In this era we have I think finally brought out the open secret that "science" IS our story--our fiction, our religion, our poetry--we create out of its "discoveries." Gladwell seems our most conspicuous example of this, but he is by no means alone and by no means unique. It is the praxis of the times.
We cannot see this; or rather, we "relativize" truth and laud "uncertainty" with certainty.
I suppose I'll expose myself here as one who doesn't believe these stories. Rather, I happily believe in experiments that can be replicated, but I begin to doubt (yes, I said it) when we begin to narrate the MEANING of said experiments. That is, the experiment is valid in all its own parameters, but that is ALL. There is no meaning outside of this. Experiments must be a "closed" system, a universe unto themselves. Yes, let us guess what comes next based on the results. But that too creates another separate universe of predicated factors. The world is not a "laboratory" experiment. There will always be other factors we cannot "allow for" to make "best" guesses that have real ("dose-dependant") meaning. I realize I am likely exposing myself here as someone who "doesn't get" the scientific method. So it goes. Eviscerate away.
It cannot be doubted this is the era of TED, revelatory as Gladwellian enterprise. But this is only a progression: snake oil is as baseball and apple pie to us, just as the savage, black or red, is the devil.
It is not unusual that the country which prizes novelty and showmanship (chooses Edison over Tesla; Columbus over de las Casas), that which seems to characterize our understanding of "economy," over the staid yet miraculous daily and seasonal changes of the non-human, the trees, the rivers, the wild, that which characterizes our ecology, should love TED, love Gladwell, love the "reveal" which is not in the least a revelation but instead an exposure: there are suckers who will discount the reveal and there are suckers who will honestly love being taken. What we are responding to is the show, and any show will do as long a the performance is "real." (Huck Finn is probably our greatest exposé as regards this circus-belief; Brave New World only expands upon it, scientifically.)
I might contend that this very tendency is what the human ought to be trying to work itself through and out of...and verily into another way of minding the world. Perhaps the exposure of "enlightened" skepticism ought to have taught us to return to the beginning using a truer sight and wiser eyeballs.
But really, my only point, I think, is that these experiments in "machined-sight" (our brilliance requires a capability beyond rubies after all) are in a way simply abstractions, like mathematic equations. They prove only themselves and carry no other content. Until we use them to narrate an idea.
That is, until we put them to work.
I've been reading For Love of the World: Essays on Nature Writers by Sherman Paul (author of what I think is probably the best Thoreau biography-study) and I find this section in the essay on Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac) illustrative of my own thinking (but perhaps I've simply borrowed it and called it my own):
Science, [Leopold] finds, has encouraged rather than halted this [environmental] destruction (of land bureaus, agricultural colleges, and extension services, he notes that "no ethical obligation toward land is taught in these institutions"), and his own scientific education, making him aware of what is invisible to others, has penalized him by isolating him, forcing him to live alone in "a world of wounds." "An ecologist," he says, "must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well, and does not want to be told otherwise."I suppose the TED Circus reveals to me the self-aggrandizing nature of the human who, in the delusion of "mastery," simply continues world-wounding in the service of promoting a next brilliant technological fix: a fix one imagines will bear the moniker of the performer though the genealogy is out of Houdini and Barnum.