Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Twain Science

Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred an fifteen miles long one hundred and sevety-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently is length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and “let on” to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in the late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor “development of species” either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague—vague—vague. Please observe:--

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year, Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old O├Âlitic 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 seven hundred and forty-two years form now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of alderman. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such a wholesome return of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of time.

Mark Twain, from "Life on the Mississippi".

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