Saturday, November 27, 2010

A response to Thaler's Question

Thaler's Question:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
How about "the world is the way we perceive it to be, that things that are distant obey the same laws as those that are close, and over time things are either static or cyclical."

  • Optical illusions are the obvious example, where psychologists have shown many ways in which our eyes are fooled.
  • Most people believe that the universe is composed of regular matter and space, leaving out dark matter and dark energy.
  • People have assumed that the laws of our macroscopic world apply to the sub-atomic world. Einstein said "I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice." Quantum weirdness was not perceived and thus was not assumed to exist, and still is not assumed by most people.
  • Assumption that since nearby astronomical space is expanding with constant acceleration, that must be true for things in distant astronomical space, but the Hubble constant is not constant.
  • Living beings that look alike must be members of the same species. This has been challenged not only by convergent evolution theories, but also by genetic determination that similar beings may be members of sibling species.
  • We are aware of our conscious thought and it is perceived as rational, but research is showing that much of our thought is not conscious and there are many irrational biases in our logic.
  • Weather seems cyclical, with winter, spring, summer and fall occurring in a regular pattern, but in fact research has shown ice ages occurred in the past and that we are now witnessing global warming.
  • Geology seems fixed, but for hundreds of years scientists have been illuminating the changes which have taken place in the surface of the earth.
  • Many Americans still do not believe in evolution, preferring to believe that species exist as they were originally created by God.

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