They Are Temporal Provincials!

Alternately titled: The Universe is NOT Subtle

I picked up Michael Crichton’s Timeline on Saturday; I’d caught a bit of the movie on the SciFi channel when I was surfing the other day, and it reminded me how much I LOVED the book (the film, however, was a huge disappointment; don’t bother). I’m reading some pretty heavy material right now – I’m in the middle of two books dealing with war and war crimes at the moment – so I thought I’d revisit this really fun tale of quantum travel.

Seventy-three pages into it, I came to this passage:

He had a term for people like this; temporal provincials – people who were ignorant of the past, and proud of it.

Temporal provincials were convinced that the present was the only time that mattered, and that anything that had occurred earlier could be safely ignored. The modern world was compelling and new, and the past had no bearing on it. Studying history was as pointless as learning Morse code, or how to drive a horse-drawn wagon. And the medieval period – all those knights in clanking armor and ladies in gowns and pointy hats – was so obviously irrelevant as to be beneath consideration.

Yet the truth was that the modern world was invented in the Middle Ages. Everything from the legal system, to nation-states, to reliance on technology, to the concept of romantic love had first been established in medieval times. These stockbrokers owed the very notion of a market economy to the Middle Ages, and if they didn’t know that, then they didn’t know the basic facts of who they were*: why they did what they did, where they had come from.

Professor Johnston onften said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree.

*my emphasis

I’m bringing this passage in to class today.



Filed under concerns, Learning, Literature, Teaching

11 responses to “They Are Temporal Provincials!

  1. Oh, I’m writing THAT one down for my future history students!

  2. Isn’t Crichton GREAT?!

  3. Well, to be honest, I’ve only read four of his books – both “Jurassic Park” books, “Timeline,” and “Eaters of the Dead.” I liked both “Jurassic Park” novels and “Eaters of the Dead,” but I wasn’t impressed with “Timeline.”

  4. We totally should have thought of Crichton when we were brainstorming alternative speeches to bring to class, I bet there’s a lot of great stuff in his work.

    nhflacon, yeah, some of it is more interesting than others but I always find he’s worth a look.

  5. Whoops! I forgot “Rising Sun.” I’ve read “Rising Sun” and thought it was pretty good.

  6. bowyer

    As far as scientific theory goes, Crichton leaves much to be desired.

  7. Maybe so, Bowyer, but I LOVED that sentiment…

  8. His science is just sound enough to sound good. Someone call Mythbusters and ask them for an all Crichton edition!

  9. sphyrnatude

    OK, so any decent scientist will cringe at his work. BUT take a look at early science fiction – the Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein crowd from the late 50s and early 60s. They all had decent science as a basis for their work, but extrapolated it into (slightly) plausible future scenarios. What Crichton does is to ignore the science that doesn’t fit his plot, and make up filler. By my book ,its still science fiction (although drifting towards the fantasy side).
    My pet peeve? In Jurassic Park (the movie), they had a bunch of Wonderful Really Nice Zeiss microscopes (each one cost about what a house did in those days). Every friggin’ single one of them was set up (assembled) wrong. No way you could ever get an image out of it. At the time, I was spending a lot of time working on and at microscopes, and would have gladly surrendered my left nut for one of those babies. And they had a bunch of them, and couldn’t even be bothered to assemble them the right way…..

  10. Sphyrnatude, seriously? HOW many people in the general population would have noticed that? I mean, I completely understand your frustration, but you may be only one of a handful of people for whom that even registered.

  11. sphyrnatude

    Of course there is only a Very Small Portion of the general population that would have caught that, but I DID indicate that it was pet peeve…… I didn’t say it made any difference to movie overall (but it is a good example of Hollywood sloppines..)

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