When man saw in his telescope a planet for the first time he noticed it was round and came to guess that his own planet (indeed that is what it was) might also be round. The act of circumnavigation by Christopher Columbus (even though it was not quite a circumnavigation – he mistook America for Asia) proved it conclusively. This is just one instance of how wrong one can be from using his senses alone. Sure, the earth seems to be flat, but it is not. The discovery brought about a major shift in our thinking to say the least.
Such shifts are not uncommon as Thomas Kuhn has famously shown – he called them paradigm shifts. Paradigm shifts have occurred many times throughout history. That the Earth revolves around the sun was one such shift. Less dramatic was the discovery that language does not have inherent meaning (that it is arbitray) is another. Our perceptions change or shift through such discoveries.
But how do paradigms come into existance? Most simply through a lack of information. The terracentric view of astronomy came to hold sway (at least in Western culture) – partly but not
holy wholy – because 1) it seems that way since the planet does not feel like it is moving, and 2) a book (the Bible) said so. This is nothing but presumption from available information, without another method to verify it that it comes to become fact. And often with persumption comes arrogance, as in the following case.
It has been discovered that dolphins actually call each other by something akin to a name, suggesting that they have the capacity – like humans – for language. But why have we come to presume for such a long time that we are the only creatures on this planet to have language capacity is a complex and perplexing one. In our conceit we have dulled our senses to sounds that turn out to be sophisticated communication, perhaps as sophisticated as ours. Or to put it another way, we have simply dismissed something as noise when in fact it was language.
So please tell me: how many times do we have to make the same mistake before we will learn to be humbled by how little we really know? Or are we again going to congratulate ourselves for making such “great” discoveries and forget our past stupidities?