By Dave Coulter
One of the more charming aspects of our relationship are these big arguments that E and I have periodically. Big in scope - not big in temperature – thank goodness. We always seem to wind up back on one subject in particular: the overall potential of the human mind. Now, understand that neither one of us has much training in education or psychology, but that doesn't stop us from wondering who ultimately will prevail on Earth – or beyond.
You could call this the brains vs. sticks debate. I can sum up our stances thusly: E feels that the people with brains will come out on top, whereas I have my money on those with the sticks. Don't get me wrong - I hope that E's opinion is the correct one, but my cynical nature prevents me from getting too hopeful. The other night we started out on politics, and as you might guess it wasn't too long before we found ourselves back on familiar theoretical ground.
Brains vs. sticks often spurs me (once again) to trot out my favorite analogy of human intelligence. It goes something like this: the world's smartest dog cannot grasp many things not because it is dumb (it is smart!) but because it's brain biologically can only go so far. This isn't a knock on dogs - I generally find their company very agreeable. The analogy is that humans are in pretty much the same fix – there are some things that our brains (wonderful though they are) can only go so far. It may be great that people have invented a vaccine for polio or the eight-track tape player but that's balanced out by savages like Joe Stalin or the futility of the Chicago Cubs enterprise.
This “world's smartest dog” analogy drives E crazy. In her more hopeful worldview some human will always come along eventually to lift the rest of us apes upwards. And she may have a point, but in my opinion there is a biological ceiling to our grandeur. Maybe we haven't hit it, but we will. This time the topic that dragged us back into this tar pit was the possibility of sensing dimensions beyond the three that we humans sense normally. Ahh yes, the possibility of parallel universes and extra dimensional frolic is very appealing to a scientifically inclined soul like my dear E.
It may be to me too, but one: I think they don't exist, and two: if they did we couldn't see them. Because......why? Class? Because our brains only go up to here! There could be a big party right next to us in the 6th dimension, but we'll never know it, the same way a house cat will never grasp The Price is Right. We went back and forth, but I used a new phrase that irked E but good: give me a million years and a baboon will never fly a rocket ship. Ain't gonna happen - a baboon is what he is. And so are humans - when it comes to seeing extra dimensions.
And dandelions will never, never, ever fly rocket ships!
E discounts this vigorously. She posits that one day, maybe, humans will get there. I think she has possibly been overly influenced by the Star Trek franchise, but I do agree that there is plenty more for us to learn. The science of psychology – to name one field only – is very young. They may indeed uncover aspects of the mind that will explain fuzzy areas of reasoning like intuition and the like.
And who knows where physics will lead us? I would like to travel in a time machine (not gonna happen either, by the way) to see what this old world will be like a thousand years hence. I imagine some good things will be better and some bad things may be worse. I still think that atomic weapons are most likely to do us in. So as I take stock at year's end I hope those lads and lassies working at places like Fermilab and CERN are nice and hopeful people like E, and not rocket-flying delusional baboons like me.