Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Fireplace Delusion

Sam Harris has a fascinating piece up about what he calls the "fireplace delusion." In short:

The unhappy truth about burning wood has been scientifically established to a moral certainty: that nice, cozy fire in your fireplace is bad for you. It is bad for your children. It is bad for your neighbors and their children. Burning wood is also completely unnecessary, because in the developed world we invariably have better and cleaner alternatives for heating our homes. If you are burning wood in the United States, Europe, Australia, or any other developed nation, you are most likely doing so recreationally—and the persistence of this habit is a major source of air pollution in cities throughout the world. In fact, wood smoke often contributes more harmful particulates to urban air than any other source.

And yet...

I have discovered that when I make this case, even to highly intelligent and health-conscious men and women, a psychological truth quickly becomes as visible as a pair of clenched fists: they do not want to believe any of it. Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts.

He ends up making this a metaphor for trying to argue with people's religious beliefs, which I don't think is the best place to focus--it's kind of more interesting when it's just about fireplaces.

Or at least, when it's about something broader than religion. I recognize the impulse described in my own behavior. Not specifically with the fireplace thing--I don't currently have a functioning fireplace, but if I did and wanted to use it, I might just accept that I was doing something harmful and do it anyway--but certainly I've had hostile reactions to being shown that my presumptions were wrong about something or other. It's what we all do. I can think of several things that I've changed my mind on based on evidence over the years (especially during my 20's and early 30's), but that probably means that there are plenty more things that I've refused to change my mind on, despite the evidence. It's always something to think about.


Anonymous The Gas Shop said...

Fireplaces are a great “accessory” to have especially on cold winter nights

2/24/2012 1:15 AM  

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