e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

The Supermarket of Ideas

Recently, during lunch with some friends, the conversation turned to health matters and to complementary therapies in particular. Several of those present had seen Richard Dawkins on TV. They were incensed at what they described as Dawkins’ arrogance and lack of understanding of the ideas he rubbished.

Listening to the discussion I came to the conclusion that Dawkins had, as so many scientists do, missed an important point about explanations.

I am a scientist by training. I like science and prefer scientific to non-scientific explanations. But I would never claim that what I prefer is in any way righter or better. In our modern society we have a choice of explanations, medical traditions, rationalisations etc and it is my contention that individuals follow the ones they like. Their choices have nothing to do with correct, proved, practical etc.

I know people, even confirmed anti-sciencers, who talk about evidence and cite so-called statistics in support of their views. In reality they are only supporting their personal preferences.

Personally, I don’t think this matters. Most of the human race has lived out most of its varied lives, as successfully as necessary, with a hodge-podge of odd and contradictory explanations for the way the world is.

The big advantage we in the modern world have is that these ideas are now all available to everyone via libraries and the internet, and, not surprisingly, people pick and mix them according to their individual taste – a bit like in a supermarket.

This is freedom of thought and speech: freedom of information and ideas. People have risked prison and even died to bring it about.

Anyone, be they scientist, religious fanatic, complementary therapist, whatever, who makes categorical statements about one set of ideas being right and others being wrong, is not making a reasoned, rational statement. They are making a political one – and a dangerous one at that.

So I’ll keep right on browsing through the Supermarket of Ideas and pick the ones I like off the shelves.


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6 thoughts on “The Supermarket of Ideas

  1. I really love your supermarket-metaphor
    Because I just read about an exhibition which deals with supermarket-prices and qualities and what they are doing with our oh-so-modern world and mind.
    ( in Germany)

    The problem I see is that still not everybody could find everything he or she needs- unfortunately there are not the same opportunities in the world…


  2. Thank you! I’m glad to see another person annoyed at Dawkins arrogance.

    If only people like him would shut up and get out of the way. Then the more well intentioned scientists could come out and stop Science from getting a bad name!


  3. Yes, it certainly is a supermarket of ideas. It’s difficult, though, when you think one is buying from the aisle labeled “WACKO” to accept that.

    A dear friend of mine, recently diagnosed with cancer, shared with me how several of her co-workers (she works at a hospital, though not directly with doctors and nurses) have asked her if why she has not considered alternative therapies to radiation and chemo. I found it interesting that they all seemed so opposed to medical/scientific treatments but what my friend found to be a common factor was that each of them approached her as if their way was the only option and that she had most likely NOT considered it.

    Too often, we think our aisle in the supermarket is the only one worth shopping from.


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