Common sense

One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Waking Up by Sam Harris.

In a section, where he discusses our evolving understanding of the physical world from a scientific perspective, Harris writes this sentence:

“In fact, our common sense seems to be stuck somewhere in the sixteenth century.”

An interesting observation.

We live in a world, according to the scientists, where everything is composed of vibrating packets of energy.

No doubt you heard about atoms and other subatomic particles during a science class at school, even if you didn’t have any idea what the teacher was going on about. They have different names these days – who can keep up?

Do you remember all the excitement surrounding the confirmation of the Higgs boson or God particle in 2012?

Perhaps not. If you need a refresher Wikipedia has got all the details or ask Google.

4 rocks in a pile

It appears science has a story of the physical world that is far removed from our everyday understanding. As far as we are concerned, rocks are made of solid stuff. You can sit on them. You can cut them into pieces. You can build things with them that last for thousands of years.

At our level of perception, there is nothing vibrating about a rock or the screen that you’re reading this on. Scientists can tell us that they’re both mostly empty space but common sense tells you they’re solid. You only have to touch it to see that common sense is correct.

Another aspect of common sense lagging behind our scientific understanding of the universe is the way we talk about the movement of the sun. Galileo Galilei got himself into a spat with the Church, in the early part of the seventeenth century, for pointing out that the earth revolves around the sun and not the sun around the earth.

Even though we have sent men to the moon and spacecraft into deep space based on Galileo’s version of the story, common sense – based on our pre-Galilean picture of the solar system – still tells us that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

You can watch it move across the sky during the course of the day, any day of the week. And, isn’t daily experience where common sense comes from?

I suspect this is the point Harris is making.

What do you think ?

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.