Chris Mooney, a blogger over at The Intersection, gave an interesting 5 minute discussion where he despairs that the idea of an enlightenment may be as good as dead. Why? Let's read some quotes: (Or you can watch above yourself, between the 15 and 20 minute marks)
First: smart people are good at defending their preconceived notions:
We all think that, the longer you've been in school the more you've learned, you become more scientific in your thinking. You become more rational.
NO! It doesn't work like that. In fact, the smarter you are the better you are at gathering information that agrees with with what you already wanted to believe anyways. And the better you are at arguing your point, the better you are at confirming your biases. In fact when arguments come at you, you've already got a armada of counter arguments.Unfortunately this is all too true. In fact, we just posted on a poll that seem to suggest the more educated you are the more likely you are to side with your political parties views on climate change. (And Chris discusses this very thing in the video.)
So: if you want someone to accept climate change, or any other issue that runs against someones world view, educating them further does not seem to mean they will be more likely to accept it!
Second: Many hoped that things like TV or the Internet will finally unite society, making us less ignorant of the world and therefore more likely to make correct decisions. Unfortunately, this optimistic idea has failed and the media seems to only compounds the problem:
You have to throw human nature with the modern media system... The Internet came along fractionating the audience even further into self selecting the little pockets of information and their going for the stuff that they already agree with. So this confirmation bias, this sense that we're going to reaffirm ourselves, now we've got media that purposely allows us to do it.And so it is.
If you are right leaning there are websites and a dedicated 24 hour cable news network for you. If you are left leaning you've got the same options from cable and the web. If you are an atheist you have blogs like Pharyngula where you can find hundreds of other people to help reassure you that you are correct and people who are not atheists must be idiots. If you are religious... and so it goes.
On one hand smart people are great at gathering information and putting together clever arguments and on the other we have a well structured media system to assist them in their efforts.
And so Chris concludes:
We have to give up on frankly, the enlightenment.... central to the enlightenment... is this idea that truth triumphs, everybody becomes a better critical thinker. and society advances and we become more reasoned we become more knowledgeable... it's not like that.Unfortunately, I fear he is correct. Ultimately, the talent of being smart and resourceful mixed with the ease of finding whatever you want from the modern media will probably kill the idea of a society that converges on "truth" (whatever that means) and thus will kill the idea of an enlightenment.
(Oh and Happy New Years!)