from ‘Wonder and Skepticism’

Scientists do not trust what is intuitively obvious, because intuitively obvious gets you nowhere. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. I mean, really obvious; obvious! Go out in a flat field and take a look: Is it round or flat? Don’t listen to me; go prove it to yourself. That heavier bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That blood‐sucking leeches cure disease was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine right slaves was once obvious. That the Earth is at the center of the universe was once obvious. You’re skeptical? Go out, take a look: Stars rise in the east, set in the west; here we are, stationary (do you feel the Earth whirling?); we see them going around us. We are at the center; they go around us.

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth ‐‐ never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities.

Carl Sagan
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