John Hardin / @ 7 a.m. / Op-Ed

HARDIN: A New Brand of Stupid, and a New Way to be Wrong


They say “You can’t fix stupid.” and “You can’t help being wrong once in a while.” Truer words have probably never been spoken. On the other hand, one of the dumbest things that human beings have ever said is: “Human intelligence, backed by sound objective science, allows us to understand the universe.” I know that sounds like a smarter thing to say, and educated people say crap like that all the time, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong.

We live at a time where we worship objective science as our new religion. We believe that we understand the universe and have the intelligence to reshape it in such a way that it will serve us better. That idea has become the foundation of our culture. We’ve ditched the whole mythology of original sin, miracles and virgin birth, and ordained theoretical physicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking and their equally ridiculous story of the Big Bang, quantum mechanics and string theory. In truth, we’re no closer to understanding how the universe works than we were three million years ago. We just have a new story that everyone believes but no one understands.

E=MC² is a very useful equation. It helped us build nuclear bombs and land men on the moon, among other things. We know how to use it, but we don’t really comprehend it. Everyone thinks they understand it. Everyone thinks they understand relativity, but then they talk about squishy space and tell us how gravity bends light as it travels through space. In fact, relativity tells us that light doesn’t travel through space, and that space is never squishy.

Even physicists don’t understand relativity. The best physicists understand that squishy space and the Big Bang form part of a model of the objective universe that allows us to make predictions about how things in it will behave. The best physicists understand that the model is not the universe, because relativity reminds them that the universe is put together in a fundamentally different way than it appears to us.

Relativity tells us that space and time originate with the perceiver, and that there is no scientific reason to believe that space and time exist anywhere else in the universe except within the perceptions of the perceivers who perceive that way. This is where it gets incomprehensible. If anything exists outside of our perceptions, it must therefore exist outside of space and time. What would that look like? How would you describe it? How can you even imagine something without dimension or duration, let alone study it?

It’s impossible to even imagine, because it is beyond comprehension. Relativity drops us at the edge of the incomprehensible, and the best physicists stop there, peer over the edge a moment, then turn around and get back to work on that model of an objective universe, even though they realize that the universe is not put together that way at all.

Human beings were not meant to understand how the universe works. Our intelligence was not shaped by a driving thirst to understand metaphysics, or by an innate drive to penetrate the cosmos. Human intelligence was shaped by our constant interactions with other humans. Our intelligence was shaped by constantly trying to outsmart and take advantage of each other. We became the cleverest animal on the globe because we challenge each other, intellectually, in a way that no other animal does, and we do that by being sneaky and dishonest with each other.

Human beings constantly deceive each other. It takes a keen intelligence to find flaws in an argument or tell when someone is lying, but it takes an even keener intelligence to concoct a convincing deception and pull it off effectively. We got to be this smart not because of our driving curiosity to understand the cosmos, but because of our propensity to lie, cheat and steal from each other, and our need to unravel these deceptions to survive and thrive socially. That’s a lot more complicated than rocket science, and rocket science doesn’t explain the universe.

We might as well face the fact that stupid and wrong is the natural human condition. We have always been stupid and wrong about how the universe works, and we will never get any closer to understanding it than we are right now. Being stupid and wrong about how the universe works didn’t stop us from becoming the most successful predator on Planet Earth, and being stupid and wrong about how the universe works isn’t what’s causing us to overheat the planet or drive the extinction crisis, and being stupid and wrong about how the universe works doesn’t stop us from changing the way that we live and responding to the planetary crisis we face.

Quite the opposite: Our whole culture is built on the belief that in just a matter of days we will unravel the universe’s few remaining secrets and create an artificial intelligence that is incapable of error. Armed with this knowledge and technology we will remake every atom of the universe to serve us and our limitless understanding, and it will all work flawlessly. This global idea that we must be on the right track in our quest to remake the whole world in our image is so stupid and wrong, and so widely held by so many people despite so much evidence to the contrary, that this toxic stupidity and stubbornly held wrongness now imminently threatens our very survival as a species.

We don’t need more science. We need a new way to be stupid and wrong. Maybe we need 10,000 new ways to be stupid and wrong, because nothing has ever been so convincingly proven, with science, as the wrongness of our current brand of stupid. Forget about objective science, and forget about knowledge and understanding. We’re not built to understand the universe. We just need a new, more functional, brand of stupid and wrong.

We’re looking for a new way to be stupid and wrong that doesn’t obliterate all of the other intelligence on the planet. We need a new brand of stupid and wrong if we want to survive on plant Earth, and we need it yesterday. We don’t need the Large Hadron Collider, and we don’t need to understand gravitational waves. We need a new kind of stupid that hasn’t already been proven so fatally and disastrously wrong that it threatens our very survival as a species. I’m just the idiot to bring it to you.

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John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.


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