The facts against what people “know”

I’ve written several posts about this subject including the recent “Misinformation and the disappearance of the moderate Republican” and the earlier “Keeping the Faith”.   Both discussed the uphill if not futile effort to fight misinformation with facts and the impact this has on democracy.

I have been reading Angels and Ages:  A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik.  It has been my train book for the last month or so.  Fascinating book and lots to think about.  Coming home today, I came across this quote on page 186:

Science – scientific reasoning – seems to me an instrument that will lag far, far behind.  For look here, the earth has been thought to be flat.  It was true, so it still is today, for instance, between Paris and Asnieres.  Which however does not prevent science from proving that the earth is principally round. Which no one contradicts nowadays.

But notwithstanding this they persist nowadays in believing that life is flat and runs from birth to death.  However, life too is probably round, and very superior in expanse and capacity to the hemisphere we know at present.

                                               Vincent van Gogh, June 1888

“Science – Scientific reasoning – seems to me an instrument that will lag far, far behind.”  We still have people who believe the earth is flat, just as we have those that still believe that President Obama was not born in the United States and is a Muslim.  Just a people still believe that the health care reform bill will lead to death panels for Grandma.

My point is that difficulty is using facts to persuade is not a new phenomena.  Van Gogh, an artist not a scientist or philosopher or politician recognized this.  I don’t know if this cheers me up or depresses me even more.


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