What do you believe? Why do you believe what you believe? Perhaps most importantly, how do you test the validity of the ideas that you have come to believe?
In today’s world, technology has made it easy for everyone to share their ideas and opinions. I think most of us would agree that dialogue is a great thing as it gives us an opportunity to consider perspectives different from our own and possibly learn something. Historically, this deliberation process has been essential in ushering in progress and positive changes. However, being confronted with an idea different from our own often puts us in a vulnerable position. Challenges to our worldview is like a challenge to our identity and even considering a different perspective can be scary and make us feel uncomfortable. We may feel that our intuition is strong but still be without any definitive facts to make our case.
In the scientific world, when a new idea (hypothesis) is introduced, it isn’t simply debated until the person with the most energy, influence, and loudest mouth wins. The new idea is subject to real scrutiny in the form of experimentation. Einstein’s relativity theory and the intuitive thought objects he carried out were correct but it was crucial that astrophysicist Eddington (Einsteins contemporary) was willing to put it to the test. Eddington traveled to Principe, Africa to run the experiment to validate Einstein’s theories about spacetime, using observation of actual effects on the physical universe to test the theory. If Einstein was right (Eddington thought) then the presence of the sun (and it’s gravitation” had the power to “bend” the light of the surrounding stars and there was no better way to test this than during an eclipse which would darken the sky during the day, allowing starlight to be visible and then compared to pictures if the same stars at night, without the presence of the sun. As it turned out they were both right and the experiment conducted produced the desired results.The existence of the principle of Relativity was officially outside of the realm of opinion and now a fact.
We seldom think of principles of social organization, history or philosophy in a scientific way but I believe that is a mistake that will soon be corrected in civilization. I believe that we can subject opinions and ideas in all of these areas to a standard of scientific scrutiny that will inform us and prove the validity or invalidity of any idea. We may not be able to take opinions and personal beliefs and photograph them during an eclipse, as Eddington did with Einstein’s theory, however we can make observations of our own and observe the effects of those ideas on society.. We can put these ideas to the test by observing their effect on people.
Let’s conduct a quick thought experiment. Choose any idea, theory or philosophy policy or opinion to test in your mind. I’ll wait :). Ok, now let’s ask ourselves a series of questions. How does this asserted idea affect other people? Does it increase knowledge? Does it empower people? It is something that uses and takes advantage of people? Does it improve the quality of people’s lives including a standard of living? Does it promote fraternity or promote confusion? Is it uplifting to the human spirit or degrading?. Are there examples of when the same or similar ideas were practiced in history? What happened then? I think you get the drift by now.
I’m currently of the opinion that very few things in this world are either “black” or “white” and answers to these questions are sure to be varied and fall into different spectrums, both “negative” and “positive” however, by utilizing this method the answers will be factual and provide a substantive foundation for having an informed discussion. A discussion that hopefully turns into action that will have a positive effect in this world.
Ardena Joy Clark is an American activist, writer, award winning recording artist, former elected official and author of “The Art of Choosing Joy; A Script in the Making of My Life”.