October 1980

Stuff About Things

Robert F. Turner

Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) wrote: "Since my own day on the Mississippi, cutoffs have been made at Hurricane Isle 100, and at Council Bend. These shortened the river 167 miles. In my time a cutoff was made at American Bend which shortened the river by 10 miles. Thus, the Mississippi river between Cairo and New Orleans was 1,215 miles 176 years ago ... its length is only 963 miles at present. If I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and 'let on' to prove what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! ... Please observe!

In the space of 176 years the Mississippi river has shortened itself 242 miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and 1/3 per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Olithis Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi river was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing rod!"

And by the same token any person can see that in 742 years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and New Orleans and Cairo will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and mutual board of aldermen.

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such trifling investments of fact."

(From "Life on the Mississippi.")

Do not conclude that Clements accepted the Bible account of creation. We publish this humorous note from his writings because it does point up a valid criticism of "generalization" and hasty conclusions drawn from insufficient evidence.

The wish of the student can usurp the authority of the object; and our background can "condition" us, so we read or hear what we are tuned to see or hear when our special "button" is pushed. None of us are immune to this problem, and we can overcome it only through constant effort.