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 4 

Copyright Dorian Scott Cole, 2000

The Universe Is Flat

It has long been widely understood that perception rules the universe. For example, long ago people perceived that the earth was flat. The idea that one might reach a distant land in a shorter time by sailing in the opposite direction was unthinkable and postponed the discovery of many new lands. Sailors ventured into the vast ocean with fear, growing more cynical and fearful as their supplies diminished and day after day all that could be seen was more water. One risked falling off the edge of the world, and the threat of mutiny grew stronger as imagination fueled terror with each passing day. Perception ruled, and perception had nothing to do with reality.

So, the universe is flat. Any why not - perception rules and perhaps the appearance of the universe is only a matter of perception. What do we know? we have never been "out there." No space ship has ever sailed around the universe.

Just as the perception that the earth is flat prevented the discovery of new lands, perception affects our daily lives, and even affects our words. Perception affects how we speak and what we believe our words to mean.

While today we know that the earth isn't flat, perception still easily misdirects us. Perception is frequently used by others to control us or prevent us from discovering the truth. I recently (this summer) called a benefits group to ask about a long delinquent benefit reimbursement. I got a recording: "Due to an unusually heavy volume of claims..." I get the same story every summer. In other words, half the department is on vacation and they really don't care if I get reimbursed - my situation is irrelevant to them - but I'm supposed to believe that suddenly half the world is sick and they are working miserably hard to meet my needs, late.

I called another division of the same company to ask about another check which they were supposed to send. I really don't need the money for anything, I just like to spend my time calling them. A person had pleasantly informed me last week that she would "expedite" it for me. She was no longer there. Another cheerful voice this week told me what I wanted to hear. I know responsibility and customer service when I see it, and this is a direct miss. Of course I realize from long experience with this benefits company that they just don't care, but they desperately wish me to have the perception that they do care and they work very hard at creating this perception.

Misperception has been a natural fit for the Internet. I recently sent a series of six e-mail messages to one dot-com company trying to straighten out a small problem. I received either a precomposed response or a "we're looking into it" response each time, which was brilliant testimony to the fact that they neither cared nor were even trying. Customer service with dot-coms does not yet compete with brick and mortar businesses. They have currently deluded themselves with the misperception that an Internet based business carries no overhead.

Of course the brick and mortar business started this trail of lies, and bureacracies have refined it to an artform. My daughter sent to her birth state for a new birth certificate. Her first attempt was by mailing a form that she got over the Internet. They forgot to mention (or she didn't notice) that the request required accompanying identification, so within a few weeks they sent it back, unprocessed. I would mention the specific state, but my perception is that they would permanently lose the birth certificate.

Once an organization reaches the critical mass of a bureaucracy it gains a new mission. This new mission has been perceived as "To perpetuate its own existence." This is a misperception. The real new mission is "To perpetuate its existence as an entity that does nothing except bungle." It perpetuates its existence by covering things up. If it gets caught, it intimidates.

My daughter next sent the request by overnight mail and placed a postage paid overnight envelope within so they could send it right back. Her perception was that they would recognize the envelopes, the original form, understand the urgency, and expedite the processing. Wrong. She assumed that the people in a bureaucracy care enough to do a job properly and that the government agencies exist to provide a responsible service. Where did we ever get such misperceptions?

Perception is as perception does. For example, consider the national shortage of spoons. Perhaps it is an international shortage - I haven't been out of the country for a while so I haven't studied this in international scope. Even mentioning it creates a perception that it is an international reality. Why is there a national shortage of spoons?

I began to realize when my children were young that there was something going on with spoons. One day we had a full set of spoons in the utensil tray. Over the next year or two, we realized that there was a spoon shortage. My perception was that we had a full set at one time. We habitually don't throw spoons away. Yet month after month, spoons slowly but steadily disappeared, never to be seen again.

I comforted myself with the possibility that perhaps the spoons were going the way of the disappearing pencils and combs. Or even more likely, they had taken up residence with the disappearing socks - those that go into the washing machine in pairs and come out divorced, never to be loved again. I even considered that perhaps my own children were taking the spoons into the yard to dig, leaving them there in their carelessness, or even hiding spoons in the living room couch. But I finally turned away from the very possibility of these two theories. I would not want to think my own children capable of such things.

I put 2 and 3 together and realized that spoons were the object of a conspiracy when I noticed they were missing at many restaurants. My wife and I would sit down and order coffee. The waitress would dutifully bring the coffee, and before she could disappear we would blurt out, "We need cream," and she would disappear for ten minutes, and then we would realize - dupes that we are - that we had been distracted by the cream which prevented us from noticing that there were no eating utensils.

After the waitress passed by, efficiently dropping off the creamer without missing a step, we would then patiently watch for her to look our direction again and then place our order for utensils. Begrudgingly she would deliver them as she passed by with her next order. We would smile politely, knowing that the hard working person was doing her best serving pancakes to kids, and gratefully unroll our utensils from the napkin. No spoon. This happened so often that it became predictable. I can't tell you how often, after fifteen minutes of waiting for a spoon, I stirred my coffee with the end of a fork.

I was soon into creating theories for the national spoon shortage:

  • College students steal them, along with salt shakers, for their dorm rooms. This theory presupposes that college students don't need knives and forks.
  • People dangle spoons from their sticky nose as table tricks, and then forget they are on their nose and walk out with them. I have been watching the exit for evidence.
  • Many follow President Bush's example and swallow spoons so that they have a political fashion statement: a neck bulge on each side. I've been watching for Republicans who resemble Frankenstein. I can't tell the Democrats from the Republicans.
  • Programmers and writers, who often eat at their computers are in desperate need of spoons - they could starve - and they absentmindedly leave with them, their minds permanently transfixed by computer code or prose scrolling before their eyes. I've been monitoring myself.
  • It's a Uri Geller psychic spoon bending demonstration going out of control.
  • It's a marketing ploy by fast dissolving sweetener manufacturers who want us to abandon sugar and therefore lose the need for spoons. Listen, manufacturers, I'm already into artificial.
  • Eating utensil manufacturers want us to purchase more utensils and their sales people sneak spoons out during sales visits. Watch for "We sell in sets only," as evidence.

Soon I had more theories than spoons.

  • "Clean up your plate!" is permanently inscribed on the inside eyelids of most of us. Having heard that people are starving in far off Uagabanda, people are cleaning their plates by sending take-home boxes to them, spoon and all.
  • The food health fanatics want us to quit drinking coffee - studies show that after four cups you are in danger, so they go around stealing spoons thinking that they are doing us a favor.
  • Too many people linger over their deserts so the spoons don't make it to the washer in time to be recycled.
  • Pancake syrup in this pancake house is spread from door to door by sloppy kids, and kids are walking out with spoons stuck to their clothes.
  • Asians are taking over and we will soon be eating our soup with chopsticks.
  • Efficiency experts are running the store - self explanatory.
I can never prove any of these theories, but I know - my perception - that there is a conspiracy.

I also know that whoever is behind the spoon conspiracy also causes the pronunciation of certain words to change. As I look back now, I see the dawning of this conspiracy when suddenly the words "strength" and "length" had their "g" stolen from them to become "strenth" and "lenth." Soon this pronunciation was fashionable. I haven't purchased a new tie in twelve years - you see how well I follow fashion, so you can guess how I pronounce these words. When "ng" occurs in a word, it is pronounced at the back of the throat. Say these words: young, tongue. Now say this: stre ng th. See, it can be done. Now, my personal theory is that this conspiracy came from one of four sources:

  1. Speech pathologists gave up trying to ever make this complicated pronunciation, and stole the g. For them I have created a tongue twister: "Terribly tortured tongue twisters teach tantalizing tidbits." Notice the complete absence of the word "length," and anything useful.
  2. Elementary school teachers banded together and threw the g out.
  3. Computer makers felt that speech recognition programs would have a monster headache with "ngth."
  4. Some unknown-to-me but influential person said "strenth" and people followed without consulting me. For some reason overlooking me is an ongoing problem.
Now everyone perceives that the fashionable pronunciation is correct and if they don't pronounce these words the fashionable way then are demonstrating their ignorance. Not so. Twenty years ago "strenth" wasn't even in the dictionary. It has only made its way to a third acceptable pronunciation. Perception. Think conspiracy, the perception will do wonders for your imagination.

Word meanings do run aground, crash and burn, even when people steer with the best of intentions. Take for example the word "secreted." At this point you probably don't know exactly which word I mean. This word has two pronunciations and two meanings.

One meaning comes from the word secret, which means hidden or discreet. A person might be "secreted" away in the middle of the night. Secret(ed).

The other meaning of the word "secreted" comes from the word "secrete" which means that something more or less oozes out of something else. Flowers secrete nectar. Oil glands secrete oil to lubricate the skin. Thus, oil is "secreted" from a gland. Secrete(d).

Now, imagine my surprise when a person in the Witness Protection Program described being secrete(d) into a van by the US Marshall's Service. I wonder if that hurts - being oozed into a van. Gives uzzi a whole new meaning. "You want to get an uzzi! You want to be secrete(d) into a van?" Good reason not to do anything to get yourself into the Witness Protection Program. Ouch.

I, too, am sometimes fooled by perceptions. I have used the phrase "niche market" for years. I was blithely pronouncing it "nich," undoubtedly having learned the pronunciation by osmosis from the fools with whom I associate. But then I happened upon some enlightened person who pronounced it "neesh." Soooo, I perceived, this word must be of foreign origin and I have been pronouncing it erroneously. Over the next few days I intelligently pronounced it "neesh," to as many people as would listen. But as the days progressed I had this nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. So I looked up the word in the dictionary:
"Nich," it spoke. Aargh! Poisoned again.

The universe is indeed flat. It is simply a matter of perception. For example, consider an image on a piece of paper. Shadows and size give the image a perception of dimensions, but the paper is actually flat and has no depth. Spiral galaxies appear to be flat when viewed on their edge. Perhaps when viewed from a great distance, we can see that the universe is flat as a pancake. At this point it really makes no difference whether it is or it isn't, it is our perception that we have to live with. Spread the poison.

- Scott

(Perceived writer's differentiation: "Unlike 'em other writers, I no the hole alfabit.")

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