I was over on the Gravity Probe B thread posted by Scruffy and our resident physicists, and a point was brought up about how some people are trying brand new Theories of Everything and scoffing when they’re being told that they’re wrong. These kinds of situations bring up a modern quandary: when does one pursue an idea in spite of the critics, and when do you cave to the current evidence?
A big problem in our society is that we’ve had too many experiences with people in our history who were right in spite of the critics. People hear these accounts in school and see them portrayed in various media. Then, when they develop a hair-brained scheme, they don’t listen to critics because they think that the best ideas are supposed to be criticized. I call this a Galileo Complex.
The Galileo Complex goes beyond near vanity. For example, the people who get booted off at the beginning of American Idol because they can’t sing and then throw a tamper tantrum about it do not have the G.Complex. They’re tone deaf and misinformed.
People with the G. Complex go far beyond that. They pursue a goal that is (a) not noble, (b) not supported by evidence as being practical and (c) not very necessary. So that discounts people who are trying to end world hunger, study antimatter and building solar cars. They can all do their thing, or at least try, and be happy with their lives. This also excludes pursuing a religion or belief system, for reasons that I’m tired of talking about.
The G. Complex folks develop ideas that are huge. “The Universe, as we know it, is all wrong!” “We don’t even use our DNA!” “It’s not them…we’re the aliens!” They publish their results, find scientific backing and insist on carrying out their notions. They do this in the face of constant rejection. The problem is that rejection is not convincing in and of itself. After all, the world was round, right?
Who doesn’t want to be the one to say to the world: “They said it couldn’t be done. They said it was impossible. But I have overcome!” That’s a dream shared by athletes, entertainers, inventors, doctors, politicians and gamers alike. That’s how boundaries are pushed and ideas previously considered crazy are made mainstream. Eventually, we turn around and accept a lot of things unheard of in the past few years because people with legitimate conviction don’t listen to mockers. How many times in the last few years have you read a science article that begins “New research is making us rethink everything we thought we knew about _________” Do you know how many times I’ve had to rethink?
But what if your idea is wrong? What if you spend your entire life pushing something that is a figment of your vivid imagination? The answer is, you’ll find out eventually.
Here are some rules for G. Complex individuals:
1) Carefully think about your goals, not just your ideas. Your goals will help you to focus. It’s easy to get lost in grand thoughts.
2) Discuss, question and even argue your ideas with knowledgeable people. That will help everyone. But don’t be deliberately antagonistic, and don’t develop a victim complex. Some people become mortally offended when they’re ideas are criticized, and only manage to come back with insults. Those people are stupid morons.
3) If you really believe in your idea, use criticism as fuel. An idea can’t ever survive if it can’t stand up to inspection, regardless of how cool it is. If it doesn’t, try again until it does. Unconventional ideas still require conventional processes of refinement.
4) Be open to the possibility that your idea can be improved and enhanced. Don’t be stubborn. Your thought may be correct, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that your understanding is perfect.
I’d be interested to hear about people’s experiences with the G. Complex. Has you ever proved the skeptics wrong, or vice versa? Or is the whole idea of the G. Complex a complete crock that you think I’m foolish to adopt?