A Real Canard of a Post

In the early 18th C, the Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson greatly desired that a fully digesting, mechanistic duck should exist in the world. To his credit, he built a number of machines that were slightly more practical, including the first automated loom. However, to return to the duck, it “ate” grains and then “defecated” them for the lofty purpose of advancing science, which is as noble a purpose as any. I can almost envision the skeptical expression settling in my readers’ eyes about now, the one that asks, is science really as noble as, say, saving all the Polynesian dogs from a scourge of rabies? The man created a defecating duck! Need I say more? (No, I have no idea whether Polynesian dogs are especially prone to contracting rabies, but if you’re inclined to believe they are, due to the tropical environment or what-have-you, please donate to my Pay Pal fund.)

Living in a post Enlightenment world, it’s difficult for us–even those of us who are of a metaphysical bent–to imagine a pre-Newtonian world, where mechanics couldn’t adequately explain the mysteries of the universe. In our rational society, we accept mechanics because they’re beholden to mathematical principles, which most of us, in turn, accept because most of us don’t understand them. How do those silly equations we learned in high school actually apply to the world around us? Who knows, but some genius discovered that the math works, so we bow to the power of those numbers that [many of us] don’t understand.

On one level, I have to admit that explaining the world by means of mechanics is awfully neat and tidy. Storing the constant stream of information input into organized, objective boxes is refreshing to the mind in the same way spring cleaning is refreshing to the….um, to the….soul? No, I imagine the word I’m searching for is house, which is philosophically the soul, even if it’s, thankfully, built on solid, mechanical principles involving a lot of numbers. On the other hand, boxes are about as objective as any other visible objects in space, and there is always this nagging sensation that what we call objective may not actually be, but that, in the background somewhere, gleaming with the glow of initial causes, true objective reality waits for us. Or perhaps it doesn’t wait for us. Why would it? We’re so infernally slow!

Last night, I went to a faith and science meeting, which spawned all these mechanized thoughts in my brain. One scientist wanted to engage with a metaphysical universe; the next would rather have defined everything we don’t understand with quantum physics (if that’s even possible). However, the next spoke of intelligent ideas such as feedback loops, and all I could think to do was to remind him that feedback loops no longer exist once you send e-mails, and especially once you send important communicative e-mails within companies and universities. Ultimately, we all must contend with our lack of knowingness, after e-mail communiques and other such delights. I speak broadly, my words pertaining to collectivity. There are just as many people who don’t want to know anything as there are people who do. There might be more people of the former than the latter; it’s hard to tell after all these years of forced public education.

To end this canard, as it were, I’ll turn into the airhead I’ve learned to be with finesse, and was last night when I quoted Joni Mitchell to the scientists: [Because] we are stardust (and not to mention golden), we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And on another note, Vaucanson’s canard was French, as well as aptly named. It didn’t eat, and it didn’t defecate. Instead, it was possessing of a hidden compartment where the, um, falsified shit was stored. But it had over 400 moving parts, including wings! It had to be real! No, I’m afraid you’re wrong. It was a robot.

p.s. After reading this through–thankfully!–I realized I had written two things which might have been considered racist or ethnic slurs, which I didn’t at all intend. I wasn’t calling the Polynesian people mutts; I was literally talking about dogs, not people, and so changed my wording to reflect four-legged beasts that live on the Polynesian islads. I didn’t, however, change my wording on Vaucanson’s canard being French and, therefore, not eating or defecating. I thought that if my readers couldn’t understand my intended meaning, which was that the duck was literally called a canard because it was created by a Frenchman, then I might as well stop writing. Sigh.


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