27 August 2008

Minority status

The issue of ‘background books’ that Umberto Eco raises in his book Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (see my earlier post ‘Travellers’) is not confined only to those who travel outside their countries. It is, rather, a notion – a concept, a view – that governs our attitudes and behaviour towards others, other situations and other things.

It is a notion that shapes, and is shaped by, convention. It is a notion that dictates what is thought to be true – in spite of emerging evidence to the contrary. It is a notion that hinders our ability, as perfectly normal human beings, to act rationally.

History is replete with examples of such notions impeding human progress: from Galileo being condemned for championing the Copernican model of the universe (which puts the Sun at the centre and the Earth in orbit around it), to Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’ being interpreted as anti-Christian, to modern-day feminists being ridiculed for challenging the subordinated role of women in our societies.

In each case, our background books have been overbearing, reducing new ideas and discoveries, which spring forth every now and then, to minority status.

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