photo credit: Lena Bell

The 3 Stages of Truth: How The Earth Became Round

Have you ever started something new, only to be met with resistance from others?

Whenever we seek change at any level, there are those who will be opposed to it. Change can be hard to accept, even if it’s for the better. This applies to many aspects of our lives, whether we want to improve a part of our life or to creating something innovative for society.

Skeptics will always be around. People who refuse to let the things, people, and places around them change. People who mock something that feels novel, simply because it’s easier to stay with whatever feels comfortable and familiar.

This has led me to believe that truth, and any positive change, goes through multiple stages before it’s accepted.

According to 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer,

“All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

Let’s take a closer look at the 3 Stages of Truth.

The 3 Stages of Truth

The process of acknowledging a truth is broken down into three stages:

  1. The first stage is ridicule. When a new idea or concept is brought up, it’s so strange that it’s completely absurd. People cannot fathom this idea and how it fits into their lives, so they simply laugh at how impossible it seems.
  2. The second stage is opposition. After a new concept hasn’t made it past the first stage, people begin to worry that it’s here to stay. A few might support the concept, but most will resist because they see it as a threat to everything they’re familiar with.
  3. The third stage is self-evident. There is increasing evidence that supports the idea, which goes from having a few early supporters to entering the mainstream. A majority of people support the fact and come to accept it as a given.

Stage 1: Ridicule

Louis Pasteur was born in France in 1822. As a boy, he was interested in drawing and painting his surroundings in Arbois, the town where he grew up. While his teachers noted he had an eye for detail, his father did not see painting as a career and encouraged Pasteur to focus on his schoolwork instead.

Pasteur experimenting in his laboratory.

He began his career in chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, where he made a ground-breaking discovery that molecules produced by living things were left-handed. His discovery was a major contribution to microbiology and helped improve the understanding of DNA.

Pasteur then moved on to studying fermentation and its causes. Since the time of Aristotle, people believed in spontaneous generation, where living organisms could grow from nonliving matter. It was commonly thought that insects such as fleas could arise from dust, or mice from bread. Louis Pasteur disproved this theory by demonstrating that micro-organisms could reproduce.

His experiments showed how beverages, such as wine and milk, could be spoiled by the presence of bacteria. Spurred by the concept of beverage contamination, Pasteur then began his work on showing how germs led to disease in humans and animals.

Pasteur’s “germ theory” wasn’t taken too well by the medical community and public, though. Béchamp, a rival of his, denounced his ideas as “the greatest scientific silliness of the age”, while La Presse, a French newspaper read:

“I am afraid that the experiments you quote, M. Pasteur, will turn against you. The world into which you wish to take us is really too fantastic.”

Louis Pasteur lived in a time when many people died from infectious diseases. Two of his own children had died from typhoid, which was caused by dirty food and water.

Even though his theory on germs and disease was ridiculed then, today we know the importance of sanitation and the relationship between bacteria and sicknesses.

How to Deal With Ridicule

A new idea can seem so ridiculous that people simply laugh. Pasteur’s theory disproved a previous one that had existed for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise that people were shaken.

However, Pasteur had evidence that his theory made sense. He tested his theory on different subjects in various environments, which proved that his hypothesis was correct.

If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to have evidence to back it up. Sometimes ideas are rightly ridiculed, while others unjustly so.

Stage 2: Opposition

The early stages of flight were a dangerous business. Lack of funding, lives lost, and scorn were just part of the process of aviation. But The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, were not deterred.

The brothers were born and raised in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1800s to a set of parents who encouraged them to learn new things. Their father often bought them toys that helped increase their knowledge of mechanics. Together, they ran a printing shop and bicycle shop, which later proved valuable in designing and building an airplane.

They had their start in aviation when Wilbur was 32 and Orville was 28, as they began reading books on aeronautics and talking to engineers. In the process, they studied the work of other experimenters and birds in flights, which was where they came up with the concept of “wing warping.”

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.

Wing warping meant a pilot could control the plane by raising or lowering flips along the wings of a plane. They tested their idea initially with kites, then moved to gliders. The brothers chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, as their testing grounds due to its winds, hills, and sand.

On December 17, 1903, they successfully flew the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven airplane for 59 seconds over 852 feet. Not all was smooth sailing (or flying), though. The press and fellow flight experts didn’t believe the claims they made. Scientific American Magazine referred to them as the “Lying Brothers.”

Eventually, Wilbur decided to set off for Europe in hopes of a better reception. In France, he made public flights and gave rides to journalists and officials. Orville and their sister Katherine joined them, where they became immensely popular on the continent.

They began to sell airplanes in Europe, then returned to the United States in 1909. The brothers became wealthy from their eventual success in Europe and the United States, and are known today as the “fathers of modern aviation.”

How to Deal With Opposition

Have you ever considered pursuing an endeavor, only to think to yourself:

  • “I don’t have any connections.”
  • “I don’t have the formal training necessary.”
  • “I don’t have money.”

The Wright brothers had none of these. But what they did have was a determination to succeed in building a flying plane.

Stage 3: Self-evident

Today, we know the Earth is round. There’s no doubt about it. If someone tried to say otherwise, we would all laugh.

But that wasn’t always the case. It took a long time for this idea to become cemented as common knowledge.

In ancient Egyptian, Mediterranean and Indian cultures, it was believed that the Earth was a flat disc surrounded by oceans. Nordic cultures believed the Earth was flat and surrounded by oceans as well, with a world tree (Yggdrasill) was in the center. Ancient China subscribed to the theory that the Earth was flat and square, while the heavens were round.

The Flammarion engraving (1888) depicts a traveler who arrives at the edge of a flat Earth and sticks his head through the firmament.

Many pre-Socratic Greek philosophers believed the Earth was flat. Some, such as Anaximander, thought the Earth was a round cylinder with a flat top. Anaximenes believed the Earth was flat and rode on the air, similar to how the Sun, Moon, and other heavenly bodies were flat and rode the air.

In sixth century BC, Greek philosopher Pythagoras claimed the Earth was round, although most philosophers remained skeptical.

A few hundred years later, Aristotle studied the skies and remarked in his writings De caelo that stars were seen in Egypt and Cyprus, but not in the northerly regions. Based on this and his other observations of the stars and the Moon, he argued that the Earth was a sphere.

By the fifth century, the idea of a spherical Earth became more accepted. There were still scholars that opposed this view, although they were in the minority.

What to Do When Your Work is Self-evident

When you succeed at proving an idea or achieving a goal, does it mean it’s time to stop?

Of course not.

Even though the concept of a spherical Earth was largely accepted by the medieval period, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan proved it by organizing an expedition that resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth centuries later, in 1519.

In the process, the voyage had numerous unintended consequences, such as the discovery of the Strait of Magellan, improved geography, and encounters with indigenous South American cultures.

The point is that reaching a truth doesn’t mean it’s time to stop. Keep going. There’s always more to discover and explore.

Reaching a goal is simply one stop on the journey.

Getting to the Self-Evident Stage in Life

In our personal lives, we can be met with ridicule and opposition whenever we make a choice that goes against mainstream beliefs, such as:

  • When we choose to study a subject that isn’t trendy.
  • When we pursue a business idea that isn’t proven yet.
  • When we choose to live differently from the people around us.

All of these things can lead to negative feedback and criticism. Instead of listening to everyone’s opinions though, sometimes the best thing is to ignore the noise and do what works for us.

It’s useful to see how some ideas that are popular today were once unorthodox. The idea of germs spreading diseases was once laughable. The personal computer was once considered unnecessary.

A viewpoint or concept that you have might not be popular today, but doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It could simply be that others haven’t accepted it yet.

One note of caution, though: just because something isn’t widely accepted doesn’t mean that it’s true (similar to how hard work doesn’t equate to results). There are going to be concepts that don’t reach the third stage, no matter how much effort is put into proving otherwise.

But if you have done the research, put in the work, and are starting to see some positive results — then you just might be onto something.

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Enjoy the “not this, then that” strategy to overcoming setbacks!


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