Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Child of the Enlightenment

I've called myself a 'child of the Enlightenment' before. Actually I think we all are inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition, although plenty of us have sworn it off. One of my weak points as a child of the Enlightenment is that I believe all people are reasonable, even though their cultures might have conventions that are misguided. Also, while I realize how impossible complete scientific certainty is, for the reasons layed out by Karl Popper, I do think that there are things that are very likely to be true, and convictions that are simply more reasonable than others. Popper's point was that, although I've never seen a black swan, if I decide that there is no such thing as a black swan and I'll never see one, my belief becomes blind faith instead of scientific knowledge. To wit: Genuine scientific knowledge has to be disprovable, or it is blind faith. This is, incidentally, one of my main criticisms of 'intelligent design'- it cannot possibly be proven or disproven.

I really started thinking about the Enlightenment and how its writings have influenced me was in Paris. For some reason, I was thinking about the Internet one day and how many people there are on the Internet who believe things that are very easy to disprove. I sort of understand conspiracy theorists with their need to recreate the world in a way that makes sense. This is very human. But, there are people out there who desperately believe in things that are simply not true, and obviously untrue. When that sunk in, I realized that I find that terrifying. There are people who simply cannot be convinced otherwise. Consider this: There are people who cling to untruths in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and choose to believe things that are simply untrue. And I'm not really sure why. But, what makes me say that I am a child of the Enlightenment is that that scares the hell out of me.

No comments: