Long Story Short…

6 Aug

Based on my previous posts, you’ve probably guessed that I consider the development of the scientific method a major (perhaps the major) turning point in human history. An article at Salon.com by author David McRaney (excerpted from his book You Are Now Less Dumb) humorously sums up this turning point:

“It’s easy to laugh at the very wrong things that people once believed, but try not to feel too superior…Your ancestors may not have had the toolset you do when it came to avoiding mental stumbling blocks or your immense cultural inheritance, but their minds worked in much the same way. The people who thought the world rested on the back of a great tortoise or who thought dancing would make it rain — they had the same brain as you; that is to say, they had the same blueprint in their DNA for making brains. So a baby born into their world was about the same as one born into yours.”

And then there was science!

“People learned that science, as a tool, as a lens to create an upside-down way of looking at the world, made life better. Your natural tendency is to start from a conclusion and work backward to confirm your assumptions, but the scientific method drives down the wrong side of the road and tries to disconfirm your assumptions. A couple of centuries back people began to catch on to the fact that looking for disconfirming evidence was a better way to conduct research than proceeding from common belief. They saw that eliminating suspicions caused the outline of the truth to emerge.”

And, long story short:

“Once your forefathers and foremothers realized that this approach generated results, in a few generations your species went from burning witches and drinking mercury to mapping the human genome and playing golf on the moon.”

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