Two articles on why we have trouble adopting new ideas

Why bad ideas refuse to die

“They may have been disproved by science or dismissed as ridiculous, but some foolish beliefs endure. In theory they should wither away – but it’s not that simple”

“Many ideas have been brilliantly upgraded or repurposed for the modern age, and their revival seems newly compelling. Some ideas from the past, on the other hand, are just dead wrong and really should have been left to rot. When they reappear, what is rediscovered is a shambling corpse. These are zombie ideas. You can try to kill them, but they just won’t die. And their existence is a big problem for our normal assumptions about how the marketplace of ideas operates.

“The phrase “marketplace of ideas” was originally used as a way of defending free speech. Just as traders and customers are free to buy and sell wares in the market, so freedom of speech ensures that people are free to exchange ideas, test them out, and see which ones rise to the top. Just as good consumer products succeed and bad ones fail, so in the marketplace of ideas the truth will win out, and error and dishonesty will disappear.”

Personal beliefs versus scientific innovation: getting past a flat Earth mentality

“Almost by definition, the most important and innovative scientific findings often go against people’s existing beliefs. If research that conforms to personal beliefs is favored, then any research that is based on new ideas runs the risk of being passed over. It takes a leap to imagine a round Earth when everyone’s always believed it to be flat.”

Why People “Fly from Facts”

“Research shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society

“As public debate rages about issues like immunization, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage, many people try to use science to bolster their arguments. And since it’s becoming easier to test and establish facts—whether in physics, psychology, or policy—many have wondered why bias and polarization have not been defeated. When people are confronted with facts, such as the well-established safety of immunization, why do these facts seem to have so little effect?”

Book: The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

“Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? In The Wayfinders, renowned anthropologist, winner of the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis leads us on a thrilling journey to celebrate the wisdom of the world’s indigenous cultures.

In Polynesia we set sail with navigators whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ. In the Amazon we meet the descendants of a true lost civilization, the Peoples of the Anaconda. In the Andes we discover that the earth really is alive, while in Australia we experience Dreamtime, the all-embracing philosophy of the first humans to walk out of Africa. We then travel to Nepal, where we encounter a wisdom hero, a Bodhisattva, who emerges from forty-five years of Buddhist retreat and solitude. And finally we settle in Borneo, where the last rainforest nomads struggle to survive.

Understanding the lessons of this journey will be our mission for the next century. For at risk is the human legacy — a vast archive of knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination. Rediscovering a new appreciation for the diversity of the human spirit, as expressed by culture, is among the central challenges of our time.”

Does science ever actually prove anything?

Below is a link to a letter signed by a large number of climate scientists about the reality of climate change. One provocative statement they make in defense of their work and against climate change skeptics is that “There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything.”

This letter caused a stir among other scientists, some of whom wrote and signed another letter making the argument that: “There is no reason to doubt the laws of physics governing acceleration and momentum. These laws are the basis for a large number of industrial operations, transportation and numerous other activities.”

An interesting exchange that gets to the nature of science and scientific knowledge.

Original letter:


Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

the caveA classic text in philosophical study. Through this dialogue Plato examines the nature of knowledge and reality.

Click to read the full text.

Below are summaries and analysis.

TED Talk: The Pursuit of Ignorance by Stuart Firestein

One of my favorite TED Talks.

“What does real scientific work look like? As neuroscientist Stuart Firestein jokes: It looks a lot less like the scientific method and a lot more like “farting around … in the dark.” In this witty talk, Firestein gets to the heart of science as it is really practiced and suggests that we should value what we don’t know — or “high-quality ignorance” — just as much as what we know.”