How wrong I was

wile-e-coyote-2While we traveled to the sea I was sitting by the back window dreaming of having a toy car with remote control. I would lay it on the road and drive it aside my dad’s car.

I can’t pinpoint from when was this early memory—I was probably still not nine—but clearly I couldn’t understand the concept of velocity very well.

I guess it was also about that time, I believed that a person within a falling airplane could salve himself by jumping out of the machine just before it crashed. In my pre-Newtonian mind, inertia didn’t play any role.

Neither did momentum. I was pretty sure that if I run fast, but really fast, against a wall, I could go through it as it were an ethereal substance. I wasn’t even wrong with such a nonsense. I’m just happy I never tried to put this hypothesis to test.

Not only my physics was a mess, my organization and statistical skills were in bad shape, too.

I held a grudge against the Miss Universe contest, popular on that times. I thought that the fair way to choose the most beautiful woman in the world would involve a cumbersome method were the judges would go knocking at every door in the planet, like Prince Charming looking for Cinderella.

Along the same line, I was absolutely sure that the right way of organizing a football tournament was having every team playing against every team. Apparently, I didn’t consider a problem that, according to my rules, the World  Cup in Spain in 1982 would figure 276 matches.

I was a naïve hyper-realist too.

Soap-operas were a central part of Brazilian pop culture. In my mind, the perfect soap-opera would run 24/7, following each and every details of the protagonists’ lives.

Then, I was about ten when I learned about natural evolution in school. It sounded right to me from beginning. I still remember discussions with a christian colleague, who dared to confess that although she learned all that stuff for the exams, she still really believed in the biblical truth.

I was baffled by that revelation: how could anyone deny such simple and obvious fact that in a fight between a lion and a zebra, the lion would win, survive, and, therefore, evolve?

(I can guess the source of the misunderstanding for this one. In Portuguese,  “survival of the fittest” used to be poorly translated as “survival of the strongest”.)

If my biology wasn’t doing well, at least I valued knowledge.

I had a dream of a Universal library containing all books ever written. In a pre-Internet time, this dream (or more precisely, this logistical nightmare) had the shape of an amazingly tall skyscraper.

I know that much of these anecdotic misunderstandings were just part of the normal development of any child. A crash between a brain still being formed and abstract complex concepts forged during thousands of years of cultural developments.

Although my mind is mature now to deal with all these questions, I always wonder about all the things I cannot deal with. All the things about what I am as ignorant as that kid over thirty years ago dreaming of going through the wall.

I wonder about all the things I can’t understand and—worse—all the things I deceivingly think that I understand.

All the mysteries of the quantum world. All the complexities of the big numbers appearing everywhere in a society of billions people. All the limitations of a brain misshapen to deal with new ethical and moral dilemmas popping out from each new technological achievement. All the scariness of having to put personal bets on my future in a world were I cannot hold to any certainty.

How wrong am I?

MB



Categories: Cognitive Sciences, Science, Scientific Culture

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