Common Wisdom, Common Errors

An essay from an “Old Lamplighter” from Arizona, John Hurlburt, Midnight in Wildcat Canyon is reproduced by my friend Paul Handover. The essay is worth reading. Some of the wisdom therein is actually, from my point of view, valuable. Yet, some other, not so much… Although all too common for comfort (You know I am uncommonly grumpy, and I was going to growl about some issue i diligently unearthed.) Thus criticizing “Common Wisdom”, especially of the seemingly elevated sort, is both uncommon… and valuable. Studying intelligence by studying error is a bit like studying intelligence by studying Aplysia Californica (a swimming slug with a modest 600 neurons; studying its mind, the way it learned, provided Eric Kandel with the Nobel in medicine).

So “Old Lamplighter’s” essay on the Midnight revelation is nice. It maintains myths such as believing that voting will make a difference. As if the devil we know is so much better, for sure, than the devil we don’t know. Especially when both devils used to be best friends.

Reality is ever more complex, the more we analyze it. Ignoring those details, where evil lurks, is evil. Is reality a “wave”, breaking on a beach soon enough, or the tsunami to end all tsunamis? Of course the latter. These are times never seen before, “Keep calm and carry on” will not carry the day, let alone the century.

The American West Knows Thousands of Such Places: Excruciatingly Beautiful, Empty of Humanity. For Now. Such places, I have run through, and got a feeling for the universe no city, or library could ever give.

The American West Knows Thousands of Such Places: Excruciatingly Beautiful, Empty of Humanity. For Now. Such places, I have run through, and got a feeling for the universe no city, or library could ever give.

I have known terror in such canyons. Or, at least, let’s say, most productive panic: cold, insufficiently dressed, at night, no food, no drink, faltering light, lost, exhausted, wondering where the path was. And with the unwelcome company of the occasional bear or lion. Such moments are of course cherished in retrospect, and most instructive.

Nature, biological nature, does not always win. Evidence is that life got started on millions of planets… And got extinguished soon after… on millions of planets.

The very notion of nature is… not natural. What is more artificial than biological nature? It was engineered with too much chance and intelligence, not to be viewed, as a miracle (divine, or not).

The “Old Lampfighter” cannot figure out whether we are important, or not. Of course we are! After all, we created the world as we perceive it!Here he goes:

“It’s difficult to understand why we’re fussing and fuming as though we owned the earth, the moon, the sun, and the stars. There’s consensus on the body of scientific fact that supports a holistic understanding of our relative insignificance and our corresponding responsibilities as a consciously aware biological species which is presently the dominate life form on a remote garden planet.”


We certainly own the Earth and, soon enough, the Moon, at this point. So are we important, or we are not? “Science” says nothing about our “relative insignificance”. We could well be the most intelligent species in the local group of galaxies, and that would make us very significant indeed. That angle is supported by some science:

It is pretty clear that, at this point, only massive, deliberate, smart, decisively willful human intervention will save the Earth’s biosphere from a catastrophe the human species itself brought. That makes us important, just as Satan and the Good Lord are. Both. Together. Yes, Satan and the Good Lord are of our own invention: our inventions matter.

Einstein’s theories prove that the cosmos turns inside out without breaking.” Most of the work assigned to Einstein by Common Wisdom is not from Einstein, and Common Wisdom does not know it, anyway. “Einstein’s” theories are also metric, not topological. So they say nothing about “inside out”.  Whether the universe is breaking, breaks, or could break, “Einstein theories” says nothing about, and it does not matter, when we try to determine, who, or what, matters in this universe. Einstein gravity is Newton’s gravity, with a few details fixed. That does not prove Newton gravity, even inside a galaxy (that’s the problem of “Dark Matter”).

Whether Newton-Einstein holds, or not, at a galactic scale, does not tell us whether we should have gone to war in Syria (we should; or, at least, Europeans should have, because the refugee crisis, and now dictatorship in Turkey, matter for EU basic security, let alone that of dozens of millions in the Middle East!)

We are who created our understanding of the world, what we call, the world. Viewed that way, we are the most important species: the one who made the world. So we are responsible for it, in more way than one.

But our present political system is a way to escape our responsibilities. We elect “representatives” who are, intrinsically forced to lie their way to seduction, so that they can manipulate us, and the great powers they crave for. By voting, we vote for corruption. But have we a choice? No. We have to make it a real choice, by showing a different way. And making that new way as well-known as the proverbial “Einstein”.

“Common Wisdom” needs now what is unfortunately still uncommon, uncommon veracity. Dropping Einstein in a conversation does not make it right nor elevated. Quite the opposite. Veracity now should include imagining all the possibilities, as they could become real, all too readily. The possible is certainly more true, and of more importance, than our lying politicians, and all of yesterday’s little truths, even nicely packaged with grandiose red herrings.  

It’s not enough to say smart stuff, or avoid doing “stupid stuff” (to quote Obama) to be good and true. One has to know enough, enough relevant details, and have the courage to say it bluntly enough, that a debate can be engaged and start biting. Fussing, fuming, even screaming, have their indispensable uses, to bring forth the passions, without which we would stay stuck, at the bottom of canyons, be they mental, or physical.

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12 Responses to “Common Wisdom, Common Errors”

  1. Gmax Says:

    Powerful stuff. So, if I understand well, you think anti-anthropocentrism has gone too far? Saying we don’ t make sense makes no sense?


  2. EugenR Says:

    We can’t expect to much from politicians in the environmental issues. Obama, the big hope of rationality and responsibility for long term problems did not help the world. He turned his back to environmental issues. Then nothing can be expected from the current candidates for presidency. So another 4 or maybe 8 years will be lost. Four years we don’t have. Without US it just can’t be done. Without the US the world will be a very dark place, with no democracy, and subordinated to Nazi or Communistic regimes. So if the US will not save the world, no one will do it, unless some scientific discovery will help us to save the world without to pay the short term political price.

    Maybe the following technology will after all save us.


    • Gmax Says:

      In the US, politics also depends upon states, especially CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA has a very progressive policy. Even Texas does, it’ s full of windmills


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Obama was the hope. His half brother in Kenya, a US citizen, says he changed. He calls him corrupt, and adds he will vote for Trump, a man he views as sincere, whereas his brother is not. Clinton is the world’s objectively most corrupt politician (some are more so, but it is either only suspected, or then, like Wade in Senegal, sit in prison, or are under warrants of arrest from their native country, and live in Manhattan).
      The US has been insincere about fighting CO2 since the early Clinton-Gore presidency… But California is changing, and the rest is following, as Gmax said. Obama did very little when he was in total control… But California did a lot, and is doing a lot.


    • Gmax Says:

      Very interesting tech, Eugen. If it works cheap on large scale, it would be a game-changer. America could have its cake and eat it


      • EugenR Says:

        Thanks Gmax, i am just afraid that it will give legitimacy to politicians to do nothing and at the end it will not work. As always there can be many problems, like the economic cost or the environment foot print of the technology on the global scale. Looking on the following:

        It looks quite horrific.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Transforming CO2 into fuel is great. It has been tried, even commercially (using algae). But as I will show in a little essay again, and alluded to, in the preceding one, the self-reinforcing effects of the CO2 crisis are already blatant. As you point out to Gmax… Well, let’s put it this way: politicians are so corrupt, for several reasons, they are of little use. It’s no coincidence that states were plebiscites can be organized (Switzerland, California) are at the forefront of countermeasures against the CO2 crisis.


  3. dominique deux Says:

    Common sense tells us that the Earth is flat; that heavy things fall faster than light things; that they fall down because of their weight, not because of some unexplainable “attraction” between bodies which have no contact whatsoever; that burning a substance makes it lighter.

    Common sense tells us that a country has to be managed like a household or a business; that public debt is an evil and the result of profligacy; that regulations and unions hobble proper economic activity; that wealth is created by wealth creators.

    The robust common sense of a down-to-earth Hollywood actor and a no-nonsense British grocer’s daughter gave us the unopposed reign of common sense neoliberalism and its common sense sibling, austerianism, with unmitigated success so far.

    I really can’t see why you dislike common sense.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Because I am a scientist …and mathematician. As a famous mathematician said, trying to dissuade a teenage Bertrand Russell to study mathematics, mathematicians don’t know what they are talking about. And scientists find out that our ancestors did not know what they were talking about.
      Thatcher and Reagan are indeed common sense disasters which keep on giving, ever reborn.
      Interestingly, the B actor and the grocer’s daughter nearly feel like socialists, nowadays (Reagan and Bush Senior nationalized thousands of banks, Thatcher signed the Single European Act!)

      There is Common Sense and pseudo-Common Sense.


  4. SDM Says:

    If we don’ think we are important enough to save, who will? Climate change appears to be too difficult, bland or remote of a concept for most people to get excited about. Perhaps a better term should be used – Climate destruction? Armageddon or Apocalypse ? (too radical religion perhaps) The big heat? Inferno?
    “Change” sounds too mild or boring to get a passionate widespread reaction that could change the prevailing mood.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Right. I have long advocated a changing of semantics: global heating, not warming; biosphere destruction, not ‘climate change’. I believe the advocate of fossil fuels chose the present semantics. Yet, when I use more dramatic semantics, readers surface to “correct my English” and “understand that I am not a native speaker”. Yes, not a native speaker of plutocratese, indeed.

      “Global MELTING” should also be brandished more often. So should “Global DROWNING”. (Although Swiss banks will escape…). “Global asphyxiation” should not be forgotten either…


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