Canidates for the Flat Earth Society

There are those who are without curiosity, doubt, or even a sense of independent truth. In the extreme case, they can hold on to beliefs that experience, empirical evidence, scientific evidence, even simple common sense refute. To some degree, we are all culpable in this regard. However, when the habit becomes elevated to an ideology, a self-sealing , tautological certitude impervious to countervailing argument or fact -whether it be in scientific inquiry as in a particular school of thought – or in religious, economic, political or moral dogma, then it becomes serious – a barrier to learning. And it merits being called out for commentary and ridicule.

The Flat Earth Society is a real society that continues to believe that the earth is flat. A striking assertion in light of all the scientific evidence but evidence of a human capacity, indeed proclivity to deny those facts or opinions that contradict deeply held convictions or introduce a level of discomfort or uncertainty into one’s life. Indeed one of the reasons, that fundamental, disruptive innovations in a field take roughly 30 years to be adopted may be due to the particular neurophysiology of the human brain, that is, the intertwining of the limbic system with the cognitive system; in short, our emotions tune out thoughts, what and how we remember things, what we think as important. People become emotionally vested in ideas having a certain character that is comforting to them – in fact or in their imagination.

Candidates for nomination need not be limited to the obvious – such as George W. Bush, Osama Ben Ladin, John Ashcroft, Richard Cheney, Richard Perle, etc. etc., but could also include the highly literate, accomplished and intellectual, Noam Chomsky both as a political theorist and a linguist, even a Richard Dawkins, or Milton Friedman. Every field has its candidates, where individuals come to believe that they are the embodiments of a complete truth and that its their job to route out and dispatch non believers. The challenge here is to point out the blatant absurdity and indeed danger of the literal fundamentalists whether it be in science, politics or culture. The admonition is that knowledge is always incomplete and the point is to state one’s ideas in such a fashion that they can be disproven. Science is a social activity and new norms of “shaming and faming” are needed to advance scientific thought and achieve greater accountability and thereby accelerate the time it takes to shed comfortable dogma for valid new cultural and scientific ideas and technologies.

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