My Own Limits of Belief

So that's how they did it!

Aliens from the planet Ruffled constructing the pyramids.
(Image from The Thoughts and Sayings Of Baba Doodlius)

One of my pet peeves is people who think that aliens built the pyramids. Frankly, as a member of the human race, I’m quite insulted. We’re an amazingly ingenious lot. If there’s a problem to solve, we generally get around to figuring it out.

Vaccines? We invented those. Rocketships and submarines? We made those too. Radio, television, and satellites? We solved all of those. Ziplock bags? That was us too.

Even in the ancient world, we were masters of our domain (so to speak). Agriculture? We did that! Irrigation? Humans! Domestication of livestock? Nailed it! Gods and religion? Another human invention. (That last one probably should have stayed in the workshop a little longer, though.)

That’s why it’s so insulting to have some uneducated twat try to deny us one of our greatest achievements: The construction of massive pyramids with little more than levers, wheels, and inclined planes.

The pyramids really weren’t that difficult to build, from an engineering perspective. Sure, there were definitely a few tough problems that had to be solved. There are several pyramids in Egypt that show the earlier attempts. They weren’t so good. But the engineers learned. Once the problems were solved, it was just a matter of implementation. And that is the true marvel of the ancient world.

Managing a project on that scale with the huge workforce and supply problems they had would have been impossible if not for that other human invention: Bureaucracy. Yes, that’s one thing the Egyptians had (made possible by another invention: Writing). Contrary to popular belief, bureaucracy doesn’t guarantee inefficiency. It’s often impossible to get things done without it.

But There ARE Real Limits

I was thinking about this pyramid situation just last week. You see, there are real limits in the universe. As far as we know, you can’t go faster than light. You can’t get any colder than zero Kelvin. And you can’t convince a creationist that he’s wrong.

My recent article, “Reality Denialism and the Limits of Belief“, grew out of this situation. I realized that the reason some people think that humans couldn’t have built the pyramids is because those people have a misconception of what life was like back then. They don’t appreciate how sophisticated Egyptian society already was, and they don’t appreciate just how much work you can do without power tools. That makes a human construction of the pyramids beyond the technical limit of belief for the human-made-pyramid deniers. Since they can’t conceive of any way humans could have done it, the only other explanation that makes sense is aliens. Aliens always have advanced technology with flashing lights and cool whirring sounds. Surely, somebody who has flashing lights and cool whirring sounds can build anything.

But as I said, there are universal limits. I was confronted with this when I had to fix my iPod. You may recall my earlier article about how God works in mysterious ways, such as through iPod repair. The little Toshiba hard drive I ordered arrived last week. I knew, of course, that the thing had to be smaller than the iPod, in order to fit inside of it:

Relative sizes of iPod and hard drive

Overhead view, showing relative sizes. (A) iPod;
(B) hard drive; (C)
Rattus norvegicus (for scale)

As you can see, the hard drive is a bit narrower and shorter than the iPod.

OK. So far, so good. But check out this side view:

Relative sizes of iPod and hard drive

Side view, showing relative sizes. (A) iPod;
(B) hard drive; (C) two quarters (for scale)

Are you freakin’ kidding me?! That’s a god-damned hard drive, and it’s barely the thickness of a couple of quarters! I just assumed that the thing would be almost as thick as the iPod. Sure, there has to be room for the logic board, but they can make those fairly thin. In fact, the hard drive goes between two layers of foam, which they use for shock absorption. So the inside of your iPod is so spacious that they have room for the logic board, the battery, the hard drive, and two freakin’ layers of foam!

I don’t think you comprehend what’s going on here. The significance of what I’m saying. The ramifications for human society.

Do you have any idea how big a gigabyte is? Sure, it’s a billion bytes. But do you comprehend just how big a billion is?

  • One billion seconds ago was the year 1976 CE. (There were still liberals in America!)
  • One billion minutes ago was the year 106 CE. (John McCain wasn’t even born!)
  • One billion hours ago was the year 112,147 BCE. (Humans were living in caves!)
  • One billion days ago was the year 2,737,718 BCE. (Humans didn’t even exist!)

So a gigabyte is huge. And there’s thirty of them in that tiny drive!

Some things go beyond the credible.

I don’t care how ingenious we are. We can’t be that good.

This hard drive has to be alien technology. That’s the only possible explanation.

After all, it makes a cool whirring sound.

21 Responses to “My Own Limits of Belief”

  1. Vjatcheslav Says:

    If the intelligence and rationality of those who think that the pyramids were built by aliens was exemplary of the human race, I would think they were right.

  2. Sarah Says:

    It’s hard to comprehend or at least see in a mind’s eye view without a visual to go off of. That’s simply human nature…

  3. neil h Says:

    I was amazed at the size of the 1Gb memory card for my phone – it was smaller than my little finger nail and not much thicker. Absolutely amazing to think I am carrying that much storage around in my shirt pocket.

  4. Warren Says:

    What’s even more amazing is that my first PC, which purchased less than 20 years ago, had a 20MB hard drive. 20MB for the entire desktop, I don’t even think you can buy a storage device with only 20MB of space anymore. So yes I can see why you are saying this is the work of aliens, incredible, fanciful, illegal aliens.

  5. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Well, before that photo, I was absolutely convinced that humans built the pyramids. But CLEARLY it was giant parrots. The evidence is in the pictures! I’m sure the government is hiding the fossils and possibly even a live specimen. None of my parrots have really constructed anything more complicated than a rudamentary nest out of paper and string, but it makes a lot more sense that giant parrots simply built pyramid shaped nests out of stone that us silly dumb humans used after the eggs hatched. Clearly!

  6. Ron Britton Says:

    Jason:

    You are correct. I was fiddling around with different time periods (weeks, months, etc.) and got my examples mixed up. It was one billion years ago that mammals didn’t exist. I decided not to use a billion years, but somehow kept the example. I usually write these late at night, and that’s the result. It’s fixed now.

  7. ginger1981 Says:

    I question the intellectual capacity of anyone who believes what they read in Weekly World News.

    Though to be honest, I think this one is true.

  8. Jason Failes Says:

    One billion days ago was the year 2,737,718 BCE. (Mammals didn’t even exist!)

    I think you mean humans. Mammals were definitely around 3 million years ago.

  9. Jesse Says:

    If you want to make your head hurt with big numbers try to wrap it around the supported capacity of the ZFS file system, which is 128 bit (2^128th power bytes). According to Sun, the energy required to store that much data would literally boil the oceans.

    100% human. If somebody figures out how to do that without boiling the oceans then just skip the aliens and straight to magic.

  10. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I dunno, Jesse… I could, tonight, come up with a file system that had a 256 bit address space. It would be a pointless file system, but it could be done. With that I’m sure you could exhaust the remainder of the Sun’s energy (speculating), but without having actually achieved said maximal limits on storage capacity, I don’t really see ZFS’s 128-bit address space being that impressive, in and of itself. Now, the capacity to beyond 64-bit is good (as he said, the target audience is already less than 14 doublings away from needing at least 65-bit address space). 128-bit was logical simply because it was “double 64″ or 2^7 (64 being 2^6) bits, and these days storage isn’t really a concern when it comes to computations. It’s just as easy to load 128 bits into two 64-bit registers as it is to, say, load 96 bits into two 64-bit registers.

    Whoa, I got to geek out on BoF. Sorry for straying so far. I guess back on topic, I’m more impressed with implementation than just specs. ;-) Indeed, if somebody figures that out without boiling oceans, we will have superceded magic, aliens, and all that. :-)

  11. Brian Says:

    As everyone knows, humans built the pyramids, but we were told how to do it by alien predators we worshipped as gods who came here to hunt another alien species that grew inside human hosts who willingly sacrificed themselves to this fate. Of course, things got out of hand when the alien-to-predator ratio became untenable, so to make things all better, the predators annihilated the aliens with their amazingly portable bombs, unfortunately taking the human civilization with it. Hence the sudden collapse of these cultures.

    (Parrotlover, I’ll see your geek out and raise you!)

    It really is amazing to consider just how advanced many ancient civilizations were. In addition to the Egyptians, there were the Minoans, who out-Romed the Romans in many ways. There were the Mayans and the Incans, whose cultures not only made tremendous strides in astronomy and agriculture, but also managed to thrive and flourish in delicate ecosystems for centuries without putting too much pressure on the environment around them. The Chinese (don’t ask me which dynasty or dynasties were responsible) built the largest wall on Earth, and they weren’t even worried about Mexicans sneaking in illegally!

    Yet many people arrogantly, perhaps with even a touch of racism, assume that these cultures were far too “primitive” to know their asses from holes in the ground. These people existed, in their own unique ways, for far longer than what we think of as Western Civilization has been around, and they did it, incidentally, without knowing dick about Jesus or that stupid ark.

  12. Jesse Says:

    It’s true, what’s impressive about ZFS are things like snapshots and storage pools (worth installing OpenSolaris just to play with, btw). I got on the mental ZFS track from thinking about actual limits versus limits of belief. I figured 2^128th was easier to get into than quantum limits to Moore’s Law.

    For me, what we’ve done with software is much more impressive than hardware. Don’t get me wrong, all forms of physical engineering are very difficult, requiring leaps of creativity and insight along with Herculean patience for trial and error. But from a complexity standpoint, contemporary software is a mind-blowing accomplishment. It’s probably one of the reasons there are a lot of atheist programmers (trying to get back on topic…).

  13. ericsan Says:

    Pfff. Everybody knows the pyramids were built by the Goa’uld as landing pads for Ha’tak class starships.
    http://stargate-sg1-solutions.com/wiki/Ha'tak

  14. Ron Britton Says:

    Ericsan:

    You must be right! That page is now blank! The government is suppressing the truth!

  15. ericsan Says:

    OMG! Terrifying! They’re onto us! This link may work better:
    http://stargate-sg1-solutions.com/wiki/Ha%27tak

  16. melior Says:

    Managing a project on that scale with the huge workforce and supply problems they had would have been impossible if not for that other human invention: Bureaucracy.

    I thought you were gonna say “slavery”.

  17. Ron Britton Says:

    There is some debate over whether the Egyptians actually used slaves, and if they did, what percentage of the workforce they were. I don’t know what the consensus of historians currently is.

  18. Bacopa Says:

    Wow! You’ve got a rat! I love rats.

    Don’t forget about the racism of the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis. They never say the Roman aqueducts were laid out with laser beams from spaceships. Why not? The Romans were white people! But there’s no way those browner people could have done anything impressive. The Pantheon dome can be so close to perfectly round, but those stocky little Andean people couldn’t have traced the Nazca figures.

    BTW, I won’t know whether the pyramid builders were slaves or not, but they treated very well. An analysis of their bodies reveals almost no sign of nutritional stress and that they got effective medical care for on the job injuries.

  19. Sue Blue Says:

    You’ve gotta love those big, big numbers! That’s why I always laugh when I hear some creationist blathering on about how there hasn’t been enough time for all of the mutations to occur to get from single-celled organisms a couple of billion years ago to the life we have today. These folks obviously don’t have even the vaguest conception of “deep time”.

    I had a biology teacher in high school who gave one of the best illustrations of the enormity of these numbers that I’ve ever seen. He passed around a huge, thick paperback book. Every single page, all one thousand of them, was printed top to bottom and side to side with tiny black dots, a thousand dots per page. He let us thumb through the book, contemplating all those dots, while he brought some large boxes into the room on a dolly. “There are one million dots in that book,” he said. “Imagine that each of those dots is one year.”

    He pulled what looked like more of the million-dot books out of the boxes and stacked them up. “Ten books – ten million years”. It was a big stack. “Now, imagine six stacks like this, plus three extra books. That takes us back to the dinosaurs.” He let us think about that for a while, then asked us to imagine ten stacks of ten books, then ten times that. Finally, he had us envisioning four thousand books packed into the school, with five hundred more spilling out onto the lawn. “And that’s how old the earth is.”

  20. cipher Says:

    One billion seconds ago was the year 1976 CE. (There were still liberals in America!)

    I’ve heard this before, but I don’t really believe it. I’ve never seen any transitional forms!

  21. LadyRavana Says:

    Hey, Ron. I’m a liberal.

    We haven’t gone extinct. We’re still alive and well. ;)