Living and Learning in Light of LOST

LOST is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a hatch built by the Dharma Initiative. But if we go back and try to remember watching, wondering and speculating during season one, we have a nice illustration of what is involved in learning and discovery, and what a key hurdle to education can be.

Imagine someone (you may actually know such a person) who formulated what they thought was the “definitive LOST theory” during the first season. Once the hatch was opened, their theory ought to have been abandoned or revised, but instead they kept adding ad hoc supplements, leaving their original theory sort of intact, but deformed and obscured by the convoluted additions needed to harmonize the original theory with what has subsequently been revealed.

This, it seems to me, nicely illustrates what is wrong with so-called scientific creationism. It starts with a particular explanation of the world from season one, and rather than revise the details, it adds implausible ad hoc pseudo-explanations as to why, in spite of all the evidence that has mounted during subsequent seasons, the theory formulated during season one is right.

Human beings have only a limited tolerance for uncertainty. The same appears to be true for other species, but the discoveries and advances of humankind, both within our minds and in our societies, have multiplied the room for uncertainty as well. We formulate explanations based on what we know, as a means to keep chaos at bay. And that isn’t in itself necessarily a bad thing. But if you draw hard and fast conclusions too early, and you’re unwilling to revise your views in light of subsequent learning, then you’re not going to learn. It’s that simple.

And so if you find yourself talking to a young-earth creationist who watches LOST, then ask them why they affirm that God made a wonderfully compelling “series” (the natural world), and yet they refuse to watch, or accept what has been revealed in, all the seasons to date. We don’t have the complete picture yet. More discoveries remain to be made. But science has blown open the hatch, and even if what is found as a result requires rethinking theories formulated before that point, that’s a good thing, even if it can be painful or at least uncomfortable. That’s what learning involves. And you’ll probably find that rethinking your original beliefs is no more painful or uncomfortable than the much more difficult process of formulating implausible support structures to try to maintain your original beliefs in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Having made this point, I will now briefly retreat into willful ignorance on one particular matter: I’m avoiding all the blog posts about the finale of Battlestar Galactica until I’ve had a chance to watch it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14247799389009268470 James Pate

    Yeah, but creationists can use the same argument: why should we absolutize the current scientific worldview, when it may change somewhere down the road?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    No they can’t, because the fact that there is still much to learn doesn’t invalidate the progress made thus far in the sciences. It is easy to imagine new data that would improve our understanding of solar systems. It is hard to imagine that new data would lead to a return to a geocentric view of the solar system.Of course, if we throw time travel into the mix, the analogy might need to be revisited. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13599662252662686373 BSM

    Isn’t it sad to see BSG end?I have it taped. I may watch it tonight. They had a good four year run but I was hoping for five or six. Ah, well. All good things…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09539170598198122642 Chris

    I don’t think it’s sad to see BSG end. Much better to end it while it’s still coherent and we still want more than to drag it out and have a bunch of ridiculous loose ends they have no idea how to wrap up.

  • Anonymous

    “[...] and rather than revise the details, it adds implausible ad hoc pseudo-explanations as to why, in spite of all the evidence that has mounted during subsequent seasons, the theory formulated during season one is right.”That’s easily one of the most insightful things I’ve ever read. It doesn’t just apply to creationism, either; it’s in a general sense an aspect of the whole human condition. Often, when we find an explanation that fits the current data perfectly, we use that explanation as an interpretive framework for all subsequent data, without even realizing it. Thankyou for pointing this out so lucidly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13599662252662686373 BSM

    Chris – But what am I to watch?It’s all about ME!;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09539170598198122642 Chris

    Well, there’s always Caprica. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02725035540031649887 Tim Goodbody

    http://www.toplessrobot.com/2009/01/10_clues_the_writers_of_lost_are_making_it_up_as_t.phpthis might help to root your reflections in the reality of TV production land(found you via Lingamish)


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