A Parliament Of Clocks

Once in a while, you read a blog posting that is so good you find yourself both elated to have read it and depressed that you didn't write it. I found such a post today from Shannon Love who blogs at a great site, Chicago Boyz. (Hat tip: JohnnySac) Here's a sample:

I think an old parable explains why the professional subcultures of articulate intellectuals, such as academics in the humanities, artists and journalists, all experience such enormous pressures to conform to the same viewpoint.

In the parable, a king wants to buy some clocks and travels to the Bavarian village were the ten best clockmakers in the world keep their shops all along one street.

As he enters the street all the clocks in all the shops strike 1 o’clock in one massive group chime. The king marvels at the great accuracy of the clockmakers of the village, but a few moments later he hears another group chime. After investigating he finds that all the clocks in 9 of the 10 shops show the same time but that all the clocks in the 10th shop show a different time by several minutes. Puzzled, the king
calls all the clockmakers together and ask why the clocks in the 10th shop do not chime at the same time as all the clocks in all the other shops.

The owner of the odd shop out immediately steps forward and says that due to his unusual skill and innovation his clocks keep more accurate time than the clocks of the other shops. The other shop owners protest loudly. The king is at a loss. The town lacks a master town clock or sundial, so he has no means of determining which clocks keep the best time. Confused, he decides not to buy any clocks and leaves town. Angered, the owners of the 9 agreeing shops burn down the shop of the odd man out to prevent such confusion from arising again. Now when someone comes to town, all the clocks will chime at the same instant. Customers will not become confused and everyone will sell more clocks.

The clockmakers destroy the nonconforming clockmaker among them because they know that as a practical matter we judge the accuracy of clocks by consensus. Absolute time does not exist. Essentially, a parliament of clocks votes on the correct time. (Even scientifically, this is true.) By fiat, we say that the clocks that deviate from the consensus time are inaccurate, but logically that need not be so. Different technologies or different levels of care in setting, winding or servicing the clocks could lead to the minority clocks being more accurate. However, if all the clocks agree, then no lay person will have grounds for suspecting that the majority clocks don’t keep accurate time.

READ. THE. REST. I insist.