Flavin's Corner
6-18-99

The Fantastic

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.
'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me wanna cry.
What's so funny 'bout peace, love, & understanding?
Peace, Love, and Understanding, 1979, by Nick Lowe for Elvis Costello.

     Practicalness--some have it, most want it, and too many ...just don't get it.
With six billion opinions stressing individuality, we move ahead with those
things we agree upon, not those we disagree about.  To rephrase and
reiterate--2+2=4, everyone has the right to disagree, but... 2+2 still equals 4.
I'm constantly amazed at our fascination with the "fantastic," and I'm at a loss
to explain why so many choose to "believe," rather than to ...know.  Freedom?
Rebellion?  Or is the pursuit of the "fantastic," as opposed to accepted,
practical, hard-fought-for and well-earned treasures of harmonious surety
(read: facts) not enough for some?  Lemmings throw themselves upon beaches,
science partially explains the phenomena as environmental adaptation, but
when modern humans declare belief in the fantastic, ...we have to question
why.

     Historians of science tell us that critical, fact-based inquiry first developed
with Ionian Greeks, who were inspired and used data gained from those weird
and wonderful Persian-ruled Babylonians, c.539-331 BCE, who accomplished
testable math.  We are able to now trace the diffusion of basic mathematical
concepts spreading from Persia/Greece to India and beyond (with subsequent
reciprocal transmissions, of course), and ...2+2 still equals 4.  From Aristotle,
to Newton and Descartes, then Einstein, and now with the current conjectural
cosmology of the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, we have defined our
species and our place in the universe with science.  Yet, many balk at science
and seek fantastic alternatives.  A line has been drawn between believers in the
fantastic on one side and skeptics on the other.  I don't know if such a scenario
could properly be termed a "war," but many battles have been and are still
being fought.

     The image of a magician manipulating the universe through the usage of
occult power has given way to creepy scenarios involving extraterrestrial
technologies (claimed to have been used in ancient times, as well as today), but
the apparent goals of Faust seem to be the same as the supporters of an alien
crash in Roswell--to change reality.  Believers in the fantastic are dissatisfied
with reality and seek to change the world by "finding" evidence that science is
either wrong, has missed something, or that science is an enemy of some
"higher" truth.  Such positions are anti-scientific and demonstrate mental
instability.  Yep, there ARE lots of kooks out there!

     I recently received an e-mail directing my attention to a web-site about
Australia entitled "Hidden Bits of History," with claims of ...oh, all sorts of
fantastic stuff.  The web-author put forth a long list of short descriptions
suggesting Australia was visited in ancient times by Egyptians, Phoenicians,
and the Chinese, among others.  Such claims are remarkably similar to ones
made regarding pre-Columbian America as advanced by Mormons, a handful
of professionals, and certain amateur groups who are collectively referred to as
hyper-diffusionists.  Such positions often impugn upon the accomplishments of
aboriginal populations and some regard this as racist, though such a broad
generalization would apply to the Mormons and only certain individual
hyper-diffusionists (such as the ex-neo-Nazi and editor of The Ancient
American magazine, Frank Joseph Collin, and Russ Burrows, the alleged
"discoverer" of a fantastic cave).  Whether the racist issue has further relevance
is difficult to determine; what's important here is the readiness of many to
accept fantastic claims without critical evaluation. [Click  here  for
the web-site on "Australian Archaeological Anomalies."]

     As I consider myself a skeptical-diffusionist, for lack of a better term, and
suspect some degree of pre-Columbian contact DID occur between the Old
and New World (though I am dissatisfied with nearly ALL examples cited by
most amateurs and await further work by the above-mentioned handful of
professionals), the web-site about Australian claims didn't ...do much for me.
In fact, I looked it over, and decided I wouldn't give it any of my time.  Then
an e-mail from The Epigraphy Forum (an e-mail discussion group which I
subscribe to) arrived from one of those "handfuls of professionals" which
disturbed me.

     Carl L. Johannessen is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography
at the University of Oregon and is best known for his published claims of the
identification of maize (corn) in ancient India.  As maize is a New World plant
and only introduced to the rest of the world after Columbus, Johannessen's
identification of Indian statuary depicting maize is intriguing evidence for
diffusion (if, in fact, the objects portrayed are actually maize and not some
other plant, as some have suggested, like "pearl-fruit").  I find the arguments,
both pro and con, to be fascinating and look forward to further work in this
area.  However, setting Johannessen's good work aside for the moment, I was
troubled by his e-mail, apparent support for the web-site about fantastic
archaeology in Australia, and his admission of being "irrational..."

     Prof. Johannessen wrote:  "Since our ancestors were rather ruthless,
frequently being extremely vicious in their "ethnic cleansing" of conquered
cultures, the colorless folk [northwest Europeans, RDF] have wanted a
substantiation for their violent actions.  They considered themselves to be
superior.  Academia has tended to accept that philosophical opinion (here in
the U.S. and even in India and China) and now it is time to reduce any claim
that skin color had anything at all to do with: ability to explore, bravery,
energy, intelligence, technical ability, discovery and all the rest that are
considered valuable characteristics in our culture.

     Unfortunately, for whatever reason, maybe because it has been thought to
be easy to classify people as different, the stupidity of racial superiority has
been difficult to irradicate.  At 75 years of age, I am beginning to realize that
racially prejudiced people can rationalize any needed feat to not have to change
their long held beliefs.  So I am irrational in my belief that acceptance of
diffusion concepts can help people be more accepting of differences!  I am
working on it anyway!"

     Science thrives on bold, new ideas, but demands exactitude.  Any list or
"assemblage" of a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand unsubstantiated claims may
make for relaxing bathroom reading, but is all but worthless to the scientific
method.  Hunters use shotguns to bring down certain types of game and
scientists shouldn't use them at all.  Scattering maybe's and if's is simply
begging attention and doesn't prove a single claim.  Prof. Johannessen knows
the exacting methodology of the scientific approach, but now seems content to
act as cheerleader to undisciplined amateurs.  In this, I am mightily
disappointed.  It's personal...  I feel as if my "handful of professionals" has just
been reduced substantially.  Damn!

     Sometimes truth may be found uttered by idiots, as in the oft-quoted
Rodney King and his "Why can't we all just get along?"  I don't like the smell
of the "war" brewing between skeptics and proponents of the fantastic.  There's
nothing funny about this...

wondering if my aim is true,
Rick

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