Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Thought 471: The Slowness of New Ideas

American historian Carroll Quigley in his work Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time airs the view that unlike technology that gets adopted across the globe at a relatively fast pace and is easily transferable from one location to the next, the spreading and entrenching of ideas is in fact much slower and takes many years. 

For instance, our current civilisation owes much of its material, philosophical and spiritual roots to the scientific revolution of 16th century Europe and it is worth remembering that the leaders of that theoretical revolution, such as Galileo or Descartes, were controversial not to say, in some cases, persecuted. 

My point is that lasting and significant developments in human society take a long while, such as, according to Nietzsche, the coming to prominence of modern moral feelings of good and evil, initiated as he claims they were as far back as the time Jewish sectarians decided to place their faith in Jesus of Nazareth and even before, in the shape of Persian thinker Zoroaster who first posited the dual, moral nature of the universe. 

This can be a consoling insight for researchers and thinkers who might often come to feel impatient with the slow cottoning on of the masses to insights they achieved many years prior. 

I'm thinking, as an example, of those early 9/11 sceptics who saw through the gigantic lie of the events of that day and have had to wait many years to see the fruit of their eye-opening labours and painstaking research reach a significant audience. 

Similarly, in science, the phenomenon of 'continental drift' was initially a theory which saw its proponent ostracised by the scientific community of his day only for his theory to become established fact many years later. 

In the humanities, the value of Martin Heidegger's philosophical insights, particularly regarding the topic of modern technology, has taken a while to be appreciated and it was indeed he who said
"Patience nurtures magnanimity"
understanding as he did that genuine, original philosophy finds little echo in its own time but might, after much passing of time, come to infiltrate common awareness and indeed be taken to be a self-evident truism by many people (see Five Sentences from the Thinker as Poet). 

All this to say that insights into natural and psychological laws as well as into factual and philosophical truth take a long time not only to gestate but to come to bear on collective consciousness and this, as so many other areas, should teach us the value of patient virtue.