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Ideas That Were Discarded and Later Revolutionized the World


The evolution of science and knowledge has historically been hindered by human beings, from religious institutions to the scientific community.

A period is defined not by the ideas that are discussed, but those that are taken for granted.

Jonathan Lethem

As Arthur Schopenhauer used to say, a good theory is “first ridiculed, then violently rejected and thirdly accepted as true evidence”. Throughout history, the great minds interested in science have found a great barrier in the existing culture. The fear of change has been constant during the development of human civilization, since they confront us with a new way of perceiving the environment, and ourselves.

Traditions and customs have served as a type of “abstract home”, which give our existence shelter to answer anything, ranging from fundamental philosophical questions, like what are we doing here and why, to everyday issues like how to do things. When someone disturbs that warm and welcoming comfort which culture implies, then we feel unprotected and vulnerable.

Everything mentioned above has in some way become an obstacle for knowledge, since the ideas that have revolutionized science the most, where considered at their time, to be a threat to the idiosyncrasy of that period. Human elements such as the ego, power and fear, have for centuries displaced new proposals that re-dimension the surroundings.

Some emblematic cases of censorship and rejection of theories and ideas that at their time were discarded:

1. Bacteria was recognized before 1859, when Louis Pasteur proved their existence during the process of fermentation and creation of diseases, these were considered a myth —even if there already was evidence of this, due to scientists such as Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, who in 1683, observed them with his microscope. If the medical community had taken this research into account, many diseases and infections could have been avoided.

2. Continents used to be joined together: it was until 1912 when meteorologist Alfred Wegener, suggested that continents were once joined together. At the time people believed that land masses remained static, and the scientific community ridiculed him. His ideas were accepted until 1960.

3. Species evolve: with his book The Origin of Species, published in 1859, Charles Darwin contradicted religious theories on the immediate creation of the world, and also postulated that humans derived from a species that at its dawn had been less rational, which also contradicted theories on the origins of man. The controversy that followed his theories was enormous.

Resistance to new conceptions or explications of the cosmos can be explained, among other reasons, by a comfort unwilling to reinvent our perception. The desire to search is implicit in our nature —and is faithfully expressed in a child’s first years —it requires societies that are open to astonishment and the possibilities of an unfinished world in infinite transformation.

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