Can reality fall out of date?

IMG_0144 Why do some discoveries leave us bewildered?

The Long Now Foundation links to a middle ground between "two sorts of facts," immutable ideas like the certainty that Kentucky is located north of Tennessee, and facts that constantly change in response to external factors. Today, the dollar has a new value in relation to the Euro. But "mesofacts" - "meso" means "middle" - are facts that change, but change slowly enough that the implications leave us between then and now, wondering when our reality fell out of date. Samuel Arbesman:

These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle.... Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.

For these kinds of facts, the analogy of how to boil a frog is apt: Change the temperature quickly, and the frog jumps out of the pot. But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn’t realize that things are getting warmer, until it’s been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information. We recognize rapid change, whether it’s as simple as a fast-moving object or living with the knowledge that humans have walked on the moon. But anything short of large-scale rapid change is often ignored. This is the reason we continue to write the wrong year during the first days of January.

Like thinking about the future as anticipated memories, we live in a time that more than most in history punishes thinking about the future in terms of the past, if not in economic harm, then in the toll it takes on what we once held dear. The sheer volume of new information is overwhelming.

Sure, some facts are time tested and true. And the accumulation of some facts, unnoticed, simply leaves us tested.

I'll let you in on a little secret. At the upcoming "Lunch with IF," you will learn that hundreds of new planets are orbiting suns outside our solar system. Because observational techniques are continually refined, we have learned that some of these planets have masses that make them relatively Earth-sized. In the next few years the blink, blink of a star will firmly establish that a new and intriguing body is regularly transiting its host. Corroborating studies will excite astronomers like no other because those secondary studies will find that this Earth-massed planet lies at a temperate distance from its parent star. Spectrography has determined that the light bending past its atmosphere bears a water signature.

It rains.


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