When George Bernard Shaw wrote that ‘all great truths begin as blasphemies’ (Annajanska), he wasn’t concerned with innovations. Yet there may be a parallel that enables hindsight to adopt this phrase to another purpose.
Innovations can be considered as new truths that have to overturn the status quo. Indeed innovations often have to overcome prejudice to survive. Prejudice hasn’t always been the epithet for vile behaviour that we think of today. Prejudice is usually just an opinion, as often born of laziness as ignorance.
Some experts remain enlightened solely by the illuminations of a lifetime of hard gained, experiential certainties. The competent can be blinkered by prejudices that oftentimes are irrational. Many resist change for fear it might unseat them from their expert chairs.
Even today, there are people who cannot accept that the earth is round. Anyone who lives by the sea implicitly understands what the Greeks documented over 2000 years ago. Things disappear as they pass over the horizon of the observer’s vision. The Greeks had also worked out that earth revolved around the sun and I’d guess that, ironically, any philosopher who lived a on flat earth (desert or sea) and could see the horizon, might conclude the same.
We like to think on the importance of Galileo’s defence of heliocentrism and his claim that it was not contrary to Holy Scripture. The capitalisation of Holy Scripture illustrates the challenge. Heliocentrism was widely known in other cultures; it was the Christians who were slow learners. And the knew knowledge was treated as blasphemy.
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
said H.M. Warner in 1927 while rejecting the idea of ‘talkies’.
There is no reason anyone would want the computer in their home.
said Ken Olsen in 1977 – he founded Digital Equipment Corporation.
They should have listened to Shaw who wrote that ‘the golden rule is there are no golden rules’ (Maxims for Revolutionists).
This is typical Berlin hot air. The product is worthless.
wrote Bayer’s Heinrich Dreser, rejecting Felix Hoffmann’s 1897 invention of aspirin. To be fair, Hoffmann had also invented heroin that same month and Dreser preferred heroin as the painkiller for the masses. The wiser Bayer chairman eventually went with aspirin.
We visited Ayot St Lawrence last year and The National Trust managed Shaw’s Corner where Shaw lived some 40 years until his death. He also lived for a while very near where I live now. It’s quite fascinating how normal are the places where the wise and revered live. To be fair, normal is also relative.
In 1950, the year of Shaw’s death, Max Planck, another Nobel Laureate, suggested that scientific change doesn’t occur because individual scientists change their mind, but rather that successive generations of scientists have different views. This is often paraphrased as ‘Science progresses one funeral at a time’.
I prefer the Newtonian metaphorical standing on the shoulders of giants as a more aspirational foundation. I’d prefer that the giants live to see how their ideas and achievements advance us all.
As Shaw also wrote (Major Barbara): ‘He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.’
I wonder how that should be paraphrased?