Thursday, 8 January 2009

Can Mr Spock ever win?

I've just been reading an entry in Tania Hershman's blog in which she says that logical arguments will never win against feelings and belief.

She goes on to make some very sensible points about how we write fiction, but I was held up on that original statement. If it's true, we might as well give up on science and go back to magic. I know there's always a battle between logic and belief, but I hope it's not true that emotion will universally rule the day, leaving facts to fester.

In my book Ecologic, coming out at the end of the month (please bear with me as a I get excited about it over the next few weeks) I argue that, in old Star Trek terms, we need a balance of Mr Spock's logic and Dr McCoy's emotional response.

The trouble is, with green issues we do tend to be led by the emotion, the feelings, and to ignore the logic. This is always happening in the media - Ben Goldacre has just pointed out another example of a newspaper ignoring the facts. But I do think it's possible to take that step back, to recognize bogeymen for what they are, and not to always go with the gut.

I thought that was one of the best parts of what makes us human. Or am I being hopelessly optimistic?

2 comments:

  1. Brian,
    thanks for visiting my blog and I am delighted to hear about your new book and that the Star Trek theme continues! As someone with a background in science myself, I guess I can't say that I fully believe that emotions will always lead and logic can have no effect. This is the beauty of a blog, and the beauty of what I wrote about in the blog about humans being complex and messy! I write about how I am feeling at that particular moment but then, a few moments later, I can feel completely differently. This was my reaction to having to try and explain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it suddenly seem to fit with how I see short stories, but I certainly never want to give up on science.

    Yet... I must say that "fact" in science, as someone who also studied a little Philosophy of Science and Mathematics, is a dubious term. The only thing I remember from those studies is that all we have for now is a "best-fit theory" which can never be proved to be complely correct but can only be proved to be wrong. That's pretty simplistic, I know, but someone, as someone who loves science and scientific enquiry, I like this. I like that we are fallible, that things are more complicated, that we have theories today that tomorrow could be shown to be completely false.

    But... this is all how I feel personally and my blog is not journalism, it's just my ramblings, not backed up by any evidence! Glad to have this discussion with you, very excited about your book!

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  2. Tania - thanks for your comments. I entirely agree that it's misleading to think of science as being pure fact - it's usually best guess given the data and theories we have at the moment - but at least science takes note of the data and tries to interpret it logically, as opposed to the purely emotional reaction.

    One example I give in the book is spectrum of pure chemical sodium chloride, rock salt and sea salt. Our emotional response is that the sea salt is somehow best because it's 'natural'. The rock salt is also natural, but is mined, so isn't as good. Chemicals are, of course, nasty. But logically the sodium chloride has the least dangerous impurities, the sea salt has the most.

    Anyway, thanks so much for coming back on this one!

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