Gather ’round, my little wombats, and I shall tell you of my brief love affair with psuedoscience, and why I became an artist instead…
This came to mind as I poked idily ’round some forums I frequent, and saw one of those types who believes in Absolutely Everything, god love ’em,* posting a rehash of all the ancient-astronauts crap that I had sort of hoped was mercifully dead and buried. And it took me back, with stunning speed, to the glorious days when I was ten and obsessed with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and read every single crappy hardcover “Mysteries of the Ancient World That Wouldn’t Be That Mysterious But We Need To Sell Books, Damnit,” Time-Life ever published, because my grandfather bought all of them. And I believed, and I vowed to go forth and become an anthropologist, and perhaps learn to use a bullwhip.
And eventually I went off to college, and I was most of the way to my BA, and actually learning, y’know, real fieldwork methods and shit, when it stole up upon me, in fits and starts, that I was going to be a very, very bad scientist. For one thing, I don’t actually like talking to strange people, which is sort of death if you’re a cultural anthropologist, and archaeology requires a sad amount of paperwork these days.
But man. I coulda been one heckuva psuedoscientist.
See, I like absurd theories. I like constructing a dumb idea and playing six-degrees-to-Sir-Francis-Bacon with it. If I could cook up something that involved the pineal gland and the Olmec Heads and dinosaur extinction and maybe Quetzalcoatl and the Maori, I was in heaven. In short, I like taking stuff and combining it in weird ways, and if I run out of stuff, I’ll bloody well make it up out of whole cloth. I read a lot of Terrence McKenna at the time, and…well, y’know.
This isn’t particularly unusual, god knows. Lots of clever people do stuff like this, including, I daresay, a lot of my readers, particularly those who read “Foucault’s Pendulumn.” Granted a creative spark and a memory for weird facts–which I KNOW a lot of you have–it’s practically obligatory. Now, I didn’t neccessarily believe any of the stuff I came up with, but man, I could talk a good game if I wanted to. You should see some of the papers I wrote. (No, you shouldn’t.) I could have written a half-dozen books suitable for remaindering at the New Age book store. And I suspect that if I had been allowed a chalkboard, I would be a lot of fun on the lecture circuit. Sure, I’m about as physically impressive as a damp towel, and my voice is monotone and somewhat nasal, but you should see my stick figure Scythian burials! (The key is to X out the impaled horse’s eyes, and have a little tongue hanging out. This mitigates the horror.)**
As an artist, or a writer, these are useful traits. As a scientist, this is death on a stick. I simply was not capable of the kind of rigorous intellectual honesty, to say nothing of the patience, needed to do good science. I admire in greatly in other people, because I have realized I have none of my own. In short, I suspect that if those little career aptitude tests had a section for it, my guidance counselor would have told me to become a psuedoscientist and write books about how the Maya were descended from dinosaurs.
It would be nice to say that I had a moral crisis and decided to become an artist out of the remaining shreds of my intellectual honesty, but actually, I just took an art class and loved it, and sort of fell into it sideways, coupled with some really fabulous professors from whom I absorbed that reality is often boring, but there y’are, and it’s not enough that something would be COOL, you must have the pottery typographies to back it. It’s only now that I look back and realize “Holy crap, I was on track to becoming a total crackpot.” (I suspect a lot of my image descriptions owe a fair amount to these days, because even to this day, I occasionally have to explain to people that no, squash drums aren’t real, and there’s no such thing as a habenero slug. This worries me a little.)
So now, when I am presented with an elaborately ridiculous idea involving Atlantis and the Flood and ammonite-powered jet-skis suitable for bringing culture to the Egyptians, I roll my eyes heavenward and groan, but it is a groan that is not without a twinge, because there but for the grace of Quetzalcoatl go I. And then I get all snarly, because there’s nothing like seeing your own vices in other people to piss you off.
*One of the best bits about living in the South, and which I’m glad to have learned, is the proper use of “god love ’em,” or “god bless ‘im,” or “bless ‘er heart,” which, when used as a qualifier in a sentence, allows you to say the most incredibly insulting things. It’s like a free pass for the rest of the sentence. “And Bob, god love ‘im, is like a retarded puppy,” or “Bless her heart, she’ll sleep with anything on two legs.” To get the full effect, one must shake one’s head gently while talking, with an expression of exasperated affection.
**I once reduced a professor to helpless tears with this. I’ve chosen to believe that they were from laughter.