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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Ocean Deniers of Centralia: A Science Fiction Story

Long, long ago in another part of our galaxy, there existed a planet consisting of a single great continent surrounded by an ocean. The central continent stretched for 5000 miles, and was mostly dry and dusty. The continent was uninhabited by civilized beings, except for a single small kingdom near the center of the continent, where a few thousand people lived. This kingdom was known as Centralia.


The residents of Centralia had never seen a large body of water. They had not seen any oceans, rivers, or lakes, but only a few very small ponds, none larger than about 10 meters. Life was hard in Centralia, where it almost never rained, and where it was very hard to grow crops. But despite their difficulties, the Centralians were able to develop some aspects of culture, including literature and theater. They even had their own body of scientists.

The scientists of Centralia published “laws of science” based on the observations they had made about nature, using only their limited experience. One of these “laws of science” was known as the Law of Small Accumulations. This was the law that there could only exist small accumulations of water such as very small ponds, and that nature abhorred any large bodies of water. The Centralians concluded that their planet was round, and that the whole planet was as dry and dusty as the land around Centralia. This conclusion was officially promulgated as the Law of Global Uniformity.

The scientists of Centralia began to get very pleased with their understanding of nature, and tended to think of themselves as great knowledge lords who were almost finished with the job of understanding the mysteries of the world.

One day some adventurous Centralians decided to go on a long journey of exploration, riding on local animals that somewhat resembled camels, in that they could store great amounts of water. The exploration party was led by a very brave person named Delnox.

The exploration party of Delnox traveled to the south for a year. For almost all of the journey, the explorers encountered only dry, dusty land like the land of Centralia. But then one day the explorers came upon the most exciting thing they had ever seen.

It was an ocean.

Delnox could not believe his eyes. Before him lay a seemingly limitless body of water. He had never imagined that such a thing could exist. But there was the evidence right in front of him.

After the explorers swam in the ocean for pleasure, and took copious notes, Delnox commanded the exploration party to return to Centralia. There was much grumbling, as many wanted to stay in this wondrous region with unlimited water. But Delnox insisted that the discovery be reported to Centralia without delay.

After a year of additional traveling, the exploration party finally returned to Centralia. Delnox called together the Academy of Science, and told the astonishing story of what had happened. But the scientists refused to believe his story.

You're a liar,” said one scientist. “Your story is unbelievable rubbish, inconsistent with the teachings of our great Academy. There could never exist such a thing as this 'ocean' you describe – it would violate the Law of Small Accumulations, that water can only exist in small amounts. Such a law is one of the most fundamental findings of our science. Not to mention that your story violates the Law of Global Uniformity.”

You're a fraud,” said another scientist. “You've created this crazy story merely to gain riches or influence.”

I don't think they're liars or frauds,” said another scientist. “I have a different theory to explain their story. I think they hallucinated. After a long journey through dry land, their minds were so eager for water that their minds probably fooled them into hallucinating this 'ocean' that they describe. Of course, it goes without saying that no such 'ocean' could really exist.”

The story of Delnox and his fellow explorers was officially declared by the Academy of Science to be a lie, a fraud, or a hallucination. But a minority of Centralians accepted the story as the truth.

Over the next 150 years, every few years another exploration party would set out to the south in search of the fabled ocean first reported by Delnox. Some of these exploration parties never returned. But about once or twice a decade, one of the exploration parties would return after about 2 years of traveling. The exploration parties would usually tell a tale similar to that told by Delnox – that a great ocean had been discovered after traveling thousands of miles to the south.

Each of the returning exploration parties would always be treated the same way by the Academy of Science. The Academy ruled that all of the reports were merely lies, frauds, or reports of hallucinations. The Academy ruled that no legitimate scientist could believe in the “ocean superstition,” as they called it. The Academy continued to teach that the entire planet was as dry and dusty as the kingdom of Centralia.

Eventually explorers from Centralia found other huge bodies of water that were closer to Centralia. Travelers to the the southwest discovered three seas smaller than the great ocean that Delnox had found. Other travelers discovered another sea to the north. But whenever these travelers returned to Centralia, their reports were belittled and disregarded by the experts at the Academy of Science. The travelers were told they were liars, frauds, or people suffering from hallucinations. Their reports were dismissed as nonsense, even though many different travelers to those seas made reports that were all consistent with each other.

Meanwhile technology began to improve in Centralia. Eventually an inventor created the first camera. An explorer named Zulsen came up with the idea of using the new invention to prove the reality of the ocean to the south.

We will take photos of the ocean to the south,” said Zulsen. “That will be proof that no one can deny.”

Zulsen led an exploration party that traveled for a year. After a year, they reached the great ocean to the south, and took many photographs of it. Then the exploration party started traveling back to Centralia. After another year the party returned to Centralia, and showed the photographic evidence to the Academy of Science.

You can no longer deny the ocean's existence,” said Zulsen. “We have given you the photographic proof.”

This is fraud,” said one scientist. “You must have used some special technique to fake these photos. You can never convince me of your ocean superstition.”

I have another idea,” said another scientist. “These are not photos of an ocean, but merely photos of some low-hanging clouds. My guess is that in this region of the planet, the clouds hang a lot lower than in our region.”

The Academy of Science officially ruled that the photos of the ocean were either fakes or merely photos of low-hanging clouds that had been misidentified as the ocean. The testimony of the explorers that they had swum in the ocean was dismissed as either lies or hallucinations.

Zulsen sadly realized how permanently closed were the minds of most of the scientists. He began organizing a group that would travel to the great ocean to the south, for the purpose of permanently settling the land near there. After organizing the team of pioneers, he said his final goodbyes to the residents of Centralia. 

This story is allegorical. Read this post for a discussion of what has been symbolized here.