Another thing I’ve wanted to note for a while was pointed out by Kristin Thomas concerning the Kaycee affair. Although I may not agree with everything Kristin says, her article makes a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

Kristin points out that a story becomes true through mere repetition more often than through facts.

We are more likely to believe something because we have heard it many times, than because we have actually had proof of it or learnt it by observation (and here, can you smell a tinge of Quine’s Web of Belief?)

Now, think about it. How many things to you hold true simply because enough people have told you? Well, don’t think about it too hard, it might make you dizzy. It’s making me dizzy, in any case. If it came public tomorrow that no man ever walked on the moon, I’d only be half-surprised (yes, I’m aware that “conspirationists” have gathered plenty of evidence to prove the hoax).

There are some famous examples. Besides the one Quine cites in his book (about the area of Monaco, which turned out to be falsely stated in all the major encyclopedias and atlases), do you remember this thing about spinach containing incredible amounts of iron? Well, it all started off when somebody messed up one decimal in their calculations – and it was copied for years ever after without a double-check.

So these are examples where academics and books get it wrong. But normal people do the same thing, of course. How much of what you know about economics, politics, religion, history and the like is based on repetition? And how much is based on your direct observation? Or on proof which has been demonstrated to you?

I don’t mean to say we should stop believing what we are told. I really hope I don’t mean that. But I find it a little scary - unsettling, for the least.

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6 Responses to Truth

  1. dave c says:

    although I don’t know your sources, you realize of course that the stories surrounding the ‘correction’ of past mistakes (eg “it all started off when somebody messed up one decimal in their calculations”), are just as likely to have survived through repetition, rather than truth, as the original… ahhh, the urban legend.

  2. Tara says:

    sure. actually, my source was a book (can’t remember name or author though, me bad!) which had investigated such “urban legends” – so it does have more credibility for me than the initial “legend”. Of course, maybe I should catch one of my chemist friends and have the dosing re-done, that would be the final word (at least for me). What I really wanted to say is what this implies for the way the world’s beliefs hold together. Not just an individual, but the whole society. That’s what “scares” me the most.

  3. The only thing that really bothers me about the “proof” that the lunar landing was a hoax is one glaring contradiction. Evolutionist Scientist contend that the earth and moon have existed for billions of years. Thus through the aeons of time the moon travelling through space would have picked up a lot of space dust. They trully expected three feet or more of dust on the moon. That is why they built the landing module with wide feet and long legs. Asimov envisioned the lunar lander “slowly sinking out of sight into the dust…” When they got there the dust was only an inch or so thick… Do you think that if it had been staged, they would have went with popular opinion and built a set with more ‘dust’?

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