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No. 3022:

by Rev. John W. Price

Today, the impacts of our assumptions. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

We're all laden down with basic assumptions that can easily govern our thinking and responses, blinding us to reality at times. I'll give some examples. Here's a recent and timely one.

Some of you will know the not-too-obvious answer to this riddle, but hang on, there's a switch coming: "A man and his son are riding along in an automobile. There's a terrible wreck ' broken arms and legs all around. They are rushed to the Emergency Room and placed in separate cubicles. The ER doctor goes into the cubicle with the little boy and says, "I cannot operate on this child. He is my son." 

light-emitting diode (LED) bulb producing the equivalent of a 75-watt incandescent bulb. Uses 12 watts of electricity. Photo Credit: Rev. John Price

Question: What relation is the ER doctor to the boy on the gurney?

Many people puzzle and stumble over this. The obvious answer had to be explained to me: it's his mother! Let me tell you, though, just who else flunked this riddle: two of my female physicians and their female nurses. One had feminist posters all over her office. But the one that surprised me the most was a female, ER doctor of a famous hospital here in town. This is particularly puzzling when you hear that more than 50% of the medical students these days are women. It just takes a while to change our automatic assumptions, doesn't it?

But wait, there's more, as they say in the TV ads.

I was with my family and some friends. Our 14-year-old grandson was there, with a classmate. At one point, my grandson was in another room so I posed this same riddle to his young friend. So, I asked, what relation is the ER doctor to the little boy on the stretcher?

Edison Bulb
Standard 60 watt "Edison" type tungsten filament bulb Photo Credit: Rev. John Price

He said, without any hesitation, "Oh, it's a gay couple and it's his other dad." We adults who knew the usual tricky answer were stunned at this rather more up-to-date one. My grandson walked in and I posed the riddle to him. And he replied, "Oh, it's a gay couple and it's his other dad." Again! I asked, do you guys have classmates with 2 dads or 2 moms? "Oh, yeah," came the answer. Old hat to them. But notice, he was still assuming the doc' was a male.

Later, we saw some gay friends: none of them thought of this more modern answer and were themselves quite surprised. I asked this of two gay couples, each with an adopted son. Neither of them got it and were as shocked and stunned as I had been when my grandson's friend came up with the up-to-date answer.

We're all laden down with basic assumptions that hold us back from advancement at times. How long were we wed to the ubiquitous Edison tungsten filament light bulb giving off poor light and a lot of heat? We stayed with them through various energy crises while light-emitting diodes were all around us in assorted electronic devices. We like the money our LED lights are saving us.

60 watt diode
Light-emitting diode bulb, 60-watt equivalent, uses 9.6 watts. The white plastic parts do get hot to the touch. Photo Credit: Rev. John Price

As well, how long will it be before we convert all automobiles to the new fuel-saving hybrid car technology? I like the 42 miles per gallon I'm getting in mine. These assumptions stifle our creativity in untold ways. The challenge is how to stimulate our thinking to explore alternate pathways.

I'm the Rev. John Price and interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

This episode was first aired on September 4, 2015