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Figure 2.1 Diagram of astronomy beliefs of a Ph.D. biology educator done at age thirty-nine. Besides errors in the age of the solar system and the shapes of the orbits, omissions include comets and meteor oids. Meaning of captured bodies is unclear, but suggests an incorrect belief since astronomers believe that asteroids were formed with the rest of the solar system and that Pluto is fundamentally different from the asteroids. word before I give you mine. I wrote papers about misconceptions...

Inaccurate or Incomplete Observations and Information

The Robber Wore a Mets Baseball Cap . . . No, Red Sox Studies have shown that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. This is, of course, a critical issue in the legal profession. It is also relevant to understanding how we come to develop and believe erroneous ideas about the natural world. For example, most people believe that all stars are the same color, typically white, based on their experience observing the night sky. While some stars do indeed appear white, most actually do not. Check...

The Shortcomings of Common Sense8

By the time we become adults, we each develop a personal set of built-in mental scripts for quickly assessing information and drawing con- 8 With acknowledgment to Alan Cromer and apologies to Thomas Paine. elusions. These save time and effort, and often they are good common sense9 and help us survive. Common sense is often defined as sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge or training.10 If you see a person with a gun, your script tells you to protect your loved...

How Our Distant Ancestors Survived

I hope the foregoing discussion gives you insight into why so few people understand or study science and why it has taken so long in the history of homo sapiens for science and the scientific method to develop. This progress has occurred primarily over the past six hundred years. Prior to that, from the time of the first sentient creatures on Earth, understanding of the cosmos was based almost entirely upon experience and common sense. As discussed in the preceding chapters, our 20 20 hindsight...

Mythical Concepts Astrology

Consider astrology as one example of the acceptance and use of incorrect beliefs. Astrology asserts that objects in space control or influence our lives. I can conceive of two physical mechanisms by which stars, planets, and other astronomical bodies might affect us at birth and thereafter by their gravitational force and by their radiation (meaning their radio waves, heat, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays). Let's consider these possibilities. A simple calculation...

Sensory Misinterpretation

Contrary to what we are taught in school, the normal complement of senses is seven. Besides the traditional sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, we can sense heat (or the lack thereof, which we call cold) and acceleration.1 The former sense keeps us from getting burned or frozen, while the latter helps us maintain balance, feel the changing speed of a car, and thrill to a roller coaster ride. We rely on sensory data from all seven sources continually throughout the day. As used here, sensory...

Info

We are bombarded with information every day, some of it clearly valid, some of it clearly false, much of it suspect. Just as there are knock offs (cheaper, lower-quality copies of high-quality products) in the marketplace, you can't take much of what you hear or see these days at face value. When we accept inaccurate information as correct, it frequently leads us to develop erroneous beliefs, which in turn can cause us to draw invalid or incorrect conclusions and to make bad decisions. Most...

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Let's consider a sequence of astronomical beliefs that caused great anguish for different generations of astronomers. The issue is the size and fate of the universe. We begin by revisiting the Earth-centered cosmology. Observations led early Babylonian and Greek astronomers, among others, to identify eight different types of permanent objects in space the Sun, the Moon, five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), and the fixed stars. Observations of the daily motion of the Sun and...

Fun in the

We are exposed to more information about the solar system (the Sun and everything that orbits it, namely the planets, moons, asteroids, meteoroids, and comets) than about more distant space objects. Most of us observe solar system objects like the Moon, shooting stars, comets, and planets in the night sky, and astronomical observatories and spacecraft provide tantalizing news snippets about these and other phenomena in our cosmic neighborhood. This torrent of information carries many...