Actually, the seasons are caused by your cat’s misconceptions

Not everyone understands the reason that our planet experiences seasons. Most people know that the reason is astronomical, but many have misconceptions about the specifics. There are a range of beliefs people tend to have about the seasons. For example, people may believe that the seasons are caused by variable distance to the sun, changes within the sun, changes to the Earth’s climate, Earth’s axial tilt, or the rotation of the Earth about its axis. Only one of these is correct, but I wont tell you which one.

Not only would telling you ruin the surprise, being told what’s true doesn’t really fix a person’s misconceptions.

We may be tempted to make fun of the Harvard graduates in the above video if we understand what really causes the seasons, but is it fair to? In the video they claim its fair because each of those graduates was told the real reason for the seasons at some point during their education. They probably even wrote a test on it!

So, what happened?

Suppose you are in school and the teacher tells you your middle name is Xlpqr. You are pretty sure that’s not your real middle name, but you also know that the teacher is going to mark a red X by your name if you don’t write it that way and you’ll lose marks. So, you use your new middle name on all your tests even though you know its wrong. You haven’t been taught what your middle name is. You’ve just been taught what the authority figures want to hear.

This same thing happens with all kinds of knowledge in school. Students learn to produce the right answer (as dictated to them by the teacher), even when they actually believe something different! I suspect this is what happened to the Harvard graduates in the video. They learned the right answer to get through a test, but they never really cured their misconception. So, years later after they have forgotten what their textbook said, the only thing they have to rely on is their childhood misconception.

Misconceptions are really tenacious enemies. They can’t be solved just by telling people what’s true. And this is what scientists have to wrestle with when they explain Climate Change, evolution, or medical science to people with misconceptions about these fields.

We all walk around with many misconceptions about how things work. If you become an expert in a particular field, you may have chased away most of the misconceptions about your field of expertise, but no one is an expert in everything.

These misconceptions are the reason that scientists value skepticism. Its much too easy to think your beliefs are true if no one is questioning them. In fact, you should be the FIRST person to question your beliefs. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Go find out if something you believe is really true!


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