Thursday, 5 June 2014

Goldilocks and the 20 million-year-old fossilised porridge

Goldilocks and the 20 million-year-old fossilised porridge

Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism? I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway.

Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.” 
- Richard Dawkins

At the Institute of Rational Scepticism in Bluemore, California, Professor Mary Jane Hart is explaining to a class of visiting kindergarten children why the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears probably never happened.

“The fossil records clearly demonstrate that the kind of anthropomorphic bears your parents and teachers have told you were encountered by Goldilocks were a dominant species 20 million years ago during the Ursidean Era. These bears lived in small family units in forested areas on the European continent. They had the technology to build houses and simple furniture but had no electricity and were reliant on wood as a source of fuel. It is likely they were anatomical omnivores supplementing a diet of raw meat with staples such as porridge.

“Unfortunately this particular species of bear went extinct millions of years before the emergence of modern humans. The only way that a girl called Goldilocks would have encountered the three bears in the story would have been as an archaeologist excavating one of their ancient settlements.

“Trust me on this. Over millions of years even the hottest porridge you can imagine eventually turns stone cold and fossilises. Nobody here would want to eat fossilised porridge would they? That would be yucky.”

In the audience a couple of the children start crying. Another, who is in the early stages of 'having an accident,' has to be hastily scooped up off the floor and carried in outstretched arms to a nearby bathroom.


Later, in the institute's Media Capsule, the Founder and Director, Tim Archard, explains in detail the long-term goals of the organisation:

“I felt the time was long overdue to wage war on the pseudoscience of fairy tales that have been granted free-reign in the classroom. Children need to recognise that the issue of world hunger will not be resolved by a magic cauldron that is apparently capable of churning out an infinite supply of porridge. That just doesn't make any sense in the context of our understanding of how the universe works. Our government should stop frittering away resources searching for this fabled artefact and instead redirect the money towards funding the agricultural sciences.

“Take another example: With the exception of a study carried out by Morey and Morey in 1987, which we think was based on flawed methodology, there is no credible, peer-reviewed research proving that a kiss from a handsome prince will awaken a girl from a toxin-induced coma. Even if the princess has somehow remained in a state of miraculous physical preservation, 100 years of unconsciousness would likely result in extensive cognitive impairment, rendering her unable to walk, communicate or even recognise basic concepts. That's even before you touch upon the ethics of kissing an unconscious, and, in all probability, mentally-impaired woman.

“For decades fairy tales have helped to a foster in our culture an erroneous belief that in moments of extreme peril we can rely upon the timely arrival of a saviour galloping over the horizon to rescue us. People have actually lost their lives waiting to be saved by a handsome prince or a woodcutter instead of telephoning the emergency services.”

Archard maintains his goal is to stem the tide of resources that are wasted as a direct result of an unquestioning belief in the authenticity of fairy tales. He cites the millions of dollars that were recently spent researching a report that assessed the risks posed by giant cloud castles to aircraft and space missions.

“It beggars belief that serious studies are being carried out in this area when all the evidence shows that giants inhabit a networks of caverns at the earth's core, and will only emerge during the time of Ragnarok when they will join the wolf Fenrir in his battle against the gods. Until then the only danger they pose to humanity are the earthquakes that they occasionally cause whenever they stomp around.”

In 2011, the institute sought to publicise its mission by offering a one million dollar prize to anybody who could replicate the feat performed by the fairy godmother in Cinderella and transform a pumpkin and some white mice into a crystal carriage and a team of horses. So far over 5000 applicants have taken up the challenge.

“Nobody has come even remotely close to altering the organic structure of a pumpkin in a way that resembles an ornately-gilded crystalline lattice,” says Archard. “The nearest that anybody has come to manipulating the DNA of white mice into something resembling a horse resulted in a quartet of rodents the size of houses terrorising Chicago. I don't reckon we'll be parting with that money any time soon. In fact I confidently predict me and that cash will live together happily ever after. At least until I exchange some of it for a yacht.”


Back in the Education Centre another Mary Jane Hart-led 'Introduction to Rational Scepticism for the Under Fives' class is in full swing:

“Okay hands up anyone who can tell me what's wrong with the story of Little Red Riding Hood.”

“The wolf ate the grandmother,” shouts one girl with perhaps a little too much confidence.

Professor Hart ponders this response for a few seconds.

“Sure, from a human perspective it's definitely wrong to kill and eat another human being. What you haven't taken into account is that wolves don't have the same highly-developed system of ethics, morals and laws as human beings. So actually your answer is quite blinkered, narrow minded and xenophobic. Now can anybody tell me what is wrong scientifically with the story...”

In the audience a child starts to cry.

1 comment:

  1. My mother refuses to publish books if the turtle takes off its shell. Because that would kill the turtle and she loves turtles