If anyone who reads this is part of academia and is frustrated by how conservative his chosen field is (“Science advances one funeral at a time”), this story should make you appreciate more the current scientific climate.
From Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh:
One story claims that a young student by the name of Hippasus was idly toying with the number √2, attempting to find the equivalent fraction. Eventually he came to realize that no such fraction existed, i.e. that √2 is an irrational number. Hippasus must have been overjoyed by his discovery, but his master was not. Pythagoras had defined the universe in terms of rational numbers, and the existence of irrational numbers brought his ideal into question. The consequence of Hippasus’ insight should have been a period of discussion and contemplation during which Pythagoras ought to have come to terms with this new source of numbers. However, Pythagoras was unwilling to accept that he was wrong, but at the same time he was unable to destroy Hippasus’ argument by the power of logic. To his eternal shame he sentenced Hippasus to death by drowning.
The ability to change our minds when presented with evidence that disproves our beliefs – even our most entrenched ones – is a hard habit to acquire, but it is extremely valuable. When you start doubting, don’t turn away. Look into the light until your eyes adjust, and see if there is something there.
As P. C. Hodgell said: “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” See the Twelve Virtues of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
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