FOM: Successes of intuition over rigor

Miguel A. Lerma mlerma at
Fri Feb 15 18:35:20 EST 2002

Alexander R. Pruss wrote:
 > On Fri, 15 Feb 2002, Neil Tennant wrote:
 > > No, I do not mean to suggest that. It's my opinion that (with respect to
 > > 4, 5 and 10) intuition inclines the non-rigorous to believe, and that the
 > > more rigorous tend to come to disbelieve them.
 > If memory serves, it is not the case that the majority of U.S.
 > mathematicians disbelieve #4 (that God exists).  Now, of course, one might
 > _define_ "rigorous" in such a way that anybody who accepts #4 is
 > _therefore_ unrigorous, but that is a useless stipulative definition.
 > Alex

I do not think that intuition and rigor have a very important role 
in accepting or rejecting beliefs like 4, 5 and 10. Education and 
social pressure play a more significant role in it.

As an example of the role of social pressure in accepting a
"belief", I can mention an anecdote that happened at the
end of 1999, when the world was preparing to celebrate 
the arrival of the new millennium 1 year too early.
Speaking with one of my colleagues it was clear that
he knew and understood perfectly the argument (based on
the nonexistence of a "year zero") showing that the second
millennium would not arrive until 2001, but he did not care,
he behaved in all respects as if the millennium was going
to arrive in 2000, saying that those who insist in not 
accepting it will become socially isolated.

An as an example of the role of education, I could mention
myself. Being raised in an atheist family I was never exposed
to the idea that some sort of "superior being" had created
the world, so when someone asked me (I was 5 or 6 years old)
who made the world, I answered very innocently "the construction 
workers" - clarification: I thought that the world had existed
always, so I assumed that the question was only about the part
of the world that was in fact artificially made, i.e., buildings 
and cities. 

Miguel A. Lerma

More information about the FOM mailing list