Beyond Belief

The online magazine The Edge asked a group of 120 “great minds” the question, What do you believe is true even though you can’t prove it?

These are some of the more interesting responses:

John McWhorter

Most languages are much, much more complicated than they need to be. They take on needless baggage over the millennia simply because they can. […] But here were a few [Indonesian] languages that had no prefixes or suffixes at all. Nor do they have any tones, like many languages in the world.

So isn’t it interesting that the island these languages is spoken on is none other than Flores, which has had its fifteen minutes of fame this year as the site where skeletons of the “little people” were found.

Now, I can only venture this highly tentatively now. But what I “know” but cannot prove this year is: the reason languages like Keo and Ngada are so strangely streamlined on Flores is that an earlier ancestor of these languages, just as complex as its family members tend to be, was used as second language by these other people and simplified.

Philip W. Anderson

Is string theory a futile exercise as physics, as I believe it to be?

My belief is based on the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued […] without any adequate experimental guidance.

Freeman Dyson posed similar doubts about String Theory in a compelling essay in The New York Review of Books last May.

David Myers

As a Christian monotheist, I start with two unproven axioms:

  • There is a God.
  • It’s not me (and it’s also not you).

And that is why I further believe that we should:

  • hold all our unproven beliefs with a certain tentativeness (except for this one!),
  • assess others’ ideas with open-minded skepticism, and
  • freely pursue truth aided by observation and experiment.

See, a wiki dedicated to exploring the relationship between religion and society.

» Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 | Permanent Link