Deeply Rooted

One of the many joys of being married to someone who understands horticulture is her ability to notice when ‘experts’ are talking mulch. Here’s McGill University science ethicist Margaret Somerville on the 7.30 Report last night.

You see I think the more extraordinary our knowledge… and I like to talk in images we understand. Like a tree, the higher a tree grows, the further its roots have go down in order to be stable and survive.

Actually, no. As the dispelling common horticultural myths site puts it:

Myth No. 1: The root system of a tree is a mirror image of its above ground portion.
Since studies began on the structure of tree roots back in the 1930’s, researchers across the country have found a consistent pattern to tree root development. This root pattern, regardless of species or location, is shallow and wide. Findings indicate lateral roots of trees extend 1.5 to four times the width of the canopy and are usually within the top two feet of soil. As soil depth increases, root growth diminishes, due primarily to a decrease in the levels of oxygen and moisture.

What should we do when someone makes such an embarrassing blooper on national TV? Fortunately, the guest herself had some pertinent advice in the next breath.

The Japanese have a lovely saying, “As the radius of knowledge expands the circumference of ignorance increases”. So if you imagine it like a laser beam, here’s our knowledge and here’s this huge circumference of ignorance.

Wider for some than others.

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3 Responses to Deeply Rooted

  1. Peter Fyfe says:

    A mere circumference of ignorance implies a proportional relationship to knowledge. I’d suggest ignorance is not a circumference, or even the area of the circle, but a sphere that grows in all directions around a simple shaft of knowledge.

    Einstein once remarked, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

  2. Cameron B says:

    Peter Fyfe, the issue is not whether the relationship is linear, cubic, or whatever; it’s the fact that some old japanese guy was smart enough to make the observation in the first place. “We” in the West are too obsessed with the quantitative aspects of known relationships to discover anything new. A western technologist would never make such an observation as that about the circumference of ignorance, they’d just be all like “wow, look at me, look at my discovery, now I know everything”…

  3. editha says:

    To Cameron B

    That western tendency about feeling wowish for one’s accomplishments is hilarious if not that true, but if it is, then it is more so!
    The Japanese have got the class, have you tried wabi sabi? what do we learn from this?

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