Naïve Physics

Here’s a fascinating article from The Conversation: Infections of the mind: why anti-vaxxers just ‘know’ they’re right (via).

My interest in this piece isn’t about anti-vaxxers per se, it’s about the more general issue of how people form beliefs, what the article calls “naïve theories”.

We all have what psychologists call “folk” theories, or “naïve” theories, of how the world works. You do not need to learn Newton’s laws to believe that an object will fall to the floor if there is nothing to support it. This is just something you “know” by virtue of being human. It is part of our naïve physics, and it gives us good predictions of what will happen to medium-sized objects on planet earth.

As I’ve called out in my Provisional Conclusions — #3, “many things people believe about themselves, and about the world, have turned out to be false upon rigorous examination” — many things people “know” intuitively are not actually true, or are true only within the limited experience of the scope of human existence. As the article says,

Naïve physics is not such a good guide outside of this environment. Academic physics, which deals with very large and very small objects, and with the universe beyond our own planet, often produces findings that are an affront to common sense.

The article goes on with examples about bloodletting and Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

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