Thinking on the path of least resistance

Why does pseudo-science persist in this day and age?  In a world where mountains of valid scientific information are freely available to nearly everyone, why do notions like astrology, crystal healing, and creationism continue to occupy valuable real estate in human brains?  I think I may have come up with a partial answer:

Science is hard.

Allow me to clarify my point with a metaphor.  Consider this simple circuit diagram.

This simple circuit represents the pure Light of Science.

Electrons travel along the wire from one terminal of the battery to the other.  Along the way, they must pass through the filament of the light bulb.  This is not easy for the electrons, because the filament puts up a great deal of resistance to them.  This resistance leads to the tremendous heat produced by an incandescent bulb, and ultimately to its entire purpose: light.

The light bulb represents science.  It takes effort to properly understand science, but that effort results in a reward: a better understanding of the nature of the universe, and of our place within it.

Now, consider a second circuit diagram.

This circuit diagram represents the false comfort of pseudoscience.

A new path has been opened for the electrons.  Now, rather than push their way through the cumbersome tungsten filament, they can simply travel through relatively resistance-free wire all the way from one end of the battery to the other.  The electrons have a much easier time of it this way, but because they do not travel through the filament, the light bulb remains dark.  (I hope I don’t need to remind anyone not to try this; short-circuiting a battery is a bad idea!)

Thus electrons choose the path of least resistance, and so, much of the time, do people.  Pseudo-scientific notions of the motions of stars affecting our daily lives, of crystals containing mysterious “energies,” of ethereal, unknowable “intelligent designers,” are often much easier to understand than real science.  To achieve scientific understanding, it is often necessary to challenge one’s own concept of the world, to question seriously one’s most cherished notions.  No such challenge is required in embracing pseudoscience. 

Though, of course, by taking the easy route, people ensure that the light of real knowledge about the universe remains dim.


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