People love to be stupid, and not just because it is easier than being intelligent. Being stupid is lonely and embarrassing in individuals, so it is better practiced in groups. Not only is that smarter, but it provides with the joy and brainlessness of the collective.
Yes, group stupidity happens in science too. Entire fields of science, such as phrenology, studying the shape of a skull to elucidate the intelligence therein, were completely idiotic.
Yes group stupidity happens in philosophy too: see Immanuel Kant, and his grotesque assertion that to be moral is to obey authority.
Yes, group stupidity happens in much respected theology. The Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), dedicated, as Saint Dominic was, to the extirpation of heresy, and most specifically Albigensianism, argued that the Old Testament, and the New Testament (Romans, 13), were all for the death penalty.
Thus, in his Summa theologiae II-II, q. 11. a. 3, the Saintly Thomas of Aquinas writes: “Therefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
“Heretic” is Greek for “exerted a choice”. If you exert mental choice, says Thomas, you should die.
Thomas made in writing this death threat, many times. The clincher? This, arguably, depraved maniac, is still viewed to this day, as a “philosopher”, a “thinker” of sort, and a moral authority. Is this stupid, or is it criminal?
The answer is that it is tribal.
The very monstrosity of Thomas of Aquinas binds the Catholic tribe together. To respect such a monster is an initiation rite, a high moral hurdle.
When the Nazis strove for power, they found enormous support among (a vast subgroup of) Nobel winning scientists and great mathematicians. Lenard (Physics Nobel 1905, and a collaborator of Einstein!) invented the notion of “Jewish science” (very bad, and all too relative).
That was crucial to demonstrate that the Nazi tribe had brains, and thus was respectable.
Human beings are nothing, if they don’t get mentors, themselves forming a connection to the supporting structure in a tribe. Thus, when individuals express an opinion, it’s actually a tribe which speaks.
No space to go in the details, but tribalism, in that case German tribalism, is why Einstein’s “miraculous” papers of 1905 were published without any reference, as if he had invented them all by himself; Planck saw to it. It totally backfired.
Viewing science as a tribal phenomenon is the fundamental revelation of the science of science. This explains why most papers in biology have been recently revealed to be false. Or why all theoretical physicists at Princeton are string theorists or supersymmetry artists of some sort. Neither strings, nor super-whatever have ever been observed, but the super stringy tribe was able to pull all the strings, and now it is in command of not just of this non-physical physics, but of the very definition of physics itself.
This errance of tribes following false prophets, explains why science can err so persistently, sometimes.
Witness: the Ptolemaic system (why would the much more gigantic sun rotate around the Earth at a frantic speed? It was easier to explain it all by a rotation of the Earth on itself, at a more sedate pace, as Aristarchus had proposed).
But not just this. Tribalism provides the pleasure and power of the group. As the case of the strident Nazi scientists and philosophers shows, thinkers are not insensitive to the basest rewards. Then a small, greedy minority can provide cover for the most criminal enterprises.
Some of the (rare) scientists claiming that there is no problem with increasing CO2 by 1% every single year, are generally revealed to be financed (directly or through institutions) by fossil fuels interests. Great geophysicists such as Allegre and Courtillot, heads of the very respected IPGP, are example of fossil fuel propelled loud deniers of the most basic of common sense.
Reading some of the preceding, Massimo of Scientia Salon objected that:
“Patrice, this very barely made it through my filter. Wasn’t there a way to express your thoughts without starting with “people love to be stupid”? Really? They *love* to?”
Yes, with all due respect, let me insist: yes, people do love to be stupid, just as they love initiation rites.
This is actually initiation rites are often quite stupid and demeaning: stupidity itself is what has to be achieved.
People love to not be smart, because lack of smarts is the ticket to tribe appurtenance. Lack of smarts is how the tribe is defined: that’s the central point of intellectual fascism. Indeed the tribe provides not just a refuge, but a space to blossom with lack of smarts. Even better: as it provides a definition for the tribe, lack of smarts provides a cover, a roof over the tribe.
This is the fundamental reason why people engage in drinking alcohol, and especially drinking it to excess. Same with smoking that poison lethal in the smallest quantities, nicotine. People know it’s bad, and not smart. Therefore it’s ideal for defining a tribe.
Hence telling drug addicts that what they are doing is not smart is not going to be effective: being silly is what they want to exhibit.
Indeed, people love to belong to a tribe. It does not really matter which tribe. The more not smart the definition of a tribe, the better defined it gets.
If some don’t believe me, I have a multiverse to sell them each time I spin an electron differently (unbelievably many theoretical physicists belong to that church of the multiverse). Call me the ultimate spin doctor. The multiverse tribe is very well defined, because short of wanting to kill one’s own son to satisfy a deity, it’s up there in the absurd, not-smart scale.
Wanting to kill one’s son for the deity is the definition of Abraham, the founder of the faith of most religious people today, or, at least, of the noisiest.
Let’s give more detail about what happened with Einstein:
Einstein famously wrote a paper “On The Electrodynamics Of Moving Bodies.” There was arguably nothing there which had not been published before. As the Dutch Lorentz, discoverer, with the Irish Larmor, of the “Lorentz transformations” of Relativity, and according to Henri Poincaré, of the “most ingenious” notion of local time, put it:
“Indeed, for some of the physical quantities which enter the formulas, I did not indicate the transformation which suits best. That was done by Poincaré and then by Mr. Einstein and Minkowski [.] I did not succeed in obtaining the exact invariance of the equations [.] Poincaré, on the contrary, obtained a perfect invariance of the equations of electrodynamics, and he formulated the “postulate of relativity”, terms which he was the first to employ. [.] Let us add that by correcting the imperfections of my work he never reproached me for them.”
So why did Planck, editor of Annalen der Physik, allowed such a short-circuit, Einstein presenting himself as discoverer of Relativity? One can only suspect German nationalism, as all the physicists who elaborated Relativity before that were non-German (there was even an Italian whom Einstein knew personally, and a couple of Americans). It worked very well: to this day, Relativity is attributed to Einstein (although it’s Poincaré who discovered, demonstrated and published E= mc^2 in 1900.).
Planck, discoverer of the Quantum, not so subtly boosted the aura of Germany, by attributing to Einstein the Theory of Relativity. That was in 1905. Within nine years, the German Empire made an enormous attack on the French Republic, hoping to conquer all of Europe before Great Britain could join the war.
The main engine in this attack was German tribalism, the Prussian way (that is, very racist).
Tragically, Planck’s eldest son was killed in World War One, while his second son was made prisoner by the French. Then German tribalism went completely berserk. Planck went to see Hitler, and told him that Nazism was going too far, and destroying German science. His second son, to whom Planck was very close, opposed Hitler, and was assassinated by the Nazis in 1945.
Tribalism is fundamentally a war strategy, and thus nothing true intellects aiming to the full truth, ought to engage in.
The science of science, and the philosophy of philosophy have to become more aware of it. Tribalism needs to be broken, and direct democracy, direct thinking, is how to break it.