However, this doesn't really concern my work, it's more of a rant regarding something that happened this weekend. On Saturday, I went to Waterloo Park to read for a while. I'm finishing up a book called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig. Apparently the most widely-read philosophy book ever written, this book was first suggested to me sometime in the Fall of 2001 by my good friend Adam Philip. I had it in memory all the time, and at the time I wondered how an educated man like Adam could recommend a book with such a tacky name. Let's face it - the name sucks. When I first mentioned this book to my mom I thought she was going to spit her tea at me through the phone - that's how disastrous the title is.
Due in large part exactly to this quality, I remembered it for years, until the day Moody Blues Café in Waterloo finally closed down. The proprietor, Gabriella, was this elderly German lady who had clearly had many nights of fun partying in her hometown of Munich. I never did ask her what prompted her to come out to Canada, and why Waterloo. However, this was where she lived, and she hated every minute of her time here. When I first met her - that would have been in February 2003 or so with morethanreal on a suggestion by my friend Aaron Rehaag - I didn't yet understand the disgust and dislike of Waterloo, but as time goes by... well, I've bitched enough about that.
The last day that Moody Blues opened its doors, before Gabriella moved (I'm sure I saw her once in Toronto, randomly walking down the street ahead of me), Jason Parachoniak, John Admanski, and myself visited there to celebrate the Café and discuss assignment 2 of our compilers project, so that would have been 4B term - Winter of 2006. Wow, time flies. Anyways, she was selling off all the books in the café for $0.99/book, and I picked up some titles I recognized, this one among them. It was sitting in a back corner, looking very neglected and lonely, and $0.99 for a title I've heard of (or one I haven't heard of, for that matter) is always attractive.
I only started reading it this summer, over the course of a few Greyhound trips between Waterloo and Toronto. This is the ideal setting for reading this book. A window seat, the hum of the air conditioning and the occasional annoying asshole with headphones that seem to direct more sound my way than into his ears, and the road sweeping by under you while you read about quality, and its experience through travel, motorcyle maintenance, and long rambling recalls.
The author writes similarly to me, other than he often has a point to his rambling, whereas I really don't know what the fuck will come out of this. I just feel like writing, I don't really know what the conclusion of this little exercise will be.
Anyhow, so there I was in Waterloo park, reading on in this novel. One very striking bit hit me at the time; Phaedrus' (shall we call him the 'alter ego' of the narrator) experience with science and the destruction of the Scientific Method. I know what you're thinking; this is crazy, the Scientific Method is the basis for our culture and society. Well, that's mostly true, but the author argues the following (note: this isn't a full argument because it's not proper induction, but bear with me):
- Suppose you try to solve a problem with the application of the Scientific Method
- You form a hypothesis to try to reveal some component of the problem and identify it.
- As you begin attempting to formulate an experiment to test the hypothesis, another hypothesis comes at you, or several.
- Once you finish with the first hypothesis, you begin to move on to the others.
- Recursively, you find that as you solve the other hypotheses, more and more come to mind!
... if this recursion in inductively infinite, then this has startling conclusions. Basically, we are left with a Scientific Method that, whenever it is applied, generates more questions than it answers. As such, if the purpose of the Scientific Method is to answer questions about the Universe, we're screwed, since the pool of questions grows faster than our ability to solve them, and as such, we will never truly be able to answer all the questions.
Now, you may point out "but is it always the case that more questions arise from the formulation and answer of a question?" This is indeed the hole in this argument, though the author does provide the standpoint that this was based off of the empirical experience of the narrator, rather than solid logic. It is nonetheless an interesting question to think about. The Scientific Method is the be-all end-all hammer of problem solving that we (we specifically being engineers in this sentence, since I'm using it to apply to the class of people I represent) employ in our every-day lives. We can't question the Method, because to question it using the principles of Science creates a vicious and unresolvable catch twenty-two; Science cannot investigate the fundamental axiom upon which it is built.
As such, the questioning of the Scientific Method must come from an alternate route. It must come from Philosophy. I would love to discuss this topic more and more, but unfortunately at the time I decided to keep reading, and this led me to a long, LONG-winded discussion on Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason," a book which I haven't read only because other excerpts of Kant's which I picked up, I found notoriously... boring. Not because the subject material was disinteresting, but the man pours himself onto the page with what looks like hallucinogen-induced zeal. It's very long, and not particularly elegantly written, lots of edgyness to it, not a lot of flow, and I constantly wondered (perhaps it was the specific English translation I was reading) which noun in the preceding sentence the word this or that referred to. Of course, at the time I picked up Kant, I was 21. Maybe even 20. I really should look into it again, since Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance gives me incentive to study it with interest rather than snobbishness, which was mostly the quality that led me into works of "Metaphysics."
Even so, that last concept is not what I meant to write about. See what I meant about my getting off-topic? As I was reading, I paid attention to some of the things going on around me, continuing my attempts to understand how our society functions. There was a wedding shoot where I heard the photographer yell "can we have a kiss!" to the couple, there were many people tearing the freshly-planted flowers out of vases and stripping off their petals, Mr. Jeff Muizelaar made an appearance with a friend of his whose name I don't recall, but he came from Agassiz, BC which made me feel homesick.
In particular though, there were several people of all different ages who commented on the pollution of the body of water some might call a lake (if they didn't know better) near the southern end of Waterloo Park. There was a lot of muck, the water was clearly not flowing very well, and it smelled funny and was generally not very pleasant. A number of people of all different ages would stop by the lake, sniff, wipe their noses, and make a comment like the following:
"This lake is full of garbage. The city should clean it up!"
Then, with smug faces full of pride in themselves, they'd walk away, content that they stand on the moral high ground with nature. NEWS FLASH idiots - commenting idly to your fat friends about shoving off responsibility for there being trash in the lake does not make you some superior human being. You haven't solved the problem, in fact, all you've done is appointed someone else to take care of it, except rather than informing that somebody else, you merely mentioned the suggestion to your friend who couldn't care less. Seriously - don't ever do this to yourself. Just because you say something "should be" a certain way, if it is not, shouldn't suddenly cheer you up and make you content with life again. Go do something about it if you really care. Idly mentioning shit in passing isn't going to solve any of the problems, and if this salves your ego then you're really worthless.
The other interesting occurence was the number of people throwing food to ducks in the lake. Now, I, as a child, may have been guilty of this, but not to ducks, it was to pigeons in Warsaw. However, let's stick on topic here - bear with me. People kept on feeding ducks bread. Here is what happens when people do this:
- ducks don't eat all the bread. They eat the ones they see fall, a lot of other crumbs and parts sink into the mud and water. Bread will of course sprout mold and other bacterial colonies, which will impact the ecosystem in some minor way, but specifically, they will grow the mold Aspergillus which is fatal to ducks.
- People tend to throw bread from the same points along the sidewalk to the same points down in the mud and lake below. Ducks shit where they eat, so what you're doing is mixing bread crumbs with duck shit deposited by the ducks from previous bread crumbs. This facilitates the spread of disease (just like if humans eat shit) such as Duck Virus Enteritis, which can kill all the ducks (and most other waterfowl too) in an area within a week. It's a pretty nasty virus. Oh, thanks to the mixture of bread and shit, the water can also pick up the Botulism virus. Isn't that fun for kids splashing around in it?!
- When everyone throws food particles, you're overfeeding ducks. That means they shit more. Shit in water is bad for all the other animals that swim in it, like fish.
- Leftover bread and other foods wash up on the edge of the lake and look like - oh... GARBAGE.
Mind you, I didn't know most of this before I sat down and wrote the article. I knew that feeding wild animals is generally a bad practice because they tend to go for food at more risk to themselves, exposing themselves to dangers that they would normally avoid, and that this distrupts their mating season. I also knew that various foods when fed to ducks don't actually pass through the duck (birds have a 'gizzard' which works differently than a human stomach for things that are shoved into it) and get stuck inside them, rotting/putting waste into a duck's bloodstream. In fact, things like this are mentioned in signs all around the lake.
However, though I only had to do 30 seconds of Googling to show you this stuff, it appears nobody actually cared to do it near the lake. Feeding was rampant. At one point, I came up to some family feeding ducks, and they asked me to take a picture of them. I decided this was fair, if they'd explain to me what caused them to feed the ducks.
Grandmother: "Well, our 6 year old granddaughter is here, and she had some bread left over, and she wanted to feed the ducks."
OK grandma, you're getting defensive and averting blame. Bravo, I'd probably do the same in your shoes.
Luke: "Look, I'm not asking you to stop. I'm mostly curious about why you would feed the ducks when the sign right there in the water where you're throwing bread says 'do not feed the ducks.'"
Grandfather: "Well, look, our granddaughter is happy, the ducks are happy, so what's the problem? <to his granddaughter> Hey, why are you feeding the ducks?"
Girl: "Because I wanted to."
Grandfather: "Did you read the sign?"
Grandfather: "Can you read it now?"
Girl: "Yep. It says 'do not feed the ducks!'"
Grandfather: "And you did what?"
Girl: "I fed the ducks!"
Satisfied, they looked at me with the implication that I should leave.
Admittedly, I did leave, because I realized two things.
1) Even if I managed to convince them to stop, they would only resume again the second I was out of sight. Either them, or the next family to stop by with bread crumbs. Telling them to stop now would be the same sort of ego-salving I was bashing just a few paragraphs ago, making me feel like I'm making a difference in the world somehow.
2) They gave me a bunch of reasons why they figured it worth it to contravene the sign posted by some park authority regarding feeding the ducks. However, nobody really told me why they though "hey, it looks like a nice day, let's feed the ducks!"
This gave rise to a whole host of other thoughts. We have speed limits. Why do people speed? I'm sure their purpose is not "to contravene speeding laws." So why bother? And why is it that when you set the speed limit higher, people speed more? What causes people to contravene laws in general, is there a basic premise which causes even an elderly couple who I'm sure consider themselves 'law abiding' to obey some laws and disregard others? I mean, without laws, our society would collapse into anarchy and disorder, and that's generally considered bad. This, of course, isn't to say that I've never broken a law myself, but, to quote a line I've been hearing with some frequency recently "hypocrisy is not a fallacy."
eddiegeorgejon and I discussed this briefly, but we didn't really come to any conclusions. I thought I'd draw some now, but I'm becoming very fatigued and I think I'll shower and call it a night.
Instead my friends, we all get food for thought, and you're not even privy to my far-fetched and erroneous drawing of ends to something I write. Everybody wins!