Actor Tom Baker said, “We are all quite capable of believing in anything as long as it’s improbable.” People have the ability to believe in unrealistic things by suspending their disbelief. “Suspension” means to prevent something from continuing or being in force or effect.
“Disbelief” means the inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real. The suspension of disbelief allows people to accept illogical things. This is essential in theatre, were people mostly suspend their disbelief for the sake of enjoyment. Instead of worrying about things that do not make sense, people just accept that something unrealistic happened.
For example, people do not question why people do stuff in their jobs on television that they would not do in real life. People do not question why doctors in medical dramas do the work nurses are supposed to do. However, people will not always suspend their disbelief. Some things are so unbelievable that people will not believe it and will think is bad writing.
Other areas also benefit from the suspension of disbelief. Both history, the study of past events, and the natural sciences, the study of the physical world, use the suspension of disbelief. History uses the suspension of disbelief to correct historical knowledge.
Natural sciences use the suspension of disbelief to introduce new ideas to the scientific community. The suspension of disbelief is essential in history and natural sciences because it helps improve knowledge.When analyzing what happened in the past, bias can affect the judgment of historians. Some historians believe a particular idea and do not consider other ideas. If a new idea challenges existing beliefs, some historians will dismiss the new idea as false. The refusal to believe new ideas causes false information to be accepted as historical fact for a long time. When historians suspend their disbelief to consider that an unusual idea may be true, historical knowledge may be improved.
This is used in the process of historical revisionism, where people challenge currently held historical views and reinterpret history. For example, Viking warriors were thought to be only male by a lot of people. In the nineteenth century, the skeleton of a Viking warrior was found. Despite evidence showing that the skeleton was female, people thought it was male. People did not believe that there were female Viking warriors, so they did not consider that the skeleton was not male.
It was not until the twenty-first century that some researchers suspended their disbelief and thought that the skeleton may not be male. They examined the skeleton’s DNA and confirmed that the skeleton was female. (Morgan) They learned that there were female Viking warriors. Suspension of disbelief helped the researchers correct a misconception and improve historical knowledge. Another time that the suspension of disbelief helped was with the Battle of Agincourt. People believed that the English army was outnumbered four to one by the French army during the Battle of Agincourt.
The difference in army sizes turned out to be smaller than people thought. Recently, Professor Anne Curry found that the French only outnumbered the English 12,000 to 8,000. (Glanz) The English might have exaggerated the numbers in order to make their victory seem more impressive and inspire patriotism. Curry suspended her disbelief and believed that the difference in sizes was not as big as believed. Her willingness to suspend her disbelief allowed historical knowledge to be corrected. Once again, the suspension of disbelief helped improve historical knowledge.
Suspension of disbelief may cause problems in history. Some people may disbelieve things that are true. In a process called historical negationism, some people deny that historical events occurred. They are willing to challenge common beliefs of events occurring. However, negationism is not based on the introduction of new evidence like revisionism is.
So negationism has less support for its ideas and negationists have a hard time being believed. It is more likely that the suspension of disbelief will allow correct knowledge to become accepted than false information.Like history, the natural sciences use the suspension of disbelief to improve knowledge. People suspend their disbelief in order to challenge current scientific beliefs and examine new ideas. For example, in the twenty-first century, scientists believed that stomach ulcers were caused by stress. In 2005, a physician, Barry Marshall, and a pathologist, Robin Warren, discovered that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers.
Other scientists refused to suspend their disbelief and believe Marshall and Warren until Marshall experimented on himself to prove that bacteria cause ulcers. Marshall removed some H. pylori from the gut of someone with a stomach ulcer. Then, he consumed the bacteria in a broth. Days later, he had gastritis, which came before an ulcer.
He examined his gut and found that the bacteria had colonised. This proved that bacteria were the cause of stomach ulcers. (Weintraub) Marshall and Warren’s ability to suspend their disbelief of the idea that something other than stress cause ulcers helped scientific knowledge improve. The other scientists who refused to suspend their disbelief prevented incorrect information from being corrected.
The suspension of disbelief helps the advancement of science. The lack of the suspension of disbelief harms the growth of scientific knowledge. An example of how not having the suspension of disbelief stops knowledge from improving was with Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis. In the nineteenth century, Semmelweis discovered that if doctors washed their hands, less patients get fevers and died. The medical community refused to suspend their disbelief at the idea that washing hands would stop diseases. (Markel) It was not until later that Semmelweis was proven to be true. People rejected Semmelweis’ ideas because they did not think that they were true. People’s inability to suspend their disbelief stopped people from learning new information.
Even though the information was correct, people did not want to even consider it. Their refusal may be due to emotion. Some scientists do not want to admit that they are wrong and they feel embarrassed for their mistakes. Some scientists may feel prideful and defensive of their ideas and work and do not want to consider ideas that are not their own. Scientific knowledge improves when people suspend their disbelief of new ideas that go against current ideas.
However, not all scientific ideas are true. Sometimes an idea that does not match the current ideas is wrong. Scientists should not believe all new ideas. But they should study and examine the idea in order to gain a better understanding of the idea.Historical and scientific knowledge has grown because of the suspension of disbelief. Through historical revisionism, historical knowledge has been corrected and improved.
Suspending disbelief helps new scientific ideas become accepted in the scientific community. It is important that scientists and historians suspend their disbelief because it helps them gain more information about the past and the world around us. New information can improve people’s lives. New medical discoveries could save people’s lives. Not all ideas should be believed. The suspension may cause people to believe false information. People should not blindly believe a new idea, but should think about it and analyze it to see if it is true.
People should give new ideas a chance because they could be true.