Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Believe me, believe me not...

What makes a person decide to believe something? It seems very unlikely that people will just believe 50% of everything they are told is "true" and then disbelieve the other 50%. And there is also the "pollster" effect -- that people are more likely to say they believe something if it is expected of them within the context of a question.
Louis XIV visiting the  Académie des sciences ...Likewise, if I suddenly found myself surrounded by whooping and hollering painted savages who revere the great stone Volcano God, I doubt that I would just argue about the fine points of it all, or point out how silly such a thing is. I would probably just whoop and holler along with them, in fear that I might be found to "believe" the wrong thing.

Yet, in any of these instances the belief is a public thing -- a social thing. It is not necessarily what you believe regardless of any peer pressure. If you are in a cowboy bar, I doubt you are going to shout anything about why everyone is wearing those big hats and buckles. Nobody wants to get beat up over inconsequential things, so you just go along with it.

Science is my "thing", but it is a very dangerous thing for all the above reasons and more. Cowboys in the late 1800s, confronted with the scientific fact that their longhorn cows were spreading diseases would just as soon shoot you as listen to reason. That was their livelihood you were messin' with.

In the current day, oil and coal is the big thing and it is spreading a lot of death around, although mostly in less obvious ways. Most people don't care if this or that microbe in the ocean is dying off. Or even that coral reefs are dying off. Just so long as they can drive to work everyday and heat the house in the winter -- who cares about those bugs and slimy things anyway?

So, it is very popular nowadays to belittle scientists as being "blinded by science", or greedy for "research funding" or whatever. If you think greed is the issue, you should try being a scientist. They generally aren't rich people. And being blinded by a whole bunch of measurements and collections of facts is hardly worse than checking how much you pay for those shoes and making sure you're pants fit before you buy them.

There are also scientists who somewhat smugly ridicule "lesser educated folks" and try to push their objectivity theories as a kind of superior religion which should supplant all inferior belief systems as a matter of course. Whereas there may be good reason to push away "snake oil" religions and the harmful practices of savage rituals, there is hardly any reason to worship nuclear explosions as being more holy than anything else, either.

But you must ask yourself, in a world filled with exceptionally large amounts of discarded chemicals and nuclear waste -- do you believe that magical fairies will fix it all?

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