Dogs flew spaceships!
The Aztecs invented the vacation!
Men and women are the same sex!
Our forefathers took drugs!
Your brain is not the boss!
Yes! That’s right!
Everything you know is wrong!
—The Firesign Theatre, Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974)1
Samuel Arbesman believes that over the course of a lifetime, much of what one knows will lose relevance. It will either be shown to be incorrect, or it simply won’t have any purpose, as the overall context will change so much that many “facts” will essentially become useless. In the fascinating book The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date, he describes a kind of myopia that affects our understanding of knowledge and the world we live in. He calls this condition shifting baseline syndrome and describes it as follows2:
This condition . . . shifting baseline syndrome . . . refers to how we become used to whatever state of affairs is true when we are born, or when we first look at a situation.
His point is that it’s easy to take the ways things are for granted. We assume they have always been this way and will likely remain that way in the future. This can fool us into believing that there is some objective logic or rationale for why things are the way they are and that we can reliably build on that interpretation. A healthy counterview to shifting baseline syndrome is that the world is in constant flux and probably a lot less linear and serial than we think. What exists today ...