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blog Dr. Wysong's Blog - 12/16/2011

THE SANTA LESSON

Yes, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of lighthearted merriment, goodwill, generosity, and religious fervor. For some it may be. For me, the tolling of the incessant Christmas songs from every public place—herding people into malls—brings but sadness as they take me back memory lane.

But I put up with it as long as there are young children around me with whom I can enjoy the festivities.

The innocence of children is fun for them and for us as observers. But innocence and gullibility are inexcusable and repugnant for us thinking adults, Christmas should, in part, be a reminder of how we can become hoodwinked when we don't use our reasoning faculties, gather the facts, and couple our beliefs to the regularity of the world.

For example, nobody can prove with absolute certainty that Santa does not exist. But then nobody can prove that anything cannot be. That would require omniscience, a pansophy that no human does or can possess. But we can use what we have—reason and facts—to the degree they are available to us.

With regard to Santa, consider that there are about 2 billion children under 18 years old in the world. Santa doesn't appear to handle Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist children, so this reduces his workload by a staggering 81%.

Taking the above reduction into account, this still leaves roughly 378 million children that Santa has to deal with. At an average (census) rate of 4.1 children per household, that's 92.19 million homes. One would presume that there is at least one good child in each home deserving of a visit from Santa!

Utilizing the different time zones, the rotation of the Earth and assuming he travels from east to west, Santa has 31 hours to complete his task. This equates to over 820 house visits per second. In less than the blink of an eye, Santa has to park the sleigh, jump down a chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining gifts, drink the sherry, eat the mince pies, climb back up the chimney, jump back on to the sleigh and move on to the next household.

In the course of his 31 hours of work, Santa will consume 25,000 tons of food and half a million liters of sherry. Not only is this somewhat over the legal limit, but his judgment and enthusiasm will probably be a little stretched long before he has completed his task. If we allowed him a leisurely 1/1,000th of a second at each stop, he would need to travel at 650 miles per second, (3,000 times the speed of sound) to reach the next home in time to keep on schedule. These timings and calculations exclude the inevitable calls of nature inherent in such a binge.

By comparison, the fastest man-made craft is the Ulysses space probe that can only manage a paltry 27.4 miles per second. Also, a conventional reindeer can run at 15 mph flat out. Assuming each child receives nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set, weighing roughly 2 lbs, then the sleigh will need to begin its tour with a payload of 321,300 tons. (For the sake of brevity, we'll bypass the problems of the secret North Pole manufacturing infrastructure and number of elves necessary to create the millions of gifts ranging from candy canes, to clothes, electronic gizmos, cars, and even houses.) If we allow that flying reindeer are 10 times more efficient than conventional reindeer which on land can pull no more than 300 lbs, Santa would need 214,200 reindeer. Assuming the reindeer are tethered 4 abreast, Rudolph will be at least 62 miles in front of Santa, which poses a serious communications problem (especially when traveling beyond the speed of sound.)

The size of the train apart, the dynamics of a vehicle this size landing on your roof at 650 miles per second whilst being driven by a surely inebriated and incredibly corpulent human dressed in a red suit seems quite unlikely...though not impossible, as some could say.

We can make fun of Santa, but, as unbelievable as it may seem, equal examples of adult blind belief are rampant. (Examples abound in these newsletters and in the ThinkingMatters books.) Such would not be the case if it were not for the fact that the hardest thing in the world to do is think. That's not because it causes us to sweat, but because it distracts us from our comforts. If the thinking might dislodge something that brings us pleasure--for kids that would be Santa's gifts--then we simply would rather not go there.

If we dare to challenge our own ideas, as a starting point it is useful to keep in mind that what was true in the past, is true now, and must be discoverable now. Legend, tradition, philosophy, and religion, no matter how dearly held and believed, do not rise above such scrutiny and testing. In fact, the only true religion is the truth. We can never know it all, but our dedication to its search is the only valid worship.

If we let the mental cobwebs remain and cling to our pet ideas simply because they bring us some sort of security, or because we make them sacrosanct by calling them "faith," or because they occupy a long standing comfortable place in our brain, or we plead ignorance (inexcusable in our Internet age), we remain children and might as well believe in Santa too.


Word Word: pansophy - \pan-suh-fee\ - universal wisdom or knowledge


Thought Thought: If you use all things are possible as an argument, then the odds are infinitely small that you are right


Video Videos and Links

1. Einstein Mask Optical Illusion




2. Card Tricks Magician




3. Cat Yoga





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