Humanity discovered science like a blind monk discovering an elephant. We stumbled across an extraordinarily narrow part of the universe and ran smack dab into a big thick cylinder that felt like a tree trunk. We thought it was the World Tree. Imagine our surprise when we discovered its true nature.
For hundreds of years we studied the science of the elephant’s leg, thinking it was a tree trunk. We studied the skin, thinking it was bark. We had a whole complex field of dendrology surrounding the Word Tree. Tree-physics was intricate and complicated.
If you tree-physics was hard, imagine trying to learn elephant biology. Skin is simple compared to brains. Studying the toenails simply can’t prepare you for the circulatory system. No student could possibly be ready for elephant theory until college at the earliest. Can you imagine trying to learn elephant digestive theory at a young age? Impossible.
And so elephant theory is only taught to the most advanced students. Of those students, only a handful can handle elephant neurology. Most fall to the wayside shortly after learning that the world tree is actually an elephant.
The laypeople see the brightest of their friends attempt elephant theory. Most of them struggle and fail. “What chance do I have”, the layperson wonders, “if even the brightest have trouble understanding this strange theory?”
“Surely”, they conclude, “the secrets of science are beyond my grasp”.
And so the majority of society goes on believing that the Great Trunk is a tree. Only the best of the best ever learn about the elephant.
Our society is in a very similar situation. Fundamental physics has destroyed the classical wordlview. Quantum physics and relativity have exposed deep connections that we didn’t expect. And yet, scientists haven’t managed to convey the news.
The equations of quantum mechanics and relativity are difficult to learn. The complexity that flows from these models describe the entire universe. These theories don’t just have broad implications: they have all implications. To say they are difficult subjects is an understatement.
And yet, you don’t need to be a elephant neuroscientist in order to be told that the World Tree is actually the leg of the elephant.
Relativity is hard to master. So is quantum physics. But you don’t need to be a master in order to understand the implications.
We can teach the new worldview without requiring students to master the models.
We’re stuck in a weird point in history where education subtly reinforces the classical worldview throughout early education, which makes the real (quantum relativistic) worldview seem foreign. Only once we’ve firmly cemented the classical view do we start to tear down the misconceptions.
The aura of fear and mystery surrounding quantum mechanics should come as no surprise.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t need to wait until students are prepared for neuroscience before we teach them that the world tree is actually the leg of an elephant, and we don’t need to wait until students are capable of mastering relativity and quantum mechanics before teaching them the new worldview.
This sounds nice, but unfortunately it’s not so easy. Our very language works against us – we call the skin of the elephant bark, we call knees knots. The concept we must describe is simple, but we lack lack the words. The labels that we have for physics are wrong. They are less connected than reality is.
Remember the allegory of the axe: If all you ever see are three points labeled The Handle, The Blade, and The Axe, you will wonder why the axe cannot be removed from its handle and its blade. You will rebel when told that such a thing is impossible, because your labels allow you to imagine a freedom which does not exist. Science is ridden with bad labels, labels which reinforce the classical mindset.
It’s easy to ask disjoint questions like “Can things go faster than light”. Too often, the answer is “no, it’s just impossible”, or “no, according to what we’ve observed”. The true answer is that you’re trying to remove the axe from the handle and the blade. The labels “faster” and “light speed” are connected in a way that you do not understand. Your words have a separation that reality does not. Once you understand your labels, the question will dissolve.
It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to break our worldviews. The language is against us. Our words were poorly chosen. Our labels feel looser than the things they describe.
If we’re going to correct our errors, we’ll need to change our vocabulary. We’ll have to throw out some words and make new ones. We’ll have to take care to keep our words connected to the universe.
We must stop locking the true nature of the universe away in incomprehensible tomes. We must dispel the myth that students need to be able to master the secrets of the universe before they can learn its texture.
We need a clean break with the past with all its poorly chosen labels.
We need a new introduction to the universe with the confusion stripped away.
We need Simplifience.