by Lyle Lofgren
May, 1996

The May, 1996 issue of Scientific American has a book review of Fire in the Mind, by George Johnson. He's a former science reporter for the New York Times. He approaches belief geographically, interviewing four groups in northern New Mexico about their world-views: Los Alamos bomb builders; Santa Fe Institute chaos-theory guys; San Ildefonso pueblo Indians; and the cross-bearing Penitentes. The reviewer concludes: "Secret knowledge is fragile; open knowledge is robust. The dominance of scientific knowledge derives primarily from its drive to make itself accessible to everyone."

Of course, scientists depend on public funding, so they have to advertise just like merchants. Their advantage is that they only need to convince the oligarchy of their usefulness. The Man In The Street (MITS) understands nothing about the Scientific Method, and wouldn't care even if he did. After all, science won't allow him to win the lottery or get a better job. In fact, science will probably make his job worse or eliminate it altogether. As far as the MITS can see, it's not science that provides cheap transportation or cheap food. It's Ford and Exxon and Safeway. And, come to think of it, cars, gasoline, and steak are awfully expensive -- they should be even cheaper!

If you want to know what the literate MITS is really thinking, read the talisman ads in the Weekly World News. Or look at the ad featuring a Tibetan prayer wheel: write your wish on a piece of paper, send it in along with $1 in cash, and the entrepreneur guarantees to place it on a genuine Tibetan prayer wheel. What a deal!

Liz says we should buy the book. I think we'd then have three books titled Fire in the Mind. We already have a biography of Joseph Campbell and Kay Redfield Jamison's book on creativity's relation to bipolar disease. I'm going to write a book to refute all this stuff, and I'm going to call it Water on the Brain.

Now that I think of it, Water on the Brain would be an excellent title, because the brain runs on water, not fire. Well, it's actually salt water, which conducts electricity. Fire does not. Our neurons need water. Fire might be OK as a metaphor, but if you just want the facts, ma'am, stick with water.