Monday, June 27, 2011

Law 6: Charity - Getting Beyond Yourself

Making Monday

It's comforting to think that science is progressive: the more we learn, the better we get at creating theories which express the reality of the universe. The triumph of the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system over the geocentric Ptolemaic model is one of the poster children for scientific progress.

But how, exactly, is the sun-centered model of the solar system better than the earth-centered model?

The only objective way to compare the theories is in terms of their predictions. It turns out that both theories can make accurate predictions but the earth-centered model is more complex and harder to work with. In other words, the Copernican model is better than the Ptolemaic model because it's easier for us.

While the objective difference between the two models isn't as great as we think, the heliocentric model is ethically superior to the geocentric model.

If it's not obvious why that statement is true, play a partial anagram with, 'geocentric,' and transform it to 'egocentric.'

The charity of the makers is Copernican: like the earth, you're an important part of the system but it doesn't all revolve around you. Users, in contrast, truly believe everything revolves around them.

Why does this matter?

Making is about bringing something new into the universe. When finished, the new thing exists independently of the maker and others are free to interact with it. In order to make, you must--at least at some level--get beyond yourself.

This idea is clearer in terms of writing. Whether we admit it or not, the act of putting words on a page is at best an imperfect encoding of our ideas. So why do we do it? Writing is fundamentally about reaching out to others; it is an attempt to share our thoughts in a way that someone else might understand. It only works if you have some concept of and empathy for the other: you must get beyond yourself to write for a reader.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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