Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On Being Wrong

Geocentric solar system from Harmonia Macrocosmica
(1660) by Andreas Cellarius.
Question: Name one thing you’re sure of, and how you know it.

Answer: I’m sure that if I say I’m sure of something, sooner or later someone will disprove it and I’ll look like an idiot.
        I find this comforting. Think of all the things people have believed over the centuries—that demons made you sick, alchemy could make you rich, people could own other people, stars were holes poked through the sky, Jews caused bubonic plague. Every one was proven wrong, sometimes catastrophically wrong. What beliefs that we hold today will be proven laughably wrong in a few hundred years? Even now, some old tropes are eroding: women shouldn’t be combat troops or play baseball; chained-up animals make great entertainment; to settle new land, you just move the existing people off it and kill all the large predators. Who knows what’s next? No more God, capitalism, 40-hour workweek? Will we find that air is actually a food that can be flavored, cut up, and cooked if you have the right kind of oven? That we already have the capability to teleport or cure cancer, but we just don’t know it? That there’s no such thing as death, and our dead friends and relatives have just gone someplace we haven’t stumbled across yet?
        Make no mistake about it: The discoveries will be soul-shaking. When you think of air travel and television and what I do all day at my job—type on a keyboard—and women presidents and the four-minute mile, all of these were, until recently, inconceivable to a vast number of people for a very long time.
        One dictionary definition of hope is “grounds for believing that something good may happen.” And things do. Big things. Sometimes being wrong is one step in that direction.