Sunday, March 15, 2015

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Image of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr from Wikipedia

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was first published in 1849. It continues to prove itself today.

Take the attitude toward science. In the Age of Reason, science developed as a calmly rational method of inquiry. Over time, it evolved into hardened set of beliefs. This idea, expounded by Rupert Sheldrake, has caused some emotional attacks on him.

Let's face it. Humans are irrational. They believe what they like, and prop up their ideas by being careful to hang out with those who understand the "truths" that others consider "delusions."

In an article called "The Misinformation Age," reprinted by the Vancouver Sun on March 7, Tom Spears, Science Reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, shows how many people disagree with scientific "facts." For example, he cites an Angus Reid poll stating that although scientists consider the measles vaccine safe, 28% of Canadians distrust it.

In the same article, Spears discusses a US study commissioned by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. The CEO of that organization says the poll shows that science is being "trumped" by individual ignorance, along with personal economic and religious belief systems. Perhaps the significant idea here is belief systems. It is so much easier to adopt ready- made systems of belief than to laboriously evolve one's own knowledge and thought.

Moreover, in the age of the internet, most people have little idea of how to assess the landslides of information that come at them daily. Many handle the resulting overwhelm, and the challenges of the new technology, by gathering like-minded internet communities around them, venturing outside these insular belief clubs only to direct emotional attacks against those who disagree.

As philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue: a Study in Moral Theory, 3rd Ed.) explains, people holding vastly different belief systems cannot have rational discussions as they are arguing from "incommensurable premises."

A fascinating aspect of all this is the psychological truism that, as Spears says, our beliefs are "very personal, and resistant even to overwhelming evidence." Contradicting those who are wrong or misguided simply doesn't work. In fact it tends to make their views more entrenched.

Charles Weijer, a philosopher, physician and bioethicist from Western University, says that science is based on trust. Although opposition to it is not new, it is becoming more widespread as stories abound of the misuse, faking and suppression of scientific evidence.

No comments:

Post a Comment