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by Jan Sand
2007-04-04 11:05:04
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The Ancient Greeks had, as one of their many noteworthy talents, the capability to either fabricate or bring to notice characters that have persisted in literature's memory for millennia. They stick in the mind because human culture regularly brings about situations that polish these offerings to bright significance. Cassandra is one such icon. The gods had granted her the power to foresee the future and then slyly sabotaged this gift by ensuring that no one would believe her.

Aside from wily gods, Werner Heisenberg brought to light the general observation that the future is an exceedingly slippery animal. We have frequently been able to capture it by weaving tight nets of reason from lines derived out of past experience. If a past situation regularly precluded a firm consequence then it is assumed to be strong enough to include in our trap for the future. But Heisenberg had discovered that the fineness of the net has a limit and although gross events carry a workload of statistical certainty, micro-occurrences such as radioactive decay swim easily through the holes of any net.

The net worth of human belief has two main sources. The most reliable source grows very painfully from experience that requires the subjection of any supposition to the battering of many trials and an overwhelming number of errors. Nobody enjoys watching a pretty personal creation slaughtered by a hailstorm of hard facts. But seductive ideas, like species, must be tested through the unmerciful rough processes of evolution and non-survivors may not be accepted through compassion or personal ego. A bad idea is an evil monster that will, at end, chew through our net and destroy the necessary and useful fabric of reality.

The second source derives from authority. No living individual has the time or the wealth of knowledge required to personally test all accepted ideas before proceeding to play games with novel proposals. We must each, from our parents, from our schooling, and from established cultural institutions, personally decide which ideas to winnow and which to consume. But although the bulk of mental comestibles are sufficiently nourishing to permit our survival, many contain subtle and not so subtle poisons that eat into the viability of the foundations of our necessary structures.

So we must choose our authorities with great care and even the best of us are subject to huge errors in making these choices. It is a common and frequently fatal error to choose, not on the basis of reason and good sense, but on wishful thinking. Reality is a hard taskmaster but, as Bertrand Russell observed, the only virtue that truth has is that it does not ever go away. It commonly barks loudly and then sinks its teeth firmly into our collective rear ends and if we do not accept its frequently distasteful dictums it will furiously tear us to pieces.

An item has appeared in the SlashDot site that is, to say the least, is unsettling.

MSNBC has up an article discussing the results of a Newsweek poll on faith and religion among members of the US populace. Given the straightforward question, 'Is evolution well-supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community?', some 48% of Americans said 'No'. Furthermore, 34% of college graduates said they accept the Biblical story of creation as fact. An alarmingly high number of individuals responded that they believe the earth is only 10,000 years old, and that a deity created our species in its present form at the start of that period.

The USA is an indisputably large and powerful country. That it harbors a large portion of its educated populace who are obviously operating under a huge delusion strikes me more with despair than anger. Delusive people tend to respond to questionings of the basis of their belief with destructive force rather than an acceptance to more closely examine their mental matrix. The Arab countries also have formalized legal procedures in conformation with their religious beliefs that cannot tolerate rational doubts. To an equally large extent the more secular forces of economic domination are rampaging through a world more concerned with short term destructive gains for small powerful privileged social sectors than the general benefit of mankind and for the health of the planet. The world is more and more turning vicious by these and equally irrational social structures.

I can, like Cassandra, proclaim my foreboding for a frighteningly dark future but, like this seemingly eternal character, I can only expect largely to be ignored.

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alexandra pereira2007-04-05 00:22:57
Very nice article, you're 100% right. Consequences of irrational beliefs can be disastrous for all of us.
There's a slight hope, though... did you ever hear, for example, about a N.Y. association named "Beyond the September 11th"? That's a small water drop in the desert, but a water drop anyway.

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