Why do irrational beliefs mimic science?

Creationism debateI have recently co-published a paper, together with my collaborators Stefaan Blancke and Maarten Boudry, entitled “Why Do Irrational Beliefs Mimic Science? The Cultural Evolution of Pseudoscience,” that I think readers of this blog will find interesting.

In the paper, we develop and extend an epidemiological framework to map the factors that explain the form and the popularity of irrational beliefs in scientific garb. These factors include the exploitation of epistemic vigilance, the misunderstanding of the authority of science, the use of the honorific title of ““science” as an explicit argument for belief, and the phenomenon of epistemic negligence. We conclude by integrating the various factors in an epidemiological framework and thus provide a comprehensive cultural evolutionary account of science mimicry.

Faking and imitating science, exploiting its cultural and epistemic authority, evidently constitutes a profitable strategy. People are somehow duped into believing that pseudoscience constitutes the real thing, or provides a worthy alternative to actual science. But why are people so easily misled?

In previous papers, we have explained the popularity, persistence and typical features of weird beliefs in terms of cognitive and cultural evolutionary processes in which ideas and beliefs adapt to particular susceptibilities of the human mind and to withstand falsification and criticism (see, for instance, here). In the new paper, we investigate why some of these beliefs or belief systems, such as creationism, homeopathy and astrology, assume the cloak of science or pretend to be on equal footing with science.

The first concept we zoom in is that of “epistemic vigilance.” In a landmark paper published in 2010, Sperber and colleagues have explored a human capacity for what they call epistemic vigilance. They argue that such vigilance can be targeted both at the person who is communicating (the source), and the information itself (the content). As to the source, one can rely on two criteria, honesty and competence. The first criterion deals with the intentions of the informant, the second with whether he or she is capable of providing correct information. An informant can be dishonest or incompetent, both, or neither, but only in the last scenario should we trust him. Hence, it is important that we can detect and identify reliable sources, as the opposite of epistemic vigilance is not trust, but blind trust.

If we apply these considerations in the context of expertise, we see that human cognition is clearly equipped with the mechanisms to discriminate, at least in principle, between genuine and false experts. We have the ability to check — within limits — whether an expert is reliable, and whether the information he or she provides is consistent and coherent with our background beliefs.

However, in the case of science and pseudoscience, things tend to be a bit more complicated. Scientific beliefs are often too difficult to comprehend for lay people, which makes content evaluation impossible. This leads people to accept, or reject, scientific concepts mainly on the basis of trust. Now, deferring to experts is not necessarily a bad thing, and indeed, it would be impossible to navigate everyday life without such trust (e.g., think of mundane actions like going to a dentist, or to a car mechanic). Even without the possibility of content evaluation, one can be epistemically vigilant (e.g., checking the credentials of said dentist or car mechanic). One just needs to discriminate between real and false experts, and this latter issue is the target of the next section our paper.

In 2001, Goldman has argued that, even though novices or lay people do not have epistemic access to a particular domain of knowledge, they can rely on five sources of evidence to find out which experts they can trust.

Firstly, one can check the arguments that experts bring to the discussion. Lay people may not be able to grasp the arguments directly, but they can check for what Goldman calls “dialectical superiority.” This does not simply mean that one looks for the best debater — although debating skills can certainly add to the impression that one is an expert — but that one keeps track of the extent to which an alleged expert is capable of debunking or rebutting the opponent’s claims.

Secondly, a novice can check whether and to what extent other experts in that field support a given (alleged) expert’s propositions. It will be more reasonable to follow an expert’s opinion if it is in line with the consensus.

Thirdly, lay people can distinguish between experts on the basis of meta expertise, in the form of credentials such as diplomas and work experience. For example, an expert with a PhD in a relevant field can in general be considered to be more reliable — ceteris paribus — than an amateur.

Fourthly, a novice can check for biases and interests that affect an expert’s judgement. If an expert has a stake in defending a particular position, it will raise the suspicion that he is not interested in providing correct information, which will undermine his credibility. Of course, nobody can be free of biases, which also counts for scientists. Hence the question is not whether there is bias (there always is), but how much, where it comes from, and how one can become aware of and correct it.

Fifthly, a novice can assess an expert’s past track record. The more an expert has been right in the past, the more he has demonstrated that he has indeed access to some expert domain. As such, he will probably be right again in the future.

These five sources of evidence can help novices to tell genuine from false experts, even if they do not understand the substance of the arguments. The problem, of course, is that purveyors of pseudoscience put considerable effort in mimicking each of these tell-tale signs. Take so-called “scientific” creationism, for instance. For decades, creationists of all stripes have been inviting evolutionary biologists to take part in public debates. In the 1930s, creationist Harry Rimmer seized on every occasion to engage scientists in public debates for large crowds and humiliate them. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, young-earth creationist Duane Gish built himself a reputation out of debating evolutionary scientists (including yours truly, five times).

The creationist strategy has clearly paid off. In a debate setting, a creationist with good rhetorical skills can demonstrate his “dialectical superiority” over less prepared scientists (who tend to underestimate their creationist opponents). Creationists also make a habit of pointing out that many scientists support their cause, and they boast their academic titles and credentials, even if these do not apply to the field they pretend to be experts on (as is very frequently the case). Moreover, creationists often publicly accuse evolutionary scientists of having a hidden political agenda, while they present themselves as unbiased seekers of truth (even though, of course, they are anything but). And, finally, creationists boast of having excellent explanations for biological phenomena. In sum, pseudoscientists give novices a hard time in identifying genuine experts.

The central section of our paper attempts to answer in more detail the question of why pseudoscience is still around, despite a number of cognitive mechanisms available to human beings to spot bullshit, so to speak. I will not attempt to summarize it here (feel free to download the full paper, linked above, if you are interested), but will only mention that there we cover the following topics: error-prone mechanisms and heuristics, exploitation of epistemic vigilance, conceiving of science as an argument, the phenomenon of epistemic negligence, and the existence of what we call “stabilizing factors” (such as confirmation bias and anti-expertise attitudes).

Given all the above, why is cultural mimicry of science so successful? Irrational beliefs become more relevant by dressing up as science, in the sense that they are more likely to grab people’s attention, to be remembered and cognitively processed, and to be disseminated. In the paper we identify and discuss several factors that we think affect the relevance of pseudoscience. Here is a summary of the specific contribution of each factor in this process of cultural mimicry, within the larger framework of cultural epidemiology.

The reason why pseudoscience exists is not that people are stupid or ready to believe anything that they are told. In fact, humans have a suite of mental mechanisms that enable them to filter the information that they receive from others. They can assess the quality of the source by checking competence and honesty, and the quality of the content by checking for consistency and coherence. But in the case of science, things become a bit more complicated. Because people tend to be epistemically vigilant, and critical about sources of information, irrational beliefs need to pretend to originate from a source that people tend to deem trustworthy, i.e., science. However, people do not fully understand or appreciate the epistemic authority of science. They either ascribe authority to science on the basis of its effects or simply because of its reputation. The resulting confusion makes it easier for irrational beliefs to mimic science. In sum, the mechanisms of epistemic vigilance, an environment in which science is regarded as an epistemic authority, and a public who lacks an understanding of that authority, together constitute sufficient conditions for pseudoscience to emerge.

This deception, we show in the paper, largely occurs by persuasion. Purveyors of pseudoscience explicitly use scientific publications, language and typical features such as graphs and formulas, to convince people that they are dealing with genuinely scientific and thus reliable information. Reason-based choice explains why people tend to prefer irrational beliefs that mimic science to non-mimicking ones, because the former provides them with at least one additional argument, i.e., an extra reason for belief.

The relevance, and ensuing pervasiveness, of pseudoscientific beliefs, however, is not only a matter of argumentation, but also of motivation. People are not interested in impartial truth, but in finding and supporting beliefs that make intuitive sense. This lack of concern for truth becomes exacerbated by “epistemic negligence”: people do not invest time and energy in understanding and sustaining highly counterintuitive scientific concepts that are practically useless. The resulting shaky notions of scientific concepts come closer to pseudoscience than science, so that any difference between the two starts to blur. Consequently, psychological factors such as confirmation bias and anti-expertise allow pseudoscientific beliefs to stabilize.

To summarize, pseudoscientific concepts are pervasive: (1) because posing as science works as a tool of persuasion, and (2) because people lack the motivation to correct their intuitive beliefs, but instead seek to confirm them and, simultaneously, distrust genuine scientific expertise.

At the level of individual chains of communication, a complex picture emerges. In chains of transmission, each of the factors discussed above can be present to varying degrees. Several factors, or perhaps even all of them, might be involved at the same time. For instance, purveyors of pseudoscience try to persuade their audience by using science as an argument, while members of the audience readily accept pseudoscientific claims because these tend to corroborate their intuitive, pre-scientific beliefs. Zooming out, however, chains of transmission that might differ depending on the factors involved, when instantiated a sufficiently large number of times, will have the effect of making irrational beliefs converge around particular cultural attractors, namely irrational beliefs that mimic science. As such, the various factors that affect the micro-level processes in which pseudoscientific beliefs become relevant, result in a relatively stable cultural evolutionary process through which irrational beliefs turn into pseudoscience.

107 thoughts on “Why do irrational beliefs mimic science?

  1. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    But Coel, as he often does, steers the discussion toward areas where he can better defend himself, …

    Which could be re-phrased as sticking to what I’ve actually said and not getting drawn into other areas. 🙂

    … yet another example of ignorant physicists who nonetheless feel entitled to pontificate just because, you know, they are physicists.

    OK, I’m lost, how did an explicit refusal to comment about Aristotle precisely because of lack of knowledge about him get slanted into “pontificating” about Aristotle or whatever the topic is now supposed to be?

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  2. Robin Herbert

    Hi davidlduffy,

    ” I am guessing this might refer to what is often translated as the “passion” of an object that has been acted upon.”

    The word, I believe, is pascho, according to NAS its meanings are “to suffer, to be acted on”

    The translation in my edition is “patient” (as a noun) as “agent and patient” or sometimes “actor and patient” which is more confusing. From the context it is the thing which is acted upon or to be acted upon, depending on the context.

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  3. brodix

    Massimo,

    “No, it just means that it is overwhelmingly likely that what you say (about technical topics in physics) is wrong.”

    Yes, but how much is technical, say understanding how much insulation is necessary to a particular electronic application, the redshift of a particular galaxy, etc. and how much is interpretational. I would argue reducing time to measures of duration, correlating them to measures of distance and assuming this makes space and time interchangeable is interpretational, not technical. Presumably philosophy has some say about interpretation.
    One could correlate volume and temperature using ideal gas laws, does that make them interchangeable? They are deeply intwined. Try to define temperature irrespective of any volume being considered and it fades to useless, but still the function of the intellect is to distinguish.
    So since physics has laid claim to all knowledge of time and philosophy concedes, do all the other sciences do so as well? Can you, in any way, shape or form, use the block time theory to understand any aspect of biology?
    Many years ago, I happened to be driving along, listening to the local npr station interview a neurologist out of Johns Hopkins discuss the difference between the mind and the brain and so I called up and got on. I observed that when two particles collide, it creates an event, so while the particles continue onto future events, these events recede into the past. So the brain, being physical like the particles, continues onto the future, while the mind is a record of the events occurring and receding into the past.
    He replied, “Wow, that’s deep,” then started to describe how physics has discovered that space and time are the same, at which point the host cut us off and went onto the next caller.
    So I would just like to say that even in physics, the issue of time remains a large sticking point, as Smolin shows.

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  4. Massimo Post author

    Coel, if you bother to actually read what I wrote, rather than engaging in a knee-jerk reaction, I was very clear that it wasn’t you who were pontificating on Aristotle…

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  5. Coel

    Hi Massimo, ok, since that’s a colon rather than a semi-colon I agree it should be read that way. I guess I was mislead because I wasn’t aware that that was the point under discussion, despite Robin’s attempts to make it so.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    Again, you appear to be doing quite a lot of discussing the thing you say you have no interest in discussing.

    Noted you have no interest in Aristotle and have not read him. I am not asking anyone to become interested in Aristotle. That was simply one example that I used to demonstrate that physicists are not necessarily good critical thinkers outside of their area of expertise.

    I was firstly interested in your decision to try to discredit me with a personal insult. Not that I am bothered by the insult, I have openly admitted to being a self-absorbed narcissist before so if I was trying to feel superior then I would happily admit it. In this case there is nothing to feel superior about, it was not hard to check this.

    And as I pointed out, it would have no bearing at all on whether what I said was right or not.

    I was just interested in why you took that decision to use that insult. As with previous times you have used that insult, it seems to indicate that I may have struck a nerve.

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  7. Coel

    Robin,

    That was simply one example that I used to demonstrate that physicists are not necessarily good critical thinkers outside of their area of expertise.

    First, for obvious medical reasons, by 2010 Hawking’s input to anything would have been minor, so we can reasonably take that section on Aristotle as by Mlodinow. And, while he has a physics background, Mlodinow had left physics 25 years before writing that book to be a general science writer and indeed a general writer.

    Now, any writer who attempts a general sweep will sometimes get things wrong. Most such books will have errors in them, especially when they are tangential to the main thrust of the book. I’m sure I could find loads of errors in most popular-level general-science writing. Despite that, such writers do a laudable job. If one finds an error, the cool thing to do is to accept that errors are an occupational hazard of anyone writing a broad popular-level sweep. The much less cool thing to do is to keep pointing to the same error multiple times as a put-down to the author.

    I was just interested in why you took that decision to use that insult.

    I said that because it seems to me that that’s what you do. You have a tendency of writing comments that are primarily about looking for a way to put someone down. The many times you have referred to this Mlodinow passage in multiple threads are examples. Your comments about the editors of The Lancet up thread are similar and uncharitable. Another example was your recent insistence on misinterpreting Dawkins such that he could be construed as wrong. There are lots of similar examples.

    If you don’t want me to arrive at such conclusions about your comments then you could interpret the writings and actions of others more charitably.

    Yes Robin, we get it, every regular reader here has got it: you have superior knowledge of Aristotle to Mlodinow! Well done! We’re all impressed! Award yourself a gold star and an extra biscuit. Now, with that settled, you don’t need to continue steering as many threads as possible to that example.

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  8. Robin Herbert

    Part of the article was about our ability to adjudicate claims in areas where we have no expertise. I was reading a debate between historians where one was claiming that the Judeo-Christian tradition has sole credit for modern empirical science and that the ancient Greeks and Romans held up the development of modern science. The other was saying that science had its roots in ancient Greece/Rome as well as in parts of Asia.

    On the “Genesis created science” side was a senior academic, an Ancient History professor, with a good deal of experience and obviously well respected in his field. HIs rebuttals were frequent and smooth. He was a committed Christian, but then again his opponent was an activist atheist, so they came out even on this.

    On all five of Goldman’s criteria the “Genesis created science” team came out on top, but nevertheless I think that even as a non expert and having no familiarity with or interest in many of the figures that they mention I can still check the evidence and arguments and come to a conclusion.

    For the record, and although I am often at pains to see that the Christian Church and culture gets due credit for their contribution to the development of science, the idea that the Judeo-Christian culture can take sole credit or even a major share of the credit for modern science it, I think, absurd.

    I don’t think that you can easily codify the ways that you can sort out the wheat from the chaff in these cases, and it is not always easy or something on which we can be certain. I think that, in general, we can make these kinds of judgements.

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  9. Robin Herbert

    Coel,

    “The Grand Design” begins with a sneering put down of philosophy and philosophers and the claim that “science” can now take up the “torch”. The claim in question demonstrated that the authors don’t even have the minimal familiarity with the kinds of things Aristotle wrote than even I have. That is not some kind of a routine mistake.

    We might have different ideas about what is cool and laudable. It is not cool in my books to rewrite history in favour of some modern fashionable opinion. In fact that seems pretty dangerous to me.

    Also, the times I have brought this up, I recall that in the past I have brought it up because you have said that I make claims but can’t show examples. But when I do show examples you find some pretext to criticise that too.

    Incidentally, I am pretty sure that Hawking would detest the “go easy on the poor disabled guy” attitude.

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  10. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    Yes Robin, we get it, every regular reader here has got it: you have superior knowledge of Aristotle to Mlodinow! Well done! We’re all impressed! Award yourself a gold star and an extra biscuit. Now, with that settled, you don’t need to continue steering as many threads as possible to that example.

    I have hit a nerve, haven’t I? What was that you were saying about how I should be charitable?

    But, again, you are totally missing the point. My minimal knowledge of Aristotle is nothing to be proud of. Many people have that, many people have much more.

    If it was some abstruse knowledge that only experts have then I would not criticise. It is the fact that anyone with even a minimal familiarity with Aristotle would have thought that this seemed not to be the kinds of things he says.

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  11. Coel

    Robin,

    “The Grand Design” begins with a sneering put down of philosophy and philosophers and the claim that “science” can now take up the “torch”. […]

    Well now you’re changing what your complaint is about. You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about that attitude, such that you then want to sneer at Mlodinow.

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  12. Robin Herbert

    HI Coel,

    Another example was your recent insistence on misinterpreting Dawkins such that he could be construed as wrong. There are lots of similar examples.

    Despite your valiant attempts to twist my words round, I repeat, I offered no criticism of Dawkins whatsoever, I don’t think I was misrepresenting him, I doubt that Dawkins would think that this was a misrepresentation of what he said.

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  13. Coel

    I don’t think I was misrepresenting him, I doubt that Dawkins would think that this was a misrepresentation of what he said.

    Of course he would!

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  14. Robin Herbert

    Your comments about the editors of The Lancet up thread are similar and uncharitable.

    What uncharitable thing did I say about that? I said that it showed lack of judgement to publish it and that they took 12 years to fully retract it, even though it was clearly being used as part of an organised misinformation campaign by some lawyers who wanted to sue the manufacturers of the vaccine. I said that it was a case where we lay people, parents who got access to the report and picked it apart and wondered why it had been published in the first place, seemed to have better judgement than the editors of the Lancet.

    People died. It is not a case for being “charitable”, it is a case for telling the truth. The dominant line is to be uncharitable about the parents who were taken in by that campaign, to paint them as silly irrational people who just won’t be told by scientists. No one complains about that uncharitability and that is genuinely uncharitable, not to say misleading.

    I don’t apologise for not toeing that party line.

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  15. Coel

    Robin,

    What uncharitable thing did I say about that? I said that it showed lack of judgement to publish it and that they took 12 years to fully retract it, even though it was clearly being used as part of an organised misinformation campaign by some lawyers who wanted to sue the manufacturers of the vaccine. I said that it was a case where we lay people, parents who got access to the report and picked it apart and wondered why it had been published in the first place, seemed to have better judgement than the editors of the Lancet.

    All of that is uncharitable. If it were the case that medical journals were to decline publication because the findings might help those suing manufacturers or were out of line with the opinion of the “medical establishment” than that would do much more damage in the long run. Nothing would damage trust in the medical establishment faster than the suspicion that they were suppressing publication of evidence that they didn’t like. Based on what the editors knew at the time, the decision to publish it was reasonable. The paper itself, however, was fraudulently written. As I said, that’s a very hard thing for journal editors to detect, which is why it is uncharitable to fault their decision.

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  16. Coel

    Your attempts to show this became ever more incoherent and overblown …

    Your utter desperation to misinterpret the plain and clear text in order to pronounce the author wrong (and thus award yourself another biscuit) was noted.

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  17. Robin Herbert

    Only one good thing came out of that thread. I went looking for my copy of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and found the old tapes of my band which I thought I had lost. Not that we were any good.

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  18. Robin Herbert

    Coel,

    “Your utter desperation to misinterpret the plain and clear text in order to pronounce the author wrong (and thus award yourself another biscuit) was noted.”

    You came up with quite a few versions of what you claimed he “really” meant. I took it that he meant what I said. If I was wrong then it is not so very important. I offered no criticism of him and pointed out that it made no difference to the point he was making? That is somehow uncharitable? You have a fine haur trigger for this “uncharitable” claim.

    And yet you are completely unable to even contemplate the possibility that it is uncharitable of you to be insisting that I was deliberately mistepresenting him.

    ..and thus award yourself another biscuit…

    .
    I won’t be dignifying any more of this nasty sneering little attack of yours with replies.

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  19. Coel

    You came up with quite a few versions of what you claimed he “really” meant.

    Nope, the “versions” all had the same meaning. They were simply different attempts to explain it.

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  20. Daniel Kaufman

    Coel: Yes, I would be shocked if a physicist told me he had never read Newton. Just as I would be shocked if a biologist told me he’d never read “Origin of Species.”

    Is the point that such people would not be able to practice their trade? To do physics or biology? Of course not. The point is rather that it would display a shocking degree of philistinism and incuriousity. Ph.D.’s in sciences are not supposed to be engineers but rather intellectuals. And I would be quite suspicious of the scholarly mind that had so little interest in the foundations of his own discipline that he had not bothered to explore them. And yes, I would think that in an indirect way, it would diminish the quality of one’s work, in the way that narrow, tunnel-visioned perspectives diminish the quality of virtually all work, other than the narrowest, engineering-type tasks.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. ejwinner

    Robin Herbert,
    Massimo expressed my thought here better than I did. Dismissal of the past is an unnecessary narrowing of perspective. Distortion of the past, such as you complained of, leads to sloppy thinking, sometimes worse.

    That I noted such fields as biology and genetics, is to note that my response comes after a long history of having to suffer through lectures on occasionally ill-informed opinions on a variety of topics..

    I should apologize to brodix and Philosopher Eric, since I referenced them without explanation. What I meant was that opinions without proper research grounding them are not persuasive, and ultimately not very interesting. (Although tangential, this actually does have something to do with the OP. For instance, astrology is clearly a pseudo-science; but it largely survives due to poorly informed opinions among the public that are expressed in quasi-scientific or quasi-philosophical terms.)

    I think it best for me to skip over chunks of threads here from now on. Massimo has noted time and again that if a commentator writes in a repeatedly annoying manner, it is best to skip over him/her. Adhering to this comes hard to a debate-junkie like me, but the wisdom of it is clear.

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  22. Coel

    Hi Dan,

    Coel: Yes, I would be shocked if a physicist told me he had never read Newton. Just as I would be shocked if a biologist told me he’d never read “Origin of Species.”

    At the risk of shocking you, I’ll bet that 99% of professional physicists have never read Newton’s Principia. Partly, it’s because the history of the subject doesn’t have the same importance within physics as it (rightly) does in other disciplines.

    And I would be quite suspicious of the scholarly mind that had so little interest in the foundations of his own discipline that he had not bothered to explore them.

    There’s a big difference between the foundations of the discipline and the history of it. The foundations of physics are experiment and observations. Physics derives from empirical evidence, not from past writings about physics.

    But, in addition, Newton deliberately wrote Principia in an obscure way. He was showing off and wanted it to be read only by those he considered worthy of doing so. So he wrote in Latin (whereas Galileo had written in the local vernacular to be accessible). But more importantly, most of the mathematical techniques he used are not ones anyone uses today. The maths that is used for physics today has moved on and been improved and clarified hugely from Newton’s day. And he didn’t present the maths in an easy-to-follow way [recall the old joke: what’s the difference between an introductory level maths textbook and an advanced one? The advanced one misses out every other line!]

    Thus reading Principia (even in English translation) would be really hard work, having to learn a lot of very unfamiliar tools. Is it worth the effort? For those with a particular interest in the historical development, perhaps so, but very few physicists make the effort. It’s a bit like an English literature student making the effort to read Beowulf in the original Old English; some do but many don’t.

    Darwin’s OofS is different. It is readily accessible to anyone, biologist or not. He wrote it to be accessible, and of course there is no maths.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Massimo Post author

    Coel, Robin,

    I strongly suggested you moderate the tone and quit the sniping. I would hate to have to suspend commenting privileges for either of you.

    That said, Coel, you are excusing Hawking for awfully inaccurate writing on the basis of his health? Besides the fact that his health hasn’t been good for a long time, no, it doesn’t fly. And it certainly doesn’t fly for Mlodinow.

    They didn’t get “some things” wrong, they wrote in a condescending way of something they clearly had no knowledge or understanding.

    And, frankly, I know of very few biologists who have read the Origin, precisely because it isn’t really that relevant to modern research. It is, of course, a crucial bit of culture, and it ought to be understood and possibly read by more people.

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  24. couvent2104

    Yes, I would be shocked if a physicist told me he had never read Newton.

    I know a lot of physicists, but I only know one who has read Newton. And that was just for fun.

    In physics “the original text” has no special importance. If you don’t understand quantum mechanics nobody says “Ah, you have to read the original articles by Heisenberg and Schrödinger.” It would be a waste of time.

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  25. couvent2104

    Now that I think about it … that’s one of the big differences between the hard sciences and philosophy, I think.
    The original text has no special importance.
    In philosophy there are, I think, “Heidegger-experts”. In physics you have people who know a lot about classical mechanics, but you very rarely encounter a “Newton-expert”.

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  26. couvent2104

    Most of modern classical mathematics was developed on the continent (mainly, but not exclusively, in France by people like Lagrange and Laplace). That is actually a bit strange. Newton was English after all. But I’ve read somewhere that English mathematicians and physicists were hampered by the tendency to “stay true” to Newton. Perhaps a case can be made that the original text can be a serious stumbling block for scientific progress.

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