Appearance and Reality: A Parable

Thousands of years ago, a misfit in a prestigious university submitted a new proposal for the scientific study of light and color.

He suggested a speculative theory:

  • that all colors were derived from one form of light
  • that this light was itself just one part — the part visible to humans — of a wider spectrum of some unknown but fundamental entity

This was a brave suggestion — it was a time of nationwide crackdowns on freedom of speech — but initial work on the theory went undisturbed. The authorities reserved their punishments for more prominent heretics.

At least, they did until the misfit published his landmark paper: a focused study of the color Blue.

What had been written that was so outrageous? Precisely the claim that the theory applied just as much to Blue as to yellow, green, grey, or any other color.

Blue was the color of the sky and sea!

It was part of the furniture of awareness itself. As such, anything discovered about it ought to be relevant to the concerns of the time.

For example: certain decorated academics, hoping to eventually design the first airplanes, were looking into the properties of Blue which were needed to facilitate the flight of birds.

Rival scientists on campus thought that was a waste of time, and felt it more worthwhile to study how Blue could cause ships to float in water. Members of each department exchanged friendly banter daily in the lunch canteen.

When the misfit defended his thesis he received disdain and haughty artificial laughter.

Some of his research assistants went bankrupt or mad.

But for him, to whom it couldn’t occur to do anything else with his life, he had the joy of pure discovery. A joy which only happens accidentally, if at all, for those who use discovery as a means to an end — the end of a time in the future where they’ll wonder:

“what did all that effort bring me?”

Read this post and more on my Typeshare Social Blog

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I write about deeply human things

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