Humans are naturally curious creatures, but so are monkeys. It is this curiosity, combined with the requisite tools of reason, logic, and the scientific method which differentiates humanity from other species. This difference has allowed us to better our way of life over the millennia. It took hold especially during the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century when humans began to understand and put into practice the importance of the scientific method, reason, and logic.
Intellectuals were always was just a small minority of the population. Many of them were scorned and labeled as heretics by religious zealots, leaders, and those who blindly followed them. The masses were largely illiterate which is how we explain why science was slowly adopted. But over time the concepts of intellectual pursuit persevered and those few intellectuals made headway.
Eventually, science and technology converted the masses. Why? Because things like the industrial revolution happened. Then technology like radio, television, cell phones, etc., turned out not to be wizardry after all. It’s hard to deny the science when you literally use it every day and your life is made better by it.
Fast forward to today. The masses are no longer illiterate–but they may as well be. In an age when we have the entire knowledge of the world at our fingertips, the masses still rely on religious-like zealotry to guide them through life. But it’s not the old religions that dominate our culture. It’s the new religion of politics, or more specifically, political-science. The emphasis on political science is intentional, not to be confused with the academic discipline, but the new kind: political-science with a hyphen, which says that real science is only the science approved by the political, cultural elite and the drones that believe them. Unfortunately, this group can make no claims to intellectual curiosity, because they have abandoned the scientific method entirely.
True intellectual pursuit comes about through our natural curiosity followed by reason, logic, and the scientific method. Yes, we’re all curious, but without these tools, the result of that curiosity is nothing more than entertainment disguised as knowledge.
As a refresher, examine the scientific method in the illustration below.
Valuable discoveries have always come from those who used the requisite tools combined with their curiosity. It wasn’t curiosity alone. If it was, we’d be collaborating in mathematics and science with chimps and dogs. A dog is curious about things because it wants to know if the object of interest can be peed on, screwed, or eaten. Humans, at least the better of us, have more noble and useful motives for our curiosity.
Using the scientific method, we set out to prove or disprove our hypothesis. If we limited it to only proving it, we’d miss the most important step of all. Why? Because we’d allow our bias to ignore the evidence that might prove our hypothesis wrong.
Now that the information of the world is available at our fingertips, the masses have deluded themselves into believing they are experts at anything and everything. This happens because a quick search can serve up information about any subject in seconds. The first thing people see that matches their desired notion of what exists becomes their standing ground. What should be a search about a hypothesis becomes a search for proof without scrutiny. They set aside or ignore anything that conflicts with that desired notion. This is confirmation bias. It does not occur to them that the requisite for expertise is the scientific method. This is true of all matters of inquiry, not just science.
Their feeble research becomes a fact. There is no testing, no troubleshooting, and no analysis of objective observations. This is the antithesis of the scientific method. That information is available in an instant gives people the false notion that their beliefs are true, regardless of any opinions or hypotheses to the contrary. In the scientific community, this is considered malfeasance at best and fraud at the worst.
So, some things haven’t changed much since the Dark Ages. But at least back then, people had the excuse of being deprived of information and that they were illiterate. They were subject to the whims of those hungry for power. Now we can see proof that literacy does not imply intelligence. We should know better now because some true intellectuals in the past have shown us the way to finding the truth. And what have we done with this? We’ve squandered it. And to make matters worse, the intellectual lazy are even challenging the concept of the scientific method, claiming it is a racist, misogynist social construct.
Curiosity has not died. It will always be with us. But intellectual curiosity hasn’t improved much. Truth-seeking is a hard path. It is not easy. It takes persistence and the ability to shed our biases in pursuit of it. Most of humanity is intellectually lazy.
On a per-capita basis, I suspect (yes, it’s only a hypothesis), that the percentage of truly intellectual curios people hasn’t changed much since the dark ages. Humanity falls victim to the Pareto distribution again. What makes it much worse for society today is that we have a lot more (numerically) dumb people out there. In the Dark Ages, the world’s population was around 350 million people. Today it is approximately 7.6 billion. More importantly, the people who claim to be intellectually curious and are actually not, are able to amplify their knowledge to the world via social media. Their hypotheses disguised as facts appeal to the animal instincts of us all. These ideas grow exponentially, thereby creating more faux experts. In effect, most of us are just wondering if the information we’ve found should be pissed on, screwed, or eaten.
Meanwhile, the truly intellectually curious still exist, but likely at the same percentages as it always had. But because of our arrogance, the masses have convinced themselves they are indeed experts on all matters of importance. Those that lead us politically are rarely intellectually curious if at all, yet they claim to be followers of science. When was the last time we heard a politician agree to subject their policies for validation of their claims of effectiveness, to test out their hypotheses, analyze the results, and agree to change them when found ineffective? That’s right, it never happens.
The subject of inquiry doesn’t matter, but the trends of claimed expertise and intellectual curiosity are mere trends. For proof of this, look no further than your current social media to see it dominated by all your friends who are now self-appointed experts in immunology and epidemiology. Their claims of expertise are nothing but the information found that matches their confirmation bias. They conveniently ignore reputable information that challenges their assertions.
In time, the truly intellectually curious will win out if we can use history as our guide. But don’t expect it to happen in our lifetime. After all, estimates for the length of the Dark Ages are between eight and ten centuries. Our new Digital Dark age only began a few decades ago. Saddle up for some seriously long dark times.