An Unintended Consequence of Literacy.


Before literacy, culture was transmitted orally with inevitable deviation of tradition gradually from generation to generation; New leadership, new information, changing community consensus, not to mention migrations, climate change and interactions with new environments including other human cultures all resulted in enormous evolution of transmitted wisdom over time.  Literacy permitted sacred authority to congeal and fossilize at various points in time.  These living fossils of incompatible fundamentalisms are a seemingly inevitable consequence of literacy.


Medicine has had some similar problems, fundamentalisms fostered by literacy, but medicine’s conflicts are already being resolved. Hanneman Medical College in Philadelphia started as a homeopathic school.  Their endowments that were committed to homeopathic pursuits are now enhancing study of the history of medicine.  Within my professional lifetime, osteopathy passed from cult to part of medicine to the point of being licensed by the same boards of medical examiners. Osteopaths no longer believe that all human ailments can be helped by correcting misalignments of the spine. Parenthetically, chiropractors now soldier on as fundamentalist osteopaths in theory if not in practice.  Alternative medicine is ripe for absorption after some constructive regulation.


Like science, the “errors” of literacy are potentially self-correcting by the sifting and winnowing of ideas.  If you are asked why you are not an atheist, perhaps you should reply, “An atheist is a fundamentalist agnostic, and who wants to go there?  Besides, I want to remain in the mainstream where I can strive for the rapprochement of the sects of mankind, not merely for the sects of Christianity—“transcendental ecumenism.”


Linguists and primatologists tell us that animals are capable of symbolic concepts and apes can even learn thousands of words in sign language, but their voice boxes cannot be controlled well enough for the nuances of spoken language.  Here is an idea that might demonstrate that apes are capable of literacy.  Integrate a school for deaf children with an existing primate center. Enroll apes of appropriate age in the primary school for the deaf.  Along with much more practice in sign language, they might even achieve literacy.  With an interpreter for the deaf they could be interviewed on TV with edification of the audience and the host (Rush Limbaugh?).


Soon after writing the above I came across the following from Thomas Paine and Thomas Owen,

There never did, there never will, and there never can exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ”end of time” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore, all such clauses, acts or declarations, by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void.  Every age and generation must be free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it….  Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow (italics in the original).  The Rights of Man, page 438


 [Different faiths] emanated……...from the same false imaginations of our ancestors: contemporary faiths were thus relics of primitive errors.  Man was not responsible to God for his behavior for he was entirely the child of Nature and society. Robert Owen 1771-1858 from: Flesh in the Age of Reason by Roy Porter, 2003, page 390


John A. Frantz, MD, February 22, 2008 


September 12, 2011: The following parody of Genesis, written by a 17 year old secular humanist, was contributed by Galen and Rose Smith upon their reading of An Unintended Consequence of Literacy.  Paradoxically, the village elders could not have evolved so fast without literacy. We are compelled to carry on with sifting and winnowing.  (I couldn’t find Furgeson and so substituted Steven Hawking; and there were no capital Gs in the original.)


Unified Field Theory


In the beginning there was Aristotle,

and objects at rest tended to remain at rest,

and soon everything was at rest,

and god saw that it was boring,


Then god created Newton,

and objects at rest tended to remain at rest,

and objects  in motion tended to remain in motion,

and energy was conserved and momentum was conserved

and matter was conserved,

and god saw that it was conservative.


Then god created Einstein.

and everything was relative,

and fast things became short

and straight things became curved,

and the universe was filled with inertial frames,

and god saw that it was relatively general,

but some of it was especially relative.


Then god created Bohr,

and there was the principle,

and the principle was quantum,

and all things were quantified,

but some things were still relative,

and god saw that it was confusing.


Then god was going to create Hawking,

and Steven would have unified,

and he would have Fielded a Theory,

and all would have been one,

but it was the seventh day,

and god rested,

and objects at rest tend to remain at rest.


Tom Joseph


In the last stanza, where I substituted Steven Hawking, the original had Fergeson.  I googled Fergeson and found no mathematical physicist or cosmologist with even a remotely similar name.  Did the author dub in Furgeson as an unknown future scientist? My wife Mary suggested that Fergeson might have been the teacher for whose classroom assignment Unified Field Theory was written.  Furthermore, If Steven Hawking were the perpetrator, his abilities are so awesome that we might not have remained at rest.”  JF