This interview is extremely fun to listen to. They discuss historic views of how people thought the world worked, and how that got changed over the centures. Lots of fun and wacky ideas, like fossils being rock that tries to become animal!
And the meta-question:
When you’re studying the way that people very far in the past conceived of the world, what they thought about the natural sciences, you just constantly encounter ideas that seem very misguided, kind of batty from our modern point of view. And I think people go in different directions in their aesthetic about how to react to this. Like one strain of thought is that this just shows how hard it is for humans to reason at all. It shows the fallibility of our ability to make sense of the world. And so it should make us extremely humble, and we shouldn’t dismiss the way that they thought about things because we will probably be just as mistaken as they were by the lights of people in the future.
I think another take you might have — which is, I think, less fashionable, but it’s my instinct perhaps because of my personality — is to say, wow, they just thought really stupid stuff. I can’t believe how misguided they were. And I understand how they got there. And if you send me back in time, I would be just as misguided. Absolutely. But nonetheless, this just shows how much progress we’ve made, and how much better we are at figuring things out today.
I am with Rob here, in that we should not have false humility and assume that we are as wrong as our ancestors. We clearly have made progress and can explain the world better than ever before today.