February 09, 2005

Do you follow the crowd?

Writing about web page http://www.livejournal.com/users/wavinordrownin/2358.html

Posted on 7/4/05 on livejournal

I was exploring live-journal last night and by pure chance stumbled across incognito84 's journal. His last entry asked if he was a loner due to the fact that he had been eating in the cafeteria alone. If this were to be the case then that would also mean that I too am a loner as I also tend to eat lunch at university alone and have spent the last 4 days with minimal contact with the outside world. But I do not consider myself or incognito84 to be a loner. Why would be loners? Just cause we aren't surrounding ourselves with false friends so that we feel popular doesn't mean me are loners, we may just want to eat/read in peace.

There is this pressure on us all to conform to the norm, to be like everyone else. If we don't then you are considered to be strange. There is some sort of 'code' which governs what we should wear, what we should believe, whom we should befriend, what kind of life we should lead. To question these or not to adhere to them is deemed to be bizarre. When I was walking around town today I saw a large group of teenagers all wearing the same clothes, same style of hair etc. They were all goths I guess and trying to show that they are that little bit unconventional, that they don't conform (just a shame that they happen to have done it in the conventional way).

There aren't that many people who are strong enough or willing to question this so called 'code'. Most likely because they are scared of the ridicule they will face and the possible unpopularity. These people tend just to believe the opinion of the majority without giving it any real thought (and why should they, surely if most people believe it then it must be right …..... wrong). A typical example would be if you ask someone

Q: 'Do you believe that water drains from basins in opposite directions in the northern/southern hemi-spheres?'

I won't offer a guarantee, but based on what the answers of few of my friends, they confirmed that most people seem to think that water does drain in different directions depending in which hemi-sphere you are in. There seems to be some common mis-conception that this is case when actually the Coriolis force (which does influence weather patterns) is not strong enough to influence the direction a fluid flows and so water can flow in either direction in both hemi-spheres. All but one of my friends thought it was the former (well done Rich). When I asked them why they thought that this was the case they all said things ranging from it was what other people had told to them till they saw it on 'The Simpsons'. Just because a TV show/others believed that this was the case they thought it must be true without actually thinking about it or looking into it further. Maybe it was the fear of challenging someone who seems to know a little bit more about it than them that scared them into thinking that it can't be wrong. Obviously people didn't question the person or the thing because they feared it would make them unpopular but in other examples this is the case.

An example of this is when Descartes wrote his book on Physics 'Le Monde' (The World) he pulled out of publishing it because of what had happened to Galileo in 1633. Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition in Rome for releasing his paper 'Dialogue' which supported the Copernican view that the earth went round the sun and not the other way round. This was a brave step from Galileo considering it was unfashionable to have such a belief in those days and he had already been in trouble with the Inquisition for other beliefs that he had. As a result he was sent to prison for life and had to recant his belief in the Copernican planetary system. Descartes was not this brave, he was scared of his book being condemned, as it had un-fashionable views in it that didn't entirely support the Church. Even a man as wise as Descartes was scared of the unpopularity his work might receive even though it was thought out in a rational sense. Though, I should point out that as a result he revised a lot of this work and as a result came up with the 'Meditations' which started the scientific revolution. A further example, and probably a more nobler one is that of Socrates who would not submit to the common opinions in Ancient Greece, even when he was faced with the death penalty!!

I never really appreciated it before but I kinda admire these supposed loners, they don't feel the need to be always have people around them, they don't worry that because they are on their own that people might think they are strange. Even more so I admire what people would probably call 'geeks', the people who do not try and fit in, the people who don't feel the need to buy all the latest fashion, the people who think for themselves and don't just accept what the majority think!! Because they privilege the stance of good reason, as opposed to childishly trusting others that tell them that they are wrong.

Alain de Botton sums up this very nicely with the following quote: 'The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right'.

This I think this is partly why I do philosophy, I do not readily accept what I am told, I like to think of things rationally. Moreover, this is what I feel philosophy is all about: using it to help us work on the problems of everyday life.

Edit: I no longer do philosophy as part of my degree as it was affecting my maths too much


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Well I always believed the thing about drains, but then its hardly something which matters enough to bother finding out for yourself, but I know thats not your point.

    Technically given what you said we shouldn't also believe you when you say they dont go the opposite way but assuming they do, why is it that the water goes clockwise? (At least it seems to, not done any exhaustive testing)

    13 Feb 2005, 23:09

  2. There is no real reason why you should believe me.

    Apparently it has more to do with the shape of the drain that affects the direction the water flows.

    19 Feb 2005, 19:34

  3. Jenn

    Hey that comment about fitting in is completely true because i mean if you dont have many friends then you wonder why and then you change yourself so that yopu fit in with more people until you dont even know who you are anymore…

    30 Nov 2006, 19:44


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