People don’t notice things:
Many years ago, driving through western Massachusetts, I locked my keys in my car.  While waiting for somebody to find a coat hanger (car locks being less sophisticated in those days) I overheard two modestly dressed men talking:

“He was a genius, so of course he was crazy.”

“Why is that?  Why are geniuses crazy?”

“How much of what you hear is BS?  About ten  percent, right?”


“And when you hear BS it messes with your mind.  It makes you kind of crazy, right?”


“Well geniuses know its ALL BS, and they can’t stand it.  They go crazy.”

Intelligence is something of great interest to New Englanders.  And the man was right.  People regularly overlook things. 

A friend once told me he thought there was a way to solve the energy situation and obtain enormous amounts of cheap clean power.  I took his suggestion and told him how to make it work.  He asked, “Why hasn’t this been done?”

I said, “People aren’t very bright.” 

At least they do fail to notice things.  Still on the energy issue, this summer we had a major oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.  Petroleum does get spilled.  There is an alternative.  A company named Weber Energy has devised a method of converting natural gas to gasoline at a competitive price.  Since natural gas is abundant with more being found all the time, and since it is simply not as dirty intrinsically as petroleum, it would seem like an idea anyone would jump at.  Do you think Weber Energy has found the world beating a path to its door?  Not so far.  Not even professionals who would make a fortune from the process. 

Perhaps you have heard of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de la Concepción.  Sorry.  That was a trick.  There were three of them.  One was captured by Francis Drake in 1579.  One went down in the Pacific in 1638.  One went down in a hurricane in the Caribbean in 1641.  You might think they would have stopped using that name, But that is not the oversight I had in mind.  It was the wreck of the final one that seems unaccountable.

There are two stories.  Both agree that the ship left Havana bound for Spain at the height of hurricane season.  Both stories agree that a storm hit and the ship was imperiled by reefs.  In the story I read more recently they jettisoned their anchors and some cannon to lighten ship.  Now that seems very odd.  Among reefs a well set anchor might be one’s best hope.  It seems most foolish that emergency equipment was discarded in the face of the kind of an emergency that might call for it.  And that leads to the other story.  In that story they put out an anchor to hold themselves off the reefs.  The line parted and a second and third anchors were set, each time the line breaking.   Then they lashed cannon together to jury rig an anchor.  The line parted on the first pair and the second pair and the ship finally hit a reef.  So why did they not put out two anchors?  It is routine in the Bahamas to put out two anchors no matter how good the weather.  They give you more control as well as two attachments and two lines.  One way or the other it is hard to account for full time professionals not having done a better job of attempting to ride out the storm. 

When Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of Saint Louis to cross the Atlantic, he didn’t just roll along until the plane was going fast enough and then lower his tail.  He jackrabbited the length of the runway, bouncing and bouncing.  This obviously is hard on the airplane and takes more runway.  But it was quite routine at the time.  The only thing I can see that it accomplishes is to reduce the number of feet the wheels have to roll.  Taking off from an unimproved field, this makes sense.  It reduces your chance of putting a wheel down a rabbit hole with obvious dire consequences.  But here was this hero of aviation doing it on a paved runway.  Very strange.

People have been eating shellfish as long as there have been people.  In early days, they depended on moonlight and tides.  But nobody ever noticed there was a connection between the two until Isaac Newton. 

The idea of atoms (and by extension molecules) was thought of thousands of years ago.  There is a phenomenon called Brownian motion.  If you look at smoke with a microscope the particles can be seen to jiggle a bit as molecules strike them.  It took Albert Einstein to make the connection. 

When the Titanic entered waters where icebergs were known to be a hazard, she went to top speed in order to get through as fast as possible.  But an iceberg is dead in the water.  The chance of hitting one is not reduced by high speed.  She only hit her iceberg a glancing blow.  At a moderate speed she might have survived or even been able to maneuver around it.  (I read only today that somebody says the ship was at speed because they wanted to set a record for crossing the Atlantic quickly.  Both stories came to me without the slightest apology or hit that there was any doubt at all.  My BS sniffer is alight.) 

I was once visiting a man in his home in Thessalonica on top of a hill.  A friend and I had ridden my motorcycle up the hill to look at what was obviously a ruined fort.  We could see it all the way across the town.  Our host inquired what brought us there.  I said we wanted to know about the castle.  In fact one of the walls of the room had been the interior of one of the curtain walls.  He was incredulous until I took him outside and pointed out the layout of the fortification.  He had never seen it before.  It was not that he was thick.  Nobody else had noticed it either. 

The famous writer Goethe fell in love with a woman and had a child by her.  They had several more children, all of whom died.  From the pattern, it is obvious that he was Rh positive and so were the unfortunate children.  She was Rh negative.  The pattern repeated frequently in those days.  But nobody noticed, not even this great genius, not even when it struck him in the heart.

Malthus predicted that populations would always increase until they exploited all the available food.  But he or you or I could go to a park and see that the pigeons people feed are fat.  Malthus is discredited now because of birth control and the Green Revolution that produces more food faster than the population grows.  (Sorry about the distribution.)  But these things mean nothing to pigeons.  Yet they are fat.  Populations simply do not grow indefinitely.  Yet nobody notices. 

It is quite understandable.  People do what other people do.  On average it is the best strategy.  But when somebody points out the obvious, when somebody points out that there is a problem with the routine, people have business to notice.

Perhaps some day they will.

There have been 5,283 visitors noticed so far.

Home page.