Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Truth of the Day

Fascinating article in the NY Times about an expensive piece of bomb-detecting equipment that the Iraqi government is quite enamored of which has the sole drawback of being comically useless:

To detect materials, the operator puts an array of plastic-coated cardboard cards with bar codes into a holder connected to the wand by a cable. “It would be laughable,” Colonel Bidlack said, “except someone down the street from you is counting on this to keep bombs off the streets.”

Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.

Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.
This heartfelt statement from the head of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives betrays the truth I referred to in the post's title:
“Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri
Though this fellow might be written off as a backwards yokel from a backwards region of the world, this is how most of humanity thinks, even today, even in the West where science seems to reign supreme. Rational thought is very alien to humanity. Scientific thought is an even more unnatural subset of rational thought. It's a rare person who is able to fully embrace it and takes real will for most people to even follow the logic of it, even in the face of literal centuries of evidence of its benefits.

This is a big part of the reason that I feel civilization rests on such infirm footing, despite seemingly irrefutable evidence to the contrary. The glorious achievements of our civilization were not natural or inevitable, nor is the maintenance of the modes of thought needed for their further existence. Indeed, most of humanity would gladly embrace the pleasantly irrational, civilization be damned, than do the hard work of maintaining rationality. For an example from the very heights of the "rational West", just look at the anti-vaccine movement.

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