"... my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it... I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." Carl Sagan
There are two points I found interesting from this quote. The first is that Mr. Sagan is promoting a pretty romantic perspective of scientific objectivity. What he describes can and does happen, and he does qualify it with the word ‘often’, but science is not immune to the petty competitions and greed that plague business or religion or philosophy or politics. So I take this one with a small grain of salt.
That said, I do admire the spirit of science in which empirical, scientific truth is the ultimate goal of everyone involved, and where the truth trumps all other theories, arguments and rivalries. And while science may not be immune to pig-headed denial and competition, it is far more open to the concept of recognizing a proven truth and abandoning an old falsehood. We could use more of that objectivity in other aspects of our culture and daily lives.
Science isn’t the only place that that this kind of intellectual fairness can exist either. It exists in other areas of academia as well, although the murkier waters of the humanities make the clarity of empirical truth harder to find. The spirit can exist though, where open minds can receive and interpret new, even opposing theories for what they are instead of automatically assuming that they are wrong if they differ from those we already hold.
I like the idea of that. I’m no scientist, but I enjoy thinking (some would say too much for my own good), and I try to receive ideas that are new to me with a non-judgmental attitude, turning them over and exploring them until I understand them enough to make a judgment on them. I don’t always agree with a perspective or theory, but if I’m going to disagree, I’d like to do so from a position of understanding rather than a position of dogmatic denial, and more often than not I can find something of value or some point of empathy with most viewpoints.
A bit more of that kind of empathy would be nice to see in politics and religion. Maybe we could focus on the common ground as much as what we don’t share, and perhaps that could lead to a little less strife in favor of a bit more cooperation.