I have this idea that a big part of what is wrong with us as human beings is we don’t know how to be wrong. And it’s not only because we’re pig-headed fools. It seems to be something that’s hardwired into our brain. We know from research that people will go to great lengths to avoid facing facts which conflict with what they already believe. There are those who argue that this is what’s happening in our politics today. Or it could be that since we’re a nation of smart-asses, people who hate Obama are telling pollsters that they think he was born in Kenya just to piss everyone off. The world may never know. But the fact remains that there have been a lot of very good studies which have found that once we believe something to be true, it is bizarrely difficult to convince us that we are wrong.
Scientists think this is a perfectly reasonable survival mechanism which is shared by many animals as well. Experience is the best teacher after all. So once you experience something yourself or vicariously through someone with more experience, you learn lessons which you presume to be true. You stick to those lessons – maybe develop a way of doing things around them. And it usually works. Until your environment changes and you end up like a polar bear looking for an ice floe. Then you need to adjust.
Fortunately, if there’s anything that binds humans and bacteria together, it’s that we’re both fantastically adaptable. Frankly I think it’s a bit odd that we are actually surprised to find bacteria in inhospitable places. The bacteria are probably even more shocked that we showed up. By all rights, our physical capabilities should have kept us contained to temperate zones with enough moisture to allow for a year-round supply of food. You know, like the Garden of Eden was supposed to have been.
But that’s not us. We humans change things. We change the landscape and our locations and our clothes and bodies and even the songs we sing with glee. But changing our minds? That is one change we really don’t seem to like to do. A lot of us adhere to something my mom once told me: “I’d rather be wrong than change my mind.” (I’m pretty sure she was saying it in a “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right” sort of way and not as an expression of unwillingness to admit error. But it was still funny.) Fortunately, we all know from experience that biology or no, it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only do humans change, we grow up. In fact, we can grow up the way other organisms just grow – for our whole lives. If we want to. But it all depends on learning how to be wrong. Continue reading