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  • Aishath Aboobakr

What a Bad Idea: when an idea is 'bad'.


A man wanders through the marsh of Kaashidhoo.


What makes an idea bad? That it is superstitious, that it 'goes against the tide of reality,' that is, the version of reality that is offered by science?

But what is inherently bad about an idea that doesn't fit in with the science of the day? Assuming they are ideas about the world, one that is contrary to science will have little value at least among the scientifically inclined. But that is not the majority of the world. And unscientific ideas can have a hold even on scientists: Einstein's belief in the universe's inherent order and determinism comes to mind.

Will unscientific ideas be beaten out of existence by 'true' scientific ones? Is that what makes the former bad and the latter good? But does this win of a good idea over its bad adversary depend on truth content of the good idea?

Maybe, the 'goodness' of an idea has more to do with how useful it is. How, for example, an idea can help a person cope with life, or make sense of it, or uplift them. When dealing with the loss of a loved one, can there be any comfort in science? That the atoms remain, it's only consciousness that has left. And where does it go? You may ask. Well, where does the OS of a broken phone go either, science might respond. And in the face of such callousness, where does a broken human go for solace?

To give an example: 'Everything happens for the best,' this is an idea that seems manifestly untrue. But how many of us believe this? And how does it affect the way we live our lives, or face adversity? How many of us draw strength to continue from this maxim?

Meanwhile, the spread of memes in networks also shows how ideas proliferate among us. Mostly, the truth content of these memes has no influence on their potential to go viral. Network properties such as density, connections with influential hubs, strong local connections and so on can sometimes help memes go viral more than the content of the memes themselves.

And in the context of a network, a bad idea is one that resists spreading among its (the network’s) users. The spreadability of an idea does not depend on its perceived truthfulness, in this context. Unless, of course, it deals with 'serious' issues: the war on Gaza has seen hundreds of videos go viral as people, especially the younger generations, consumed TikToks showing scenes of devastation and carnage that Western media had turned a blind eye to.

But ultimately, the real test of a good idea may then just be its 'contagiousness,' which need not depend on its perceived truthfulness. ‘Truthfulness’ becomes one of many qualities an idea may possess to help its spread through a network, not the sole criterion on which an idea might be deemed bad or good. That is, a bad idea can be ‘true’, and a good idea can have no truth value or be obviously false.

 

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