Friday, March 19, 2010

The Mediocrity Principle

Long ago, in a far distant land, there lived a man named Nicolaus Copernicus. You may wonder how we know of a man who lived so long ago and so far away. Well, Nicolaus Copernicus made, quite literally, a revolutionary discovery.

Now, as anyone will tell you, for revolution you need three things: oxygen, fuel and heat. Nicolaus Copernicus lived in a time with plenty of all three. But we are getting ahead of the story.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a stargazer. Not the kind of stargazer you or I think of when we think of that word; he wasn’t the type to lie lazily about, staring up into the firmament, dreaming of romance or adventure: quite the contrary in fact. Nicolaus Copernicus would never look at the stars unless he was holding his notebook, a pencil and some instrument that looked more magical than mathematical.

You see, in Nicolaus Copernicus's time, people believed that the World was the centre of the Universe. They believed that Earth was fixed in space, and our sun, our moon, and all the other stars and planets danced around us in a joyous celestial twirling motion. Nicolaus Copernicus wasn’t sure this was true. What started as a quest for the arcane, soon revealed a startling truth: Earth revolves around Sun.

Well, Nicolaus Copernicus understood that this discovery, this revelation if you will, might upset a few people, and so, for the most part at least, he kept his ideas under his zucchetto.

Meanwhile, the man on the street was under pressure. The ancient Greeks, with their rosy sunsets and myriad gods, had set the stage for the world being, well, a stage. You might think, and I would agree with you, that being the centre of the Universe would make one feel pretty good about oneself. But people were sick of being looked down upon, of always being watched. It was time for the gods to step back a few light-years and let the world wheel as the world would wheel: around the sun.

When Nicolaus Copernicus’s ideas finally got out into the public arena the world was ready for revolution.

Before Nicolaus Copernicus died he speculated that, since we aren’t at the centre of the Universe, what had happened once, that is to say: you, me and the whole World, could, given the right conditions, happen again. He said this in a nice way, so people didn’t get too upset with him. And so it was that Nicolaus Copernicus made mediocrity not only okay, but a Universal truth, and a good many people breathed a huge sigh of relief.
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