The Joys of Already Knowing

Morning Blogsters:

Around 1969, I was in a freshman Geology course at the University of Texas, first week of classes. The instructor was a grad student teaching assistant who began the course with an overlay of how geologists determine the age of a particular layer of deposition.

Along about the third day a kid who’d been sitting next to me raised his hand. I’d noticed him squirming from the first day, and now he just had to get whatever was bothering him off his chest.

“I’ve been trying to understand what you’re saying, but it’s confusing. How can all this be true, all those depositions being so old when the world’s only (some specified low-range number of thousands) years old. It’s all been calculated when God created the earth.”

After the chaotic eruption of laughter from forty sophisticated freshmen who knew better subsided the instructor directed his response to the now-cringing questioner.

“You can’t have it both ways. This is a Geology course. Everything you hear in this room is based on the premise that the earth is ancient beyond imagination. That the world we see around us is the product of eons of tectonic activity. Of faulting, lifting, erosion, weathering followed by more of the same.

“I’m not going to try to convince you that what you’ve said is wrong. But I’ll tell you that if you can’t accept, for the sake of discussion, the possibility that the book in front of you describes reality, you’ll never get through this course.”

The kid joined me at a table in the Union coffee shop later. He was still upset and confused by the incident, the laughter. Turned out the kid truly couldn’t wrap his mind around the concepts being discussed. He KNEW it to be otherwise at such a fundamental level that he’d have had to relax all manner of other things he KNEW and held sacred to even consider it.

So he dropped the course and never let his mind out of the cage he’d built around it.

The experience that kid had in a geology classroom isn’t too different from what all of us encounter in life. It’s all a matter of where we place the boundaries of the cage.

Within a decade of the incident the geology world was turned upside down with emergence of tectonic plate theory, and much of what he’d have learned if he’d finished the course would have been out of date.

But Tectonic Plate Theory found similar boundaries among geologists’ minds during the difficult battle for acceptance. Old department heads wrestled against it in a war as bloody as a fundamentalist preacher would have fought against the concept of an earth more than a couple of thousand years old. They’d just placed the boundaries a bit further out than the kid and whatever school teacher told him the world was young. Those old geology profs KNEW there was no such animal as continental drift. No point in discussing evidence supporting it.

It’s a juggling act. In some pursuits the only doorway involves a body
of data we like to call ‘facts’. But frequently the doorway isn’t big
enough to allow a person through with his suitcase full of all his
life-accumulated facts he treasures. He has to pare them down to fit
into a briefcase, or a fanny-pack and leave the rest behind so’s to get
through the door and understand what he sees in the room he’s trying to
get into. If he tries tricking the system and dragging all the rest of
his facts through in a cotton-sack or some such thing he’ll be forever
tripping on them and stumbling.

A man’s got to be careful what he knows in this lifetime [maybe others,
also]. Traveling light can save a lot of trouble.

Old Jules

3.5* ’til Infinity   * = Billion years ago.

20 responses to “The Joys of Already Knowing

  1. Was listening to Science Friday on NPR Friday and heard someone like that kid. He was disputing that global warming is man-made. When the moderator asked the caller if there was ANYTHING that would change his mind, he never said yes or no, but what he did say indicated that his cage was closed and locked.

    • Morning rumpydog: Thanks for coming by for a read. I suspect all our cages are closed and locked to one degree or another. Wasn’t further back than the 1980s, I’m thinking, we were headed for another ice age according to the pointee-heads. I don’t know whether what’s happening with the weather’s man-made or not, but I do recognize plastic bottles and beer cans in the grader ditch when I see them. Gracias, Jules

  2. Amen, bro! It’s the humility of an open cage that brings theology, geology, and all the other sciences into an ongoing edifying conversation.

  3. It is time for me to cull.

  4. So many people don’t want to accept what they don’t understand. There’s still a lot of learning to do, especially when it comes to Mother Nature and the planet we live on.

    • Momlady: I’m certainly guilty in that regard. I even have some problems accepting what everyone else thinks they understand but I have a nagging suspicion I don’t. Gracias, Jules

  5. This is a wise and excellent post. I’m so glad I subscribed to your blog. -West Texas Astronomer Guy

  6. I have a brother like that, caged. Your wisdom is wonderfully welcome and appreciated. I hope I can get him to read your blog. Years ago I read an article on the anti-scientific attitude, it was an eye opener.

    • 2gadabout: I can’t pretend to be wise. Mostly I’m just able to sometimes identify isolated spots in my reality where my dearth of wisdom pokes out and waves itself around. Thanks for the visit. Gracias, Jules

  7. Old Jules might be traveling light through this life, but one thing is certain. He’s carrying a fully loaded mind filled to capacity with untold treasure. Luckily, he donates his most valuable possessions on a daily basis to we, the less fortunate.

    • Hi HoboJoe: Thanks for the kind words. I’m blessed by having made so many mistakes in life I’ve accumulated a middling good catalog of what didn’t work for me. Without suggesting it wouldn’t work for someone else, I do enjoy writing the blog. I’m grateful for your visits. Gracias, Jules

  8. I can’t wait to see what supersedes Darwinism. I know something has to, eventually, although I love Darwin to pieces.

    • Hi westwood: Thanks for the visit and read. If a person edged backward until he actually got to Darwin and exactly what he surmised probably nothing would need to render him wrong. But the term, Darwinism is pulling a lot of baggage with plenty of obvious shortcomings and obvious holes and probably wrong turns. However, the modern academic buys the entire package, digs in his heels and preaches it from a black book resembling a religious text. Likely before anything called Darwinism gets any revisions there’ll be a longish time of dissenters being burned at the stake of evangelistic sciencehoodism. Gracias, Jules

  9. This post digs very deep indeed – in all kinds of directions. For a start I’m struck by how it was you, Jules, that the bible-bound kid went and talked to after he’d had the feet kicked from under him – which says a lot, to my mind. When I was ten-years old, or thereabouts, I still had a naive, child’s belief in God, Jesus and all the angels. At the time, my mother had an interest in doing ‘Find Out Who You Yeally Are’ tests, of which there seemed to be a lot about in the early-60s. I found one of the questionnaires she’d filled out and had a look to see what she’d answered. One of the questions was ‘Do you believe in God?’. She’d answered ‘yes’, then crossed it out and answered ‘no’. I can still remember how the floor seemed to give way when I saw that.

    Belief is something that puzzles me greatly, but we all do it. And – though mercifully many of us refrain – I reckon we are all capable of feeling what it’s like to want to eliminate from the face of the earth those who don’t share our belief. Yet we can go through life easing ourselves out of its straitjackets, only to tie ourselves up in new ones. And sometimes something can come along from left-field and tear the straitjacket of our backs – which is very scary indeed and is why I hope that kid in your class was okay.

    So central does belief seem to me to what we experience ourselves to be that I sometimes wonder if it isn’t what the universe is actually made of, from the sub-fundamental particles outwards – all furiously believing so that there can be a world in which we struggle one way or another with what we and others believe – and on and on out further still.

    Odd thing – belief.

    • Hi amigo and thanks for coming by with your usual demonstration of ability to get me mulling over a lot of things I wasn’t mulling over before. I suppose I’ll begin by saying it’s been almost 50 years since I had any doubt about the existence of something I’d call God without it being the same critter everyone else believes God is. I don’t consider it a belief because belief isn’t a strong enough word to corral the thing I’m talking about. But I’m not evangelical about it and I don’t feel any need to justify it to anyone. If it’s a straitjacket for me it’s one I don’t want out of.

      Having said that, I still have an awful time working up to disagreeing with you about much anything you ever write. Not to suggest you echo something I thought already, but you do always give me things I haven’t thought of yet to consider. I appreciate you. Gracias, Jules

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