The classic works of remix wizard and YouTube star melodysheep (aka John Boswell) are pleasant company on the elliptical machine, I find. Especially the “Symphony of Science” ones. Hypnotized and mindlessly pedaling to the Autotuned sentiments of physicists Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and my favorite, the mad bongo-playing Richard Feynman, who laughs so sweetly against the lambent old-fashioned electro-pop orchestrations of melodysheep, it’s easy to forget that you have twenty-three minutes of ellipticaling still to endure.
Carl Sagan was much mocked even in the 1980s for his nasal-voiced scientific piety (“Billions and Billions of Stars,” etc.) But his gifts as a prose stylist—he was famous for describing “the awesome machinery of Nature”—really are nothing to sneeze at.
The brain does much more than just recollect:
It intercompares, it synthesizes,
it generates abstractions.
The simplest thought, like the concept of the number one,
has an elaborate logical underpinning;
The brain has its own language for testing the structure and consistency of the world.
Dreamy! I think about this passage often, swirled in all its lush cloudy electro-pop festoons from the year 2009.
But YouTube has developed its own ideas about what you will like to hear next at the gym, after the last one, and because I like Feynman and Sagan as interpreted in the various song stylings of melodysheep, it decided some weeks ago to play me an unfamiliar melodysheep selection called “The Poetry of Reality (an Anthem for Science)” which you know, on the face of it sounds but EXACTLY like my cup of tea. However. Here is a composition that can easily vault the unsuspecting seeker of elliptical philosophico-mindlessness into deeply un-relaxed paroxysms of unmixed rage, which really wreaks havoc on the Target Heart Rate.
The Poetry of Reality! I ought to have paid closer attention before allowing Autoplay.
The video, which has 3.1 million views, begins with an innocently plinky, upbeat theme, friendly and rather feminine in tone, the sort of tune that might have appeared in an 80s film over a montage of Meg Ryan really getting things done in her busy day.
But the vague introductory optimism screeches to a halt with the appearance of the smug, balding Michael Shermer of “Skeptic Magazine,” “singing” the following Autotuned voiceover:
“Science is the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works.”
Where even to begin. You don’t have to pedal any faster for your heart to begin to pound as you clutch the machine handles a little tighter and feel your chest tightening into fight mode. The man who claims that Science is “the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works” is assuming a priori the following.
- he knows how the world works
- he knows all the tools ever devised for understanding this thing (that he understands), viz., how the world works
- well enough to compare them all with one another, and judge their relative worth
- “the best” of these tools is Science
The blithe, self-infatuated religiosity of Science-addled dimwits like this Michael Shermer, professional Skeptic, is a bitter thing to experience on the elliptical machine, which by now has entirely lost its meditative quality and become a vehicle for running desperately through a thick jungle of obstacles to sanity. What is “how the world works”? What is “the world” and what is “works”? What is “best”? What is “understand”?
How can even a not that smart Skeptic begin to imagine that he “understands” any one of these things, let alone all of them?
At my age the Target Heart Rate isn’t even that high! Like 160, I think.
For a writer, a student of the humanities, this primitive, wide-eyed, unquestioning and slavish devotion to Science, all the while proclaiming Skepticism is… I don’t know what it is. It’s a rhetorical mortification and I mean that in the sense of like, a hair shirt. It’s also straight up disgusting, like watching John Bolton fulminate against the ICC, it’s like the awful electoral needle thing tearing right into your heart on the New York Times election results page in 2016, it’s like seeing photographs of a starving polar bear. There was no need for any of it, it is grotesque, impossible, and yet here we are at the triumph of Dulness, like in The Dunciad. This gloopy, idiotic praise of Science that sounds for all the world like a PTL Club telethon, only about Science instead of Jesus.
Half what is wrong with us is wrong because of technology, because of this foolish, ignorant assumption that people who can do math should be in charge of everything, NEWS FLASH this system is not going so well, “rationalists.”
The wild irony of a person who publishes a whole magazine called “Skepticism,”and yet… manifestly has no clue what Skepticism is. Set this to dreamily self-congratulatory music.
Anyhow yes, the video. Pretty soon, okay sure why not, obviously, Richard Dawkins shows up and sings this: “Science is the Poetry of Reality.” And then again, a little later: “There’s real poetry in the real world. And Science is the Poetry of Reality.”
Science isn’t the poetry of reality! Get out of the way, for god’s sake, you fucking clods. Poetry is the poetry of reality.
Art after art goes out, and all is night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heap’d o’er her head!
Philosophy, that lean’d on heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.
[Heart rate: 170]