Saturday, January 10, 2009 | |


Sledding tonight in Shoreview.

"Human beings are so destructive," Malcolm said. "I sometimes think we're a kind of plague, that will scrub the earth clean. We destroy things so well that I sometimes think, maybe that's our function. Maybe every few eons, some animal comes along that kills off the rest of the world, clears the decks, and lets evolution proceed to its next phase."

Kelly shook her head. She turned away from Malcolm and moved lip the boat, to sit alongside Thorne.

"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. Now look at that compass, and tell me where south is. I want to go to Puerto Cortés. It's time for us all to go home."

--Michael Crichton, The Lost World, 1995



joe said...

michael crichton brings up a good point. until these fantastic theories we have can be proven they're still just theories, and as nice as it is to have everything figured out we probably don't, and at least some of the things that we think are set in stone right now are going to be ridiculous 200 years from now. also, cool picture.

Alshain said...

The interesting thing, though, is that this isn't just a denial of science on the order of "it's just a theory," which is the excuse that deniers of anthropogenic global warming and creationists resort to. Crichton is going above and beyond that and arguing that even theories that are proven according to the laws of logic and science are fantasies, and are more akin to social constructs. He's invoking Thomas Kuhn's ideas about how societal and cultural progress shapes scientific progress (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions) and almost saying that theories tell us less about reality than they do about the societies that create them. But the danger here is saying that because our understanding of reality is inevitably going to be overturned, we should disregard all current theories. In essence, he's denying in entirety the objectivity of science and arguing (or at least, his character is) that science can never tell us anything about anything. Just because our theories aren't real in the corporeal sense doesn't mean they're not useful, or that we shouldn't trust them at all.