Monday, 16 June 2008

Conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Conventional wisdom (CW) is a term coined by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society, used to describe certain ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public.

Conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. Many urban legends, for example, are accepted on the basis of being "conventional wisdom". Conventional wisdom is also often seen as an obstacle to introducing new theories, explanations, and so as an obstacle that must be overcome by such revisionism. This is to say, that despite new information to the contrary, conventional wisdom has a property analogous to inertia, a momentum, that opposes the introduction of contrary belief; sometimes to the point of absurd denial of the new information set by persons strongly holding an outdated (conventional wisdom) view. This inertia is due to conventional wisdom being made of ideas that are convenient, appealing and deeply assumed by the public, who hangs on to them even as they grow outdated. The unavoidable outcome is these ideas will eventually not match reality at all, so conventional wisdom will be violently shaken until it doesn't conflict reality so blatantly.

Or, to put it simply:

The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (1958).

The concept of Conventional Wisdom also is applied or implied in political senses, often related closely with the phenomenon of Talking Points. It is used pejoratively to refer to the idea that statements which are repeated over and over become conventional wisdom regardless of whether or not they are true.

In a more general sense, it is used to refer to the accepted truth about something which nearly no-one would argue about, and so is used as a gauge (or well-spring) of normative behavior or belief, even within a professional context. One such example was conventional wisdom in 1960, even among most doctors, dictated that smoking was not particularly harmful to one's health. Another: It might be used in this manner discussing a technical matter such as the conventional wisdom was that a man would suffer fatal injuries if he experienced more than eighteen G-Forces in an aerospace vehicle. (John Stapp shattered that myth by repeatedly withstanding far more in his research—peaking above 46 Gs).

It should be noted that when conventional wisdoms are overthrown, outranked, or outflanked by new ideas, and the new conventional wisdom becomes established in place of the previous one, there may yet be considerable remaining affiliation to the previous regime: Einstein could not let go of the older deterministic ideas and accept the new conventional wisdom of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and the necessity of using probability mathematics in nuclear physics.

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