And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

For the first time in Many Many Moons the Hyperion Chronicles are all caught up. Do me the favor of at least going over there and looking at the 440 column index we have assembled. It was incredible work.

Anyway, I was looking over the columns, strolling down memory lane, and I came upon this one. It's not the best ever written by a long shot; I'm almost embarrassed now by my poor phrasing. But for some reason it's my favorite column ever. I'm not sure why I decided to run it today in lieu of what I had prepared; I just did.


the Hyperion Chronicles
“Those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those doing it”

#82 And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

Prologue Thought #1
I have this dream where I can fly. Well, not fly, really, but maybe a better way of putting it would be that I jump up and don’t come down (but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just call it flying). I go up and somehow propel myself through the air, parallel to the ground. It’s quite useful. What’s strange is that every time I have this dream, I don’t learn how to fly, I remember how to, and I’m aware, in my dream, that for great periods of time (i.e., the rest of my life), I have forgotten that I have the knowledge to fly. Each and every time I think to myself how sad it is that I go through life not realizing I can fly. Then I wake up, and usually forget about it, until moments like these, when of course it doesn’t do any good.

Prologue Thought #2
I was watching the Discovery Channel once about these gorillas. They are remarkable creatures, with almost as many personality quirks as humans. One such is that gorillas cannot swim, and are deathly afraid of water. They will not go in a river, lake, or even a small wading pool. The strange thing is, gorillas in captivity are able to learn how to swim. Scientists have found no genetic reason that gorillas cannot float or swim in water much as humans do. It seems, then, that the reason gorillas cannot swim is because they know they can’t swim.

For several days now I’ve been thinking about flying, and wondering why we don’t. I talked to a budding-zoologist friend of mine, “Butterscotch,” and she went on and on about how humans don’t have hollow bones or feathers. I talked to my friend “Bear” the physicist, and he lectured me on 9.8 meters per second per second, or the force of gravity, and other such scientific lore. Both Butterscotch and Bear are good resources and know quite a bit, but in this case I’m thinking that this is the problem.

Everyone I’ve talked to about this admits to trying to fly as a kid. They soon gave it up though, when it became apparent they couldn’t do it. This is further cemented by the scientific knowledge of our world (such as Bear’s and Butterscotch’s), so that no real serious attempts are made by credible learned people to try to fly by our own power. Now, for all of human history we’ve been trying to fly, but virtually all of those endeavors involved crafting some sort of wings or feathers or other added devices. And of course, this was finally achieved in 1903 by the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, NC (or, as the people in Ohio inexplicably seem to think, Kitty Hawk, OH).

But all of these lauded attempts, noble in their purpose, dealt with humans overcoming the challenges of flight through artificial and mechanical means. The only people who really attempt to fly, to jump and not land, if you prefer, are the children I mentioned, drug users, religious fanatics, and the mentally ill (all of whom routinely try to fly off buildings, bridges, etc., without any reported success). Now, I suppose that is evidence we as humans can’t fly, but I for one am not convinced that kids, crack heads, cults, and crazies are the definitive sample we should be basing our data on.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I admit Butterscotch and Bear are right, as far as that goes, I am not impressed with so called “scientific certainty.” The pages of history are littered with events and inventions that science definitively ruled out often right up until they happened. And, while no one (that I know of) has ever flown, with the people who give it serious effort, I’m not impressed that it has been ruled out by trial.

Every single thing we can do now was at some point impossible, and it would seem to me that the group we’ve elected to try it out is not the best we could put forward. The bottom line is, and pay attention, because this is slightly complicated, because of our own childhood experiences, because of our vast array of knowledge, and because of what we think of as common sense, the reason we do not fly is not because we can’t (whether or not we can), but because we know we can’t, so we don’t try. Leave aside for a moment whatever you feel is the “truth” of whether or not humans can actually fly. That really doesn’t have anything to do with it.

In many ways we are like the gorillas. We don’t fly because we know we can’t. Maybe we can’t. But those poor gorillas can swim; they just don’t know it. How much of our lives are hemmed in by our knowledge? How much do we limit ourselves and what we might achieve, simply because we know what can and cannot be done? Something to think about, as you get ready to fly home for the holidays.

Naturally repellent,

December 13, 2002

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