By Brian George
The ghost of revolutions past
“Fire in its advance will catch all things by surprise and judge them.”—Heraclitus, Fragment 66
You wrote, “Everywhere I see the claim that ‘many plant stems...were found to be bent smoothly, something like an iron bar subjected to high temperatures, then re-cooled into another shape.’ If this is by any means a COMMON occurrence in crop circles, why aren't samples being collected? Where's the graph of ‘looks like bent by human feet’ circles VS ‘looks like the stalk was genetically altered’ circles. I refuse to believe that stems are *most often* supernaturally bent when there's zero photographic or scientific evidence for every new circle.”
In a letter to Kepler, Galileo wrote, “"What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times?”
Even now, I can see the illustration in my fifth grade science book.
Here is Galileo pointing to the telescope, or to the moon. And here are the church officials and the famous academic philosophers—with looks of horror on their faces, and with their hands thrust out in gestures of refusal.
It is not clear whether this actually happened—either once or more than once, or in three-dimensional space—or whether the story was a theatrical construct by the scientist. In any case, the story has become true through many tens of thousands of repetitions. In the theatre of my memory, I can play out the scene as follows:
“No, Mr. Galileo, we will NOT look through your telescope! You cannot make us, and you will cause much trouble for yourself if you persist in these observations that there are ‘craters’ on the moon.”
In “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” the Scottish historian Charles Mackay wrote, “Of all the offspring of time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome.”
As I have argued in “On the Dangerousness of the Zero,” and elsewhere, very often the simplest explanation may be also the least conventional one—however counter-intuitive this may seem. So too, the skeptic questions everything but himself.
He is the Flat Earth at the center of a heliocentric system. To him, Science is a kind of occult ritual, driven by fear, and sustained by heroic feats of institutionalized violence. By hook or crook, it is necessary that we should keep the world from moving. If, for a moment, the skeptic were to remove his fixed gaze from the mirror, then it is all too likely that the sky would fall, as once, 12,000 years ago, it did. The laws of nature would thus revert to being habits.
“Sense” and “common” do not always go together. At the moment, the kind of large-scale data collection and classification that you are looking for is difficult, and not only because of the liminal nature of the phenomena in question; most mainstream scientists would prefer to “keep their heads”—or, at a minimum, their jobs.
When faced with a mystery, which presents itself as an ultimatum, denial is certainly one of the generally available options.
But there can be no Science without curiosity.
For Curiosity is perhaps the most practical of the gods. It wants only to be appreciated, and desires to be of help.
Let us say that, once again, Galileo were to drop two cannonballs of different sizes off of the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and one cannonball fell up while the other one fell down. And if, in addition, this happened not only once but several dozen times, would it be “reasonable” to assume that nothing strange was going on?