Chain of Embroidered Disappointments.. Dr. Khaled Alyahya..

25 October 2018

Dr. Khaled Suliman Alyahya is a Saudi executive, writer, intellectual and TV presenter. During his life, he held many positions in the fields of culture and education. He started as a lecturer of Physics in King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals. He then became the head of the Medical Physics Department in Saad Specialist Hospital in Khobar. Then, he was the programs director at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture “Ithra”. Currently, he works as a consultant in the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future in the United Arab Emirates. He got his Master’s and PhD degrees in Medical Physics from McGill University in Canada. He participated in “Tanween” at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture “Ithra” on October 20, 2018, with a lecture titled “The Chain of Embroidered Disappointments”. In his lecture, he talks about the senility that happens to people’s information and beliefs; and explains how acquiring new information leads to these beliefs changing, and even disrupts them and shakes them. He gave examples of the personal things he learned that changed in content and definition as time passed. He took a journey through time in his notebooks, starting from his teenage years.

Dr. Khaled introduced the audience to his notebooks through a collection of photos for his old notebook. He read the contents of those written pieces which constitute of texts and phrases he once found beautiful and inspiring, but now thinks they lost their meaning, due to the intellectual and personal growth and change. However, he thinks of these notebooks as his true intellectual biography. On this point, Dr. Khaled recalled his interest in Agatha Christie’s famous detective novels when he was young, and his admiration for her wit and clever writing, which made her a top selling author. However, he was shocked and disappointed after reading her last novel “Elephants Can Remember,” which he considered to be horrible. He lost interest in the writer afterwards, yet tried to make excuses for her, justifying her bad writing with the fact that he grew up and his interests have changed, and that his emotions have become more complicated. Following that, he started researching and reading stories of heroic acts, great figures and decisive answers; and writing the fascinating information and discoveries in his notebook.

One of these discoveries written by Dr. Alyahya is a historical story about a Dutch sailor who was imprisoned because he ate what he thought was an onion, but turned out to be a bud of an exotic plant that was sent to the Netherlands by the Ottoman Sultan. The plant carries its seeds in what looks like an onion for a full year, and blooms for seven days only. The people were both interested and excited for this plant that was called the Lily or “the Tulip”, and were eager to buy it. That phase was referred to as the “Tulip Mania”. Each bud was sold for what amounts to a whole year’s pay or the cost of a furnished house in Amsterdam. But the unexpected happened, and the madness stopped one day. People were invited to a public auction, but no one wanted to buy the plant. The plant’s market value soon decreased, and many people lost their money. Sadness dominated the society, due the resulting economic crisis, excluding writers, and writer “Charles Mackay” in particular. The latter found this an opportunity to write his book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," which speaks of the human tendency to take part in crowd stupidity. Dr. Alyahya considered this book very influential and inspirational, and so wrote about it in his notebook.. knowing he will get back to his notes in the future.

Dr. Alyahya spoke about another story he wrote in his old notebook about the “Heretical Rod”. The protagonist in this story was the American scientist and politician, Benjamin Franklin, who discovered electricity. Franklin wrote a letter in the eighteenth century about an experiment he did, saying he can catch lighting using a kite with a metal piece at its end. He discovered that he can attract an electrical charge from the lightning by using a rod that discharges the electricity in the ground and prevents it from hitting and destroying buildings. Following this discovery, people started to install metal rods on the buildings roofs. However, the Catholic church did not like this, and was angry as this was thought to be an interference in “God’s anger.” The year 1769 witnessed a heavy rainfall. The lighting hit the highest point in the city, which was the church’s cross, and burnt it, which caused an explosion in the church’s storeroom, due to the gunpowder under it. A year after this, the heretical rod was standing at the ceiling of the church to protect it.

The heroes and protagonists in the past examples and stories changed their beliefs with the development and availability of knowledge tools, and the discovery of new information. This teaches us to make sure we continuously seek new knowledge, as it is in a continuing and progressing state. The mentioned stories have resurfaced in Dr. Alyahya’s life to change their events and his beliefs. The stories “Benjamin Franklin” and his “Heretical Rod” later faced a strange kind of disruption. Scientists ruled out the likelihood of the kite’s story happening, due to the lack of evidence for once, and for its danger and lethality in that time. This makes part of the written history questionable, in spite of the success of “lighting rod” invention. This, in turn, affects our beliefs and opinions.

In the same context, Dr. Alyahya said he went back to re-read the story of “the history’s most expensive onion,” only to discover that recent studies haven’t found any proof of the “tulip mania” incident, and its following consequences -of people selling their properties and the imprisonment of the sailor.- The book turned out to be a fictional story based on a gambling activity that happened among a limited group of people in the Netherlands, and did not reach the rest of the nation as the book claimed, and as is still taught in Economics till this day. Dr. Alyahya later returned to Agatha Christie’s last novel, which was a disappointment to critics and to Alyahya personally. There was a general agreement on the writer’s loss of her writing skills, due to the weak plot and the confusing events. But using Data Science, scientists recently conducted researches to analyze the novel. The researches showed a noticeable change in the writer’s language and style, when compared to her previous works. It also found a 20% decrease in the variation of used words, in addition to her usage of colloquial words. And finally there were holes in the chronological order of events.

These details indicate that the writer had Alzheimer (dementia), an illness that affects the memory. It is worth mentioning that the protagonist of the story was herself a famous novelist who suffers from old age and memory loss, and as a result, she couldn’t help the detective in solving a case. This raises questions about Agatha’a knowledge of her condition and whether or not she was talking about herself and defending herself with the last sentence of the novel that said “Maybe it is acceptable to forget sometimes”. The evidence doesn’t stop here.. the title of the novel could also be an indication of this possibility. It took forty years to realize that the writer was implying something she couldn’t state clearly. This discovery compelled Dr. Alyahya to go back to the starting point and change his mind about the reasons for his loss of interest in her writings.

The speaker said he once believed people’s knowledge was limited to the number of definite answers they have, but this belief changed with time. Now, he believes that it is defined by the number of wrong answers that he once believed in. In his opinion, mistakes are like the engravings on a tree.. the tree grows and expands, but the engravings don’t. People also grow, while their mistakes remain the same. Every mistake in a person’s history can be likened with embroidery, that makes knowledge more beautiful. This makes the person’s different stages and phases a “chain of embroidered disappointments”.