The arguments in science usually produce effective theories and more work to be done in the direction of a research programme core. In the process, we usually discover that our previous views were drongo of some sort. Our best theories lag behind the evidence. Physics, as it stands at the moment, is pretty sure our notions of ‘what is real’ focus on only 4% of ‘what is there’ – hardly a full deck.
As a kid, with my mate Frog, I watched the night sky. He was into astronomy. We knew from his dad that patient observations were necessary and heard great stories about Tycho Brahe. I remember the silver nose. We had a telescope (borrowed from his dad’s work), a red notebook, sandwiches, a flask and determination. It was England’s Northwest, so our results were largely disappointment and friendship. The heavens were grey and we got cold. It was like waiting for a slip catch in cricket – all the concentration just for a tiny percentage moment. One day, in an art class more boring than the last hour of any going-nowhere cricket game in the rain, Frog started jumping about in a eureka dance. He generally reserved these for the times he emerged from the scorebox to celebrate a particularly vicious over from me, or inspire one if he thought I was slacking.
He’d painted Jupiter and a couple of its moons, low in the sky. Several times, against a graph, showing it move across the heavens. The red notebook was whipped out. Our teacher, stirred from the depression of her recent failed affair with Dobba (he other art teacher), came to quell the fuss. A bad decision, as every time she moved her gorgeous body, all the male students, including limp-wristed Chris, our token not-yet-gay, could not contain themselves. Furore ensued. Frog was explaining how he’d plotted his chart from the numbers in our booklet. We found ourselves hugging.
Teacher could not understand. She never did get why we didn’t give a flying fuck about delicate shades of poster paint. She was threatening to send us to the headmaster for the cane. She didn’t mean it, but we went anyway, plotting our next observations. The Beak, a really decent cove, invited himself along. Grey as the sky was that weekend night, our headmaster played his role in encouraging us to university to study science. We thought Frog’s dad invited the art teacher out of hospitality and apology, until our wandering telescope found her with the head at the bottom of the long garden. We had a joke about the moons of Venus for a long time afterwards.
Sometime after this, our headmaster allowed a few of us (with parental notes) to be excused religious education and formed a group doing general studies with him. He was interesting, something we weren’t used to; yet the key thing was that he let us wander off together to report back in discussion.
My learning started in this. Our society, of course, has time all wrong. A few dominate our time through enforced work for their profit. The ‘mechanisms’ of this involve classrooms, as surely as dumping kids in front of television or video games. We fear free time, for the devil has work for idle hands to do. This is because we live in drongo and our systems are built in its fear. Rationality is all rationalisation of this. What we are scared of.
Free-love style eduction is not what I’m on about. There needs to be something that stops us doing what we want with art teachers. Mine is not the villain of this piece, much as I would love to pin my lack of representation on someone!
Bertrand Russell’s essay In Praise of Idleness is still marvellously pertinent today, nearly eighty years after it was written.
We might say the same of depression too – though that’s more complicated.