not giving the individual or family what they may want, but trained up for the state. How do we know this wasn’t just benevolent career training?

The girls lived according to a regimented daily routine and could only see their relatives on weekends and holidays, and only in the presence of the headmistress.

Cults and abusive individuals always try to limit contact with family and friends, the people who can provide a reality check. Thus, Fichte argued for children to be completely removed from their families for the duration of their education. Now, since we parents have been properly educated, the schools just give our kids enough homework and extra activities to leave, effectively, no room for thought or opportunity for real inculturation.

They did not have the right to leave the institute prior to graduation, either of their own volition or at the wishes of their families. With the help of this institute, the Empress planned to snatch schoolgirls from their familiar surroundings and create a “new breed of people.”

Now, that sounds familiar. It’s always good to remember that the basic purpose of state-run school is invariable to destroy a culture and replace it with something more to their liking. Sometimes, such as in inner city schools, we don’t much object to the destruction of the existing culture. Sometimes, as in Common Core, it’s more objectionable. But whether we approve of it or not, it cannot be denied that destroying one culture and replacing it with another is the goal of state sponsored schools.

So, the Russians are going to try this again? I’ll try to look further into this when time permits.

3. Darwin Catholic talks about sin being how we hurt people. He starts thus:

In a discussion of the Church’s teaching on divorce (that leaving your spouse and attempting a second marriage is considered by the Church to be adultery) someone made the following comment:

“I find it hard to believe people think God cares about this issue this much, given all the real sin in the world (ie social injustice and war) but anyway.”

Most of us don’t need to hunt for examples of how wrong this is – how the claim that divorce isl harmless in and of itself, and the Church is a big ol’ meany for calling many things otherwise decent people do every day sins.

So, all those broken families, the breakup of which ineradicably carved misery into the hearts of children and ex-spouses – those we just deny. In addition to fragmented families in denial, for whom the cost of acknowledging that their own decisions have caused the damage now playing out in their children’s lives is just too high, there are blended families who work very hard to keep everything above board – ex spouses remain on friendly terms, the kids are shared in a friendly way, nobody overtly hushes particular lines of inquiry – and the hurt is always there, just below the surface, waiting to break out. Sure, it better for the adults to act like adults (or as much like adults as people refuse to take or honor vows can act). The kids seem a lot happier than in those families committed to pretending that this week’s boyfriend is just another normal part of our ever-changing family and you’re being unreasonable to miss that sperm donor a couple of boyfriends back who didn’t like you anyway and stop your whining.

Of course there are truly horrific situations where divorce really is the only sane option, and of course there are intact families that are far from happy. These cases are much more rare than those where the couple just ‘grew apart’ or otherwise gave up to look for greener grass. And of course, there are children who make it through broken homes and manage to live well. But all those kids and former kids carry a pain with them that kids from intact families don’t – the pain of never really believing, in their hearts, that love is forever and  promises can be kept.

4. Don’t know if this is a new low point, but this rather over the top essay is found under the Science news in a business newspaper, although it is merely an harang and, indeed, is indistinguishable from communist propaganda.  For example:

Yes, capitalism’s at war, fighting against all efforts to limit global warming and climate change. This is WWIII, the defining moment of the 21st century. Why? “One word in the latest draft report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sums up why climate inaction is so uniquely immoral: Irreversible.”

I only hope that this triggers a few synapses to fire in wherever the BS detector section of people’s brain is.

Further on, the author says that the problem is that “the Right focuses on short-term economic consequences. And the Left relies on long-term impact in moral decisions.”  One of those short term economic consequences is the impoverishment of much of the world, as cheap energy fueled activities, such as modern agriculture, travel and writing Marxist essays on a computer and publishing them on a website, are sharply curtailed. No more climate summits in Qatar, where evil capital ‘C’ Capitalism evidently forced thousands of morally upright bureaucrats  and climate scientists (but mostly bureaucrats) to fly half way around the world to meet in a luxury resort in a godforsaken desert, where everything except air and water had to likewise be flown in, to hold discussions they could have skyped in air conditioned comfort. Hell, Gore might even have to sell a house or two.

Hypocrisy is such an ugly word.

Leftist morality never seems to have to do with the actual behavior of leftists, who can do whatever they want just so long as they toe the line.

5. Diablo Valley School publishes a newsletter which, amidst the photos and student artwork, occasionally runs an essay by me. I start rambling on page 2 of the current issue.

Science! I Can Smell the Chemicals!

As always, just perusing the Google News Science! feed.

1. Global Warming: Plants Absorbing More CO2 Than We Thought

(There’s that ‘we’ again. I’m supposing that ‘we’ doesn’t include commercial greenhouse operators.)

Global warming may be slightly less devastating to the Earth than feared, as new research has found that plants can absorb more carbon dioxide than we previously thought.

Climate models have grossly underestimated the power of our plants because they failed to take into account that when carbon dioxide (CO2) builds up in the atmosphere, plants actually thrive, become larger, and are able to soak up more CO2. As part of photosynthesis – a natural cycle that helps plants convert sunlight into energy – plants capture CO2 to help them grow and then release oxygen as a waste product.

Just from this natural process alone, scientists estimated that living things absorbed as much as 16 percent more of the harmful greenhouse gas than previously thought.

Harmful? Do I detect, amidst the attempts to maintain the proper panic level, a note of disappointment? Why yes, I think I do.

The new work may help set the record straight and clarify past climate models, but it does not, however, downplay the urgency in dealing with global warming.

While the research does offer some hope, researchers emphasize that plants make it “slightly easier to fulfill the target” of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) – slightly being the operative word.

A 2 degree rise in global temperatures would be catastrophic. This is the mantra that must be chanted, and asking exactly how, and over what time frame we’re talking about, makes one a denier. Pointing out that it’s a trade-off – more CO2 will help our tropical forests regrow, and help us produce food crops more abundantly, at the cost, over the course of several centuries, of some coastal flooding and (highly debateable) more extreme weather events (even though climate doesn’t equal weather)  – well, that makes one a denier, too, somehow. Even more basic, noting that we’re in the middle of an ice age at the moment, and that it seems very likely that the glaciers will return any time now, from right away to maybe a few thousand years out – I suppose that makes one a denier as well? Or, most double plus ungood of all, noting that since keeping the climate exactly the same is unprecedented – the climate always changes over enough time – and almost certainly outside human control, and so asking if warmer isn’t to be preferred to colder – an end to the ice age versus a return to glaciation – well, clearly my check from the big oil companies must be in the mail.

None of the remotely realistic projections I’ve seen worry me in the slightest. We have centuries to come up with a technological solution for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, should that be desirable. The only catastrophe we’d experience would be having missed a golden opportunity to install a totalitarian world government – a necessity, if we really mean to control world-wide CO2 output. A ‘crisis’ would have been wasted, making the baby Rahm Emanuel cry.

2. New snail species named for marriage equality

If I had grant money to give, I’d be sending a big fat check to – somebody a little less enamoured of trends in popular culture.

3. Study: Giant icebergs once cruised by Florida

I hear the on-board buffets were awesome! I wonder: did the passengers wear plaid anoraks? Don’t forget to tip your waiter, and try the baby seal!

Here’s a quote that sums up a lot of issues:

“The mechanisms of climate change and ocean currents are more complex than we previously thought,” Jenna Hill said.

Ain’t that the truth? One fun thing I’ve noticed over the years is that scientists, at least insofar as they get into popular media, are always both A: making bold and confident predictions about stuff they haven’t got a good look at yet, and B: being surprised by what they see once they DO get a close look. Thus, years ago, scientists would confidently describe, say, the surface of Europa, based on images gotten through earth-based telescopes, then, when a probe sends back close-up images, they are surprised by what they see. Happens All The Time. Thus proving, once again, that ‘we don’t know’ is the best, most scientific answer in a surprisingly larger number of cases.

Question: where did their previous thoughts about climate change and ocean currents come from? What was the information upon which these thoughts were based? What can we learn about our old ideas from having them overturned by our new information (or, more likely, guesses)? Why did they have an opinion at all? As Mouse would say: That makes you wonder about a lot of things.

4. And, in the ‘It’s not ALL junk science!’ department: we have pictures of a comet taken from a space probe set to try to land on the comet soon. Think about it – getting a probe to intercept a comet is hitting and matching speeds with a small moving target over millions of miles away with a shot taken from a moving platform – with bullets whose paths curve. Sure, it’s the same problem with a Mars lander, but, somehow, comet kicks the cool of it up a couple notches.

Philae selfie

This is the kind of stuff that makes rocket science hard. And makes real science coooool!

The Galileo Trap

UPDATED for clarity. The original final example was really confusing – tried to fix it, hope it’s better.

We’re all familiar, I hope, with the misuse of relativity in popular culture, how, because Einstein found certain highly defined conditions under which the observer’s frame of reference defines what the observer sees and even can see, modern deep thinkers blithely assert that everything is relative, all observation is merely a manifestation of the frame of reference of the observer. There is no truth. We’ll call this the Einstein Trap.

Similarly, and perhaps even worse in practice, it the application of the concepts of evolution and natural selection to anything other than biology. No – as individuals, we are not ‘evolving’. There is no dead hand of natural selection that ensures ideas and cultures get ‘better’. The self-appointed intelligentsia are not higher life forms that are more evolved than us peons. The rich do not get to herd us inferior peoples around to their benefit. This is the Darwin Trap.

I think there’s one more trap, perhaps not as obvious but every bit as stupid and destructive.  Let’s call it the Galileo Trap. It is the belief that whatever is obvious must be wrong. Only counterintuitive and off-putting theories can be true. The mythological Galileo is the archetype.

Using every unaided sense and all logic, we reasonably conclude that the earth seems to be sitting perfectly still, excepting the occasional earthquake or volcano. Yet – Yet! – we now KNOW that it’s spinning around its axis at ridiculous speeds, and whizzing around the Sun at even more ridiculous speeds! All those ancient thinkers were WRONG! (Wrong then morphs into ‘stupid’ with nary a twitch). We, who KNOW it moves are brave and disruptive, like our patron saint, Galileo, who would not bow to all that stupid direct evidence of the senses and logic crap!

The Trap: the true explanation will contradict what seems obvious, will be subtle and hidden, and does not rely on logic or direct observation.

This belief underlies modern Comparative Lit classes, for example. I remember once being told by an unfortunate student that the surest way to get an ‘A’ in the CompLit class she was in was to concoct a explanatory theory of the object under dissection that contradicted everything the story seemed to be trying to make clear. Fortunately, familiarity with any of the popular modern isms allows the student to put the brain in neutral and spew out an appropriate essay under the gentle tug of gravity: Is a couple portrayed as in love? Misogyny! Does the married woman seem happy? False consciousness! Does the hero save the day? Betrayal of the class struggle. And so mindlessly on.

This is merely an example among many. The Galileo Trap is so deeply ingrained that it allows the afflicted to ignore anything said by anyone that might be in any way unsettling, as being NOT what they’re REALLY saying. Arguments from reality are mistrusted – what seems to be happening cannot be what is truly happening. For example, I say that market economics is based on free, mutually beneficial exchanges of goods and services, because that’s sure what it looks like. No, I’m answered, it’s based on a capitalist power dynamic of exploitation, and what  am REALLY saying is capitalist propaganda, as I am clearly a tool laboring under false consciousness. That anyone can *see* people everywhere voluntarily exchanging good and services through the medium of money, and see that exploitation, while real, is neither necessary nor unique to market economics – this is irrelevant, just as how the earth seems to be stationary is irrelevant. The subtle, counterintuitive and irrational explanation is the true one. All that is left is to explain why anyone would fail to believe this.

The Galileo Trap is evidently really hard to escape, even though it is no more based in reality than the Einstein or Darwin Traps. They all destroy the possibility of fruitful discussion before it has even begun.