The call went out to all who cared to ponder the possibilities. Richard Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who birthed the concept of Behavioral Economics, posited the following. "I am interested in things we once thought were true and took forever to unlearn. I am looking for wrong scientific beliefs that we've already learned were wrong,"
He stirred the cauldron with the flat earth and geocentricity theories. I kept thinking of alchemy. At it's core, alchemy is the pursuit of creating gold from base metals. People in the earliest complex societies have been trying for thousands of years. And there's more to it than gold: there's also the healing and prolonged (if not eternal) life part. So if invention springs from the efforts of previous giants, we can thank multitudes of names lost to history for proto materials science and medicine.
Prof. Thaler also asks for insights as to why we cling to incorrect beliefs for a very long time, in the quest for principles of acceptance of scientific truths. In a bit of armchair anthropologist theorizing, I'd speculate that in many facets of our lives we have much invested in the beliefs that prop up our worldviews which allow us to function in some way that makes sense to us in the cultures we find ourselves in.
Some believe that a divine being actively participates in our daily lives. We are blessed with children, rain, or a fortunate outcome in war or trade. It was "meant to be". Moreover, humans have implored the divine for positive interventions. After all, this is the basis of moral behavior. Still, if we can help ourselves, we see abundant divine gifts available if we can only discover their uses. Since iron can be made with a combination of elements manipulated certain ways, then why not expect the possibility of gold to be an outcome of other manipulations. Or, if certain herbs lead to fever reduction, why not expect a heart to restart, or living to 120 years?
(insert Princess Bride reference to bringing back to life someone who is "almost dead")
Eventually, such expectations may become imperative among the desperate. Producing gold and an elixir of youth are, we think now, fantastical endeavors. And yet if we can produce the fantastic (which can seem possible when a new scientific achievement is accomplished), the deed can seem to have sprung from manipulation of the very hand of god(s). Who has the power to bend the will of the divine? Possessing and harnessing fantastical powers, or even persuading others of the possibilities while faking the results, requires a population that believes in the assumptions behind fantastical claims and "proofs". And of course, also belief in what constitutes proof.
(insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference to the logic behind determining whether a woman is, in fact, a witch)
And so especially for those with much to lose if such beliefs are undermined, and here I think of socio-political institutions, maintaining a status quo is imperative. Why new scientific ideas become widely accepted is another post. Well, it's whole books that better thinkers than I have already written.
Experience researcher of built environments with an anthropology provenance. Copyright 2004-2017