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ZetaTalk: Human Infallibility
Note: written on Jan 15, 2002

In any discussion about human science there is more than discussion about facts, assumptions, and theories. There is also posturing and the need for comfort. Postulating a theory becomes, too often, a matter of ownership and pride. The theory thereafter cannot be wrong, or the owner is somehow discredited and falls in stature. Then there is the structure built around a theory - published books, lectures and curriculums, clubs meeting regularly and discussing the matter. All this is like a web, holding the theory up, and any attempt to change the theory brings howls of distress from the web which must likewise change. Thus, in human society, one has the Catholic Church apologizing only recently for dismembering and burning alive those who pronounced the Earth round, not flat, and the Flat Earth Society still in existence today.

How are the sciences, in human society, treated any differently today? Einstein’s works, when first presented, were not only pronounced wrong, but were shouted down. They were treated by those whose posture required the existing theories to continue as a threat, which Einstein’s work was. The worst garbage could be calmly discussed, but Einstein’s lectures were disrupted by shouting sessions and physical assaults. This was, one was to assume, because Einstein was wrong, but in fact the heat of the debate was the opposite, because he was, compared to the existing theories of the day, correct. But Newton is still taught in the schools, to the young, along with Einstein’s theories, and when they contradict the students are expected not to notice. This is because the professors require a posture of being all-knowing and infallible, and any student implying otherwise suffers at their hand.

Then there is the comfort factor, the need to feel that sudden calamity will not descend, as the facts are known and thus the future somewhat predictable. Lighting strikes, and strokes fell strong and stout humans like a lightning bolt, but the factors surrounding lightning and strokes can be analyzed and thus the likelihood of occurrence somewhat predictable. How, beyond the comfort of sameness that a posturing professor or scientist requires, are current scientific theories tied to the human comfort factor? If the theories on how lightning is produced were to change, then this implies that those smug in their assumptions about the likelihood of a strike might be wrong, and thus vulnerable. If the theories on the cause of stroke were to change, then this likewise implies that those smug in their assumption that they are immune might be wrong. Thus, discomfort with change causes resistance to change, and theories often develop solidity for no other reason than this.

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