Preventing Progress from Marching Over Me

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.  Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.  Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.          – Douglas Adams

I visited Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago (Fantastic city, if you can ever make a trip.  I did learn, though, that between Powell’s books and all of the amazing food options, I’d be very broke and very, very fat if I lived there), and while there we went to see a dinosaur exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Unlike a lot of young boys, I never had much interest in dinosaurs.  Of course, when I was young, I didn’t have interest in much of anything that didn’t involve Star Wars.  I knew some of the basic kinds (Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, and so on), but nothing about the ancient creatures sparked my imagination.  Jurassic Park in 1993 was really the first time that I gave dinosaurs much thought, and even then the movie hit me with some ideas that sounded…well…wrong.  There’s a theory that dinosaurs evolved into birds?  Seriously?  I thought they were giant lizards.

At the dinosaur exhibit, I learned that the Brontosaurus name has gone out of fashion.  Apparently it’s an Apatosaurus now.  More jarringly, though, the dinosaur-as-bird-ancestor theory has gotten a lot more fossil evidence to back it up.  In fact…

Yes, that smaller T-Rex is covered in proto-feathers.  Although it seemed more like fur to me.  Nature’s perfect predator is now the world’s angriest Muppet.

After the exhibit, though, what interested me wasn’t so much the dinosaurs but my reaction to the new discoveries.  Mostly, my brain said “No!” 

Come, come, Mr. Scott. Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.                                  – Admiral James T. Kirk

This increasing inability to accept the world changing around us seems to be a natural human phenomenon as we get older.  The revolutionaries of the 1960s are now watching Fox News and screaming that the whole place is going to Hell. 

That really scares me.  Not the world changing part.  That’s as it should be.  No, I’m more worried that one day I too will be shaking my fist and screeching that everything was better when I was young and that everything now is just wrong Wrong WRONG! 

I am not completely sure how to avoid it.  Certainly thinking through new information and giving it due consideration before rejecting it out of hand is a start.  That takes work and vigilance, though.  Inertia is a powerful force, and mental inertia can be just as powerful, if not more so, than its physical cousin. 

And, as I said earlier, this belief that things were better when we were younger does seem to be part of being human.  High school reunions are a prime example of this.  You spend four years in high school (possibly 3 if you live in a school district that lumps 9th grade in with middle school).  It’s a small fraction of your life, yet every 5 to 10 years you get together with the people you went to high school with to celebrate that time of your life?  Why do we insist that those four years more important than any other? 

All I can do is keep reminding myself that, no matter what new technology or social change comes along, life will continue.  Rock and roll wasn’t the end of human civilization.  Dubstep won’t be either.  I must keep my mind open, be willing to learn new things, and resist my desire for the status quo.  If I can’t handle dinosaurs with feathers now, how am I going to react in 2055 when my grandchild wants to marry a sentient robot?

- Alan Decker

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