The Goddamn Particle

All this Hype

On the 4th of July there were some fireworks at CERN as they announced they have probably found the elusive Higgs Boson. The CERN website homepage was set to automatically redirect to a cool new facelifted page that announces this:


On the top right is a tiny link to the original site.

Very soon these fireworks set the world media ablaze. I read the news on paper, saw it on TV and watched it appear on Facebook from multiple online news sites. So I decided to take it from the horse’s mouth and visited the CERN website. And I noticed something below the image of the collision in the homepage:


Hmm. So that’s the fine print, I thought. And then it all started to seem wrong somewhere, all this hype.

If you read the interviews or go through some proper material, you’ll realize that they’re not completely sure yet. Sure of what? Oh, sorry if you don’t know the whole story yet.

With quantum mechanics as its foundation, the Standard Model is a very complicated and mathematically abstract theoretical model which aims to explain a lot of the phenomena that we see in physics, and answer a lot of previously unresolved questions. In the 1960s, Peter Higgs along with other bright theoreticians authored some brilliant papers in which they proposed a particle that formed the quantum or building block of a field, the Higgs field, that endows particles with mass, perhaps the most fundamental and familiar of the known properties of matter. Anyone moderately familiar with some day-to-day science can realize the impact of this proposition. This particle, hypothesized in 1964, came to be known as the Higgs boson. What’s a boson? It’s the whole class of particles that have integer spin (there’s no short way to explain what I mean by that, but you don’t have to understand that now). Anyway, the statistics that govern the general behaviour of this class of particles had been worked out by two brilliant minds in 1924 and 25, Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose (after whom the particles were named). These bosons are a class of particles which are not restricted by what is called the Pauli exclusion principle (which the fermion class of particles, in contrast, have to abide by), which says that no two particles can occupy the same quantum state at the same time. Because bosons don’t have to listen to this rule, they can, for example, all clump together and form a giant oodle called the Bose-Einstein condensate, which is so huge it can be seen with special microscopes in one of the most awe-inspiring demonstrations of quantum behaviour one can imagine.

Anyway, let’s not digress. Coming back to these fireworks, I want to share with you certain misgivings I have about them.

First, if you’re not sure that the decay you have seen is a Higgs boson (which decays into two photons), and there’s enough chance that it could be some other background process that you still have to write it there, why so eager to start off all the fireworks? Because it’s 4th of July and you’ll miss the date?

Look, I’m not saying you have to be absolutely sure. I’m saying you have to be sure enough that you don’t have to drag these fine prints and undertone mumblings along wherever you announce it. There’s no reason I wouldn’t be happy if you found that particle today. For a kid who has taken up physics because he couldn’t imagine himself loving anything more for the rest of his life, there are few things that stir my imagination and excitement as vividly as thinking about people finding out these so very elusive things that Nature tries so hard to cover. The whole endeavour of setting up a lab that spans countries, running experiments at unimaginable energy scales, manipulating particles at the level of the very fabric of the universe, can send naught but chills up my spine. It is one of the very few things that gives me pride in being human.

But the reason I feel skeptical today is because of those neutrinos. Remember those faster-than-light neutrinos you found? A bunch of muon neutrinos were shot from one of CERN’s older accelerators near the French-Swiss border and captured in a lab in Italy. In March 2011 the experimenters first reported that they had possible evidence that the neutrinos had arrived sooner than light would have taken to travel that distance in vacuum. If you have heard of some relativity, you might know that the travel of any information or particle above the speed of light is prohibited by Einstein’s relativity theory, which is kind of a huge theory in physics. So this result would be kind of a big deal.

After six months of cross checking, researchers announced in end September that those neutrinos did travel faster than light. With a significance of six sigma, which is like saying they were very sure. In research, being sure to the level of five sigma is considered to be a discovery.

The whole world went crazy for months about this, as layman-explanations for what Einstein had said and what these results mean appeared on all sorts of media. It was as big a deal as could be made of something that was pretty abstract and had nothing to do with all our lives.

However, all that crashed when it turned out that the confidence was in precision, not in accuracy (meaning their results were all very close to each other, and all wrong), when in February 2012 they announced two possible sources of error: a broken GPS link, and a clock on an electronic board that was ticking faster than it ought to. Later they also found a loose fiber optic cable. When they corrected for these errors, the results were consistent with the speed of light. The scientist leading the OPERA team making these experiments resigned. These announcements, in contrast, were strangely quiet, and hardly raised a stir in world media.

I’m not saying you cannot make these mistakes. Hell, if you’re not making a lot of mistakes on a regular basis, you’re probably not doing science. I am also not saying that these errors would surely have been found in those six months of cross-checking. Sometimes mistakes slip through.

All I’m saying is, I see again this hype. This huge hype, much bigger than the neutrino hype. And not all of it by the media. A lot of it is being constructed at the source, by CERN. And I see again their tiny notes that they may be wrong. (This time it’s a five sigma confidence.) And I’m asking, why so early? Why don’t you do those calculations you’re saying you’ll do, become sure enough, and then announce? I don’t think anyone will want to see these results turn out to be wrong again. Least of all you. And I have a bigger point. Why must you put those disclaimers in fine print? If you’re not sure, go ahead, tell people that with as much emphasis as you’re saying that you might have found something. If you don’t want people to hear that you’re not sure, that’s fine, then why would you announce it now? With all this hype? Somehow the level of the hype you’re creating is inconsistent with your simultaneous constant footnotes that you may be unsure. I cannot find myself getting all excited and dreamy-eyed about it, much as I would like to. There’s something here, some lack of transparency, that’s lodging like a splinter in my head.

Say God Particle. One More Time.


The second thing I’m really pissed about is the constant reference to the ‘God Particle’. In 1993 physicist Leon Lederman wrote a book on particle physics that he wanted to title first ‘The Higgs Boson’, and then ‘The Goddamned Particle’, referring to the particle postulated by Peter Higgs that was so frustratingly difficult to find (pre-LHC era, of course). The publisher refused to publish it under the first title saying nobody will read it, and the second title because it would be controversial, especially in strongly Christian US. So the book was renamed to ‘The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?’ Of course, that’s a very titillating title, and this kind of thing sells (this one sold like hot samosas). But somewhere down the line this kind of sensationalism sends the wrong messages, hurting those very processes of science and efforts of scientists they were meant to popularize.

Perhaps for the same reason most scientists hate the term too. (I really recommend you read through this article.) As Pippa Wells, an ATLAS researcher rightly commented,

Hearing it called the ‘God particle’ makes me angry. It confuses people about what we are trying to do here at CERN.

Predictably now, the media is now rife with references to the ‘God Particle’ (sometimes ‘God’s Particle’), with only a few explanations here and there, as an afterthought, that oh, the God Particle is the Higgs boson. And how in the media can you protect such a heavily loaded term from obvious but bullshit religious references? You can’t. So there are now news channel programs on how ‘science discovers footprints of god’, and ‘science finally witnesses god’:


I am so pissed at Lederman right now. He shouldn’t have settled for that name. Well, I guess it’s hard to make these choices when it’s your own book-sells that stand to get pumped up. Higgs himself commented that “Lederman has a lot to answer for”.

I’m surprised at how the whole industry of religion and its public workforce manage to so regularly and reliably embarrass themselves with utter batshit like this. First it was the religious public in the U.S. for whom goddamned had to become god, and now that same god comes around to translate into misunderstood religious propaganda at the hands of similar people.

There. is. no. god. in. this. Not an inkling. If anything, we’re jostling him out of any remaining physical processes he might have wanted to claim for himself. Grow up, people. Stop being so stupidly juvenile.

Bose the Sudden Hero

The third, and happily, last thing that I’m slightly disgruntled about is this particular angle that the Kolkata-based, and perhaps India-based, media has taken on this thing. Because Bose was the first to work out the business of these Bosons, he’s suddenly the forgotten-but-now-resurrected-hero because something like the Higgs boson has been found.

Let me remind you what I said. The bosons are a whole class of particles. The Higgs boson, if it has been found, will not be the first boson to have been found. Even the familiar photon is a boson. There are the W-bosons, the Z-boson etc, and a whole host of composite bosons created out of such elementary bosons. They have been known for a long time, people. I absolutely fail to understand the sudden focus on S N Bose because this particle they’re looking for happens to be a boson. I was in fact appalled by what the Anandabazar has allegedly quoted Dr. Bikash Sinha, director of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, contributor and collaborator to the LHC, as having said:

ভারতীয় হিসেবে গর্ব বোধ করছি। সত্যেন্দ্রনাথ বসু যে ধরনের কণার কথা বলে গিয়েছিলেন, অবশেষে সেই জাতের কণারই চিহ্ন মিলেছে যে!

Translated from Bangla, that means “I am feeling proud as an Indian. And why not, we have finally found those exact kind of particles that Satyendra Nath Bose had talked about!”

That is gross misrepresentation. That is bad, bad science. That. is. Wrong. Photons for one had been detected back in the times of Einstein and the photoelectric experiment that had won him the Nobel prize. The theory of bosons was a great theory, okay. But there’s no reason to bring it up now. It’s irrelevant. There’s nothing new about Bose’s theory that’s validated by this finding. If you want to bring that up, why don’t you also start celebrating J. J. Thomson, who first experimentally established the existence (nice tongue-twister there) of a subatomic particle of any kind, the electron? Or Dalton, who was one of the first to boldly propound and stick to the atomic theory? Or the Greek Democritus, who was one of the earliest to believe that matter comprised of tiny particles?

This Anandabazar Patrika, the most widely read Bangla daily, was also one of the first to pounce on Einstein after the neutrino experiment, with headlines such as ‘Einstein proved wrong’ and the world is coming to an end and so forth. That was something that had really upset me at that time, although I wasn’t doubting the experiment then. Even if Einstein had been wrong, it would be in a special regime, and he would still mostly be quite correct and useful. Einstein himself got there by proving Newton wrong. Do we still not study Newton? Yes, because his ideas and theories are still relevant to a whole lot of Physics. And only in disproving, in  falsification, is there any excitement and progress in science. I seriously feel it is one of the responsibilities of mass media to get these ideas across to people when they report on science. I know Feynman would have wished that. But no, these guys are doing the polar opposite.

So anyway, why the focus this time on Bose? Is it that patriotic itch again? (Or, far stronger and more bitter, paranoid and vengeful than any other community spirit, the Bangali itch?) Talking about patriotism, we Indians have a really misplaced sense of that. We’ll drag whatever little fringe tidbits we’ll find about India from a story, connect it however we can to a sense of patriotism, and make an awesome headline out of it that will make the Indian reader’s chest expand till he floats slowly up to the ceiling.

I am especially appalled by this Guardian article (no less) on this particular angle of the discovery, that my friend pointed out. I recommend you have a look. It’s written by some Amit Chaudhuri, whose Bangali-ness is evident from his tell-tale classic mistake as he starts the article:

“With tomorrow’s announcement of the latest findings in the search for the Higgs boson, the elusive particle is on everyone’s mind…”

(In Bangla the colloquial words for yesterday and tomorrow are the same.)

It keeps on talking on the tired familiar vein of the downtrodden, unrecognized Indian science, even suggesting they have to become Americans to get a Nobel. I’ll quote:

Indians can be excellent geeks, as demonstrated by the tongue-tied astrophysicist Raj Koothrappalli in the US sitcom Big Bang Theory; but the Nobel prize can only be aspired to by Sheldon Cooper, the super-geek and genius in the series, for whom Raj’s country of origin is a diverting enigma, and miles away from the popular myth of science on which – along with solid scientific background research – Big Bang Theory is dependent.

Bitter, bitter pettiness. You’re disgracing yourselves with this paranoia. You’re making laughable cartoons of yourself. There were ‘agree with the author’ and ‘disagree’ buttons at the bottom of the guardian facebook page. I was the first to hit disagree.

There was this angle in the Kalpana Chawla story too. Look at that awesome great Indian girl, they said. I remember once she came to India and was talking to school students. A schoolgirl asked her what she must do if she wanted to become an astronaut like her. Her blunt reply was, ‘flee India as soon as possible’.

If you must feel good about India, work for it. Do your own personal bit to contribute. Don’t borrow these misplaced fabrications. There can be no greater insult to the honour and spirit of a country than this kind of crap.

In conclusion, I want to set my angle on this straight. I really, really hope they’ve found what, or close to what they were looking for. Or anything that raises questions and takes this forward. And Bose was a hero. In fact, I might just be able to find a book signed by him that my grandmother received from him at a prize distribution in school. And if I do that, I shall drool over it for a week and then blog about it.

But I also feel all the other things I’ve written. And I had to say it all to get rid of the splinter in my head.

Here’s to science, the LHC, and the Higgs. May the truth be the last word.


The Great White Clouds Today, and Cauliflowers.

It’s awfully bright today. The sun is too bright to look at, and when it falls on your eyes it hurts, but in an amazing happy way. The sunlight is glistening off bright white cumulus clouds, sparkling pure diamond white wherever it falls. You look up, there’s cumulus clouds everywhere like this great migrating herd through the clear cobalt sky, far, far till the horizon, and it seems like we are in this awesome photoshopped True HD movie.

Our maid observed from the balcony, looking at the clouds, that they look like cauliflower. Which is quite true of those billowy cumulus clouds.


But this similarity deserves more than a passing remark. It has got a story. Some of you know this, and I think the others will like to hear it.

Cloud surfaces are fractal shapes. A short way of explaining that is to say that as you zoom in closer to the surface of a cloud, you will see that there are curves and bulges and irregularities at smaller and smaller levels, all the way down, emerging only as you go closer in, and always looking roughly similar to the large scale curves and billows that you can see from far. So you cannot really tell how much you are zoomed in at any point. So this general irregular, non-smooth, fractured nature, together with being similar at all zoom levels, is what qualifies a shape to be a fractal.

You guessed it, cauliflower are also fractals. So is broccoli, or a bunch of other natural produce.

To try and have a grasp on the degree of irregularity or fractured-ness of a fractal, there’s this number called the fractal dimension or the Hausdorff dimension that you can calculate easily for a fractal shape. That’s not a completely accurate definition I gave, but if you’re interested, look it up. Anyway, although you cannot tell exactly what a fractal shape looks like from this number, it is still a useful way to categorize them into sufficiently narrow classes. So you can expect fractal structures with close fractal dimensions to also be visually similar.

Clouds have a fractal dimension of around 2.35. Cauliflower, around 2.28. Very close. The first fact, that their shapes have this fractal nature, is why they look similar at all. The second fact, that their fractal dimensions are close, is why they are even more similar.

This is not an isolated factoid. There’s boundless more of these if you start looking. The world is like this. As Feynman said, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” These amazing little wonders are all around us. They surround us and enclose us. This is a magical world. Ask, read, know, and feel awesome.

That’s today’s sky I photographed. It was much more awesome in real life.


We were asked a simple question in class: ‘what causes tides?’

‘Class’ here means a mixture of fourth years of an integrated Masters in various sciences, and also some integrated PhD students. All of us were already the equivalent of bachelors.

We were blank. A little worse than blank, actually. Some tried to give answers containing words and stuff heard elsewhere, phrases that go with the situation. All of them knew that they did not have the answer. But answer we must, because it’s a race. Ignorance is idiocy, so we must spew words. This regrettably works often. Teachers frequently latch on to a keyword and continue a narrative themselves. This time our attempts were too poor even for that.

We had people in the room who have studied and discussed the intricacies of quantum mechanics, something I still cannot even begin to understand. And all we had to show were some half layman-ish ranting and whole ignorance to answer what causes tides.

I went into the library with a friend afterwards and tried to look it up online. Almost everywhere it was in terms oft-repeated and unilluminating, too scientific if pressed. As if this is a world that cannot be explained in an uncloaked language of simple motion, flow and weight. The question of tides is not a simple problem. Nothing really is a simple problem, only that it can be made so. But hey, when it starts to sound like a ‘scientific’ question, you need to sound ‘scientific’ in answering. What’s ‘scientific’? Why do we lose perspective? It’s just a question about this world we find ourselves in. At what point do you label it as ‘science’? And why can’t our science education teach us enough not to do that?

I wanted to say something else, but I guess writing has its way of carrying you away by creating a dialogue. But I’ll keep it short, and I’ll say that thing.

I saw a guy on YouTube who makes ‘Kinetic Wave Sculptures’ from wood and string. I had commented that he’s going to be a lot more help than most scientists with publications and degrees if humanity needs to rebuild after Armageddon. What I hadn’t realized was that that comment of mine would keep circling like a vulture above my head for a long time to come.

I, for one, wouldn’t be much help. I cannot make electricity or fire or light or mechanical solutions from the earth’s native resources as easily as you would expect a student of science to. Granted, science today is not about that. But I feel this personal shame studying Christoffel symbols if I can’t make a lightbulb glow from a turning fan.

We have been breeding useless scientists. We have been learning and preaching a science that is to be read and got used to, a science not to be practised and dirtied. A science not of motion, flow and weight, a science too elevated to connect to now and here. We have made people that spend their life studying racing motorbikes having never got on a bicycle.

This is because we labelled it. It is no longer a question about what we find ourselves in. Oh no, drop that audacity. It is not your question about your world any more. It is now a certain language, a certain typeface, a certain manual of style. It is now a citation, a peer-review and a GPA. All of that time the earth keeps spinning around in its void, and the motion, flow and weight dances around us, oblivious.

More fatal than blind submission to the wrong ideas is blind submission to what are clearly the right ideas. In either case you excuse yourself the tests for being wrong, but in the latter you have the illusion of being smart. Science is today’s witch-burning with a lab coat on. But we are breeding for just such batches of scientists.

I don’t have much more to say. I hope I change before I die; the shadows of those vultures keep getting darker around me.

Inquivesta Wallpaper

I designed this wallpaper for Inquivesta 2011. I just took the logo and inverted the colours. Hope you like it.

Inquivesta Wallpaper

By the way, I decided, right now, to participate in WordPress’ Post a Week 2011 Challenge (I’m not so sorry now that I migrated from Live Spaces – it’s frankly cooler here), starting with this post. And I’m going to be using all the dirty little tricks of the trade, including advance posting. Good luck to me.


Most people believe in a lot of ghosts. I don’t mean ghosts in the usual sense of the term. By ghosts, I mean notions that they believe not because they have absolute concrete proof, but because some sort of dogma and a personal servitude to dogma leads them to believe these things.

In the stone age, the ghosts were the innumerable gods in charge of each one of nature’s mysterious phenomena. Thus, there was a god to explain lightning, another to explain earthquakes. Then they would believe in the flat earth, or the geocentric cosmos. In the middle ages, these ghosts used to be things like witches. So they burned suspected witches at the stake. They believed things without sufficient proof, without checking for themselves whether the witch theory is true. Likewise, later they used to believe that heat is a fluid called caloric, and that atoms have the structure of a plum pudding, or that DNA codes for RNA that codes for protein, and no other type of coding takes place. They used to be more gullible and stupid then.

This, on the other hand, is the scientific age. We have put behind us most of the dogmas, whether in the field of religion or science or whatever. Today the common educated people know about science, and about the necessity to verify claims before accepting them as true.

Today we don’t believe in unproved ghosts. This, I believe, is one of the greatest steps forward that the human race has taken, and one of the greatest gifts of science to the common man. Today, the common man is not so gullible. You cannot easily make him believe in some ghost just because a lot of people are saying so or some authority says so. He knows about proof and he checks for himself whether a particular claim is true. Today, we are not so ready to believe in whatever ghost you care to invent. We believe in a select few things that are not ghosts:

We believe that Herbal Care shampoos have plant milk and essential thermal minerals that rejuvenate hair and keep it healthy. We believe that it has no chemicals, only the goodness of organic products, and that it is 30% better at beautifying dull hair.

We, in India, believe in Kosthi or star-charts. We check one against another before deciding on marriage. We, of the digital age, install Kundali-Pro on our computers to chart our horoscope. We seriously believe in castes. We believe it is bad to mingle freely with the opposite sex if you are not siblings or spouses.

We believe that the first time humans achieve the power to land men on the moon, they should plant a national flag there. We believe that whoever plants their country’s flag first on the earth’s rocky satellite does something important and significant and not something that is laughable in a deep way. We do not believe in a flag, symbol and anthem standing for humanity, or for earth and the living things.

We believe that there is no limit on the number of endangered animals that you can kill in order to get a death sentence. We believe that killing one human sometimes suffices.

We believe that we are higher than animals.

We believe that sex is somehow different from sleep or hunger or the need for security.

We believe that a certain country holds biological weapons, and so strong is this belief that on this pretext we attack the country and wreak havoc on it. We don’t find any such weapons. Nevertheless, we set their oil reserves on fire. We gang rape their women, videos of which reach college students as pornography. We believe that there is some type of glory and patriotism in this kind of war. We believe that it is the key to peace.

We believe that there are such things as private parts in our body, and that we must cover them to protect our dignity. We believe in such a dignity.

We believe that lustrous locks are beautiful, but armpit hair is not. We believe in an idea of good-looking men and women. We believe that being good-looking matters a lot. We believe that we must keep that fact in mind when we fall in love or choose a partner for life.

Yes, we believe there is such a thing as plant milk or thermal minerals, and that hair, which is dead tissue, has ‘health’. We believe that organic things are not chemicals (remember organic chemistry?) We believe beautification can be measured, and stated in percentage. We don’t know the answer to ‘30% better than what,’ but we believe it anyway. We believe that using a computerized horoscope is not ironic. We believe that the unconscious piece of rock that is earth’s natural satellite, or for that matter, any part of the physical universe, cares which country’s flag is planted on that rock. We believe that crimes have to be anthropocentric to be significant. We believe in super-overrating sex, and yet we hold that we are elevated from animals. We don’t believe in unquestioned authority, unless that authority is called the United States of America. We have invented shame, and we believe in an objective beauty as opposed to subjective beauty.

Oh, you meant these ghosts, you say. I don’t believe in them.

Great. Good job. Now let me tell you about a few other ghosts we believe in. Ghosts which you too, are sure to believe in. Ghosts which we are not wrong at all to believe in.

We believe in evolution, and dinosaurs. We believe in global warming, and that smoking causes cancer. We believe that the Holocaust was the single most abominable act in the history of mankind. We believe that women are equal to men, and that homosexuals are not freaks of nature. We believe in relativity and quantum mechanics, at least the fact that there are such things governing our reality. We believe incest is deplorable, so is cannibalism.

But these are not ghosts, you say. These are true. Why shouldn’t I believe in them? Well, there’s absolutely no harm believing in them, provided you know exactly what you are opting to believe in. If you learn about the thing, and check it with your wisdom, and judge it to be correct, you may damn well believe it. But if you believe a thing just because many people hold that view and it is the current convention of society, and because the times are such, then no matter how true or how right or how justified the claim, it is a ghost that you believe in. And that sort of belief, I maintain, does no good to anyone. In fact, I believe it does a lot of harm. It builds dogma. But you see, humans have a natural tendency to create and support dogma. We, the same persons, placed in Darwin’s era and nurtured in the ideas of that time would refuse to admit the possibility of evolution. Likewise, we would never understand, let alone believe, relativity. Just like most physicists at the time, even the Nobel committee, who refused to believe Einstein’s work. Similarly, we would listen to none of the fantasy that goes by the name of quantum mechanics, just as Einstein himself refused to believe it. And don’t, please don’t, fool yourself into thinking that you are such a visionary genius that you would have appreciated all these ideas in their own time. You only believe in them now, in this age, when they have been proved to be right, but not because you understand the proof, only because many people, including the authorities (scientists) hold the view. I am here of course talking about the common educated people, not the scientists themselves. And since your beliefs about the nature of the physical world stem from what the neighbours think rather than what you have researched, it doesn’t take much to just shake them and grind them to dust, and create new ones. You wouldn’t even mind much. Just a newspaper headline about a new experimental observation that completely changes the view of nature. Then you add some authoritative people talking importantly about it in the trusted media, and you have got yourself a brand new reality. Your very own universe, where you’ve been living all these years, has suddenly changed completely. It’s a frightening thought.

During the Holocaust, innumerable people carried on tortures and killings on a regular basis. Not that they were all somehow born cruel at exactly the right time. They were ordinary gullible men born at a time that gave them power in return for their ability to be cruel. They didn’t have to be born as cruel men. Heck, they didn’t even have to be born as men. Just today I read in the newspaper that the role of women in the torments carried out in WWIII was not small at all. I do not fool myself thinking that if all of us were born Aryans in Germany at that time, including you and me, we would have tried to stop this inhumanity. No, we would have risen to the occasion. Face it. At a time when women were referred to as the weaker sex or homosexuals as freaks, that is exactly how we would have looked at them. At a time when people killed other people to eat them, it would have been perfectly fine with us to dine with relish on a murdered person’s eyeball fluid. If incest with protection were legal, – and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, – I bet you would be humping your cousins in no time. Yes, no matter how incorrect it sounds now. We humans always like to be safe, doing what everyone is doing. We don’t have enough courage to do something we believe in if it’s too different from what’s accepted. Leave alone doing what we believe, we are just too afraid, or too not used to even believe such a thing in our hearts. So don’t dare think that you would have been the sole individual to step aside and show the rest a new way. Why would you? You would have been brought up with those ideas. Why would you suddenly turn against them? Do you, today, suddenly turn against some well-established social rule just because you think in the far future it is going to be replaced by something fairer or more rational? No, we the ordinary people just don’t have that sort of vision. We think and decide and act on it like clockwork. We move like a flock of sheep. For this reason, no matter how far into the future, no matter how scientific the age, we shall always be chasing ghosts, only newer and newer ones, camouflaged subtly with ever greater care, while laughing at the ghosts of the past.

The cure of this, I believe, lies in two parts: the first part is when you are able to classify your own beliefs as ghost or non-ghost according to the definition of ghost, and take corrective steps accordingly. No, you don’t have to go out there and scientifically prove every fact that you know about the world. What you must do is included in the second part. This second part is a very simple thing Richard Feynman said in The Meaning of It All: learn to doubt. Leave room for uncertainty. Never be so sure of something that you become instinctively prejudiced against any alternative to it.

But there really is no cure. You cannot spread the message enough. We shall keep believing in ghosts. A select few ghosts.

Like the belief that we don’t believe in any.


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