Fortunately my column is titled “I Could Be Wrong,” and I fall back on the latitude my title affords me. About a month ago “Tutta’s Take” by Wynette Barton taught me a lesson about overstating facts. Since she still counts me as a friend I can appreciate the gentleness of her evisceration.
I said experts in such fields as Egyptology, archaeology, psychology et.al. gather, vote on what they think are facts, and as a result of the vote, the truth is found. Wynette, a Jungian psychoanalyst and archaeology hobbyist, refuted this, saying she has been to many conferences and has never seen or heard of a vote taken on what is true.
Recently I phoned Miles Jones, a linguistic archaeologist who studies the origin of language and writing. His book, “The Writing of God,” destroys the time worn idea that the first phonetic alphabet began with the Phoenecians, but was the writing on the 10 Commandments. He is a fascinating man whose energy and passion is contagious.
Miles said these experts do meet together and make agreements about the way it has to be, not by pro forma vote, but by consensus. The exclusion is subtle (not necessarily) but the effect is the same. Let someone with new evidence arrive, like Galileo (Tutta’s Take uses him as an example) and his lifestyle and career may be in jeopardy. New PhDs will likely not get hired by a university if they disagree with its establishment. Particularly notable is the bias of many Egyptologists and archeologists against Biblical history. Many say the Exodus from Egypt is a fantasy because there’s no proof it ever happened because the Egyptians never wrote about it. But it did happen. And there is evidence that they wandered for 40 years in northwest Saudi Arabia, not the Sinai Peninsula. Try getting these biased persons to accept that new evidence. It’s like pulling teeth.
This majority rule was exemplified when, in a social setting, I asked a psychotherapist what is the current thought about flying dreams. I was interested because I’ve had so many of them, from the Peter Pan flying to dunking a basketball from the free throw line. How I loved them! Anyway, this psychotherapist began with, “We think,” telling me that a consensus – a de facto vote – had been formed among experts. Shirley McLaine would say flying dreams were astral projections, out of body experiences. Now where would she fit in at a Psychology convention?
So I overstated this thing about a formal voting on the truth. Teach me a lesson. But the majority rules just the same. And they write the textbooks. Only when they die off and younger ones replace them does new evidence stand a chance.
So I think Tutta and I are both right. I acquiesce to the accusation that I was loose with the facts. Maybe I oughta get with Dan Rather next time.
I won’t argue about how difficult it is to change the mind of an expert, although experts aren’t alone in this. Firm ideas are characteristic of human life. That said, not all ideas are created equal.
There are bodies of knowledge that exist. Civilization’s signature is the holding, adding to, and passing down of knowledge, is it not? “Experts” (from the Latin “to try”) are those who devote years or decades to study, research, and raw-fisted debate in trying to understand and learn more. They know the discoveries that came before, mistakes already made, markers understood and not yet understood, and theories proposed.
Do experts know everything? Certainly not, but it isn’t surprising that they aren’t overly impressed when someone waltzes in with a half-baked idea based on random thought and misinformation.
Take Ray, who seems not to recognize himself as being among the experts he denounces. My guess is that on his first day of dental school, he wasn’t tossed into a roomful of patients and told to try out his own ideas on them. Years of study, observation, supervision and exams formed and informed his ideas about mouths and teeth.
That subject I know nothing about, so when Ray became a dentist I deferred to him about present and future implications of dental complexities. His order for a root canal wasn’t exactly thrilling, but I didn’t consult Shirley Maclain for an opinion, fine actress though she is. I had it done, and now a trouble-free tooth owes its long life to an expert.
Ray spoke of Miles Jones, who wrote a book about finding the original 10 Commandments. Not kidding. The original copy. Jones may be charmingly enthusiastic; however, most people who are considered experts in the field believe he was duped by a forgery. Among other problems, photos of the stone he acquired show YHWH, the Hebrew designation for God, to be incorrectly written, only very slightly, but something an expert would notice right away. Moses, too, no doubt.
Naturally it’s embarrassing to be fooled, especially after distributing a book about it. That might eventually be forgiven by the academic community. What won’t be forgiven is his refusal to concede that his “find” may well be a fake. The last I heard, he hadn’t allowed serious scholars to examine it, years after he announced the discovery. That may have changed, but at the very least it calls into question his judgment and ability to learn from those who know more than he does.
So back to ideas, experts and slow, tediously careful change. Sometimes that holds us back; and sometimes it keeps us out of the tar pits.