Seeing what isn’t there

Recently, I was watching the progress of the Rosetta mission when the whole thing had a shadow cast over it by a certain shirt. Dr Matt Taylors shirt’s been pictured pretty much everywhere else, so I can’t see the point of linking to it; the commentary it’s generated has been huge, there’s no benefit in my writing paragraphs about it.

So, many people took aim at the gent in question and at his shirt. It was making a particular statement or it was saying this or that. The woman who designed the shirt, a friend of his, has defended him; personally, I doubt he intended any offence or to impart a message. My first thought was that that people were making an issue out of this to the detriment of the science coverage. Which led to me being accused of making a binary point that you can focus on one or the other. I never said that and, of course you can easily read coverage of both. But the shirt affects perception of the rest of the coverage, the two are not separate. The reaction to my thinking, got me to thinking about the reaction to said shirt. This brought to mind a Taoist story, from Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book “The Te of Piglet”.

“A man dug a well by the side of a road. For years afterwards, grateful travellers talked of the Wonderful Well. But one night, a man fell into it and drowned. After that, people avoided the Dreadful Well. Later it was discovered that the victim was a drunken thief who had left the road to avoid being captured by the night patrol-only to fall into the Justice-Dispensing Well.”

It’s the same well, a hole in the ground. But the meaning changes depending on how you see it. Things what they are, until Human consciousness comes along and assigns a pile of meanings to things. I’ve noticed that we do this a lot, often people will jump in and argue before a person has even finished speaking; replacing whatever the person meant to say, with what they’ve decided that person was going to say! I find that to be a caution, it means we often react to meanings that aren’t there in the physical world. We cast the light of our own impermanent views and values on the world and jump at the shadows, seeing things that say more about us than about the world itself.


  1. Scribe November 23, 2014

    So did the shirt cast a shadow on the mission, or did the mission shed light on the shirt?

  2. Richard November 23, 2014

    A good question and I think the answer is “both”.

    The shirt did, in my opinion, cast a shadow on the mission. Have a quiet word with him or contact the ESA to complain. A hatefest is never the answer.

    The shirt did get light cast on it. I’m not sure that free advertising is what any of the complainants intended, but in a moment of pure irony, the producer has sold a whole run of the things. More are apparently on order.

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