The Fallacy of Common Sense

As I was waking up this morning, I saw this cartoon and it reminded of how bad the so-called “common sense” is.

from “U.S. Acres”

Many people, I would say even most people, extoll common sense as a virtue. I maintain it is not, rather it is a hindrance that holds us back and keeps us from learning and growing.

Take the above example, “everybody” knows that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, right? Except that’s wrong. In fact, almost the reverse is true. Lightning is much more likely to strike the same place twice than not. (Reference. Another reference. Yet another reference.)

It used to be common practice to treat an ulcer flare-up with milk. Milk is thick and creamy and soothing, right? Except not. Milk actually exacerbates ulcers. (Reference. You can find others.)

When Apple released the iPad, almost everyone was skeptical. Who was going to carry around a giant phone that didn’t make phone calls? Now, iPads and other tablets are ubiquitous.

Even the term “common sense” should turn you off. Who wants to be common? Why do people extoll this as a virtue? (Well, that is the subject of a different column.) But the fact is, common sense generally tells us that doing the same thing we have always done is the way to go. It worked before, it’ll probably work again.

Except, that isn’t what moves us forward. Moving forward requires throwing off common sense, doing something different and new. This is what I call “uncommon sense“, the ability to see things in different ways. The ability to question the norm and accepted. The ability to ignore what common sense is telling you and think in new and uncommon ways. This should be extolled as a virtue, being uncommon, not being common.

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