What Is The Most Misunderstood Idea Ever?  


by Ed Brayton

Longtime friend of Dispatches Ron Brown asks an interesting question at his blog: What is the most misunderstood idea of all time? He offers an initial suggestion that the most misunderstood is Descartes’ famous statement cogito ergo sum, but I think his second idea is even more misunderstood:

* That evolution is driven by random chance. While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness.

* That evolutionary theory or Darwin himself ever argued for eugenics. Evolution is a theory of what is, not what ought. Further, in On The Origin of Species, Darwin specifically spoke against human eugenics.

There are so many misconceptions of what evolutionary theory means or requires that I would nominate this as the clear leader for the most misunderstood idea ever. Very few people understand what the theory of evolution is, what it entails or how it happened. How often do you hear people ask, “If we evolved from apes (or worse, monkeys), why are there still apes?” Anyone asking that question doesn’t have the first clue how evolution works, yet it is staggeringly common. There are more myths and false perceptions of evolution than any other idea I can think of.



This is from an article by Ed Brayton.  Very thought provoking question.  I hear people say things that require a second, even third or fourth take. You just want to reach over and hit their reset switch. You know, the one that is blinking bright red between their eyes. And hit it hard.

I agree that evolution is probably the most misunderstood, but quantam physics is a close second, if not tied with evolution.

On the social side, feminism is an idea that is completely misunderstood by most people. Also race, as in there isn’t any, except the human race.

Anyway folks, what’cha think? Anything is fair game.

Views: 852

Replies to This Discussion

I like the way you present that Joan.

People who don't accept evolution are bizarre./Les gens qui n'acceptent pas l'évolution sont bizarres.

Napoleon I agree. They are bizarre. Religion is bizarre.

Why do they believe the bible?

Bible believers want safety, security, and stability and are willing to sell their souls in order to have their security blanket. Believers learn from their first bible study lesson or their first sermon that they cannot live a moral life without their crutch.

Bizarre indeed!

Yup, @#$%^*& Ray Comfort.

Suppose I photoshop that croc's head onto the pope.

I'll title the pic Crococrap.

I would say that the most misunderstood idea would be 'energy'. Many people have the idea that energy is some nebulous force that surrounds us and influences us. Things like chakras, ley lines, psychic abilities; all that jazz. Most of these ridiculous claims stem from a complete lack of understanding over what energy is and its relationship with matter (i.e.; being one and the same).

Really winds me up when I hear someone talk about energy like its something you can pick up and stick in your pocket (And don't get me started on the whole 'its made of PURE ENERGY!' drivel that seems to pop up in films and TV frequently).

Oh that and quantum mechanics, definitely. I have a personal rule: if someone mentions Quantum theory, and are not a working physicist: they are talking out of their arse (this rule also applies to myself!).

In a college philosophy class one day, as the professor spoke of Rousseau's cogito ergo sum as a kind of truth, I was thinking I can prove I am by pricking an arm with a needle.

Years later I wrote my objection in a cinquain (a form devised by Adelaide Crapsey, an American poet).

"I think

Therefore I am,"

Said the philosopher.

Bunk! He didn't feel; he only

Half was.

Am I misunderstanding Rousseau's half-truth?

Tom Sarbeck, please do create a Crococrap.

Joan, will you settle for putting a croc and the pope together and see if mating works?

The second most misunderstood idea might be understood to have two opposite meanings.

"...While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness."

Depends on how we define "random"

1) as non-specialists do (without method or conscious decision), or

2) as statisticians do (different things equally likely to happen).

Defined as non-specialists define it, natural selection is entirely random. (Unless you're an Intelligent Design creationist)

The New Oxford American Dictionary says the word's roots include Middle English "impetuous headlong rush", and old French "great speed" and "gallop".




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