The Corner

Too Much Reality

Carlyle famously tagged Economics as “the dismal science.”  However, all the human sciences have a dismal aspect, in that they don’t care what we think, believe, or feel. They just tell us what is. This causes no end of trouble. I think this is why a lot of people hate science, and I can’t say I altogether blame them.  

Stephen Pinker points out, in the chapter on child development in The Blank Slate (chapter 19), that these recent understandings are infuriating to ideologues both of the Left (because they deny that human beings are as malleable as the Left wants them to be) and of the Right (because they suggest that “family values” may not be as consequential as we’d like). So lots of people are mad as hell about these results. Guess what? The results don’t care. They don’t give a fig. It’s awful, isn’t it?

I am more and more of the opinion that the greatest single psychological factor in human affairs is not love, pride, greed, nor any of the other usual suspects; it is wishful thinking. We want things to be so. Therefore we believe them to be so. When science (or events) teach us otherwise, we lose our tempers. And science doesn’t care! Which of course just makes us madder.  

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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