I, having little tolerance for bullshit, immediately died and posthumously responded with 140 characters of polite outrage. But my angered spirit is not yet sated. I thought I’d take q moment to look at this quote from several angles.
The quote is itself a very clever little paradox when placed against it’s counterpart: “popular ideas are more likely to be true.”
The two arguments can be expressed as:
A)”popularity directly correlates to truth”
B)”popularity inversely correlates to truth”
A is self proving because it is the popular belief.
B is self proving because it is the unpopular belief.
It’s a kind of “the other side of this card is false” problem.
Interestingly, if most people were to start agreeing with Valèry and adopt belief B then it would make itself untrue.
But the problem with Valèry’s remark is that it either assumes human minds are either outrageously strong or outrageously weak. Knowing Valèry the later is likely intended but let’s look at them in order we started with.
The first road is the one that suggests that a meme becomes false when many people follow it. Thus human minds are able, by thought alone, to alter the very nature of existance. I will be using gravity as my main counterpoint example for both of these argument branches. Now that pretty much everyone believes in gravity we can expect that sometime soon it will suddenly reverse, much to the fear and dismay of Twitter.com/ryanqnorth and Twitter.com/nedroid.
The second is Valèry’s typical dismal line. It suggests that humans are so malevolent, impotent and ignorant that they get more things wrong than right and that this is amplified in large groups. Again we all believe in gravity and it fucking works! If you drop things they fall. As a group we’ve enhanced our understanding of this phenomenon, not broken it. We can predict falling speeds and trajectories or if some things will float up.
The real winner here, though, is science. Deciding what to beleive based on whether or not it’s popular is not only bad hipsterism but also weak minded. It suggests and assumes that you, the individual, are incapable of assessing the arguments and evidence and coming to your own (often correct) opinion. Most people understand gravity and they learn it by making a mess in their parents’ house, not by going out and surveying the populace.