Science and common sense
Science and common sense
Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before your reach eighteen.

Albert Einstein

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge
Daniel Boorstin
Survival in the ancient world required quick decisions normally made from information stored in the brain (availability heuristic). Once the mind concludes, it resists contrary evidence (confirmation bias). Science addresses these biases and cautions us to reflect on our conclusions.

The shape of the Earth is a clear example of how common sense affects understanding. Those who look down (most primitive cultures) see a flat Earth. Those who look up at the Sun and stars more easily visualize a round Earth. Science is able to integrate these two perspectives.

Common sense dictates that the universe is geocentric. Copernicus proposed heliocentricity. The apparent conflict between authoritative scripture and heliocentricity retarded acceptance of the latter.

Newtonian mechanics are counterintuitive. Most people, including many scientists, accept without fully comprehending, Newtonian mechanics. Understanding Newton, requires overcoming intuitive notions of Aristotelian motion.

Most people think little, or not at all, about the above examples because they've learned the facts without the understanding (tacit knowledge). The examples below are more problematic.

Common sense is surprised that pictures from the moon don't show stars in the sky. The extraordinary dynamic range of the human eye (compared to film) isn't commonly appreciated. The "behavior of flags" on the moon, especially when astronauts touch the flagpole, resembles the behavior of flags in the wind. We have no feel for how flags behave in a vacuum at low gravity. "Moon hoaxers" take advantage of common sense impressions.

Common sense also obscures the second law of thermodynamics which states that, without energy input, disorder increases. Order doesn't spontaneously increase in ordinary life, but we easily forget the weather where energy input creates hurricanes and tornadoes. The Belousov-Zhabotinsky reagent is a yet more striking example of order appearing in unexpected places. The 2nd law neither proves nor rules out biological evolution.

Darwinian evolution constantly battles common sense. The biological world is intuitively discontinuous, time is intuitively local and mechanisms are intuitively deterministic. Analogies to everyday experience are misleading. To Charles Darwin microevolution and geological time were clues to "macroevolution". Intuitive discontinuity, intuitive determinism and apparent conflict with scripture (childhood teaching) obscure Darwin's insight.

The role of peer review in science is to prevent intuitive, but scientifically unsupported, notions from becoming part of science. Because it's imperfect, peer review excludes useful findings. On the other hand anyone who's dealt with diehard conspiracy theorists will readily appreciate the virtues of peer review.

Common sense can even distort the nature of science. Most people are familiar with the legal system and may extrapolate legal methods to the scientific method. Science involves not comparing two sides and picking the best, but rather looking at all sides and designing experiments that distinguish the various models.

History suggests it's perilous to ignore accumulated cultural wisdom.

Counterintuitive science
In defense of common sense
The paradox of common sense
Lawrence Krauss on common sense - video