Conceiving and convincing

Imagine, we are given a task to fill up as many pages as possible on word, in a given time, with the letter ‘A’. One way is to copy ‘A’ into the clip board and keep pressing Ctrl V. This is the AP(Arithmetic Progression) way. There is another way; we can copy ‘A’ and keep pressing ctrl C, Ctrl A, ctrl V in sequence. This is the GP way. Mathematics tells us that although Ctrl V appears once in three buttons, the GP method is faster. This is not obvious for a common man at the first sight. And most of the public, are insensitive to logical arguments. Nevertheless, one can convince anyone of this fact, simply by demonstrating it.

The above is an example of what I call as an operationally testable statement. However there are statements which are not operationally testable. The man on the platform, says “the train is moving”; while, the man in the train says “the platform is moving”. Usually, a common man assumes that the man on the train is wrong; he knows the ‘truth’- the train is moving. The profound realisation is that, neither of them are wrong. But there is no way to demonstrate it! This concept of relative motion is operationally un-testable. So much so, that this un-testability was responsible for the Galileo affair. (besides religious concerns)

In fact, most of the statements with profound reasoning are operationally un-testable. For instance, the counter intuitive results of cantor, like the number of points on a side of a cube, the number of points on a face and the number of points inside its volume, are all equal; it is impossible to trisect an angle using a straight edge and a compass. A common man certainly has problems with accepting it. And unfortunately, there is no operational way to convince him of this fact; i.e, a person who assumes the contrary will not be punished for being wrong. :D Hence it is apparent that there is no way to convince the public of these facts.

To digress a bit, I often say utilising an object is to do something with it, which cannot be done without using it :D. By that token, reasoning should be used to conceive (currently)un-testable facts. Because, operationally testable facts can be conceived even without reasoning. Hence, real utilisation of reasoning is to conceive operationally un-testable facts.

How do I convince a common man of such facts? In the first place, should one care to convince someone who is not sensitive to logic? To answer these questions, I shall consider examples from the history where the task of convincing the public has been accomplished.

The earth is not flat, but spherical, and further, it is not at rest, it is rotating and revolving. These two are among the most profound, but operationally un testable realisations. However, they are widely accepted by the public!. Let us examine how were the public convinced of these. Aristotle conceived that the earth is spherical. At that time this would have been counter intuitive and operationally un testable; So, he would have had a great trouble in convincing people about it. It is clear that he did care about convincing people about it; why else would he list down the common fallacies in logic committed by people :D (see ‘Aristotle’s 13 fallacies’). And the way he did it, was to impose it as a belief. This is clear from how people believed everything that Aristotle said.

Most of the public today, believe that the earth is in a complicated motion. They just believe- they don’t really know the reasoning which led to this fact!. In fact, to really go through the reasoning, one has to understand relative motion. This was the major trouble with accepting Galileo’s arguments; he was asked to prove that the earth is moving (for which he gave a wrong argument :P). And it is apparent that most of the public don’t really appreciate relative motion. So, it is clear that they have been convinced of the heliocentric theory, just by imposing it as a belief. This, is not very different from religion!. Isn’t it unjustified for an intellectual to impose a belief?

Majority of people are insensitive to logical reasoning; ie, if the result of a logical reasoning is against their intuition or religious or any other concerns, they cease to accept it. Therefore, it is impossible to propagate the picture of moving earth, through reasoning. If it was not propagated as a belief, the public would have accepted a different picture of the earth, still as a belief!. Hence it is not unjustified, to propagate a belief, if it is necessary to convince them of these facts.

It is clear that whether or not a statement gets propagated as a belief among the public doesn’t depend on whether the statement is based on a sound reasoning or not!. It depends on the ability to impose a belief among the public, of the person who conceived it. This means, almost anything can be propagated as a belief!. That is a little disturbing :D. There ought to be a fundamental difference between conceiving a statement out of rigorous logical reasoning, and claiming without a strong logical background. I guess this difference is brought out in the confidence: the confidence attained by conceiving a fact through thorough reasoning is stronger. I guess(hope :P) this difference can be utilised to beat the propagation of unsupported claims.

Finally, I come to the question I postponed to the end. Is it necessary to care about convincing others? Again let’s ask (old)people :D.Usually, mathematicians don’t care about the public; after conceiving a result, they wouldn’t worry about convincing. Kepler, who went a long way ahead of Galileo, at the same time, didn’t care to convince everyone; that is why he doesn’t have an affair attached to his name, unlike Galileo :D. Apparently, he was able to go that far simply because he didn’t care about convincing people. It is clear that Galileo and Aristotle cared about convincing people. If none of the physicists and mathematicians care about convincing others, their next generation to be physicists and mathematicians will find it hard to see the facts amidst misconceptions. Avoiding this is the only possible motivation for a physicist/mathematician to get in to the job of convincing, as far as I can see right now. This post is the longest one so far, and has crossed 1K words :D and so I stop here :D :D

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6 Responses to “Conceiving and convincing”

  1. Megha Sridhar Says:

    Your posts are never a light read… Very evident that you aren’t the sit-back-and-relax type!
    Well, about the post, you are talking about two sides of a balance here.. That leads me to another basic question. What drives a scientist?? What is the intention behind the passion to uncover nature’s secrets? Is he interested in creating awareness and truth? Or is it just an intense curiosity? In the latter case, he might be a brilliant scientist, with no convincing intentions, whatsoever!

  2. Bharath H M Says:

    The motivation behind a man’s quest to discover new things is complicated. It is mostly the fun of it or the ‘intellectual enjoyment’ which motivates a man to do research. Similarly, the motivation behind the aggression shown while proving himself right to someone else is also quite complicated. It is certainly not ‘creating awareness’ because, scientists know that they too are not completely correct! They will be proved wrong later :D

  3. Anniyan Says:

    Interesting post. I was directed here by Megha. I would like to say something about the question here.

    You have asked whether we really need to convince people of facts and phenomena. I would say yes and no. Yes because society will never improve if nobody wants to convince others of their findings and inventions. However, when this is done in a wrong way, the basic belief systems of the common-folk start to disintegrate. And there has to be another strong enough belief system to occupy that void created by this one.

    The common folk do not care whether something is reasonable or not. They just want a “reliable source” to tell them what is true. In the Galileo affair, the church had the upper hand as it controlled the whole of the common populace. When such a blasphemous (from their perspective) argument was put forth against them, they did what they had to in order to save their credibility.

    And I say NO because, in order for society to progress, the scientific folk must not worry about convincing the common-folk about the credibility of their research. If they do, they will only hinder their own progress.

    Lastly, I say that the common-folk never want to find out about anything that they don’t understand. They lack the basic curiosity to find and understand new things. This is bound to change someday. But it will not happen in the near future. Most definitely not in our lifetimes.

    Nice post. Bookmarking you. :)

  4. jishnub Says:

    Reading the previous comments I have a basic problem with the phrase ‘common man’. It somehow leaves the speaker out of the bunch. Everyone is a common man, everyone has the right to question and not believe. Yet most people end up believing others because thinking is hard work. Even scientists. They just believe different sources.

    That the earth revolves around the sun is not obvious at all. I mean planets revolving around earth in circles with epicycles is a very good model to fit the observations. Later it was discovered that sun is way more massive.
    Also Kelvin himself tried to prove that gravitational collapse drives the energy of the sun. Einstein, after his only experiment where he measured the gyromagnetic ratio of the electron to be less than 2, justified that it is 1 to fit his theory.
    What is right or wrong is defined by our present understanding of the world, which is based on the opinion of some smart people, who may be proved wrong later. There are shady areas of electrodynamics which seem to contradict relativity, the authors like Jackson deliberately leave them out of textbooks. We don’t want to talk about what we don’t understand. We are all common men. The scientists, they are common men too.

  5. Bharath H M Says:

    @Anniyan: I think it is a choice left to the scientist if he wants to communicate his work to the common man or not. Some of them do and some of them don’t.

    @Jishnu: yeah, the term ‘common man’ is contextual.

  6. Quora Says:

    Is science in practice just another appeal to authority?…

    Interesting question. And Interesting discussion in this thread. Most of the answers provide valid reasons to believe in science. The most prominent one being the verifiability of scientific claims. In principle, the claims of science are testable, and…

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