Saturday, November 25, 2006

Born Every Minute

I was having a conversation the other night with someone who admitted that invading Iraq was pretty clearly a mistake, but who also expressed her "love" of Joe Lieberman because "he's one of the few people who hasn't changed his position on the war". The midwest is a special place.

To be fair, though, a few days ago my girlfriend and I were discussing the strange things people on the Left Coast think. An old coworker of hers, for instance, rejects dietary supplements containing synthetic vitamins because they lack the "life force" you can get from vitamins extracted from natural sources. Similarly, I was once told at work that grouping students by birthday for a field trip was insufficiently random because we'd be concentrating zodiac signs.

My point is just that I think we tend to underestimate the prevalence of absurd beliefs.

7 comments:

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Go to Italy and it's all about the Saints. I think it's best if everyones absurd belief is unique, that way it makes it difficult for them to band together and effect public policy.

Aaron said...

Betrand Russell has an essay where he makes the point that, given how ridiculous we think that a belief in ghosts or flat earth is now, people in 400 years are probably going to think that most of the stuff that we believe today is pretty absurd.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I don't know... I tend to shy away from straight-line projections of the future like that. It should be pointed out that there was a time when people saw the situation exactly opposite: They used to assume that people from the past had a better understanding of the world than we do.

Though I certainly think that people will always be susceptible to unfounded beliefs (what the religious minded might call "faith") I'm of the opinion that forces are currently arrayed against it as evidenced by for example, the growing numbers of atheists in the world.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Difficult for them to band together and affect public policy? Um, like Evangelical Christians?

Aaron said...

Tom, I'm curious: what time was that and how credible was the claim, comparatively? I agree, though, that straight-line predictions are not a best fit -- personally, I'd assume that we'll accumulate knowledge at an exponential rate, thus making Russell's point even more emphatically.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Fair enough, it turns out the Greeks belief that the past held answers was not very well founded.

I should be clear though, What I meant was that, though our knowledge of the universe will always grow with time I don't think it'll always be the case that we'll fill in what we don't know with absurd beliefs. It very well could be that eventually humanity learns to say "I don't know".

Aaron said...

I take your point, though I think that there are countless historical examples of people attempting to do exactly that. Maybe humanity will grow up in that regard -- and maybe that number is decreasing -- but I'm pessimistic that it will ever reach zero, especially among those in power.