Science? Schmience!

As Michael Shermer points out in The Believing Brain, we are agents of agenicity. Common sense is a literal knee-jerk adaptation to survive in a rapidly changing and potentially dangerous world. Random action is unpredictable, but the intent of agents is not. Assume agency and then decode the intent, usually something like: chase, catch and eat me, and you have a much better chance of not being eaten.

So our ancestors were all natural-born animists, to whom it was perfectly obvious that the sun and moon raced – the planets wandered – across the sky because of the homunculi that inhabited them. I mean, duh!

But this is a game of odds. Belief, these leaps to conclusions, have a much better chance than just random motion to evade disaster, but once we start to look at long term outcomes, at subtler and more complex processes, these leaps can become lemming-like, where Manichaen madmen strapped with C4 follow their faith onto buses or into quagmires of unending war.

But all around us, at levels well below the reductio ad absurdum of unending war, our tendency to go with our guts and follow our hearts, while being a powerful connection to our amazing and unseen cognitive abilities, can still lead us astray in as many small sad ways as they can allow us Blinks of wisdom and insight.

Science, and not the science of Einstein or Hawking, but just the simple process of methodical deliberation and testing, is the key to our humanity. Our brains are a long iteration of survival strategies, and in the epoch of glaciation in which we became modern humans, adaptation rather than knee-jerk heart following, became the saving grace that allowed us to survive when many of our cousins did not. The science meme is what got us flint knives, smoke alarms and airbags, and we need to embrace it.


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