The jump from idea to danger

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I’ve just got John Brockman’s What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable from and I’m dipping into it.  One particular thought that’s struck me arises from Stephen Pinker’s introduction.  [I’m as yet undecided about Pinker, as what little of his I’ve read seems to imply that he interprets the brain as an information processing machine, but that may be either my misunderstanding of him or my paucity of reading his actual material.]

From his introduction:

What makes an idea ‘dangerous’?  One factor is an imaginable train of events in which acceptance of the idea would lead to an outcome that only recently has been recognized as harmful.

It echoes one of the points I picked up from Gary Klein’s Sources of Power.  Imagination is a critical element in many intellectual activities, although it’s usually thought of as a childish, negative or unrealistic factor.

It’s also a key factor in understanding people’s reluctance to engage with change programmes or any new imperative.

We have an amazing ability to construct narratives out from a single point to some future end-point.  Whether it’s from a single ‘dangerous’ idea out to the collapse of western civilisation (with apologies to both Copernicus and Darwin) or from ‘re-engineering the organisation’ out to mass-redundancies and automisation of my job.

The overall story may be justified or not, it may be built from a fallacy or a truth, but the fact remains that it’s rarely the initial idea that repels, it’s usually the perception of how the story ends.


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