06 August 2004

decades apart

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author talks about how he likes to read to his 11-year old son, Chris, in a way that made me somewhat look forward to having kids myself.
I try always to pick a book far over his head and read it as a basis for questions and answers, rather than without interruption. I read a sentence or two, wait for him to come up with his usual barrage of questions, answer them, then read another sentence or two. Classics read well this way. They must be written this way. Sometimes we have spent a whole evening reading and talking and discovered we have only covered two or three pages. It's a form of reading done a century ago... when Chautauquas were more popular. Unless you've tried it you can't imagine how pleasant it is to do it this way. (p. 46-47)
That was written in 1974. The 1980's brought us, among other things,

Then the narrator talks about the crisp autumn morning air and wanting to share it with those around him.

I'm afraid these other characters will sleep all day if I let them. The sky outside is sparkling and clear, it's a shame to waste it like this.

I go over finally and give Chris a shake. HIs eyes pop open, then he sits bolt upright uncomprehending.

"Shower time," I say.

I go outside. The air is invigorating. In fact--Christ!--it is cold out. I pound on the Sutherlands' door. (p. 48)

I'm sure you know the relevant Calvin and Hobbes strips, but because of copyright laws, all I could find on the web about character building camping trips was this site. This site is better, but less relevant.

Finally, I went to Shaolin Soccer with two physicists, so naturally the conversation turned to some recent heated arguments over the anthropic principle. (Yes, these things are what we get excited about.)

Anyway, I found it a funny coincidence that as soon as I got home and picked up Zen, the page after I had left off contained this passage:

At first he found it amusing. He coined a law intended to have the humor of a Parkinson's law that "The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite." It pleased him to never run out of hypotheses. ... It was only months after he had coined the law that he began to have doubts about the humor or benefits of it.

If true, that law is not a minor flaw in scientific reasoning. That law is completely nihilistic. It is a catastrophic logical disproof of the general validity of all scientific method!

...[If] the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested..., then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge. (p. 115)

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