The story is of course the intellectual descendant of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII of The Republic, which I enjoyed ...., if you prefer to use a reference with a more high brow pedigree.
And now I would like to share an excerpt from it with you.
As the story begins, the cooling of the sun has turned the Earth into a cold world covered by ice, effectively destroying all life and preserving only a few remnants of human civilization.
But this cooling has had a beneficial effect on Venus, turning a once harsh world into a lush plant. After thousands of years, a reptilian race had arisen, and eventually become capable of interplanetary flight.
This race was intrigued by their sister planet, the Earth. A number of expeditions had retrieved fragments that showed intelligent life, but their understanding was still very limited.
As the story begins here, a recent expedition has retrieved several key artifacts, including one that is utterly unique, holding great promise.
...The warm ocean that still bore most of the young planet's life rolled its breakers languidly against
the sandy shore. So new was this continent that the very sands were coarse and gritty. There had not
yet been time enough for the sea to wear them smooth.
The scientists lay half in the water, their beautiful reptilian bodies gleaming in the sunlight. The
greatest minds of Venus had gathered on this shore from all the islands of the planet. What they were
going to hear they did not know, except that it concerned the Third World and the mysterious race that
had peopled it before the coming of the ice.
The Historian was standing on the land, for the instruments he wished to use had no love of water.
By his side was a large machine which attracted many curious glances from his colleagues. It was
clearly concerned with optics, for a lens system projected from it toward a screen of white material a
dozen yards away.
The Historian began to speak. Briefly he recapitulated what little had been discovered concerning the
Third Planet and its people.
He mentioned the centuries of fruitless research that had failed to interpret a single word of the
writings of Earth. The planet had been inhabited by a race of great technical ability. That, at least,
was proved by the few pieces of machinery that had been found in the cairn upon the mountain.
"We do not know why so advanced a civilization came to an end," he observed. "Almost certainly, it had
sufficient knowledge to survive an ice Age. There must have been some other factor of which we know
nothing. Possibly disease or racial degeneration may have been responsible. It has even been suggested
that the tribal conflicts endemic to our own species in prehistoric times may have continued on the
Third Planet after the coming of technology.
Some philosophers maintain that knowledge of machinery does not necessarily imply a high degree of
civilization, and it is theoretically possible to have wars in a society possessing mechanical power,
flight, and even radio. Such a conception is alien to our thoughts, but we must admit its possibility.
It would certainly account for the downfall of the lost race.
It has always been assumed that we should never know anything of the physical form of the creatures
who lived on Planet Three. For centuries our artists have been depicting scenes from the history of
the dead world, peopling it with all manner of fantastic beings. Most of these creations have
resembled us more or less closely, though it has often been pointed out that because we are reptiles
it does not follow that all intelligent life must necessarily be reptilian.
We now know the answer to one of the most baffling problems of history. At last, after hundreds of
years of research, we have discovered the exact form and nature of the ruling life on the Third
There was a murmur of astonishment from the assembled scientists. Some were so taken aback that they
disappeared for a while into the comfort of the ocean, as all Venusians were apt to do in moments of
stress. The Historian waited until his colleagues reemerged into the element they so disliked. He
himself was quite comfortable, thanks to the tiny sprays that were continually playing over his body.
With their help he could live on land for many hours before having to return to the ocean.
The excitement slowly subsided and the lecturer continued:
"One of the most puzzling of the objects found on Planet Three was a flat metal container holding a
great length of transparent plastic material, perforated at the edges and wound tightly into a spool.
This transparent tape at first seemed quite featureless, but an examination with the new subelectronic
microscope has shown that this is not the case. Along the surface of the material, invisible to our
eyes but perfectly clear under the correct radiation, are literally thousands of tiny pictures. It is
believed that they were imprinted on the material by some chemical means, and have faded with the
passage of time.
These pictures apparently form a record of life as it was on the Third Planet at the height of its
civilization. They are not independent. Consecutive pictures are almost identical, differing only in
the detail of movement. The purpose of such a record is obvious. It is only necessary to project the
scenes in rapid succession to give an illusion of continuous movement. We have made a machine to do
this, and I have here an exact reproduction of the picture sequence.
The scenes you are now going to witness take us back many thousands of years, to the great days of
our sister planet. They show a complex civilization, many of whose activities we can only dimly
understand. Life seems to have been very violent and energetic, and much that you will see is quite
It is clear that the Third Planet was inhabited by a number of different species, none of them
reptilian. That is a blow to our pride, but the conclusion is inescapable. The dominant type of life
appears to have been a two-armed biped. It walked upright and covered its body with some flexible
material, possibly for protection against the cold, since even before the Ice Age the planet was at a
much lower temperature than our own world. But I will not try your patience any further. You will now
see the record of which I have been speaking."
A brilliant light flashed from the projector. There was a gentle whirring, and on the screen appeared
hundreds of strange beings moving rather jerkily to and fro. The picture expanded to embrace one of
the creatures, and the scientists could see that the Historian's description had been correct.
The creature possessed two eyes, set rather close together, but the other facial adornments were a
little obscure. There was a large orifice in the lower portion of the head that was continually
opening and closing. Possibly it had something to do with the creature's breathing.
The scientists watched spellbound as the strange being became involved in a series of fantastic
adventures. There was an incredibly violent conflict with another, slightly different creature. It seemed
certain that they must both be killed, but when it was all over neither seemed any the worse.
Then came a furious drive over miles of country in a four wheeled mechanical device which was capable
of extraordinary feats of locomotion. The ride ended in a city packed with other vehicles moving in
all directions at breathtaking speeds. No one was surprised to see two of the machines meet head-on
with devastating results.
After that, events became even more complicated. It was now quite obvious that it would take many
years of research to analyze and understand all that was happening. It was also clear that the record
was a work of art, somewhat stylized, rather than an exact reproduction of life as it actually had
been on the Third Planet.
Most of the scientists felt themselves completely dazed when the sequence of pictures came to an end.
There was a final flurry of motion, in which the creature that had been the center of interest became
involved in some tremendous but incomprehensible catastrophe. The picture contracted to a circle,
centered on the creature's head.
The last scene of all was an expanded view of its face, obviously expressing some powerful emotion.
But whether it was rage, grief, defiance, resignation or some other feeling could not be guessed. The
picture vanished. For a moment some lettering appeared on the screen, then it was all over.
For several minutes there was complete silence, save for the lapping of the waves upon the sand. The
scientists were too stunned to speak. The fleeting glimpse of Earth's civilization had had a
shattering effect on their minds. Then little groups began to start talking together, first in
whispers and then more and more loudly as the implications of what they had seen became clearer.
Presently the Historian called for attention and addressed the meeting again.
"We are now planning," he said, "a vast program of research to extract all available knowledge from
this record. Thousands of copies are being made for distribution to all workers. You win appreciate
the problems involved. The psychologists in particular have an immense task confronting them.
"But I do not doubt that we shall succeed. In another generation, who can say what we may not have
learned of this wonderful race? Before we leave, let us look again at our remote cousins,
whose wisdom may have surpassed our own but of whom so little has survived."
Once more the final picture flashed on the screen, motionless this time, for the projector had been
stopped. With something like awe, the scientists gazed at the stiff figure from the past, while in
turn the little biped stared back at them with its characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper.
For the rest of time it would symbolize the human race. The psychologists of Venus would analyze its
actions and watch its every movement until they could reconstruct its mind. Thousands of books would
be written about it. Intricate philosophies would be contrived to account for its behavior.
But all. this labor, all this research, would be utterly in vain. Perhaps the proud and lonely figure
on the screen was smiling sardonically at the scientists who were starting on their age-long fruitless
Its secret would be safe as long as the universe endured, for no one now would ever read the lost
language of Earth. Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the
screen, and none could ever guess their meaning:Arthur C. Clarke, History Lesson
Whole pyramids of learned understanding, highly structured laws, and academic rules can be built on a set of false assumptions, or some principle or premise based not on context but in some intellectual misapprehension.
So it is with the efficient market theory or trickle down economics, for example. Or the idea that by feeding the 'job creators' until they are stuffed one might eventually improve the condition of the many by trickling down.
Granted, all too often these misconceptions of reality are by intent, just another facet in a general campaign of propaganda and deception. But their acceptance by the public still proves the danger of untested and unproven assumptions and building even highly ordered and intricate structures on false premises.
Whether it is in your study of the stock market, money, and economics, or of some translation and interpretation of an antique work, or in reading an essay about an idea or person in history, you may wish to keep this little story in mind.
All too often someone will make an outlandish assertion, and upon questioning it appears that their primary knowledge of the subject at hand is based upon the reading, or more likely viewing, of an essay or video by some individual or group promoting that particular interpretation of reality. They have nothing else to judge it by, given their lack of investigation and knowledge, but it is duly enshrined in the pantheon of human thought as 'their opinion,' their private judgement.
And their position is often unassailable by reason, because it is not based in thought but in a system of belief. But it is not safeguarded by the intellectual constraints and dignified distance one must place on a religion as inherently a leap of faith beyond the limits of science. Science and the supernatural are by definition not the same, but complementary.
One could spend a lifetime studying the stock markets, for example, trying to make sense of them and their movements, and build an impressive body of study and rules, but fail miserably despite all that work, because one has built upon the false premise that the game was honest and subject to natural laws, and not often rigged and controlled by insiders to the very extent that they can get away with it.
Or perhaps there is a belief in some economic system like 'market capitalism' controlled by an oligarchy through the manipulation of money and information for their own ends in the name of freedom, for example.
It may be summed up in the familiar saying, 'A little learning is a dangerous thing' and perhaps, 'Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.'
"Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst...You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life.
Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after their own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State."
Plato, The Republic
As with men and rulers, so with markets and money.
Greed is an excess of desire and lack of empathy and judgement, outside of the virtues, and is therefore most decidedly not 'good.' A system built predominantly upon unrestrained greed, anger, envy, and pride will not, by definition, be virtuous but degenerative, unstable, and ultimately self-destructive if not put down by its victims first.
"The sad duty of government is to establish justice in a sinful world."And I suspect that history will see us as deluded fools for having believed otherwise, forsaking a Constitution that is based upon first principles, actively promoting the virtues of goodness, equality, moderation, the careful distribution of power, and both freedom and justice for all....