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Knowing is the Greatest Barrier to Learning

The fundamentalists of our world, those who believe they know things a priori, can be dangerous or amusing in equal measure. For instance, the Flat Earthers (who know that the Earth is flat) are generally perceived as amusing. The KKK (who know that the only good nigger is a dead nigger) are generally perceived as dangerous. Of course, we know that the Flat Earthers are wrong, and that's why they're so funny. We all know this because we've performed empirical tests that proved the Earth was an oblate spheroid. Or haven't you? Chances are, even if you have, your empirical test consisted of looking at the horizon and having someone tell you "that's because of the curvature of the Earth." Did you even try to think of an alternative suggestion, or did you just learn this 'fact'?

Of course, I personally do believe that the Earth is an oblate spheroid, but I can never truly know it. The best I can hope for is to have white faith in it. The fundamentalist scientist knows it though, just as the fundamentalist Christian knows that "you'll burn in hell" and the fundamentalist party guest knows the music he or she has brought to the party is good. The latter case - the person who brings all the 'good' music with them has probably performed something like the following masterpiece of reasoning:

The fundamentalist party guest hasn't even considered that they aren't taking the instrumentation into consideration - that is, their empirical evidence is based on testing on their own nervous systems. They may have tested the music on other people who also concluded it was good. They may have tried it on people who didn't think it was good, but they are clearly wrong. They give all kinds of great reasons for why people are wrong, but most boil down to the following statement: It's not clear to me how the fundamentalists have proved the superiority of their nervous systems, especially the ones who have been shown to be wrong in the past (i.e. all of them). If you confront them, you will probably learn that they "are never wrong about this sort of thing" or something equally well reasoned. Often, the only way to reason with them is to play their own game. Unfortunately, they are the only ones who know all the rules...

Exercises

  1. Why are the Flat Earthers funny and the KKK disturbing?
  2. What fundamentalist reasoning went into the last question?
  3. Why do you think fundamentalism in all its forms is so natural to most people? Why do you lapse into it?
  4. Now think of another reason why fundamentalism might be attractive. And another. Can you prove any of these suppositions?
  5. The Polyfather believes most of his relationships have failed due to fundamentalism (sometimes his own, sometimes his partners). Examine your own life and consider what positive and negative effects fundamentalism has had on your life.
  6. Unlike the Flat Earthers, you probably believe in the post-Copernican model of the world (as a sphere, or as an oblate spheroid). If so, why do you talk of the sun setting and not the Earth turning? If you believe this is just 'linguistic convenience', watch a sunset and conceptualise it as the Earth turning - hold the image in your mind as the sun disappears behind the horizon. Then, and only then, consider how long a particular fundamentalism can last, even after being overturned, and form a supposition as to why. (With thanks to R. Buckminster Fuller).
  7. Rather than just reading the exercises, actually do them (especially the last three).