In 1799, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya published a compilation of 80 aquatinted etchings (the Caprichos series) in which he criticized the irrationality and ignorance rampant in the Spanish society of his time. The most famous of these etchings depicts a writer asleep at his desk surrounded by bats, owls, and other creatures swarming about him that in Spanish folklore were associated with the mysterious and evil. The title of the etching, written on the desk of the writer, is “the sleep of reason produces monsters”.
I am writing this post in the year 2021 in the United States, and although a gulf of 222 years and more than 3,000 miles separate me from the Spain of Goya, it is my opinion that Goya’s thinking is very relevant to our society today. In the past few years, we have all witnessed with growing frequency how reason has slumbered in the minds of millions foisting a number of monsters upon our society.
We have seen firsthand how disinformation and misinformation have spread like cancers capturing the imagination and wills of people and spawning things like disdain for journalists and scientists, COVID-19 severity denial, and vaccine hesitancy. We have experienced an unprecedented level of polarization in our society to the point that those seeking a middle ground are attacked and ridiculed. We have seen how millions have insulated themselves from ideas and opinions that go against their beliefs, preferring instead to listen to those that tell them what they want to hear. We have seen the rise of philosophies, narratives, and frameworks of knowledge that run contrary to reality, ranging from isolated unfounded conspiracy theories to warped world views like QAnon.
One example of a particularly dangerous monster is the skepticism regarding the 2020 election. Many Americans have been fed misinformation that this election was a fraud, and many Americans have believed it despite the fact that no evidence has been uncovered that indicates this is the case. And perhaps one of the most memorable portrayals of the mindset of the fraud believers was revealed in Jan 4, 2021 during the Fox Business Network program “Lou Dobbs Tonight” by its host Lou Dobbs who had been a frequent broadcaster of conspiracy theories. Dobbs was interviewing the director of a pro-Trump Political Action Committee (PAC), and he said the following:
We’re eight weeks from the election, and we still don’t have verifiable, tangible support for the crimes that everyone knows were committed, that is, defrauding other citizens who voted with fraudulent votes. We know that’s the case in Nevada, we know it’s the case in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, but we have had a devil of a time finding actual proof. Why?
Many eyes opened wide, and jaws dropped that day. Here it was, revealed in all its brutal matter of fact casualness for all the world to see: the sleep of reason.
Although Dobbs to his credit, and unlike many fraud believers, did admit that there is no evidence for the fraud claims, he then goes on to state that everyone KNOWS that such fraud happened, and wonders why it is so hard to find the evidence. The disconnection is glaring! We normally base our knowledge that something has happened on evidence, therefore lack of evidence cannot support such knowledge. Reasonable people would accept that knowledge that is unsupported by evidence is not trustworthy and, in fact, is not knowledge at all – reasonable people. Only two days later Americans came face to face with the monster spawned by this irrationality when a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the election and to harm or kill our elected representatives.
While many dismiss the storming of the Capitol as the actions of a few, there are millions of people that still believe that there was fraud in the elections. And while most of these people don’t sanction the extreme behavior exhibited by the criminals who stormed the Capitol, these people can vote and request that their elected representatives act on their will.
At the time Goya made his famous etchings, the system of government in Spain and many other countries was a monarchy. In such a system the average citizen has little influence on the actions of their government and how it affects them. However, the United States is a democracy. In this system, the people elect their leaders and can pressure them into taking certain actions. This is the strength of democracy, but it can also be its weakness if a significant number of people who are not acquainted with reality elect and pressure their representatives into supporting fictions. The current modifications to election practices that are being enacted in several states are an example of this.
It is not my intention to issue an opinion on the merits of these modifications, but I just want to point out that these modifications are being implemented mostly in response to skepticism about the validity of the 2020 election. However, because based on the evidence this skepticism is unwarranted, it follows that the enactment of these modifications is unwarranted too. Rather than being proud of the fair and transparent 2020 elections with a historic turnout, a significant part of our population views them with suspicion or is convinced that fraud took place and that something must be done about it. And this, of course, can affect the dynamics of reality. If a substantial number of people elects and pressures their leaders to uphold a fiction, this fiction in terms of its consequences paradoxically will turn into a de facto reality that will affect others.
It is important to counter misinformation and fight for the wills of those who have accepted it or who are considering accepting it. It is important to awake reason and vanish the monsters that its slumber has begotten. Goya understood the danger of the sleep of reason more than 200 years ago, and we must also understand it today, and with more urgency because in a democracy the people have the power to alter the dynamics of reality. And we cannot allow reality to be compromised.
The etching by Goya is in the public domain.
I have written before about fear, which is one of the strongest emotions humans experience. Fear can be a useful emotion that prevents us from doing things that may hurt us or place us in danger. However, excessive fear can have a detrimental effect on our lives by producing an incapacitating anxiety or even panic which can significantly interfere with everyday life and cause health problems. There are specific fears called “phobias” that involve an irrational fear of a specific object or situation. These phobias may be caused by a bad experience, which normally occurs during childhood, or they may have genetic origins. Those who experience these fears recognize their nature and tend to avoid the object or situation that triggers the phobia. The lifetime worldwide prevalence of these phobias is very variable affecting anywhere from 1.5% to 15% of the population. Phobias tend to affect women more than men, and they tend to begin in childhood and decline thereafter with peaks during midlife and old age.
Human phobias run the gamut from the slight to the severe and from the common to the truly rare, and they can affect people ranging from average persons to celebrities. In this post we will take a look at some specific fears that people have.
The most common phobias involve animals, and they are in general called zoophobias. I once knew a kid who would scream and run away from large dogs. He had a type of cynophobia, which is the fear of dogs (the fear of cats is ailurophobia). The actress Kristen Stewart has a fear of horses (equinophobia), which she had to overcome to film a movie that involved a lot of horseback riding. There are people who are afraid of alligators (aligatoraphobia). This is a specific case of herpetophobia or fear of lizards and snakes. The country singer and songwriter Johnny Cash was afraid of snakes (ophidiophobia). But the object of the fear doesn’t have to be a large scary creature. I knew of a person that was so terrified of frogs that she would faint in their presence. This person had ranidaphobia, which is a specific case of the broader batrachophobia, or fear of amphibians. The feared animal can in fact be something much smaller such as an insect (entomophobia). The singer Justin Timberlake is afraid of spiders (arachnophobia) and the actress Nicole Kidman is afraid of butterflies (lepidopterophobia).
Other common fears are phobias such as fear of heights (acrophobia). A related phobia is fear of flying (aviophobia). I knew a person who could only board a plane under heavy sedation, as that was the only way this person could tolerate flying. The great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov who wrote about flying to the stars had both acrophobia and aviophobia, and he would only travel by vehicle, train, or ship. There are people who are afraid of thunder and lightning (astraphobia), of tight or crowded spaces (claustrophobia), of blood (hemophobia) and even of water (aquaphobia). People with aquaphobia can drink water but they are afraid of larger amounts of water as in oceans, lakes, pools, and even bathtubs. Aquaphobia should not be confused with hydrophobia which is a symptom of the late stages of the disease, rabies. A common and sad phobia is the fear of being alone (autophobia), which can lead people into bad relationships just to avoid being single. Another common phobia is the fear of driving which is known by several names (amaxophobia, ochophobia, motorphobia, or hamaxophobia). This phobia is often combined with other phobias such as dystychiphobia (fear of accidents), hodophobia (fear of travel), or capiophobia (fear of getting arrested).
There are other phobias that are less common, but still affect a significant number of people. I once knew of a war veteran who could not stand celebrations involving fireworks. He suffered from ekrixiphobia, the fear of explosions. People who are afraid of getting cancer have carcinophobia. This is a specific case of the more general nosophobia, which is the fear of developing a disease. People who are pathologically afraid of germs have (mysophobia). The fear of suffering an amputation and of being around amputees is called (apotemnophobia). And as you would expect, the area of sexuality is rife with its own array of phobias that fall under the general fear of sex (genophobia) denomination.
Finally, there are rare phobias some of which may seem truly bizarre.
The fear of belly buttons is omphalophobia.
The fear of objects inside one’s house is oikophobia.
The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth is arachibutyrophobia.
The fear of the color yellow is xanthophobia.
The fear of mothers-in-law is pentheraphobia.
The fear of being afraid is phobophobia.
The fear of money is chrometophobia or chrematophobia.
The fear of happiness is cherophobia.
Perhaps the most ironic of all phobias is, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, which is the fear of long words!
Some people, such as the film director Woody Allen, have so many phobias, that they are said to have panophobia, which is the fear of everything.
Some of the above phobias may seem risible, and in fact very specific phobias have been often the subject of ridicule. The British program The Sketch Show parodied phobias in its Phobia Workshop sketch shown in the video below.
We may be tempted to dismiss some of these rarer phobias as the absurd quirks of eccentric people with too much time on their hands, but if these phobias are severe enough and the stimulus that triggers them is hard to avoid, they can be a source of shame and anxiety that disrupts the life of the individuals afflicted with them and isolates them from society.
Phobias can be treated in several ways. One of them is graded exposure to the trigger of the phobia (exposure therapy) in a controlled environment which nowadays may also involve the use of virtual reality technology. Another treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on changing the thoughts and beliefs people have about their phobias. In the more extreme cases, medications such as antidepressants and anxiolytics may be necessary.
The photograph is property of the author and can only be used with permission.
My father used to say that there is a fine line separating the sublime from the ridiculous, and he was right about this. I have read about people who achieve the sublime. They discover important things that change the world, or perform physical feats, or give speeches, or write books, poems, or songs that serve as an inspiration for millions of people. And then years later I learn these very same people became mired in the ridiculous when they were caught engaging in criminal behavior, or saying or doing embarrassing things, or defending ideas that were wrong, immoral, objectionable, or silly. Even Nobel Prize winning scientists are not immune from this. It seems that for a few scientists, the very thought processes and character traits that led them up the path to the sublime, also thereafter diverted them down the slope to the ridiculous. Today we will take a look at a few of these scientists.
The Sublime – Stark was a German physicist who discovered the splitting of spectral lines of atoms and molecules in an electric field (today known as the Stark effect) which provided an important confirmation of the model of quantum physics of the atom. For this and other discoveries he received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1919.
The Ridiculous – Stark grew very vocal in criticizing mainstream physics and became involved in many disputes and power struggles, growing erratic and disruptive. The German scientific community shunned him, but when Hitler began his rise to power, Stark supported him and attacked the work of Jewish scientists in Germany, especially Albert Einstein. Stark joined the Nazi party, and assumed a leading role in a movement to rid German science of Jewish scientists and their ideas. However, he was eventually sidelined due to his incompetence as an administrator as well as his quarrelsome nature. Stark retired, and after the war he spent one year in jail for his associations with the Nazis.
The Sublime – Shockley was an American physicist who performed vital work for the United States navy during World War II that allowed the US to increase its success in tracking and attacking German submarines as well as evading German bombers, which saved many lives. He led the team at Bell Labs which invented the transistor, and then he improved on the device to produce a version on which most transistors are based today. For this discovery, Shockley and his team were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956. After leaving Bell Labs, he founded a semiconductor company and attracted the talented people who would later go on to found companies that would usher a technological revolution in electronics in what is now known as Silicon Valley in California.
The Ridiculous – Shockley had a difficult temperament that caused him problems both in his family and professional life. He was rude and arrogant, and his managerial style was that of a dictator. Many people that worked with him for a while ended up leaving or refusing to work with him ever again. After he won the Nobel Prize, he started espousing racist views regarding the excessive reproduction and intellectual inferiority of certain groups of people or races and lashing out against his critics. He died only in the company of his second wife and estranged from his children and former friends and colleagues.
The Sublime – Watson is an American molecular biologist and the co-discoverer with Francis Crick of the structure of the molecule of life, DNA. This single discovery brought about a dramatic transformation in the biological sciences that is still ongoing. Watson along with Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. But what made Watson a household name was his memoir about the discovery of the structure of DNA entitled The Double Helix which he wrote in a brash not-suffer-fools-gladly style which excited the imagination of a generation of scientists.
The Ridiculous – Watson has expressed controversial views including that blacks are less intelligent than whites, that some anti-Semitism is justified, and that women scientists are less effective and not as good at math as men and will not be taken seriously in science if they have children. But he also thinks that having some female scientists around makes things “more fun for the men”. He has also claimed that fat people are less ambitious than thin people, that libido is linked to skin color, and that if it were possible, parents should be allowed to choose the traits of their unborn children such as not choosing to have a homosexual child.
The Sublime – Gajdusek was an American physician who studied a rare and puzzling disease called Kuru prevalent among members of the Fore tribe in New Guinea. He found that it was spread by ritualistic brain cannibalism, and he succeeded in transmitting the disease to chimpanzees by injecting human brain extracts into their brains. Gajdusek observed that Kuru had similarities to another human disease called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and to a disease of sheep called scrapie, and he proposed that the pathogen was a previously unknown infectious agent which he termed “unconventional virus”. Gajdusek received the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1976 for his work on new mechanisms of dissemination of infectious disease. The pathogens in these diseases were later found to be misfolded proteins called prions.
The Ridiculous – Over the years Gajdusek adopted many boys from the Fore tribe, brought them over to the U.S. to live with him, and put them through high school and college. One of these individuals accused Gajdusek of molesting him when he was a child. Gajdusek pled guilty to the charge and spent one year in jail after which he was released, relocated to Europe, and never came back to the U.S.
The Sublime – Mullis was an American biochemist who invented a method to amplify DNA, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which brought about a revolution in areas ranging from medicine to forensics. PCR is used in the diagnostic test for COVID-19. Mullis received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993.
The Ridiculous – Mullis became infamous for his belligerent attitude and outrageous eccentric behavior. For example, he was once invited to give a lecture about PCR, and instead he criticized the science behind the treatment of AIDS, and the only slides he presented were photographs of naked women. His professed belief in astrology, ghosts, and aliens, as well as his denial of the ozone hole, global warming, or that the HIV virus causes AIDs also made him toxic in the eyes of most scientists.
The Sublime – Montagnier is a French virologist who with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi won the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the AIDS virus (HIV). This discovery along with the work of Robert Gallo in the United States made it possible to produce antivirals and save the lives of millions of people.
The Ridiculous – After receiving his Nobel Prize, Montagnier started publishing research claiming that DNA can emit electromagnetic waves and create a memory of itself in the water used to dissolve it. He also claimed that this memory emits such waves allowing the DNA to teleport between solutions. Montagnier’s claims were interpreted as favoring the pseudoscience of homeopathy. He has also given talks at anti-vaccination conferences, claimed that AIDS can be cleared through nutrition and supplements, and that the COVID-19 virus is man-made. Montagnier has become a pariah to the scientific community.
As the above list (which is by no means exhaustive) shows, scientists are human beings, and even Nobel Prize winning scientists can make errors of judgement and display all the character flaws and contradictions that affect average individuals, and this can take some of them all the way from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Photograph of Johannes Stark by A. B. Lagrelius & Westphal is in the public domain. Photograph of William Shockley by Chuck Painter is used here under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license. The photographs of James Watson and Carleton Gajdusek are works of the NIH and therefore are in the public domain. The photograph of Kary Mullis by Dona Mapston is used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license. Photograph of Luc Montagnier by Prolineserver is in the public domain.
I got my first shot of the COVID-19 (Moderna) vaccine, and to celebrate this event I thought I would write about the vaccine and how societies in general reacted to vaccines in the past.
Before COVID-19 we were spoiled. The massive success of vaccination in eradicating or diminishing disease had made it possible for people to enjoy the luxury of dabbling in antivaxxer pseudoscience and indulging in vaccine hesitancy. Until COVID-19 hit us, many people had not experienced the fear for their loved ones that people had experienced in the times before vaccines were available during epidemics of diseases such as polio.
Nowadays few people remember the peace of mind and hope that vaccines brought to humanity. The bliss experienced by people finally rid of the scourge of certain diseases such as smallpox, which periodically decimated entire communities, is difficult to describe today. To give you an idea, let me just present below a translation of a stanza of the poem Oda a La Vacuna (Ode to the Vaccine) by the Venezuelan poet Andres Bello written in 1804 (he mentions Jenner, the discoverer of the smallpox vaccine, and Carlos, the King of Spain who promoted the distribution of the vaccine).
“Supreme Providence, the tearful echoes of the disheartened man at last arrived to your abode, and you raised your righteous arm from his neck; admirable and amazing in your resources, you gave the man medicine, wounding the herds with contagious plague; you opened for us new springs of health in the sores, and you stamped upon our flesh a miraculous seal that the black pox respected. Jenner is the one who discovered under the roof of the shepherds such a precious find. He joyfully published to the universe the happy news, and Carlos distributes to earth the gift of heaven.”
Although many individuals today are too far gone down the rabbit hole of antivaxxer irrationality to be redeemed, now that science has delivered for humanity an effective vaccine against COVID-19 in record time, I hope that many people will regain a measure of gratefulness and respect for vaccines and for scientists.
The COVID-19 vaccine has an amazing history involving failure, tragedy, perseverance, and triumph that is worth reading about. This vaccine was made possible by a remarkable confluence of several technologies produced by numerous discoveries in basic and applied science. Others have already reported in depth on these stories, so here I will provide a summary of the most salient points with references.
A couple of decades ago, the scientific establishment was skeptical of the concept on which the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are based: using mRNA to direct the production of a viral protein and generate an immune response. This was mostly due to the fact that the mRNA triggered an immune response against itself that interfered with its effectiveness. A Hungarian born scientist in the United States, Dr. Katalin Karikó, spent many years fighting against this skepticism and paying dearly for it in terms of stress, remuneration, and career advancement. Finally in 2005, Dr. Karikó and a collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman, succeeded in modifying the molecule to make it more stable. Two emerging biotech companies, Moderna (founded in 2010) and BioNTech (founded in 2008) licensed the technology from Karikó and Weissman and began working on a series of applications for the modified mRNA. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, they were ready to hit the ground running with the technology.
In 1966, a trial of a vaccine against a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) went horribly wrong. The vaccine not only was unsuccessful in protecting immunized children, but it actually worsened their response to the virus with 21 children being hospitalized and 2 dying. Dr. Barney Graham, an American virologist, devoted his career to finding out what had happened. Finally, he and his colleagues figured out that the protein the viruses use to fuse with human cells changes shape in the process. Antibodies against the pre-fusion protein were effective against the virus, whereas antibodies against the post-fusion form were not and actually made things worse. Dr. Graham and his colleagues applied this knowledge to develop a vaccine against a type of coronavirus that appeared back in 2012 called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which could not be tested because the disease did not reach epidemic levels. However, by 2017 they had figured out how to develop a vaccine against coronaviruses in general. Graham teamed up with Moderna to incorporate his research into the design of mRNA vaccines. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Graham’s research and experience with coronaviruses allowed Moderna and other companies to design a vaccine for the right form of the protein.
A seldom mentioned issue is that the mRNA in the vaccines is a large and fragile molecule that is easily degraded once inside the body and which does not cross cell membranes. The reason the vaccine mRNA is effective, is that the molecule is packed into vesicles called lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) which protect the molecule and allow its efficient delivery into cells. When Moderna and BioNTech began their work to find the right LNPs to deliver their vaccine mRNA, they benefited from the experience of decades of hit and miss research conducted by multiple labs that painstakingly combined different lipid components, tweaked their proportions, and tested them in cell, animal, and humans studies for effectiveness and toxicity. When the pandemic started, both companies had already produced working LNPs to deliver mRNA.
And finally, there are multiple discoveries that resulted in technologies that made possible the day to day practical and theoretical work of scientists. Among these are the advances in genetic sequencing technology, which allowed the quick elucidation of the genome of the virus, and the advances in computing and bioinformatics, which allowed the visualization and analysis of sequences and molecular structures, and the quick sharing of information among scientists worldwide.
A lot of things have improved in our societies since Andres Bello published his poem back in 1804. Science has spearheaded a revolution that has increased human lifespan and quality of life, and vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccine have been an essential part of this process. Sadly, one of the things that has changed for the worst is that today poetry is no longer an art cultivated by the younger generations which consider it something old fashioned. But I am grateful for this gift that science has given to us, and I hope somebody considers composing an ode to the COVID-19 vaccine!
The photograph is property of the author and can only be sued with permission.
Power to the people was a slogan used in the United States during the sixties and beyond intended to be an exhortation to free the people from the oppression of the establishment. Although the slogan was originally political, it has been applied to many areas of human endeavor where there are institutions controlling an activity that many people would rather not have anyone control. The process of passing a certain amount of control from the establishment to the people has played out throughout modern history in many areas and is still doing so. Let me give you three examples.
The first example is beer. In the United States after prohibition was repealed in 1933, the majority of beer brewing was carried out by large brewing companies, and brewing your own beer at home was illegal. The situation began to change in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that made brewing beer at home legal. Another bill that had been signed in 1976 by President Gerald Ford had decreased the beer tax on small breweries. This set the stage for many home brewers to enter the beer brewing business as “craft brewers”. The process was further empowered by the state-by-state wave of legalization of brewpubs which started 1982. In 1979 there were 90 breweries in the US and by 2019 there were 5,301 breweries, of which 5,234 were craft breweries that accounted for more than 25% of sales in the 116 billion US beer market. Many people agree that when it comes to beer, giving the people the power to make and sell their own beer has been a positive development.
A second example is music. Up to the year 2000 six major record labels held a monopoly on the music business. To hear music, people had to listen to the radio, buy records, tapes, or CDs from a distributor, or pay to go to a concert if you lived close enough to a concert venue. Whether a band made it or not depended on whether they were “discovered” by record companies. With the advent of the internet all this changed. People began to download or share music for free with services like those offered by Napster and the many imitators that it spawned, which cut significantly into the profits of record companies and record stores. Musicians started posting their music and their concerts online, gaining followers through social media, and developing and managing their own business brands selling merchandise. Today these independent musicians are part of an industry worth more than one billion dollars which is still growing.
A third example is literature. The big publishing houses had always held a monopoly on which authors got published. They acted like gatekeepers, deciding who was worthy of being published and who wasn’t. With the advent of the internet, self-publishing platforms arose that allowed people who became known as “indie authors” to bypass publishing houses and take their literature directly to an audience. Today these self-publishing authors account for more than 30% of electronic book sales and 17% of print book sales.
The same trend that we have witnessed in the areas of beer, music, and literature have also spread to other areas wrestling power away from the traditional players and giving it to the people. I certainly believe this is a positive development, but what happens when that development extends to reality?
During the last few years we have witnessed a denigration of journalists and traditional news outlets. Piece after piece of investigative journalism has been labelled "fake news" regardless of the validity of the evidence presented. Alternative news outlets have sprung up that promote baseless conspiracy theories to which millions of people have flocked, and an increasing number of people also get their news from questionable social media sources. We have seen the rise of “alternative facts”, and the disregard for truth has become so dire that the Oxford Dictionary in 2016 labelled “post-truth” as the word of the year. This term is intended to describe a situation where facts have become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs.
The above phenomenon is not just limited to journalists and news outlets, but it has also affected science and scientists, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people believe that scientists are beholden to powerful interests and therefore are not to be trusted. These people get their science from alternative sites that promote contrarian scientists rejected by the scientific establishment or from social media accounts that disseminate biased science views. We have ended up with a significant segment of the population believing that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, that masks are not effective, that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19, and that the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe. These people who have not taken the virus seriously have served as incubators for the pathogen, and because the more a virus spreads, the more it mutates, this increases the likelihood that more infectious variants will arise that may even be resistant to current vaccines to a certain extent. There are some viral variants that have originated in the United States.
I mentioned the cases or beer, music, and literature as examples where taking away power from the institutions and giving it to the people has been something positive. Beer, music, and literature connoisseurs may decry this process lamenting that the standards for good beer, music, and literature have been degraded. However, what constitutes good beer, music, or literature is in the end a subjective opinion. That, however, is not the case with reality.
Reality exists independent from us and our beliefs. Reality is not an opinion. Alternative realities are not realities, they are fictions. If the glass is filled to half of its volume with a liquid, that is a fact. There is no alternative way to view this reality. Saying anything different is at best a mistake and at worst a lie. We can discuss at length whether the glass should be viewed as half full or as half empty, but that is an interpretation of the reality which is something entirely different. Some persons will argue that differences in the perception of reality by people are to be expected. However, these differences in the perception of reality are only valid if they have a high degree of correlation to the reality. If you are walking towards the edge of a cliff, regardless of the way you perceive reality, you have to be able to identify that what’s ahead of you is the edge of a cliff. If you don’t, you will get hurt or die.
Taking away power from those that report on or discover reality and giving it to the people is not a positive development if the people make up, believe, and promote false realities. This is how we end up with global warming, 911, and COVID-19 severity denial, creationism, vaccine hesitancy, skepticism about the 2020 election, chemtrails, the flat Earth, and QAnon.
Musical note image by ruhbastard, foamy beer glass image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, book image by OpenClipart-Vectors, and fist image by Tchekele, all from pixabay, are free for commercial use and have been blended into one image.