Saturday, July 29, 2006

On the shoulders of others.

Not too long ago, I mentioned a blog I had stumbled across, called "Eject!Eject!Eject", written by Bill Whittle. He doesn't post often, but when he does it's chapters in a book, and excellent work so far.

When I last posted, he had supplied his introduction, "Rafts". Now he has the next installment up, called "The Web of Trust". I can't do it justice, you really should go read both Rafts (if you didn't already) and chapter 1.

At one point Bill recounts a particularly hairy incident with instrument flight and a bad gauge, which for him ended well. In recounting that, he reflects on the literally millions of people that had a part in his arriving safely on earth:

How many people were there with me that day? Not just the obvious two – Dana and Craig, whose support kept my monkey brain in the back of my head to return to throw pooh another day. How many guys were watching me on radar, keeping me separated from far, far better men and women who do this in their sleep up there? How many people did it take to make the instruments, to mine the silica for the glass, to tap the rubber for the wires? Who laid the asphalt on the runways, who built the filaments in the approach strobes, and who attached the ceramic tips to my spark plugs? And how many millions of other unseen connections had to be made to allow me to do, routinely, and on a middle-class salary, what billions of dead men and women would have given a lifetime to taste – just once. In those few minutes I just told you of, I stood on the shoulders of millions of my brothers and sisters, not the least of which were two sons of a preacher from Dayton, Ohio – now long dead but with me in spirit every day. I was atop a pyramid of dedication, hard work, ingenuity and progress, following rules written in the blood of the stupid and the brave and the unlucky.

This is what he calls the "web of trust". I have obliquely referenced in my Weekend Without Echoes post the concept that nothing we do is unique, that we build on others. Bill takes this further in his discussion of civilization and the necessity of trust in that civilization for real progress to be made.

Some people today do look on "civilization" with disdain, a quant notion of a bygone era supplanted by what, I have no idea.

Anyway, read the chapter. I wish I could think of these ideas, much less express them the way Bill does.

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