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Appendix: Supplemental Material to the Book of Common Knowledge
16 minutes | Dec 18, 2018
Dear Editor— I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O'Hanlon 115 West Ninety Fifth Street Music In late summer 1897, a young girl in New York City wrote to the New York Sun with a VERY important question. She wanted to know if Santa Claus was real. Her schoolmates had been telling her, you see, that he wasn’t. And she just had to know. So at the urging of her father, a physician on the upper west side, she wrote the ultimate source of truth--the newspaper. And she got a response a little white later. When it came out, it was nothing special. The 7th editorial down, behind a discussion on the chainless bicycle. Written by an atheist who didn’t want to write it, no less. But over time, it grew into something special. Something that I’ve made a point to share every Christmas season for the past 11 years. And today, I share it with you, dear listener. ---- VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe what they don’t see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. Music Yes virginia, there is a santa claus, he wrote to Virginia O’Hanlon on West 95th Street. You may not see him, you may hire 1000 men to hunt for him and never find him, but he’s there. As long as you have joy and curiosity and a mind that’s open to the wonders of that which you cannot see or feel or touch or hear, you’ll find a santa claus. Keep your childlike wonder, Virginia. Don’t grow up so fast. Don’t become so disillusioned with the world that you forget the joy of something simple like dancing on a lawn. This time of year is tough on us all. It gets dark early. It gets cold. There are no crops to harvest, no fields to plant, no work to be done. Our animal instinct tells us to go inside, stay locked up, and await the spring. Historically, darkness is associated with death. And light with life. We now know that the darkness does some strange stuff to us--makes us depressed, makes us more susceptible to addiction, causes us to move around less and socialize less. But we’re a social creature and we can’t stay cooped up for months at a time. So, at some point in our history, we started finding ways to cope. Cultures throughout the world, developed ways to stay healthy, to remember life, to fight the drudgery. They differ heavily in what they celebrate and how they celebrate, but do have common themes. They celebrate light. Christmas is 4 days after the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Of course a celebration is going to fight the darkness with light. Whether it’s a manora celebrating 8 days of continuous light, or lighting fires in crossroads as the slavs did, or even the Yule log in Germany and western Europe, or lighting candles in the yard or around the house, as in some Yalda traditions in Iran. And of course, hanging strings of lights around your house to fight the darkness. They celebrate family. Christmas is all about family gathering together around a beautiful meal. In the persian Yalda, they eat fruits and nuts and read poetry. In China for Donghzhi, the family gathers to eat dumplings. Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, wherever your map takes you, you’ll find cultures that celebrate the darkest day of the year by bringing family together. It’s as if humanity independently, yet harmoniously, sought to fight the isolation and depression that can take hold this time of year. They celebrate life. In the barren white forrests of northern Europe, there was often one sign of life amongst the dead branches and blanketed soil--green trees. Protesting the gray dormancy. So it became tradition to bring that life into your own home. To bless your own home with life. In the Christian tradition we have the purest essence of life--the birth of a baby. In the depth of winter, the darkest contrast to the life and vibrancy of the summer, a joy of hope--the birth of a child. In warmer-climate traditions you have the preparing of foods, massive feasts. It’s sort of a special treat. You can’t just run back to the grocery store if February comes and you’re out of food. You have to plan and plan well. So eating a massive feast right in the middle of this dark time is, in a way, your way of spitting in the face of the darkness. Spitting in the face of death and claiming your mastery of it. Light. Family. Life. All around the world, for various reasons, in various ways, with various traditions, human beings universally acknowledged their smallness in the world. Their lack of control over the cycle of the year. Even if they didn’t understand how it worked, they knew its power. And they fought back against it. The filled the darkness with their own light. They filled the loneliness with their families. They mastered the ever-looming specter of death with their celebration of life. We call it different things. We celebrate in different ways. Just before we eat our meals, we say different prayers in different languages to different gods. But we’re doing it for the same reasons--to remind ourselves that spring will come. That no matter how bad things are now, they will get better. No matter the darkness, light will come again. I don’t particularly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but I do consider myself a Christmas person, because that’s the tradition I was raised in. I find it comforting and relieving to give gifts to people I care about, to decorate a tree with them and sit down and eat a meal together. Probably like a German farming family 1000 years ago, I find the ritual of bringing a tree inside and making food I haven’t had in a year a welcome relief against the monotony and darkness. Because this time of year, whatever you call it, is really much more than a religious name, or a certain tradition. It’s a collective celebration of spirit of survival. Well, really more than that. About Thriving. About pouring hours of time into complex foods that are hard to make and hard to get. It’s about training your voice to sing Christmas Carols, or putting on plays, or dancing traditional dances. Christmas, or whatever you call the celebration in the darkest of winter, is about a collective resurgence of life and spirit and creativity and art, in the face of death. So this winter, I wish that to you. I wish that you in some way find and celebrate light, community, and life. Or, to put it another way… “Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”
40 minutes | Nov 1, 2018
Democracy Part 2
In today’s episode, we’re going to ask the two simplish questions: If the 5 regimes are real, and if they devolve into one another like Socrates suggested, have we seen this in the US? The second question: Could this have been what the founders wanted all along?
30 minutes | Oct 25, 2018
The American Experiment started with something almost unrecognizable to what we see and experience today. And not just in a “we have hundreds of millions of people and nuclear weapons now” kind of way. But a much more fundamental way. Not only is the size, scope, and importance of our government wholly different than what the founders intended, but the way we interact with it, too, is entirely different. Democracy wasn’t in the cards for us–not at first at least. Open hearings, political primaries, widespread ballot initiatives–none of this was in the cards for the US. It was truly a wholly different government that was signed into law in 1789. One that, possibly, was even meant to fail in the long run.
31 minutes | Oct 10, 2018
Season 2, Episode 1--Addiction
There’s a classic experiment where scientists took a rat and put it in a box and gave it two spigots to drink from: a water spigot and a spigot with a morphine mixture. The rat started with the water, and then one day, tried the morphine. He seemed to like it, because the next day, he had the morphine again. Then some more morphine. And before you knew it, the rat was drinking only morphine in higher and higher quantities. And that, dear listeners, is our classic understanding of addiction. You’re living your normal life, doing your thing, and some unscrupulous friend (or scientist, you never know) offers you an addictive substance. You take a taste. A taste of the forbidden fruit, so to speak. It’s chemicals interact with your brain’s chemicals and says gimme more–and after that, it’s on. Your brain’s on a wild and often irreversible ride. With such power over us, our main strategy has been to avoid that initial taste. Avoid even starting because once you start, it’s out of your hands. We’ve employed education campaigns, zero tolerance laws, and harsher sentencing all in an effort to prevent that initial taste. So grab some popcorn as we get ready for today’s Appendix, which takes the form of an 80-year old movie reel, roled up and reeking of reefer in the Book of Common Knowledge: On Addiction
2 minutes | Aug 27, 2018
Season 2 Teaser
27 minutes | Aug 7, 2018
Episode 9-Common Knowledge
Salem, 1692. A now infamous scene is about to unfold, stealing the lives of 25 innocent people, and leaving centuries of mystery and warning in its wake. 300 years later and we still don't know why it happened. But maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe the better question is "How" did it happen?
29 minutes | Jul 27, 2018
If an outsider were to look at Presidential elections over the past few decades, he’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re, well, a little schizophrenic. Our presidential choices oscilate from conservative to liberal pretty regularly, and that’s without taking into account our last two elections–where we elected our first Black President and then immediately followed it up with a President that shows far less deference to non-white Americans. It really does send mixed signals to ourselves and the world when the American people can’t seem to decide which ideology fits them best. But, and this is what we’ve been thinking about here at the Appendix, what if there is a strand of commonality between the election of Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump, and the multifarious selection of presidents in between
22 minutes | Jul 13, 2018
3 minutes | Jul 6, 2018
Coming Soon: Patriotism--A Miniseries!
16 minutes | Jun 22, 2018
Episode 6--Artificial Intelligence
Today’s episode is dedicated to a test that the smartest and wealthiest entrepeneurs in the world are trying to ace. A test that thousands of the world’s brightest folks are working on right now. A test that, once we ace it, according to some, we can’t go back. So, today’s appendix comes in the form of a simple test, actuated by a bunch of 1s and 0s, to the book of common knowledge on Artificial Intelligence.
8 minutes | Jun 15, 2018
Minisode 1: Noodlebakers
We had a lot of extra fodder from this week’s episode. So we thought we’d give you a little treat before the weekend--something maybe you can use to ignite a conversation at brunch, or spark interest from that cutie across the room at happy hour. So, without further ado, we present some of our favorite thought experiments and paradoxes, in no particular order.
26 minutes | Jun 12, 2018
Today’s Appendix has a pretty simple goal: To get a glimpse of the fourth dimension--of time. We won’t be able to answer all of the questions posed above, but we can get a good start. And since we can’t go up into the 4th dimension, we’re going to have to start by going down into the second. And that’s where we begin with Today’s Appendix, coming in the form of a few shapes cut out of paper, clipped to the back of the very real, very physical book of Common Knowledge on Time.
17 minutes | May 29, 2018
In the early 20th entury, we started an experiment with the English language. Combined with new technologies, that experiment, for the last century, has completely reshaped how we hear and experience Shakespeare. Join us in today’s Appendix as we listen to a video clip, edited to the last page of a very, very, VERY long book of Common Knowledge on William Shakespeare
15 minutes | May 21, 2018
Episode 2--Fake News
Here at the appendix, we believe, among other things, that history does indeed rhyme with itself–that many things that happen today have happened, in some form, time and time before. And today’s episode looks at two such instances, nearly 200 years apart. One has ended, and the other has barely begun–but maybe they rhyme just enough to tell us what’s in store. So, without further adieu, Today’s Appendix comes in the form of a Newspaper Article, paperclipped to the last page of the Book of Common Knowledge on Fake News.
1 minutes | May 13, 2018
Appendix: Season 1
An Appendix is a collection of material that adds meaning and context to the main text of a book, but, for whatever reason, didn’t quite fit into the material itself. While usually quite important, often it just doesn’t fit into the overall narrative neatly, so the author leaves it out and throws it in the back. In this series, we treat common knowledge as a book, that tells an overall story, but often times misses key bits of information simply because they just don’t fit neatly into the narrative. An appendix doesn’t change the story, but for those that take the time to turn to it, it does offer a new context, and a new perspective. Join us over the coming weeks as add appendices to the book of common knowledge, including: Immortality, The oldest coincidence, The arc of Progress, What Cain killing Able really meant, and whether the Constitution was written to fail.
13 minutes | May 13, 2018
Episode 1- Immortality
For our first Appendix to the Book of Common Knowledge, we’re going after one of the largest volumes–Immortality. Our common understanding is that it’s a powerful force that, while having some very good, and some very bad effects, is wholly unattainable unless you’re half God or have made a deal with the devil. But in this appendix, we’ll see that while the main rules still apply, it’s not exactly unattainable.
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