We Should Disenthrall Ourselves of False Scientific Certainties

An Optimists Tour of the Future CoverBK2013-06-21.jpg

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(p. C4) Among the scientific certainties I have had to unlearn: that upbringing strongly shapes your personality; that nurture is the opposite of nature; that dietary fat causes obesity more than dietary carbohydrate; that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of climate change in the past.

I came across a rather good word for this kind of unlearning–“disenthrall”–in Mark Stevenson’s book “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future,” published just this week. Mr. Stevenson borrows it from Abraham Lincoln, whose 1862 message to Congress speaks of disenthralling ourselves of “the dogmas of the quiet past” in order to “think anew.”
Mr. Stevenson’s disenthrallment comes in the course of a series of sharp and fascinating interviews with technological innovators and scientific visionaries. This disenthralls him of the pessimism about the future and nostalgia about the past that he barely realized he had and whose “fingers reach deep into [his] soul.” It eventually turns him into an optimist almost as ludicrously sanguine about the 21st century as I am: “I steadfastly refuse to believe that human society can’t grow, improve and learn; that it can’t embrace change and remake the world better.”
Along the way, Mr. Stevenson is struck by other examples of how the way he thinks and reasons is “in thrall to a world that is passing.” The first of these bad habits is linear thinking about the future. . . .
We expect to see changes coming gradually, but because things like computing power or the cheapness of genome sequencing change exponentially, technologies can go from impossible to cheap quite suddenly and with little warning.

For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “MIND & MATTER; A Key Lesson of Adulthood: The Need to Unlearn.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book praised by Ridley, in the passages quoted above, is:
Stevenson, Mark. An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets out to Answer “What’s Next?”. New York: Avery, 2011.

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