Isaac Asimov was both brilliant and simple, by which I mean he wrote to be understood by all like the junior high aged kids whose history books I was eating up in 1978. (previous post) So to further the thoughts about learning I was struck over the last two days by three things starting with this quote using salience today in a smart analysis of the gap between white working class Trump supporters and Biden’s supporters among various minority communities. Its a good example of what I hope to avoid when I want to made a difficult subject understandable.
A. “The third factor Ford describes as “an asymmetrical increase in the salience of status concerns due to the political repercussions of educational expansion and generational value change,” especially “because of the progressive monopolization of politics by high-status professionals,” creating a constituency of “cultural losers of modernization” who “found themselves without any mainstream political actors willing to represent and defend their ‘ways of life’ ” — a role Trump sought to fill.”
I first imagined titling this post: “The salience of salience in analyzing those losing their salience by those with lots of salience” The paragraph was in a smart, too smarty pants, column by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times. He writes very sophisticated political analysis using all the best academic researchers who talk over the heads of most of the rest of us. I so prefer Asimov. Salience by the way means important or powerful. so that I could have offered the simpler title The power of power in analyzing the relationship between those losing power and those who still have it.
Critics of this kind of overly academic language have existed for ever. In fact big words can be a great way to bullshit. It doesn’t work well when people use big words they don’t fully understand in front of people like me with huge vocabularies. I don’t blame young people for spouting off with big words early in their academic careers. Using big words is like lion cubs wrestling. But once college is done its much better to speak clearly for understanding.
Today’s resistance to rational Covid understanding comes from a resentment of betters talking down to people with a chip on their shoulder. When the Deep South was finally brought to account for 300 years of treating black citizens like caged simians their politicians railed against “pointy headed liberals” and “Ivory tower intellectuals” old tropes from before the use of the word “egg head” to describe scientists. Even the movies made intellectualism look odd. Lots of old black and white movies from the thirties like to show us psychologists with heavy German accents spewing poppycock about the mind. There is a long standing skepticism against brainiacs and Mark Twain was a master at this. As I recall his Tom Sawyer fishes a toupe off the head of a teacher by lowering a fishing line from above the ceiling. That’s what you do with self important know-it-alls. Pity the teacher who doesn’t understand this fact of life.
B. So, this three minute video from, gasp, a young non-European Canadian lass just earned her a quarter million dollar prize for explaining one of the mysteries of quantum mechanics in three fun minutes of video. Her challenge? Explaining how matter can move through walls because of its dual nature as both matter and energy: Here’s how she did it in language that Asimov would understand:
C. and a connection between Mayram Tsegaye explanation for the duality of the atom and the universe far beyond our tiny Milky Way Galaxy. Here is what fifty years worth of computer development and massive computer data collection can show us of how a cubic chunk of the universe full of billions of galaxies like our Milky Way has constructed itself with rivers of matter and energy passing near voids of empty space:
I thought of these rivers as I read yet another story of how to explain the hundred year old theories of Albert Einstein using a hundred years of data, thought and computer power. I think this fairly clearly explained model of how to understand the universe seamlessly ties the video of Mayram Tsegaye with a world stretching thirteen billion years beyond Earth.
One Point for the Asimov method!