As I sit at a club to write, gregarious people worried about my loneliness drop by to give me company. Though a bit annoying, they often provide me with inspiration to write. One such gentleman I met today gave me almost an existential crisis as a person trying to communicate science.
He gave me a discourse on a mathematical constant that he found to have caused Big Bang, formed universe, and even produced DNA. He was in the business of finding violation of this constant as a cause of illness in everything ranging from a sofa-set to human body and offering cures through correction, and was a huge success in selling his services.
Though he completely violated everything I believed to be physics or biology that ran our universe, I heard him in utter awe, as he gave me my Eureka moment.
Here was a man who knew how to make masses believe in his version of science. He was everything that anyone wishing to talk science would love to be. So, he reminded me of Prof. Yashpal who just passed away.
Prof. Yashpal was a brilliant man who spent a lifetime trying every means to reach out to masses with simplified science. But, there is not an iota of doubt that number of people who cared to understand his science comes anywhere close to the millions of devout believers of the science Sadhguru or Sri Sri pull out of their beards.
This throws up an extremely interesting question. If brain is a logical machine, why do completely incoherent pseudosciences make sense to millions?
The answer to this counterintuitive phenomenon hides in a superpower of human brain, i.e. its ability to believe.
Most rationalists find human tendency to believe to be a major short-coming of brain, and yet it exists in a world where nature is very unkind to anything that is bad for a species. So, there has to be something really useful in believing as we find believers outnumber doubter by millions.
The astonishing success of human race is achieved because we can knowledge-cooperate not only with each other but over many generations. The quantum of knowledge we have accumulated is through a cumulative process, in the core of which sits our ability to believe. For a short-lived ape, this is would have been impossible if each of us required to start from the scratch. So, there is no surprise that human brain comes with a plug-and-play port to believe.
Unfortunately, this port comes with a loophole, as it is bound to be designed to open up to the cue of encountering information that we can’t understand. If cumulative progress is aimed at, it is wiser to move to next step trusting incomprehensible information instead of wasting time deciphering it.
The worst sufferer of this loophole is science today, as a lot many who can’t understand end up talking about it. With both preacher and listener not being able to understand what is being talked about, end result is a mutual opening of belief-port. So an audience that can’t get past even first page of Feynman’s QED feels wiser when Sadhguru tells them that “physical existence becomes nonexistence when curve of time and gravity increases in a black hole”.
It is clear that, if we are not careful, rapid advancement of science is bound to result in exponential growth of pseudosciences. The dire need of today is to find a tool for rhetoric-alert, or our tendency to believe will clutter our brains with junk giving most of us an illusion of being knowledgeable and humanity will stop reaping the benefits for cumulative advancement.