Thursday, 15 July 2010


How did Columbus deduced that land was ahead when he was approaching the Americas? – what 3 things had Columbus noticed? I had one thought - (sea birds) but it seemed pointless to offer just one when three were required. The answer, was birds, driftwood and cloud formations.

Of course this isn’t philosophy, it’s knowledge, lore and understanding. It’s the application of observation to the realities life and the struggle for survival. It’s empirical and testable and reliable and we call these things "facts".

There are two types of facts which are interesting to think about here: facts which are like tools - which allow us to achieve other things, to recognise that certain clouds indicate the presence of land etc - and facts which have no obvious utility. These useless facts are observations of simple patterns, affiliations and connections between things; the way’s things appear or interrelate. Whilst these observations may have no immediate or obvious utility it’s still the case that useful facts have frequently emerged out of these apparently useless ones. Certainly not all useless observations are destined to become useful but we are nonetheless programmed as beings to notice patterns and connections between things, despite our accompanying (but complimentary) tendency to doubt, question and test the fruits of such observations.

But since it’s both a natural tendency to observe and speculate about our observations and since utility occasionally emerges from such speculations, we should be unrepentant about our enquiries into things which, to some people, might seem senseless or purposeless nonsense, since who knows from whence the next important discovery will emerge from the fog of uncertainty?

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