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Thread: Climbing Mount Reality.

  1. #1 Climbing Mount Reality. 
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    (Er, it's a metaphor)



    Scientists are forever climbing a Mountain with an unattainable summit. They gain altitude every day. But they’ll never plant a flag and take snap-shots of high-altitude victory. It’s all uphill. Forever.

    Sometimes there are short, brilliant, technical pitches over steep rock. Then, lots of carrying, by less gifted, (or less foolhardy) climbers, from Base-camp. Camp II. Camp III. Camp IV. And so on. Theory after theory. But… there will never be a Summit Party. We can never penetrate the Death Zone at 18 000ft.

    We are creatures of the intellectual plains, and climb as we may, the summit will forever be shrouded in perceptual fog, distant, and beyond our mere-primate reach. We have a Vertical Limit built into our minds, and we can never carry enough technological oxygen to reach the Top.

    Yet, climb we do.

    From my perch at camp II, sitting alone in the wind-blown door of my tent, I scan the Mountain with my binoculars, watching the climbers on the Face. It’s big. Very very big. If you look at it, all at once, it can be scary. That’s why most climbers Never Look Down. We are so small upon it. But upon it we are. Sometimes, I take pride in that. Other times, I wonder why we bother.

    Some of the climbers are beautiful; graceful athletes in intellectual ballet with the Mountain. The smallest fact becomes a toe-hold, the slightest suggestion of a pattern becomes the crux for a whole new pitch.

    And others are sluggers, hauling supplies along fixed rope. Lots of those. I see them, strung out like beads on a string, snaking up the mountain, zig-zagging back into history. They are necessary if the route is to be pushed. Absolutely necessary. And I know that from time to time these expeditioners look up, admire the mountain, and know that their labor is worthy. The Mountain calls them too. From time to time.

    Sometimes climbers fall. Sometimes they are pushed. Always there is Expedition Politics. Who will lead today? Who will stay behind? Which route do we take? Are we to go out on thin rope? Or stay with the heavy 11mm? How much protection is worth putting in?

    The climbers form a tribe. They have to, for mutual support, because they are alone in the heights. They quite like that. They all climb because they want to. And this is what makes the climb Special, far removed from the tribes of the plains. The Plainsmen’s commerce is far beneath them. It’s stink only occasionally wafts into base-camp, or rides adiabatically up the slopes, perhaps assisting the climb, but other times, choking it.

    As with any tribe, there are factions, personalities, precedence. Climbing strategy and tactics are constantly under discussion. The climb is a cooperative conflict, a circus and a raucous chorus, and an election campaign, all in one. Every icy morning, in a din of ripping Velcro and sighing polypropylene, votes are recast. Despite this, or because of it, the route gets pushed higher, every day.



    I hear snatches of radio-chat on the two-way. From camp VI - I recognize the familiar voices: “… ridiculous. Fast and lose is not the way to climb this mountain!”…”Well… laying rope for sixty or seventy days is what I call ridiculous!”…. (the rest, lost in Static. Up here, Static is always a problem).

    The mavericks will always push off on their own, regardless, unsupported. Dangerously free-climbing on vertical slabs, their intellectual crampons gouging tracks over virgin reality. Possibly freeing a whole pitch, possibly peeling off and disappearing into a crevasse, never to Publish again. They are a joy to watch, either way. Exciting. (The sluggers, however, are sometimes painful to watch).

    I lay aside my binoculars and shoulder my pack. It’s a heavy burden. Today, I have to slug. Up to camp III and back. Again. I take out my Guidebook, which tells me where to go. (I have come to hate page 37). One day, I’ll push on to camp VI. But, not today. (I hope the next edition comes out soon, with new and better routes described).

    I get on the two-way. “Camp II to Base; on my way, over.”



    If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, you’ll know that the summit always seems just out of reach. Every rise you crest, pushes the summit further back. “Surely, this is the last shoulder?” Then you see, having battled and sweated up what you thought was the last pitch, that there is more. Always more.

    So, sometimes you may wonder, “why do we climb?”

    Because it’s there.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Here's what you do. You look up at the climbers dangling from their ropes on the sheer rock face for a while, and then you start your own climb - around the back side of the mountain where it's a walk-up, no need for ropes or crampons or a helmet, and nice views, and a nice rock to sit on for lunch, with the pikas chirping at you. Then you summit, and creep gingerly to the edge to look down on the same climbers still dangling below and wonder "Why didn't they come up the easy way?"


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  4. #3  
    Administrator KALSTER's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    Here's what you do. You look up at the climbers dangling from their ropes on the sheer rock face for a while, and then you start your own climb - around the back side of the mountain where it's a walk-up, no need for ropes or crampons or a helmet, and nice views, and a nice rock to sit on for lunch, with the pikas chirping at you. Then you summit, and creep gingerly to the edge to look down on the same climbers still dangling below and wonder "Why didn't they come up the easy way?"
    Unfortunately, the only way you would know about the back way would be for an invisible guy with a booming voice to tell you about it.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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  5. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    Here's what you do. You look up at the climbers dangling from their ropes on the sheer rock face for a while, and then you start your own climb - around the back side of the mountain where it's a walk-up, no need for ropes or crampons or a helmet, and nice views, and a nice rock to sit on for lunch, with the pikas chirping at you. Then you summit, and creep gingerly to the edge to look down on the same climbers still dangling below and wonder "Why didn't they come up the easy way?"
    Unfortunately, the only way you would know about the back way would be for an invisible guy with a booming voice to tell you about it.
    But what would John Cleese be doing out there?
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  6. #5  
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    Aw, and I thought I'd written a cool thing.
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  7. #6  
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    It was cool... just drawn out. The metaphor and the point may have gotten better reception if they were shorter.

    Why do people face unnecessary challenges? For self-admiration and the foolish quest to do whatever there is to do. Adrenaline. the rush of actually accomplishing a feat that didn't have to be done, facing a challenge that didn't have to be conquered. Human's, and other animals, have a desire to do more than what is necessary, to push the limits of the human ability and test how 'good' they are against something that no human would normally have to come across.

    Your idea is good, and the point you make is a great observation on the human-condition, though I think the other members would rather make jokes than actually address your point as it is and give the thread the respect it warrants.


    And look, I went out of my way to prove your point and post this little explanation. 8)
    Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools, because they have to say something.
    -Plato

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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexer
    Aw, and I thought I'd written a cool thing.
    I enjoyed your metaphor, and I didn't set out to make fun of it. Rather perhaps point out what seemed to me to be some weaknesses in it in a light manner.

    For instance, being very familiar with the "the summit is just over the next rise" syndrome, the reality is you do get there eventually (in most cases). And then what? The scientist truly never gets to the summit if you mean he has all the answers, but that just brings up another weakness - there are lots of mountains. Your landscape. and the number of mountains in it, might have to extend to infinity to reflect the reality of scientific challenge and accomplishment.

    I liked your "vertical limit" and thought this was the most interesting concept and was disappointed you didn't explore it more. What is the vertical limit of human brains? Is it the constraints put there by our hunter-gatherer history, forever fogging our understanding of concepts unnecessary for sticking a spear in a deer? Was that what you had in mind? I was primed to find out more, but you dropped it and went on to rope danglers.

    Don't let my ruminations spoil your fun. May your cocktails be well-mixed, and your metaphors "on the rocks."
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  9. #8  
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    Hey Vexer,

    Really enjoyed your metaphor.

    The answer to
    So, sometimes you may wonder, “why do we climb?”
    can also be answered another way. "What else is there if not to climb?"

    Your metaphor helped paint a picture of human society with its different colours and hue. All of the characters climb towards the peak of the mountain in front of them all in their own way and pace. But then the question
    “why do we climb?”
    still remains. The reason I like Vexer's metaphor is because it asked in the end what is the purpose of climbing. Although the given answer
    Because its there
    is something I find unsatisfactory, I believe it is something each of the climber has to answer himself.
    ~ One’s ultimate perfection depends on the development of all the members of society ~ Kabbalah
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  10. #9  
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    Too long? Well, it wasn't originally for publication, and I had just been on a mountain.


    Arcane_Mathematician

    And look, I went out of my way to prove your point and post this little explanation

    You’re very kind.

    But I have what I think is a more positive explanation; the hunter-gather (post-primate) urge to explore.

    We don’t need a reason to Explore. We explore, because we must. We’re hard-wired too. “Because it’s there”.



    Bunbury


    You’re picky: The scientist truly never gets to the summit if you mean he has all the answers, but that just brings up another weakness - there are lots of mountains. Your landscape. and the number of mountains in it, might have to extend to infinity to reflect the reality of scientific challenge and accomplishment.

    The ‘vertical limit’ I mentioned is “infinity”.

    I was primed to find out more, but you dropped it and went on to rope danglers.

    What more is there to say? All Science is Wrong and always will be? I’ve already said that elswhere.



    Don't let my ruminations spoil your fun.

    My ruminations are for your fun, really.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexer
    Bunbury

    You’re picky:
    Thank you. I'm glad you noticed.

    The ‘vertical limit’ I mentioned is “infinity”.
    That makes no sense at all. Infinity is unlimited.

    What more is there to say? All Science is Wrong and always will be? I’ve already said that elswhere.
    A truly empty statement. If you've posted that before then I'm not surprised that I didn't read it.
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  12. #11 Re: hi 
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bommali
    I will delete this if you do not explain yourself further - even if that is supposed to be a witty piece of repartee.

    Edit:

    Bommali appears to be a spambot. Will see if we can get the account terminated and blocked.
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  13. #12  
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    Bunbury


    I’d said: The ‘vertical limit’ I mentioned is “infinity”.

    You replied: That makes no sense at all. Infinity is unlimited.

    Er, yes. My point. There is a limit to human understanding. Yet no limit to what there is, to be understood.



    I’d said: What more is there to say? All Science is Wrong and always will be?

    You ‘replied’: A truly empty statement.

    I think it’s the most profound single thing that can be said about Science. Find the thread if you care do more than drop half-line “nah-ah”.
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexer
    Bunbury


    I’d said: The ‘vertical limit’ I mentioned is “infinity”.

    You replied: That makes no sense at all. Infinity is unlimited.

    Er, yes. My point. There is a limit to human understanding. Yet no limit to what there is, to be understood.
    "The limit is infinity" means there is no limit. You wrote the opposite of what, apparently, you meant. In my earlier reply I suggested our brains are limited by what they evolved for, which seems to be what you meant as well. It seems we are agreed on that. However, you did not express it clearly.

    I’d said: What more is there to say? All Science is Wrong and always will be?

    You ‘replied’: A truly empty statement.

    I think it’s the most profound single thing that can be said about Science. Find the thread if you care do more than drop half-line “nah-ah”.
    I disagree that it is profound but you are entitled to your opinion.
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  15. #14  
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    gee, Bunbury, it's obvious.

    If you don't get it, yet, you only prove my point.
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  16. #15  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    If only I had your subtlety and command of language I too could be a menial.

    However, I forgive you, since I like mountaineering metaphors.
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexer
    We explore, because we must. We’re hard-wired too.
    We're hard-wired for many things. We're hard-wired to look for trouble, and fret over it. When you couple that with a hard-wired and apparently rational drive to remove all troubles from our lives... isn't it comical? You know those comfortable people who wallow in petty miseries?

    Better to invite vexation, strategically, as a necessary evil. I like the aunt in David Copprefield who couldn't stand donkeys nearing her front lawn. All the fury of her life focussed on those indestructable animals. Maybe I'll plant bindweed in my garden this spring!
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  18. #17  
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    Gee, Ophiolite, that was mean. Do you have example of your own subtlety and command of language that I could learn from?
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