The Science Circle is taking a Summer holiday break from July 1 to September 1 and Hypothesis! is following suit. So, for today… here is a small trip down hypothetical lane.
At one time people thought the world was flat. The Flat Earth Society still exists today, but science and space explorers have settled the question pretty firmly. The concept of a spherical Earth was developed by Greek astronomers beginning perhaps with Parmenides and Pythagoras around 5th/6th century BCE. Columbus, 15th century CE, demonstrated that the world was bigger than he thought, but even he believed it was round.
There is a science fiction story and I have lost all references to the author and title, but the story concerned belief and the physical world. In the story, the shape of the physical world was dependent on what most people believed. So, if most people believed the world was flat, then it indeed was flat. If most believed the sun went around the earth, then it did. As people changed their beliefs the physical world changed.
So, maybe when Pythagoras came along and when a certain number of people believed his notions, then the earth changed from flat to round.
There is a phenomenon called the “100th monkey” that one might hope gives a smidgen of credence to this notion. The idea was developed from observing monkeys. Someone noticed that monkey’s learned to wash their sweet potatoes before eating them. At first only a few monkey’s did this, but once the 100th monkey knew how to do it then, somehow every monkey knew. Their Potato washing behavior became universal once a critical number of monkey’s did it. This is an interesting idea but there is no credible research to back it up.
Let me end with a question to ponder on hot Summer days. What are the intersections between facts and beliefs? In other words… how do I have the faith to trust a fact? Example. Water is a liquid above 32F. If I’m in a warm room and put an ice cube into a glass of water, would I bet my life that the ice will melt?
- Flat Earth Society (http://theflatearthsociety.org) – The web site exists but it does not seem to be active since 2016.
- 100th Monkey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect)