Warum gibt es etwas und nicht nichts? (Why is there something rather than nothing?) - Leibniz

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Guardian on... tolerance?

Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian of Yetis and realities.

Living in a world where yetis do and don't exist
Yeti scientists have shown we can bounce through different realities, where what's regarded as 'real' is ambiguous at best.

Scientific hunters for the yeti are easy to recognise: they want to bring back the corpse of some other animal altogether. Most recently, a team led by Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford sorted through 36 samples of supposed yeti fur using the resources of modern genetics and reported their findings with the full scholarly apparatus, including a footnote referencing Tintin in Tibet as the source of "Captain Haddock's suspicions that the yeti was an ungulate".

I see the piece as a welcome affirmation of uncertainty in an often over-certain world. Not quite an unambiguous plea for tolerance though.

Some myths are of course actively pernicious. The stories spread by Aids denialists or anti-vaccine cranks have helped kill thousands if not tens of thousands of people. It's a public duty to go after them.

It's a public duty to go after them - really? In all cases? Actually I suspect Brown's criteria may be pretty tight here, but unfortunately it's a notion many Guardian readers seem to adopt too well and too widely.

Maybe Brown could have included Marxists as an illustration of death-dealing cranks too. Merely to illustrate how complex and confused human notions of reality can be - to widen the spectrum a little. Or perhaps he knows his readership too well for that. I like his last paragraph though.

Normal people – well, everybody, actually – are adept at bouncing through these different "realities" like lumberjacks bounding over spinning logs. We live quite comfortably in worlds where yetis do and don't exist, where they're real in stories and not in the Himalayas. The only dangerous scientists are those who don't understand this or don't believe it's true of themselves, and that they only believe true facts. You couldn't accuse these latest yeti hunters of that. The reference to Tintin proves it.


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