Six months ago, our family got cable TV for the first time. In addition to learning that it actually wasn’t always snowing on every channel, my kids quickly discovered a favorite show.
The show is Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. Just in case you aren’t familiar, in each episode, two former special effects guys named Jamie and Adam set out to test several of “those” stories. You know the ones: Can a person who is buried alive punch out and dig up to the surface? Can a glass be shattered by singing? Is it easy to shoot fish in a barrel? Does a bull charge at the color red? If you sneeze with your eyes open, will they pop out? Is it possible to survive an elevator freefall by jumping up at the last second? Are the moon landing conspiracy theories legit?
The answers to these, by the way, are no, yes (the shattered glass), no, no, no, no, and no. But even more interesting to me than the answers themselves is the unstated assumption of the show: that knowing the truth is always better than believing even a really cool but untrue thing.
It helps that they test these things in the most entertaining way possible, and that they seem to find a way to blow something up in every show. But that basic assumption that knowing the truth is always better—that, I think, is the most powerful thing in the show.
Also interesting is the fact that the vast majority of the myths are busted, debunked. And the show’s popularity is still huge. Part of that, of course, is the fact that once in awhile, they confirm rather than bust a claim. And because they’ve willingly busted so many others, those confirmations are cool and meaningful.
So the whole show can be seen as the systematic attempt to get the right answer–which, by the way, is my favorite definition of critical thinking.
These are the same premises that energize science. It’s hard to think of a better motto for the scientific enterprise than “Knowing the truth is always better than believing a fiction.” It gets at what I see as the essential difference between traditional religion and science. The religious point of view is often premised on what I have called the conditional love of reality. Science is premised on the unconditional love of reality.
I’m thrilled if there is a god, for example, and I’m thrilled if there isn’t. Same with charging bulls and shattering glasses and popping eyeballs. The truth is automatically more attractive to me than either possibility by itself. And I’m thrilled that there’s a show, and a popular one to boot, that embraces the same love of reality.
So when an argument among my 7, 11, and 13-year-olds about what to watch is settled (as it almost always is) by Mythbusters, I pull up a chair myself and chalk up another point for the real world.