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JWR/ 4.2/ Lessons from an Idiot, Vol. 1


The Big Bang was originally the theory of a Catholic monk that argued in favor of Godís existence.

Being a philosopher today isnít like it was a thousand or even a couple hundred years ago.  Back then a question like ďIf a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?Ē could be pondered for lifetimes.  Today we can go out, set up a tape recorder, rig a tree to fall at a certain time, go back later, review the tape and answer this philosophical riddle.  The answer, by the way, is no.

Similarly, the age-old ponderance ďIf you turn your back on a chair in a room, does that chair still existĒ has been answered thanks to a similar experiment using a video camera.  The answer, by the way, is yes, except on the third Friday in March during a leap year.

These days, philosophy is a dense subject that relies heavily on the philosophical wisdom of great thinkers going back millennia.  Like complex math in which you first have to understand how to count to understand how to add, and how to add in order to understand how to subtract, etc., in philosophy you first need to understand the works of Plato and Aristotle, and the works of Kant, Aquinas, etc.

You canít just sit in a room with a lot of wood and ask a question.  You have to read and build on what others have done before you.  I never liked doing that, although, everything I know is based on what someone else has said or has demonstrated.  Every opinion I have is based on the opinions of others.  I agree, disagree or partially accept the opinion of someone else.  Every thought I have comes from the sum of my knowledge from books, TV and life.

Now the question is: If two people are raised exactly the same from the time they are conceived, will they turn out exactly the same, have the exact same thoughts, do the same things?  Itís the classic Nature versus Nurture debate. 

Letís come back to that.  Have you ever heard that cell phones can cause explosions and fires at a gas station?  Have you seen the signs there that say donít use your cell phone while gassing up?  Well, donít believe it.  Fact is call phones can never cause an explosion or gas ignition.  This is just some happy horseshit being passed around as legit.

What actually happens is when people go to gas up, they put the nozzle in and go back to their car for whatever reason.  So, they get back in the cabin and can pick up an electrical charge from moving around.  When they exit the vehicle, if they get out without touching the car doorís frame or something else metallic, they donít discharge, the static electricity stays with themóthis is why itís mostly young people who cause these events, old people grab onto the carís frame to get up.  Also, rubber soled shoes keep you insulated so the charge stays with you.  Then they go to grab the gas nozzle and a spark pops from a finger to the metal of the car.  Sadly, gas fumes are hella combustible and can ignite with introduced to flame or an electrical discharge.  So, when they say no smoking at the pump, theyíre not kidding.  But you can use your cell phone because it doesnít come anywhere near giving off enough of a charge to ignite the gas fumes.

The point it, there were a few events like this where the person happened to have a cell phone at the time of the explosion.  Someone said, ďHey, there was a cell phone here and here and here, that must have caused this explosion.  Thereís no way this many people could have just happened to have been using cell phones while these explosions were going to happen.  We must ban all cell phone use at gas pumps.Ē  Which is utterly insane.  Itís like saying you canít sell pantyhose anymore because thieves wear them when robbing businesses.  From now on, weíll ban the selling of pantyhose and robberies will stop.  Itís a symptom, not the problem.  When youíre on the cell phone at a gas pump, youíre not paying attention to what youíre doing, youíre paying attention to the person youíre talking toÖ hopefully.  So, youíre distracted, you have to go back to the carís cabin to get something, you sit inside for a minute, ďYou like my new sneakers?Ē you get back out while still on the phone and donít use the car as leverage to get up, the gas pump stops, you go to remove the nozzle and suddenly, youíre without eyebrows and thereís a fire in your gas tank.  Cell phones donít cause gas station fires.  And if you donít believe me, go here: www.pei.org.  You can even download a sweet video file of a chick thatís gassing up her Jeep Cherokee and causes a pump fire.

Now, I told you that to make a point about the Nature versus Nurture debate.  Suddenly, because people think they know cell phones cause fires at the gas station, itís a national crisis and everyoneís talking about it, passing on awareness like good concerned citizens while their children are in daycare and are watching a child-education DVD in the other room.  People think they know because someone else told them, and if someone else told them, it must be true.  But if you put a little thought into the gas station/cell phone issue, you may have come to the conclusion that thereís no way cell phones cause gasoline ignition all by itself.  That would be like saying a radio causes gasoline ignition.  Just because other people say it, it doesnít make it so.

Nature versus Nurture?  The reason there are so many wonderful and hands-off ways to make your child smarter is because the people who make that stuff knows how you think it would be great to just press play and feel wonderful for doing something wonderful for your childís future.  Meanwhile, common sense tells me, someone who is not a parent, who is not fit to be a parent, and who probably shouldnít even be around kids for more than sayÖ two hours, that itís a combination of nature and nurture.  Nature you canít do anything about, so letís drop that until it becomes feasible and legal to genetically modify your kids.  Nurture is what parenting is, and it probably should consist of more holding of, playing with, reading to, and talking to your kid and less showing them a computer program that promises to teach them to read by age one.

Are you shocked?  Have I blown your mind yet?

Hereís another one: I spent some time watching the Prime Minister of Canada argue in favor of the argument that Canadians and Americans are friends.  I had to blink my eyes for some time to finally realize that this was the real Prime Minister of Canada with his elongated vowels saying just because there have been anti-American demonstrations in Canada, that doesnít mean all Canadians feel that way.  And I was wondering why we needed the PM to say that.  As if Canada werenít a nation filled with actual human beings who might hold differing opinions about a significant number of things, including Americans. 

I understand how wonderful it would be for us if we could say the entire nation of Burkina Faso hated us.  But thereís no place anywhere where every single person hates us.  It just doesnít make sense. 

Iíve been watching this show called ďLong Way RoundĒ where Ewan McGregor and some other guy named Charley rode motorcycles across Europe, Asia and North America: from England to New York.  They went through Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, etc. on motorcycles, or motorbikes as they called them, and saw the landscape and met some people in each nation, and surprise, surprise: the people were people just like you and just like me.  Itís a big world, but we all come from the same stock.  Ultimately, we all want to same things.

What, do I need to spell it out for you, tell you exactly what we all want?  No, just sit there and think about it.




Copyright © 2005 John Lemut