Sunday, February 15, 2015

If ever you need proof that deep down we are animals ...

The students who make the ultimate mistake of listening to me know how much I emphasize that education, all of it and especially the sciences, challenges the gut-instincts we might have about many aspects of life.  About this planet and elsewhere.  Think about it--our gut instincts will tell us that the sun moves around the earth.  Our gut instinct will lead us to resist the idea that injecting a small dose of a virus in kids will help them develop immunity against diseases that could even kill them.

Education nukes that gut instinct.

But, deep down, we are animals.  And, like other animals, we rely on our instincts.  Right?

Ah well, I am merely channeling an essay by Isaac Asimov that was a part of our curriculum back in the high school years in India.  I remember how I was impressed then, as I am even now, that the progress humans have realized over the centuries has been through a systematic inquiry into those gut instincts and to essentially destroy those ideas.

Yet, science is hard to believe.  Those damn animal instincts just don't die ;)
We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change — faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative.
Science is more than learning the periodic table, or mouthing off how humans evolved.
In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle, that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
Our continued reliance on our gut instincts essentially means that we do not choose to believe in the laws of nature.
we subconsciously cling to our intuitions — what researchers call our naive beliefs.
They say "naive beliefs" but I prefer gut- or animal-instincts.
as we become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely. They nest in our brains, chirping at us as we try to make sense of the world.
Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics.
While our instincts provide us with narratives that absolutely convince us, "science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be."
Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else — but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.
Aha, now I have one more argument in favor of continuing to operate outside of tribes.  
On my own, if needed. 
In my ashram ;)

2 comments:

Anne in Salem said...

Yes, your tribe. It has a name, by the way. I am reading The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel, and he uses the term "gentleman scholar" to describe one of the MFAA men - "a professional university man uninterested in publishing (so this doesn't fit you) or career advancement, but rather enamored of intellectual pursuits and long, leisurely conversations and debates with those of a similar intellectual bent." Sound familiar?

Re today's post: I just received my March issue of National Geographic with its cover story entitled The War on Science, with five sub-headlines including "Evolution Never Happened" and "Vaccinations Can Lead to Autism." I know people who deny science for religious reasons, and I find that as puzzling as relying on instinct.

Sriram Khé said...

Takes all kinds of people ...

"a professional university man uninterested in publishing (so this doesn't fit you) or career advancement, but rather enamored of intellectual pursuits and long, leisurely conversations and debates with those of a similar intellectual bent."

Yes, I like to think that it fits me like a glove. I am uninterested in publishing--the conventional university publishing is all about books and journal articles. I am not only uninterested in that, in this blog I often refer to that kind of publishing (by most) as intellectual onanism!

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