Over the past two days, I’ve written and posted over 5,000 words on two topics that started with fairly simple notions and demanded much detail with almost each sentence I wrote. I had to dig up a good number of references and evaluate them for some level of impartiality and intellectual rigor (if I didn’t do that, I would just be adding noise to an excessively noisy web). I had to choose videos, graphics, and “for additional reading” materials when implications in my post became too unwieldy to cover in anything short of a book-length piece. It’s a type of curating, I suppose, but that idea has been overused, so maybe I will not use that description. At many steps in this process, I added new knowledge to my already teeming mind full of the stuff, useful and “can we please forget the jingle for Alka-Seltzer® now? It’s been decades since that’s been an advertisement!” When the brain is feeding, it is a beautiful experience. When it is feeding and sharing, it is an enriched and astonishing joy of the first order.
Then, when I was only an hour into the post I was starting for yesterday’s prompt, I read today’s prompt. I have written something recently on this topic and will link that below, but after an afternoon of well-earned relaxation, I knew what I needed to reference, if not post in full. It is part of a chapter in the first book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (may your atoms fall upon each of us and make use all wiser). Many people probably avoid this book thinking it is (1) “just another science fiction novel” or (2) “not serious fiction” or (3) “certainly not as worthy as non-fiction!” I propose to each of you that has not sampled its written and multitudinous pleasures (not the film version, although possibly the BBC radio version) that it is a flawless work populated with insights of the most stunning, yet humorous kind that each of the uninitiated should start reading right after finishing their dash through this post.
In the following passage, our galactic travelers have used the infinite improbability drive that powers their vessel to the least probable places in the universe. When this happens, a local probability disruption occurs and improbable things happen in the vicinity of their ship:
Another thing that got forgotten was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.
And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more
This is a complete record of its thought from the moment it began its life till the moment it ended it.
Ah…! What’s happening? it thought.
Er, excuse me, who am I?
Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?
What do I mean by who am I?
Calm down, get a grip now… oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It’s a sort of … yawning, tingling sensation in my… my… well, I supposed I’d better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let’s call it my stomach.
Good. Ooooh, it’s getting quite strong. And hey, what about this whistling roaring sound going past what I’m suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps I can call that… wind! Is that a good name? It’ll do… perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I’ve found out what it’s for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What’s this thing? This… let’s call it a tail—yeah, tail. Hey! I can really thrash it about pretty good, can’t I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn’t seem to achieve very much but I’ll probably find out what it’s for later on. Now, have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?
Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I’m quite dizzy with anticipation…
Or is it the wind?
There really is a lot of that now, isn’t there?
And wow! Hey! What’s this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast? Very, very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide-sounding name like… ow… ound… round… ground! That’s it! That’s a good name—ground!
I wonder if it will be friends with me?
And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.
And that is Learning.
Please buy your copy at a local new or used book store or use your inevitable on-line source of choice.
And from July 25, 2016: Sanctuary