Learning more and ‘reasoning things out’ less …

I don’t understand exactly why people, even smart people, will argue about stuff when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Reason is a powerful tool, it can help you imagine why something is the way that it is. But the problem I think is that a lot of people forget that, without facts, their reason is purely imaginary.

Like, the idea that the sun revolved around the Earth was a reasonable one at the time it was conceived. Someone used the limits of their imagination to figure out why the sun moved across the sky, then used some evidence to construct models that showed how the motion of the stars, planets and sun aligned to this model. There wasn’t much evidence. And a lot of times, people then would come to the conclusion first then find evidence to support it. It’s something people still do to this day.

In the U.S., we’re taught a grand story about science, about the struggle Copernicus went through to prove in the mid-16th century that we lived in a Heliocentric universe. Of course, while he was right that the Earth orbited the Sun, he was incorrect on a major point; as we all know, Copernicus assumed the Sun was a fixed point and the center of the Universe. Which, if you think about it from the grand scale of cosmology, isn’t THAT far off from the idea that the Earth was the center of the Universe. But even that incremental idea was hard for a lot of people in Europe to believe. I’m assuming this stuff still gets taught in school, for all I know, nobody learns this anymore.

But then, perhaps, Copernicus may not have been the first human being to develop a heliocentric mathematical model in the first place. Dr. Gerardo Aldana of UC Santa Barbara, a professor of anthropology, believes that the Mayans may have made the discovery first, in approximately 800–1000 A.D. In his paper “Discovering Discovery: Chich’en Itza, the Dresden Codex Venus Table and 10th Century Mayan Astronomical Innovation” Aldana postulates that (according to the abstract), that, “… the Mayan Long Count dates of the Venus Table’s historical correction … suggests that it was an indigenous astronomical discovery made at Chich’en Itza, possibly under the patronage of K’ak’ U Pakal K’awiil — one of the most prominent historical figures in the inscriptions of the city during its “epigraphic florescence.””

Now, imagine a reasonable Conquistador, or Englishman, or
a Frenchman, anyone from Europe of the 17th century who was presented with the above knowledge. They’ve already reasoned that the ‘natives’ of the ‘New World’ are ‘savages’ and worthy of plunder, conquest and enslavement. They’ve also already reasoned that they ‘discovered’ the New World because the continent never appeared on any of their maps; it never seems to have crossed anyone’s minds that you can’t really be the first people to discover a landmass if there are already people who live there. Of course, one way around pesky facts like, “There are already people living in this place we discovered,” is to assume they are a different kind of human, or perhaps aren’t even human at all. That’s the kind of thing that reason, in the face of facts, can get you.

Reason needs to walk hand-in-hand with facts. But far too many people in the United States, even to this day in the peak of our modernity, would rather live in their imaginations. I just wish that people could get a little smarter in the U.S.., and understand when they’re at the point of a discussion where they’re just guessing about something. With the Internet at our fingertips, with the ability (if you put even a minimum effort into it) to discern fact from fiction, you don’t need to guess about a lot of basic facts about the world.

I don’t know why so many people prefer their ignorance sometimes.

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