Holy formulas

The Northern civilisation had collapsed. It was the oldest of the civilisations on the planet Zaphon, colonised by humans some ten thousand years ago (considering their reference of time). They have one moon and orbit an orange-red star like our Sun. The planet is a bit smaller than the Earth, but has a 22-hour day and 400 days in a year. During these years, they occupied the entire planet and built a base on their moon. They aren’t aware of the existence of the Earth (as we aren’t aware of their existence either). I just know this because I hosted a space-time traveler last week: a 356-year old planetary anthropologist, and he told me many stories. This was one of them.

Zaphon had changed. The Northern civilisation was the most developed of the three large civilisations that had ever occupied the planet. They built the base on the moon, which was once populated by their scientists and by scientists from other nations. That base is now empty. Their civilisation had invested heavily in the sciences. They foresaw their collapse and knew it would happen sooner or later. They knew how to survive, but they also acknowledged their limitations. Their civilisation was collapsing from inside. The practical results of their scientific advances had infected the majority of the population, in particular the ones who had more power. They invested less in science, and conservatively held on to the practical results they had achieved in the past. The other two civilisations, which were less advanced, gradually became larger and more powerful, benefiting from those results. While they were less organised as civilisations, and mostly despised Northern values, they benefited from the advances developed in the North.

Now the remaining two civilisations, one from the South, the other from the West, are rivals. They compete to be the most advanced civilisation in Zaphon. Their goal is to recover and repopulate the base the Northern civilisation built on the moon.

Culturally, the Southern civilisation is closer, but they differ in cultural values. Southern leaders believe that their nation has improved Northern methods. They say that they discovered a way to accelerate development, so that they wouldn’t need all the time and effort the Northern civilisation invested in its success. They also say that the Northern methods were dated, although in the past they had shared and admired Northern values. Actually, the opinion that Northern values were dated was based on studies made by the Northern scientists themselves. The Southern civilisation was always looking for the shortest path to success. They used the Northern data, discovered how to extract the essential parts, and would then announce they had discovered a new method, better than all the others, and then they would criticise the original method. That solution, of course, had serious flaws. It worked, many times, because it focused on pragmatism and was always applied to quick, short term projects, without really caring about the long term consequences. Unlike the Northern civilisation, the Southern civilisation was very sensitive to criticism. They would never publish a study saying any of their own methods was dated, although there were voices among them that pointed out these flaws.
Now, after the collapse, the Southern civilisation occupied most of the Northern cities. There was no war. The occupation restored basic infrastructure in the Northern cities and increased the Southern population by 10%.

The Western civilisation was separated from the other two by the sea. They never really shared any cultural ties with the Northern civilisation and their differences weren’t only cultural, but also ethnic. They aren’t as noisy as the Southern population, so they sometimes surprise the world with some practical result of their silent researches. They always despised Northern values, but they learned to use and improve the Northern techniques to success. In the beginning they had no idea how to do it, and didn’t want to replace their culture with a foreign one, so they simply tried to copy what was done in the other nation. In that sense, they invested more in science than their Southern counterparts, and arrived at more unpractical results. On the other hand, they had more control and knowledge about the process, so in the long run, they were able to discover new solutions to old problems that the Southern civilisation hadn’t been able to discover, since they basically built on Northern results, which were dated.

The Western civilisation never cared about the Southern civilisation. But now, after the collapse of the Northern civilisation, they are competing to be the first nation of the planet Zaphon to arrive at the moon station.

The Southern civilisation based all its effort in reusing Northern rockets, which, they believed, would produce a quicker result. But after many experiments where rockets exploded and many people died, they decided to invest in new scientists. They decided to teach physics in school to all children, focusing on the practical results more than on the fundamentals. There were prizes for the ones with the highest grades. The kids knew all the formulas to solve any problem. The ones with the highest grades were employed in the rocket industry.

Kids in the Western civilisation didn’t know any physics formulas, but they were taught fundamentals on how to research and solve problems in general. When they were older they learned advanced physics and could calculate routes as well. Several of the Western rockets also exploded, but there weren’t as many victims since they advanced slower and learned from their own mistakes. Every year there were international physics contests and sometimes the West would win, other times the South would win.

One day, a young Southern scientist discovered a fundamental flaw in Northern rocket technology, and published his observations an international physics journal. The flaw would require a change in all the formulas. The Southern scientific community did not react well. He was heavily criticised by older scientists and the media. His main critic was an internationally acclaimed scientist who published the formulas used in all school textbooks. He was also a very popular celebrity and some kind of national hero. Politicians even accused the young scientist of hindering the nation’s development and suggested that his research should no longer receive any public money.

While the Southern schools were deciding if they should change or not their formulas, their scientists who worked in the space program knew better and decided to try out the changes. It was difficult for most of them since their education was based on learning the practical formulas, but not what they actually meant. In the meantime, the Western scientists, which didn’t depend on any magic formulas, quickly applied the correction to their own projects and, after a couple of months of research, successfully designed a rocket which safely landed four Western astronauts on Zaphon’s moon.


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