January 1st, 2008

Great Thinkers

There 's a piece in the Guardian this morning about how great thinkers are sometimes forced to change their minds. Well, yes, of course, that's what being a great thinker is all about:  you- er- think. And hopefully not just round and round in circles. What's the point of having all that thinking power- all those brass connecting rods and tiny-toothed wheels with a tungsten finish- if you don't sometimes use it to shift your position? If great minds were unmoving alps of certainty they wouldn't be much fucking use to us, now would they?

One of the Guardian's great minds turns out to be Alan Alda. I've always thought he was a fairly bright chap, but a great mind? On the  scale of elderly comedy actors who are intelligent enough to also write and direct a bit I'd place him somewhere ahead of Jerry Lewis but a block or two behind Woody Allen. Anyway, he apparently he qualifies for inclusion here because he  presents some show about science on the National Geographic Channel. The thing he's changed his mind about is God. Once he thought God existed. Now he's not so sure. Nice thinking, Alan!

The other great thinkers have mostly changed their minds on more abstruse, boffiny topics like- what was the crucial moment in human evolution? Richard Wrangham used to think it was when our ancestors started eating meat. Now he thinks it was when they learned to cook. Helena Cronin has changed her mind on why men dominate in society. She used to think it was all down to sexism and stuff.  Now she thinks it's because the male brain tends to extremes - "more dumbells but also more Nobels"- whereas the female brain is more likely to be average and this is because- well, actually she doesn't say. And the more I explore her opinion the less she seems to be making any sense.

They're all just guessing, aren't they? 

I'm no great thinker but I sometimes change my mind too. For example, in the course of the past few months I've come to the conclusion that the Guardian is a godawful newspaper.  Unfortunately, all the others are godawfuller and, as I've got it tagged as my home page, I guess I'll go on reading it. Oh dear, what a sad admission of defeat with which to kick off the New Year!