The Norm Is a Hurdle

Cultural norms of knowledge, belief and intent bear no necessary relationship with fact, sanity and sense. Humans are hardwired to respect the norm: any set of concepts widely held are valued highly for that fact, while new or rare ideas have a real hurdle to acceptance. One aspect of this facet of the human condition is illustrated by Russell Blackford: science is by its nature a process of generating new ideas that are not widely held by the world at large, even when those ideas have come to be generally accepted within the scientific community. Hence demonstrating truth through science is by necessity a great deal harder than it might be in a more just universe:

Bloom and Weisberg conclude that resistance to scientific thinking will continue beyond childhood into adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within the individual's society. The resistance will be epecially strong if a non-scientific alternative (1) has currency in the society, (2) is rooted in intuitive understandings, or common sense, and (3) is championed by people who appear to be reliable and trustworthy.

He goes on to talk about magical thinking - of which we see a great deal in any broader discussion of longevity and health - but let's stick with the power of the norm for today. We advocates for healthy life extension should not lose sight of the fact that we're delivering a message that is still far from the norms, and thus appears deeply strange to a great many folk - for no other reason than it is unusual in their experience, novel to them. "Deeply strange" is going to get you rejected out of hand, no matter what the merits.

Raising awareness and generating an environment of support for funding successful longevity research requires a certain amount of raising the water level so that boats can float. Steady repetition, restatement and messaging through many channels and in many different ways are the coin of the realm; this has been taking place for some years now, and the results are beginning to be apparent. Take a look at a recent article on cryonics from a popular perspective, for example; it should remind us that there's a whole world of outsiders looking in out there, but it's far less negative than similar items from past years.

"I drive by the place twice a week," said Helgeson, "and I just can't believe Ted Williams's head is hanging in there. Either someone in his family is a lunatic or has a lot more faith in science than I do."

Cryonics is eminently sensible, yet, like all ideas that are not presently the norm, it must leap the hurdle of being something new for most people. This is one example of many I could draw for those of us interested in living much longer, healthier lives. The biggest challenge we face is not the medical research and development yet to come, but convincing a sufficient number of people to support that effort - in effect to make working towards healthy life extension a norm.

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Well said: "Cryonics ... must leap the hurdle of being something new for most people." It has occasionally been suggested that the event which will trigger that mass acceptance will be the first successful demonstration of reanimation from cryonic preservation. The "proof is in the pudding" so to speak.

Posted by: Will Knot at June 2nd, 2007 10:58 AM

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