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Karl W. Giberson


The Greatest of These

The science of love.

Science is often at odds with common sense. In fact, some would read the history of science as the steady retreat of commonly held misperceptions about the world in the face of controversial but ultimately compelling scientific explanations. Did not the moving earth have to displace the commonsense stationary earth? A bizarre quantum physics replaced the intuitive classical physics; relativistic time and space replaced their everyday counterparts; and so on. Albert Einstein was once challenged by a critic, upset that his theories flew in the face of common sense. The great scientist was dismissive: "Common sense is a body of prejudice laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen."

There is, to be sure, some truth in this simple picture of an uninformed common sense steadily retreating in the face of scientific advance. But the reality is much more complex, and there are some interesting counterexamples. I suspect that the current enthusiasm for multiple universes will eventually wane and return to the traditional commonsense view; likewise the genetic determinism of some scientists will give way to the old-fashioned idea that parenting, friendships, and life experiences are critically important.

But the most striking counterexample to the simplistic picture of "science trumping common sense" would have to be the early 20th-century conviction that physical affection, human contact, and love were irrelevant to infants. For a rather long period of time, the psychology of early childhood went completely off the rails and ran at right angles to common-sense notions of childrearing.

Alas, this particular departure from common sense was not so benign as Galileo's discussion about the motion of the earth. Far from it. This misunderstanding resulted in the death of tens of thousands of children, victims of a profound confusion about the nature and importance of love. Unknown to the science of the time was a central "mystery" that is still being unraveled—namely, that little ...

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