Monday, June 4, 2007

Childhood origins of adult resistance to science

I recently posted an entry on non-local realism that sparked quite a discussion. Last week’s Science Magazine had an interesting review article bearing the above title childhood origins of adult resistance to science (subscription required), analyzing similar issues in neuroscience and evolutionary biology.

When I travel to Europe, people often ask me about certain controversies in American society, because they are not able to see the controversy. Mostly I have to pass, because I am not able to understand the controversy myself, for example the controversy about evolution and creationism.

The Science article has a two-part explanation. The first part is that resistance to certain concepts (like gravity and non-locality) has its origin in childhood, or more precisely, when an incorrect common-sense assumption is not debunked in children, it will persist in adulthood.

When I grew up, the school system in southern Switzerland was an amalgam of the renaissance system, Cartesian dualism, Bourbaki’s methodology, and Derrida's deconstructivism. Intuition was always challenged and, like my buddies, I grew up as a very critical person. By comparison, the American school system is less structured, which — according to the Science article — leads to 42% of Americans not grasping evolution, and other beliefs that look weird from a Swiss perspective, like ESP and the more widespread reliance on astrology.

The second part of the explanation is that both children and adults are sensitive to the trustworthiness of the source of information. Here in America the role of trusted religious and political authorities is much more important. I wonder what the consequences are for American politician’s propensity of giving a spin on events, of foregoing debate in favor of sound bites.

I am interested in hearing the opinion on this Science Magazine article from people who went through the American educational system. I am also curious to hear how this looks from the perspective of other cultures. For example, ‘horizontal reading’ of the 'world-text' in the cosmology of Japanese esoteric Buddhism has deep similarities with deconstruction. How does this impact resistance to science in your culture?