I am troubled by the manner in which the majority of people assume that the things they hear or read are correct, without subjecting them to any sort of scientific method.
What do I mean exactly? well, one prime example is the story of the non-echoing quacking duck.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this “hypothesis”, according to all of the wonderfully time-consuming and misinforming PowerPoint presentations we receive in our inbox from people who we consider to be our friends, a duck’s quack does not echo. Now, this statement has all the makings of a psuedo-scientific fact. It involves, hold on to your hats – “sound waves”. As we all know, sound waves are a very “scientific” subject, yet a relatively simple concept to grasp, since we’ve all seen how a pond reacts to a stone thrown inside it. In addition, this “theory” refers to a specific species in the wild kingdom. Since there are so many animals out there, surely one of them interacts with sound waves in this unusual manner. For some reason, when people receive facts that seem to be scientific, something in their brain tells them to automatically treat this new information as correct.
However, when we examine this statement a little closer, using real scientific methods, we see the absurdity of this so called “scientific fact”. Yes, physically, it is possible to create a sound wave which does not echo. You don’t even have to study physics to understand this, you just need to have a basic understanding of the concept, and some good healthy logic. However, it is quite a leap of faith to believe that all the ducks in the world (every last one of the little quacking bastards), in all echo-creating conditions, have the ability to produce the exact sound (e.g. exact wavelength and frequency) that will not echo.
However, I do not wish to dwell specifically on the matter of the quacking duck, but more on the concept of how people tend to agree with what they read/hear without taking a moment to consider what they are being told, and examining this new information with their own brain for a change.
I am not saying that we should question everything. That seems like quite a tedious way to go about life. However, I believe that every person should strive to develop the ability to pick up on psuedo-scientific jibberish such as non-quacking ducks.
After all, most of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements came as a result of someone, somewhere, saying: “this can’t be right…”: Charles Darwin‘s Theory of Evolution (“Do we have to accept the story of how we came to be as told by a group of non-sceintific religious zealots?”), Albert Einstein‘s Special and General Theories of Relativity (“Who decided that time, mass and space have to be constant in all systems?”), and of course, Nicolaus Copernicus‘ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which I perceive to be the catalyst of modern science as we know it, since Nicolaus’ question was not only humble in nature (“Why must we believe that man is the apex of creation?”), but also led to a less romantic and more objective weltanschauung, which is key when one is attempting to analyze the world in a scientific manner.
But perhaps the problem is not in the manner in which people think. Perhaps the problem is thinking at all. Sadly, I tend to believe that the problem lies in the latter.