In Defense of Common Sense

John Horgan’s op-ed in the New York Times:

20050812_horgan2_184To commemorate Einstein’s “annus mirabilis,” a coalition of physics groups has designated 2005 the World Year of Physics. The coalition’s Web site lists more than 400 celebratory events, including conferences, museum exhibits, concerts, Webcasts, plays, poetry readings, a circus, a pie-eating contest and an Einstein look-alike competition.

In the midst of all this hoopla, I feel compelled to deplore one aspect of Einstein’s legacy: the widespread belief that science and common sense are incompatible. In the pre-Einstein era, T. H. Huxley, a k a “Darwin’s bulldog,” could define science as “nothing but trained and organized common sense.” But quantum mechanics and relativity shattered our common-sense notions about how the world works. The theories ask us to believe that an electron can exist in more than one place at the same time, and that space and time – the I-beams of reality – are not rigid but rubbery. Impossible! And yet these sense-defying propositions have withstood a century’s worth of painstaking experimental tests.

As a result, many scientists came to see common sense as an impediment to progress not only in physics but also in other fields.

More here.