Common sense versus science (updated)


By Peter Metzinger

(Addendum of August 19 based on feedback: common sense (which is actually nothing bad) and science need not be enemies, no incompatible opposites. On the contrary. But the term “common sense” is regularly misused by conspiracy mystics. In this article it is meant in the sense that they abuse it.)

At the weekend, I had a discussion on Facebook with a friend who said that the COVID 19 pandemic control was grossly exaggerated, that we need to listen more to common sense.

In the discussion, I said that common sense can also be quite misleading.

Common sense comes from experience of things that we can perceive. But it fails completely when it comes to insights that are beyond our imagination or where we have no experience.

For example, most people cannot imagine exponential growth. If they don’t do the math, their ability to imagine how fast the numbers are spiking. The anecdote about the inventor of chess and the grains of rice as payment illustrates this very well.

© CC BY-SA 4.0 McGeddon

An example of a lack of experiential knowledge is the relativity of time and space. Because this is not noticeable in everyday life, we can hardly imagine it. Here, too, not only arithmetic helps. Without the theory of relativity, however, not a single mobile phone would function properly today, because precise location determination is only possible thanks to the consideration of the theory of relativity.

The new SARS-CoV-2 virus and the associated disease COVID-19 is another example of new phenomena that overwhelm common sense due to lack of empirical knowledge, as is climate change. Electromagnetic fields, on the other hand, we cannot imagine because we do not perceive them.

We can only deal with all these things if we stick to science and not to common sense.

Yes, science contradicts itself from time to time. But that is normal when you are researching something new, creating new knowledge by getting more and more new data that you could not know about before.

Nevertheless, until today there is no better method to get as close as possible to an absolute truth. The last 400 years with their enormous increase in prosperity have shown this.

1 comment
  1. Hej Peter
    Du hast schon Recht – selbst der GESUNDE Menschenverstand reicht zum heutigen Leben nicht mehr; dazu kannst du auch jedes einzelne Wort zerpflücken und kommst immer mehr ins Ungewisse.
    Ich ziehe dazu vielfach einen Vergleich im Recht: Früher genügten die zehn Gebote um das Leben zu regeln – heute braucht es die Verordnung der Verordnung und neuerdings ja auch noch „verordnete“ Zeichnungen…

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