When common sense is wrong

by Marcus Loane


Science has repeatedly shown that our intuitions, our common sense can be wrong. We arrived at our common sense ideas partly by a biological evolutionary process, and partly through cultural evolution which may depend on historical accidents.

Here are some scientific conclusions which show common sense has often been wrong:

In the past:

The earth is not flat.
The earth is moving.
The earth is not at the centre of the universe.
The sun does not move around the earth.
Volcanoes, rain, thunder and lightning are not caused by gods.
Life forms are not animated by an essence or spirit.

In the present:

An aeroplane is not too heavy to fly.
Liquid can rise up through a tube of its own accord (siphon).
There is no fundamental difference between a stationary object and an object travelling at constant velocity.
In outer space an object can keep moving indefinitely.
Time runs at different rates in different places.
Space can be curved and distorted.
Particles can pop into existence in empty space.
Free will is an illusion.

In the future?

Matter is geometric distortions in space-time. Everything is geometric distortions in space-time.
Consciousness arises from physical events.
A conscious computer or network is possible.

Many of our intuitions were wrong. History suggests we should conclude that science and the intellect take precedence over common sense and intuition. We still feel some of the intuitions (like the earth is stationary) even though we know that they are wrong. Science and the intellect can then tackle the question of why we have the false intuitions. Usually this takes the form of an evolutionary explanation. For example our everyday experience and that of our ancestors is that time runs at the same rate in different places. That becomes a common sense intuition and many rules of thumb and folk theories will take it for granted because it works. However we now know that in conditions that we are not accustomed to, such as strong gravitational fields or very high velocities time can slow down. It defies common sense but it has been confirmed experimentally. Intellect wins over gut feeling. That should be our rule of thumb.

Marcus Loane

Back to www.thebigwhy.com