I love me some science... her, eh, not so much...
March 24, 2007 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Er... so my new girlfriend doesn't believe in atoms...

Atoms. You know those squiggly little points, or waves, or clouds, or whatever that make up all matter? Yeah, she doesn't go for it. She's not even down with the periodic table.

A little background: we've been seeing each other for about two months. Everything is wonderful! It's a stellar relationship, certainly one of the best I've had, and so far we're both happy and excited by our seemingly ideal "fit". But behind all the warm hugs, kisses, and deep eye gazing there is a cold, dark realization settling in: my new girl has no appreciation for the intricate beauty of science.

I'm not a scientist, but my bookcase is crammed with pop-sci books ranging from evolution, astronomy, physics, biology... you name it, I've got it. We're talking Greene, Gould, Hawking, Sagan, E. O. Wilson, Dawkins, and others. I have a deep love and appreciation for science which goes back to my childhood. It's fundamental to my character and the fact that she is seemingly so strangely resistant to the subject bothers me greatly. My feeling is that somewhere, somehow a science teacher failed miserably in her formative years and she has been resistant to it ever since (although this is just a theory...)

Even more perplexing is the fact that she is bright, well educated (er... Art History major), inquisitive, and just an all around smart woman. She's flirting with religion for the first time in her adult life by occasionally attending services at a very liberal church. This doesn't alarm me too much because otherwise she's a classic liberal, democrat, secularist.

I haven't pushed her on the subject because frankly it is so strange to me - I'd have a much easier time dealing with a devoutly religious person. But she has (lamely in my opinion) explained that she, "just doesn't believe in that stuff." Basically I think it comes down to the fact that she is suspicious of anything she can't see with her own eyes (never mind her church going...)

In one exchange I asked if she had ever seen Antarctica. She said "no." So I asked, "But, do you believe in Antarctica?" To which she said, "Yes." And then I explained that there is almost (but not quite) exactly the same amount of evidence for the existence of atoms as there is for the existence for Antarctica. But she wasn't going for it...

Soooo I guess I'm just wondering where to go from here. Should I learn to respect our difference of opinion (no matter how incredibly glaring it is in this instance) or should I work to gently encourage her to explore science?

I'd say this question is about 40% how can I change her mind and 60% how can I cope being close to someone who doesn't go for the most basic and elegant components of classic scientific understanding.
posted by wfrgms to Human Relations (140 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Coping with her would be extremely frustrating for me, so I can't really give you advice about that. But the one thing I'm sure about is that you can't change her mind. Really.
posted by Memo at 6:00 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

It might be best to determine whether she (1) really and truly doesn't believe in atoms, or (2) just doesn't care much one way or the other.

If it's the former, you have someone extraordinarily illogical on your hands, and I'm not sure what to do about that. If it's the latter, you might just consider how much there is in art that she appreciates that just doesn't interest you. She doesn't appreciate the beauty of science, and that probably won't change quickly. Still, I'd think that might be something you can live with and maybe point out beauty in science gradually. She may change, or she may not, but that's something you can live with.
posted by JMOZ at 6:03 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Dump her and start dating a human. I do not mean this as a joke.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:05 PM on March 24, 2007 [65 favorites]

Should I learn to respect our difference of opinion (no matter how incredibly glaring it is in this instance) or should I work to gently encourage her to explore science?

Why is this a choice? Maybe you can do both.
posted by owhydididoit at 6:08 PM on March 24, 2007

Wow, you both need to get to a scanning electron microscope. One of the high power ones where you can see the individual atoms in the crystal lattice. I know there are photos on the net. [How can you not believe in atoms? Shaking my head here. I don't understand. Who's pulling whose leg?]
posted by Listener at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2007

Someone purposely denying reality to that degree is mentally ill. I would break it off. If you try to teach her anything more, I guarantee you she will be "offended" that you don't "respect her opinion."

I'd also like her hear her explain atomic power, atomic weapons, or what, exactly, all those physicists have been doing for the last century.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

I'd question your assessment of her as bright/inquisitive/smart if she truly doesn't believe in atoms.
posted by juv3nal at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

Show her some electron microphotographs, or whatever they're called. You can actually see atoms with that instrument.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2007

You can learn to respect your differences, maybe. But if she's not open minded, she's not open minded. Does she know any math? Can she use at least Newtonian physics, to predict what is going to happen while driving? Does she know enough chemistry to not be a danger in the kitchen?

The problem with people who haven't any science knowledge, is that ignorance bites them, and those about them, frequently. They mix chlorine bleach and ammonia. They leave their glasses, on a book, on a window sill, on a bright, clear summer day. They drive badly. And they make excuses for their ignorance, as if Science is some kind of specialty, of which it is permissible and even good to be ignorant, until they can't, any longer.

Maybe that attitude worked in a pre-industrial civilization, or on communes that abstain from use of the power grid, still. But if they want to be your significant other, at some point, they could be the person who will have your medical power of attorney. So, if you're comfortable with a person who doesn't believe in atoms talking with your doctors, when you can't, go for it.

Otherwise, there are 3 billion more fish in the ocean, currently.
posted by paulsc at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2007 [15 favorites]

Presumably she can't "see" the various laws of physics; does she believe that it's very tiny elves who drag her to the ground if she trips and not gravity? If she gets an infection, does she go to the doctor, or apply leeches? If her car breaks down, does she go to a mechanic, or does she think that god just doesn't want her to drive anymore?

In other words, like JMOZ says, I think you need to figure out the extent to which she doesn't accept the basic reality of how the natural world works, and how much she just doesn't really care. If she literally doesn't believe in atoms, gravity, germ theory, or internal combustion, I wouldn't bother trying to convince her; I'd run like hell.
posted by scody at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I vote mentally ill, or relishes being offbeat or difficult. Either way, run!

I wouldn't worry about breaking her heart, after all without visual confirmation it's safe to assume there isn't one there.
posted by ill3 at 6:15 PM on March 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

The real question is, will you be able to respect her given this knowledge? If not, you may as well leave now.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:16 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Maybe it just doesn't matter.
"My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled around the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
'You appear to be astonished,' he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. 'Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.'
'To forget it!'
'But the Solar System!' I protested.
'What the deuce is it to me?' he interrupted impatiently: ' you say that we go round the sun. If we went around the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.' "

~ A Study in Scarlet

posted by niles at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2007 [15 favorites]

Scanning electron microscopy doesn't show atoms, but transmission electron microscopy does. If it's simply a matter of seeing things, these famous scanning tunneling microscope (STM) images may help. Of course, she could just say those aren't REALLY atoms. In which case, dump her.
posted by JMOZ at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The sex must be amazing for you to even be asking this question. You know damn well you're going to have to dump her.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2007 [23 favorites]

IBM written in atoms
posted by mulligan at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2007

My husband reads chemistry books for fun. I never even took chemistry.

We connect on what we have in common. What you need to determine is how much do you two really have in common, and how much is just crazy monkey lust.

(Is there a chance she is just yanking your chain about the atoms? If so that's a pretty passive-aggressive thing to do. )
posted by konolia at 6:20 PM on March 24, 2007

Should I learn to respect our difference of opinion

Opinion? In my opinion, pancakes are tasty. One doesn't have an opinion about the existence of things like atoms, gravity and molecules.

Run like hell. Besides what others have said, there's two other distinct possibilities that come to mind.

1) Someone at the church is fucking with her head, getting her to question fundamental assumptions about reality in order to snag a convert. She fell for it. Do you want to hang out with someone that stupid?

2) She's fucking with your head, deliberately saying outrageous things. She may even be wishing that you give up break up with her, so she doesn't have to be the bad guy in the relationship. Do you want to hang out with someone like that?

You've got better things to do.
posted by frogan at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

Maybe it's her way of saying she doesn't want to discuss scientifc things? Still it's very bizarre to me that an Art History major doesn't believe in Science when so many artists and art movements were influenced by contemporary scientific studies.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:25 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Stop dating my wife.

She used to say she didn't believe in atoms and I thought she was just being cute-ditzy. Now I know she's semi-serious, but I've also found many instances (many, MANY instances) where she just didn't know some basic science fact and once she understands THAT, other things become clear. Like, we spent all night arguing once because she thought it was just societal inertia as the reason for having a leap day, rather than the fact that the Earth takes a non-integer number of rotations to go around the Sun. More recently, I found out she didn't know that radio waves weren't sound waves. Who knows how many other misconceptions that one was powering.

The problem with my wife (and probably your girlfriend) is that there are so many unexplained, "just so" facts about the world that they simply reject the less believable ones. They can only believe 7 impossible things before breakfast, you might say, and the rest get dropped on the floor.

As she begins to realize that the things she thought everyone else was just taking on faith really do have good evidence and sound arguments to support them, she gets less prone to categorically denying the "sketchier" (to her) elements of science.
posted by DU at 6:26 PM on March 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

Those STM images don't look like the drawings in my Jr. High textbook. Now I don't believe in atoms either.

Really--if she's a liberal, democrat, secularist, what's to worry?

And who 'believes' in Antarctica?
posted by Zendogg at 6:27 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

If she's an adult who hasn't been raised by wolves and doesn't believe in atoms, I don't think you'll ever be able to change her mind. Science is not a hobby of mine, but this would drive me absolutely bonkers. It'd be like dating someone who insists that everyone in the world speaks only English; so completely illogical that it would gnaw at me and I would end up pestering her about it.

And science seems to be a very important part of your life; do you really want to give it up? (Because, in effect, that's what you'd be doing by staying with her: you wouldn't have a partner to discuss something that you're very interested in.) Also, her being so rigid and not willing to listen to reason could be a cause for concern: will she be that way with other stuff about your relationship?

I normally don't think people need to be completely in sync with interests, but this seems to be a huge incompatability: dump her and find a nice science-loving girl.
posted by sfkiddo at 6:29 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's kinda funny that this even matters. I mean, who really cares about atoms? Yet, I would find it very frustrating if I were in your place.

Is it like she just doesn't want to think about the issue of modern science to avoid some kind of cognitive dissonance with some other beliefs? I think I had a bunch of unexamined beliefs left over from childhood that didn't get resolved until my 20s or 30s. I'm probably still working through some of them. I imagine everyone has stuff like that to work out.

I say keep her. In the mean time, try explaining Einstein's take on Brownian motion to her... That should fix things.
posted by DarkForest at 6:31 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

You have my respect (as a scientist) for even trying to work this out somehow. This would definitely be a dealbreaker for me.

Is there any way you could get her to watch some Discovery Channel or even some Alton Brown (maybe relating it to food and cooking could help?)

Is it just atoms and molecules, or is it science in general?
posted by nekton at 6:33 PM on March 24, 2007

Dump her. You are obviously going to have problems further down the road when you have to use things call "reason" and "logic" again. Sweet Jesus man, I don't know how you made it past the first time she stated she didn't believe in atoms.
posted by Loto at 6:33 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

My husband reads chemistry books for fun. I never even took chemistry.

That's not necessarily comparable. Perhaps you may not be able to describe how covalent bonds work (as your husband could), but presumably you're still able to accept the factual existence of the two atoms of hydrogen and the one atom of oxygen, right?

I mean, I didn't go to med school, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in medicine.
posted by scody at 6:33 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mother used to claim, in a fairly serious tone of voice, that hamsters in our walls were running on little hamster wheels, and that's what powered the lights.

She didn't actually believe that, but she didn't really care about how the electricity was actually working, and the hamster image was a good enough analogy for her. (And if you acted incredulous that she actually believed that, she sure as hell would have doggedly insisted on it, just to harass you. She also often said she didn't believe in math, because she had had such awful experiences with high school math teachers that she refused to discuss it. But, again, hyperbole.)

I can't say I personally have any better idea of why the lights go on, nor do I have any desire to bother finding out, really. But that's not the same as not "believing" in science or electricity; it's just not caring all that much.

So, basically, what JMOZ says. Not caring doesn't seem like a problem, unless her "not caring" extends to not being at all interested in talking to you about things that are interesting or important to you. But if she really, truly does not believe in science, then this is not a person you want to be dating.
posted by occhiblu at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

er...should be: "the two atoms of hydrogen and the one atom of oxygen in a molecule of water."
posted by scody at 6:35 PM on March 24, 2007

I should add that I'm Mr Science and people who actively fulminate against science raise my ire.

My wife's (and it sounds like your girlfriend's) actual attitude is different than that. It's more the defensive "don't bug me with this stuff I don't understand" position of someone who either was/isn't interested or got lost wrt the science curriculum somewhere in (junior) high and never really caught up.
posted by DU at 6:43 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everything is wonderful! It's a stellar relationship, certainly one of the best I've had, and so far we're both happy and excited by our seemingly ideal "fit"

If thats really the case, I say keep her. It doesnt sound like its a big friction point just something that befuddles you a bit.

Dont talk about "Science" anymore, really - this supposed monolithic thing which doles out facts which kids must recite because perhaps thats how she perceives it. Instead, talk about small beautiful things that she can appreciate - that anyone can. The Honeybee wiggle experiment. Looking through a telescope at Saturn's rings. How Eratosthenes figured out the radius of the planet.

I once went out with a girl who believed in astrology and thought that Science too was another belief system. We broke up eventually but it was for other reasons - not because we disagreed on the role of stars in the Universe. In fact, that bound us, we both thought deeply and believed there was beauty in things - we had just arrived at these things differently.
posted by vacapinta at 6:44 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

My brains just exploded. If you can date her without it driving you crazy (and omg it's driving me crazy by proxy) then I agree that it's pointless to try to convince her otherwise and that at this point she is willfully disbelieving just to prove she can.

Seriously, how does she think evaporation works? Ever gotten an X-ray? Ever seen a baking soda and vinegar volcano?

I'm not convinced that you aren't the best troll evar, and I think, on reflection that my worldview requires that it be so, so congratulations sir! You have succeeded.
posted by hindmost at 6:46 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Maybe you should read the "dealing with stupid people" link I posted earlier...?

Seriously, maybe she'll mature. I used to believe some embarassingly ignorant stuff when I was younger. Or maybe you will find once the sex wears off that the two of you have personalities that just aren't really compatible. Time will tell, I suppose.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:46 PM on March 24, 2007

If she believed in intelligent design, I could see how that might pose a problem down the road, say if you got married and it came to the issue of what to teach your kids. Maybe show her this flowchart and see if she laughs.
posted by perpetualstroll at 6:49 PM on March 24, 2007

The problem with people who haven't any science knowledge, is that ignorance bites them, and those about them, frequently. They mix chlorine bleach and ammonia. They leave their glasses, on a book, on a window sill, on a bright, clear summer day. They drive badly.


I love science and read science books voraciously. Yet I'm a bad driver, I leave glasses all over the place and I'm hopeless with cleaning products (I've come close to killing myself a few times). It's called absent-mindedness and clumsiness. I know people who are clueless about science -- yet they maneuver though the mundane aspects of life better than I do.

More realistic problems with ignoring science are...

1) Inability to think clearly about some major issues (abortion, global warming, etc.)

2) Missing out on a huge amount of beauty, clarity and mystery.

Can a smart person be ignorant about science? Sure. Intelligence is complex. It's not necessarily the case that someone bright in one area will be bright in another. Some people are polymaths, but most aren't.

Most people treat me as if I'm intelligent. In addition to science, I know quite a bit about literature, history, music and art. But ask me something about the rules of football, and I'm clueless. To me, someone who doesn't know the difference between a planet and a star seems like a moron, but what's a quaterback? I've heard the term, but I have no idea what it means.

On the surface, it sounds like wfrgms's girlfriend is more than just ignorant about some facts. It sounds like she doesn't know how to think. How can someone be so stupid as to disbelieve in something just because she can't see it? Especially when there's tons of evidence for it existing?

But it's likely to me that she's not mentally impaired. She's probably just being flippant about something that doesn't interest her. Or she's choosing not to exercise her intelligence about this subject (again, because she doesn't care about it). I'm "too dumb" to understand how to use the fax machine at work. Not really. It feels that way. But the truth is I can't be bothered to read the manual.

wfrgms, if you use it, this is a good opportunity for you to learn some things about yourself. WHY does this bother you so much?

Is it because science is your passion and you don't want to be with someone with whom you can't share your passion? I agree, that sucks. And you might not be able to get past it. On the other hand, many of us do. I LOVE old movies. My wife doesn't. I'm sad about it, but we've got so much other stuff in common that I've learned to be at peace with it. It sounds like you and your gf have much in common too.

Is it because you don't want to be with someone who is stupid? Well, you say yourself that she's bright. Is it because, bright or not, most of your friends will THINK she's stupid if she says things like, "I don't believe in atoms"? Is that embarrassing to you? You're not a bad person if it is, but it's worth facing this if it's the case.

Is it because you feel that people, in general, are too ill-informed about science? If so, you're right, but are you using your girlfriend as a proxie for the general public? When you're with her, can you focus more on domestic stuff, like taking out the trash, figuring out where to eat, watching TV and having sex?

I agree with most here that you can't force her to see the light. And if you try -- if you even slightly nag or prod -- it will backfire. You can either get over it (whether this means staying in the relationship or leaving is up to you) or help her learn IF she's interested in learning. If she's not, give up!

It's possible that she'll suffer though some science lectures or read a couple of books or whatever, if you tell her it's really really important to you. (Who knows if these books will change her mind?) Is there something she's passionate about that you're not? Maybe you can each agree to explore each other's passion. Do you go to church with her?
posted by grumblebee at 6:50 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've got it! You should ask her to explain to you how her world works, and use it as the basis for creating one hell of a science fiction story and then win a Nebula award.

And if you don't, I probably will just to exorcise these demons.
posted by hindmost at 6:50 PM on March 24, 2007

Would it make a difference if she believed in atoms (whats not to believe??) but just didn't care to think about/wasn't interested in science?
posted by necessitas at 6:53 PM on March 24, 2007

She's fucking with you because YOU ARE SO CONTROLLING.

Is she actively trying to make you believe in unicorns?
So why are you trying to "educate" her about something which does not interest her?

And I don't buy the "If she 'truly' loved you she would be into everything you're into" argument.

Give it time, but let her be herself.
posted by Dizzy at 6:57 PM on March 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

Hindmost, the original poster has been here for a long, long time.

Regarding the question, you need to determine if she just doesn't want to be bothered with science, like my g/f (who's a chemist) doesn't really care to know all about Calc III, or if she's being difficult (dump her), or just being defensive when faced with her own ignorance (workable), or really believes in hamsters in the walls or fairies, or what. My dad doesn't believe in evolution - either that, or he was perpetuating a massive ruse when the topic came up a few years ago (apparently, evolution is a liberal lie - where's the tinfoil?). To not believe in evolution is so foreign to me, I really lost that look-up-to-ness that sons feel for fathers in reasonable well-adjusted relationships. What's funny is that I learned about evolution from the nuns at Catholic gradeschool, hardly purveyors of The Liberal Plot. We now talk about little more than the weather or sports, or other mundane things, because I have severe trouble seeing him as an intellectual equal, even the same order of magnitude. My person opinion on people who reject science so broadly is that they really ought not drive cars, watch TV, go to the doctor, or use phones - for that matter, use electricity at all. To even consider dating someone who is wilfully ignorant of the way of science is almost as incomprehensible as that belief itself.
posted by notsnot at 7:02 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

as someone who finds even the questions of whether god exists abstract almost to the point of being nonsensical, i can't really even begin to wrap my brain around what it might mean for someone not to believe in atoms. does she believe they don't exist, or just not believe that they do? if she is serious about this, that seems like an important distinction to me-- the difference between being willing to accept something that's not necessarily obvious to her on faith (which, on some level is actually good science. even theories that are accepted by just about everyone have occasionally been disproved in the past), versus for some reason having some strong set belief that it can't be possible. maybe you could ask her about this, and also what she thinks stuff IS made out of if not atoms.

however, in general i'm going with the she just means that she doesn't care about atoms hypothesis... sort of in the same way that someone can be a functional atheist just because they've never cared enough to consider believing in god or not. another possible variation on this theme is that talking about atoms/science and/or talking about atoms/science with you makes her feel stupid, and this is her way of on some level asserting that her experience of the universe is as valid as yours even if it doesn't involve thinking about science.

as far as dealing with it, i'd suggest talking more about what she means, and the electron microscope seems like a pretty good idea too. if atoms are important to you, it might allow her to add them to the set of things she has a direct enough experience of to believe or take an interest in. if you want to try to work this out, though, i would also suggest trying to have a playful attitude towards this and not get confrontational because whether atoms exist or not is a stupid thing to argue about. maybe she would allow you to teach her your "opinions" about atoms if you showed some interest in any theories she might have about what stuff is made out of.
posted by lgyre at 7:03 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Shit, I got a bachelor's degree in chemistry and I don't see what the big deal is. Most people believe in atoms and they have not a fucking clue why. She's just being contrarian; she doesn't have the equipment or background to grasp what atoms really are or why anyone would believe in them: again, most people do not, they just believe in them because it is a societal commonplace. What effect does it have on you? What effect does it have on her life? What effect does it have on your relationship? Most people are not particularly interested in science - your girlfriend just expresses this common trait in an idiosyncratic and emphatic way. You'll find out over time if this bleeds into other perceptions of reality to a degree that you can't deal with.
posted by nanojath at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2007 [12 favorites]

Look, for somebody without a hard science background the idea of tiny things nobody can see made of these tinier things called protons and electrons and neutrons and those are made of things that aren't really things at all, but more like waves, except when they act like particles--and we can prove they're there, you know, but OK, I can't exactly say how, but many famous physicists have done it, Einstein did, you see, look, believe me, OK? Yes, if you go about explaining it like that it doesn't sound plausible, because not everybody has the educational background to believe Atoms Are Real Because The Scientists Said So.

I suggest you explain to her, step by step, how atomic theory came about and how we have proved atoms exist. If you need to find electron microscope images do it. And this may mean you need to do some research on the process because she needs irrefutable proof. She believes Antarctica exists because it's on globes, everybody talks about it, and she sees pictures of the research stations and the continent from helicopter flyovers and the ice sheets and the penguins. So that's what you'll need to do. You need to give her the penguins. The metaphorical atomic penguins. It could end up being a learning experience for both of you, because you may find out some new things in your research and she certainly will.

And if she doesn't believe in it after all that, well, decide whether that matters in your relationship or whether it might be rooted in some fundamental differences in the way you look at the world that will cause issues later on.

But seriously, man, first find those atomic penguins.
posted by Anonymous at 7:08 PM on March 24, 2007

I have two responses to your question.

1. I would date you myself just to keep you from going out with that woman a moment longer because I think it's very very hard for the inquisitive and the non-inquisitive to find lasting happiness together, though others seem to have been able to make a go of it according to this thread.

2. Maybe this is her pleasant way of telling you to bugger off about your dry boring nerdy science stuff and getting back to talking about general interest topics that you can both have an equal hand in discussing. My last boyfriend and I weren't having arguments about atoms when we were only two months into our relationship, we were wondering which one of us would have to put on pants to pay the pizza man. After a while I realized he was a suburban type who couldn't really use power tools and we went our separate ways, but at two months our world was full of possibility.
posted by jessamyn at 7:09 PM on March 24, 2007 [14 favorites]

Belief that something is either true or false is something one either has or has not ; so if she believes that atom don't exist , she should prove it cannot exist , or at least offer positive evidence that the atomic model just doesn't work. Or offer an alternative model.

If she does that, that's fine with me, unless she is holding on obtuse stance that her ideas can't , but be THE true ideas, THE single model that makes sense to her and that no other opinion will EVER be considered by her no matter how much evidence and attempts are made.

What I am looking after is evidence of blind obtuse faith and intolerance for different stances, something that is more then likely to happen if she sticks around a church ; sooner or later she is likely to reject some evidence/reasoning by somebody (even you) because it conflicts with some of her "truth of faith" ; as an human she is more likely to choose a comfortable illusion than an apparently complicated model.

As for changing her mind...forget about "changing" it as if her mind was a workable piece of equipement that just needs the proper input to be realigned.

Maybe one way to let her mind remain open enough is to have them consider the wide range of opinions present in arts, the wide range of styles and techniques..all of which suggest variety. There is no such thing as the PERFECT piece of art, even if there are one or two we may like above others ; there is no such thing as art you shouldn't see or critique or talk about with admiration..and hopefully she is well aware of that.

Rather then teach her, your task could be that of not letting her be blinded by absolutist faiths...but it's a task that may as well split you two and you may fail miserably, if she doesn't want to : imho you shouldn't condemn her for choosing or not being "open enough" ...consider leaving her if you know deep down you resent her behavior, be honest to yourself first. It's hard sometimes.
posted by elpapacito at 7:09 PM on March 24, 2007

I'm sorry, but I don't think I could date someone who could authoritatively claim that something wasn't true without being willing to examine the evidence.

I'm unclear on whether she's saying it's not true or that she just doesn't know anything about it. If it's the former, if she's actively saying it ain't so, I can't imagine being able to have a long-term meaningful relationship. Ignorance is curable; refusal to accept reality is not.
posted by Malor at 7:12 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since science is an interest of yours, go to a science museum where there are good hands-on activities to show science. Watch Nova together; discuss science articles in the daily paper. If you really care about science, and she actively believes in a flat earth, it would be very hard to reconcile.

aside: The state of science (mis)education is schools is appalling.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 PM on March 24, 2007

Some of the people here have kind of mentioned it, but is she rejecting "science" as a whole, or just atoms? Just physics? Physics bores me to tears; there's too much math involved (I am my mother's daughter). I pulled it together long enough to pass the requisite classes in high school and college, but I really, really, really would not care to have much conversation about it. While I do believe that the various things it covers exist, and I do generally figure that the physicists describing those things know what they're talking about, it's just way too abstract for me to connect to.

Biology, on the other hand, is wonderfully fascinating (and I actually took a class with E.O. Wilson, whose kindly voice I hear in my head every time I see an ant). I'd have no problem talking about biology.

So it may help if you can see if there are science topics you can discuss, or if she's just refusing to talk about science in general. Which... would be a bit odd, unless you're a total bore on the subject and she's doing it in self defense.
posted by occhiblu at 7:31 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

The fact that you are using "believe" makes this a very, very strange question indeed.. And, a pointless one. If this question is expressing practical problems you have had with her ability to reason in general, then perhaps you have a problem, but you've gone out of your way to say such is not the case.

Are you sure she isn't just playing with you? You know, like:
PETRUCHIO. ... Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!

KATHERINA. The moon? The sun! It is not moonlight now.

PETRUCHIO. I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

KATHERINA. I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
Anyway, try watching Minds of Our Own, and see how that goes. Great documentaries!
posted by Chuckles at 7:32 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rejecting belief in scientific consensus because she doesn't understand it -- rather than investigating to see if she can either understand it or come to good reasons to dismiss it -- is a bad response.

When other things confuse her, what will her response be? Paulsc brings up the issue of her being in charge of your medical care or financial decisions down the road. It would worry me to have someone who says "well, this talk about antibiotics is too complicated for me, so I don't believe in it. I'm going to listen to the simpler explanations of the herbal-medicine-and-prayer crowd" or whatever. This is only really a problem if you envision the relationship continuing to that stage, though -- if it's a fling, what the hey.

If she really just doesn't want to bother thinking about it, ok. But it's weird to say "I'm not interested, so I reject the scientific consensus". I get uneasy around people whose default setting is other than listen to scientists, in most cases.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:33 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Why do YOU believe in atoms? Have you ever seen one? Who's to say she's wrong?

You know, any lover of science should relish someone that tests their knowledge and experience. Sounds like you two have many interesting conversations ahead. Congratulations!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:37 PM on March 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

I'm guessing that she does not understand the concept of atoms, or perhaps other aspects of the world generally filed under "science", and is covering this up by saying she does not believe in them. It's a convient way to avoid examining something she thinks might be beyond her comprehension.

If I were in your position, I'd get some gorgeous scanning electron microscope photos and hang them as art. When she asks about them, don't mention atoms in the explanation (at least at first).
posted by yohko at 7:39 PM on March 24, 2007

Whoops, hit post too soon.

You mention she is a Art History major. What do you know about Art History? Does it interest you? What's her specialization in AH? How has science affected the history of art and helped shaped its movements?

These sort of conversations are what I was eluding to earlier.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:44 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

Also, atoms as Pointillism might make sense to her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Okay, the point (s) of science my husband and I have most difficulties with are physics, astrophysics and electricity. I am a sceptic, and an atheist. I beat him at scrabble, I handle our finances. I translate human behaviour for him. But let's get to talking about electricity. Things travel along a wire. How can they do that? I mean, I know they do, but the wire's not hollow, is it? So maybe it's a bunch of those atom things bumping each other like grinding at a disco, and so what's falling out of my electricity sockets? Spare copper atoms (assuming I have copper wires to conduct electricity).

I think it's like the question the other day about being snobbish about your music choice. Maybe this area of interest can be shared and developed on, and maybe it can't. If you were to (eventually, in the long distant future) have children, do you think she'd undermine your sharing of scientific understanding of the world? No, of course not. In fact, she'd be glad to hand it over to you. (Okay, that's what happened in our house) and maybe she won't be horrified that you think worstershire sauce is an acceptable spice for every beef meal, or that you think changing sheets regularly is optional, or ringing mothers automatically becomes a woman's role in a relationship.

There's a bloke out there called Gardner who has a theory about the types of intelligences people have. I reckon, despite my other sterling qualities, amazing mind and general overall sweetness, I missed out on the physics gene. (What do you mean my chair is exerting a force against my butt? if it were, that'd mean it'd rise up once I stood up, and it doesn't. I can't see any levitating furniture).

Oh the good news is, some aspects of my husband's abilities and interests have rubbed off on me, and I became the faultfinding and technical guru at my last job which really surprised me.

Ah, short answer - you change her mind by showing her cool things occassionally and letting her ask you, but mostly, you don't care about changing her mind and b. just enjoy her good bits (you already said you had a wonderful relationship - I wouldn't be surprised if the differences make it as good as the similarities do.)
posted by b33j at 7:59 PM on March 24, 2007

Most people believe in atoms and they have not a fucking clue why.

I don't know. I can see that in one sense this is true. But there are lots of mundane ways in which the existence of atoms is confirmed in daily life, ways that do not require extensive knowledge of chemistry or physics. How, for example, does this woman think atomic bombs work? Better yet, how does she think they were developed? The atomic theory obviously has a great deal of utility, which needs to be explained if it's false.

If there was little or no evidence for the atomic theory--as, arguably, with string theory--then I could understand reluctance to believe. And this would be rational. To those who doubt this: Do you believe, e.g., that the number of stars is even? Obviously you'd have no evidence to believe this, so you shouldn't believe it. But you have no evidence that the number of stars is not even, either. This example shows that, given a proposition, you don't need evidence against it in order to disbelieve it. Contrary to popular belief, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Anyway, I don't see why this is necessarily a dealbreaker. That is, I don't see why this one isolated belief has to affect a relationship at all. Does everyone here regularly talk about atoms? Do many people care about the fact of their existence? Of course not.

If this isn't an isolated belief, but part of a much larger pattern of unreasoning, then I'd have a problem. But, really, wfrgms doesn't supply enough information to say either way, possibly because wfrgms doesn't know how large of a pattern it is. It's not clear, either, whether she's responsive to evidence, given awareness of it. If this isn't clear to wfrgms, then I think time together is the best way to flush out the answer. As it happens, wfrgms said he enjoys that time together, so it's all to the good. See what happens, I'd say.
posted by smorange at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2007

If this is just about atoms, Ernst Mach didn't believe in them either, and it really had nothing to do with any anti-scientific bias. Ludwig Boltzmann had to appease an editor who insisted that he refer to them as convenient logical constructs only. All of this only ~110 years ago. So Brandon Blatcher's question is a good one -- Why do YOU believe in them?

Philip Morrison's 1987 PBS series The Ring of Truth has a really nice segment in it (called Evidence, I think) where he talks about why he believes in them. Julia Child makes an appearance to help him cook some diamonds. There's also a coffee-table book with the same name.

If it's about science in general, then yeah, that's a bit more worrisome. But I figure she's still probably expressing a majority opinion as far as the human race goes. So take it as a challenge!
posted by Killick at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

please dump her so she doesn't have to suffer you. if you're making fun of her by saying "err...Art History" then please let her actually date someone who respects her for who she is.

believe is a strong word and what she's saying is that she doesn't want to discuss science with you - she's not into it, it doesn't interest her, she doesn't read pop-science books. yay. who cares? is her not being into science a deal breaker for you? is she allowed to have her own life. figure out the answers to those questions and then maybe, MAYBE you can start asking about why her view of science is the way it is.

She is inquisitive - she's starting to flirt with religion which shows that she's actively interested in trying new things / thinking new thoughts. you might not value what she's going towards but she's not a sheep, she's thinking, and she's trying to put her life in her perspective.

She's in college, she's young, she's discovering who she is. Let her become herself and support her quest in becoming who she wants to be. you'll also be amazed at what you learn about yourself.

so, grow the fuck up and either date a science nerd or start dating girls looking for their MRS degrees who want their boyfriends to dictate their lives. The rest of us will take girls like yours off your hands and actually give a damn about them.
posted by Stynxno at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

i would say go with the similarities.. does she beleive in other aspects of science (global warming, evolution etc)?

Plus she is an art history major... no art actually uses the knowledge of atoms. All of that combined with how many times in your daily life will you actually have a conversation on atoms... if you do find something more interesting to talk about.

Unless you are really into science that much, ignore issue or dont get into the atomic level when explaining things.
posted by radsqd at 8:21 PM on March 24, 2007

I recently found out that my friend's mother doesn't beleive in evolution. (As far as I know, she's the only person I know who's like that.) Now every time I see her, all that goes through my head while we're chatting is "stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid etc". I just can't look at her with any degree of respect for her intelligence. If you look at your girlfriend with less respect now that you know she doesn't beleive in atoms, then you'll never be able to shake that.

On the other hand, as mentioned already, it's possible she's just in the habit of being ditsy-cute. Lots of women get in that habit in their teens/twenties, and are rewarded for it, and never really break the habit.

And to everyone who is offended by my opinion of the non-evolution-beleiver, I say to you fossils.
posted by Kololo at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

radsqd: Plus she is an art history major... no art actually uses the knowledge of atoms.

First off, you don't know what you're talking about; plenty of art "uses" scientific topics as subject matter. (And that's putting aside the entire sub-discipline of medical illustration.) But more importantly, you are making a fallacious argument -- namely, that being educated in art history somehow "explains" her inability to accept basic scientific principles. This is bullshit. My father is an artist, and I work in an art museum with artists and art historians every day... and yet, I can state with confidence that every single one of us believes in the existence of atoms, even if it's got nothing to do with the day-to-day demands of our jobs. (Not to mention that even the most hippy-dippy of liberal arts schools have basic science requirements.)

Again, it's like saying that you have to have gone to med school to understand that germs can make you sick. I majored in English and History, and yet I still know the basic concepts of biology, physics, and chemistry. It's entirely possible not to be a professional scientist and still understand and believe in science.
posted by scody at 8:46 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Perhaps an analogy that would enable an art history major to see your perspective on this would be people who don't "get" abstract expressionism.

They can say "This stuff ain't really my bag," or they can say, "My six-year old can draw better than this!"

If I were into abstract expressionism, I would be able to date someone with the former response, but not the latter.
posted by RobotHero at 8:58 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

(radsqd: I apologize for the harsh tone in tmy previous repsonse. I disagree strongly with what appears to be your assumption that art history majors just wouldn't ever have the opportunity or capability to learn about atoms, but I shouldn't have gotten snide. Sorry.)
posted by scody at 8:59 PM on March 24, 2007

Make atoms your special thing. Tell her you love her atoms. What you love about her most is her pleasing atomic structure. That the way her atoms are arranged takes your O2 away. Be very insistent that any chemistry between the two of you is strictly molecular.

Eventually, she will have to make a decision whether you are important enough to her for her to accept the atoms. You can't make her think critically, but maybe, if you are sweet about it, you can make her love.
posted by Eideteker at 9:20 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I feel like I'm just regurgitating what's already been said, but it sounds like she's either a) not interested in discussing science with you, and trying to brush off the subject, or b) missing a few essential pieces of the "understanding atomic theory" puzzle, and the pieces she does have just don't fit together. Try to figure out which one it is; if it's a, then you have to decide if you can keep dating someone you can't talk science with. If it's b, then you can slowly and gently educate her on the matter until she understands.

When I was in high school, my physics teacher (mistakenly seeing potential in me) gave me a book on Einstein, and I proceeded to have long arguments with him after class in which I cheerfully rejected every theory presented in the book, because they didn't mesh with my internal logic. I feel sorry for the poor man--it was probably painful for him to watch me refuse every bit of knowledge he tried to give me, but I just couldn't get past the overwhelming feeling of "THIS DOESN'T MAKE SENSE". It's probably the same for your girlfriend. Try to figure out where things stop making sense for her, and fill in the gaps.
posted by tomatofruit at 9:31 PM on March 24, 2007

I think it is very kind of many commenters to try to help a skeptic understand the basics of atomic theory.
Yet I still cling to my (admittedly unscientific) gut reaction that this person does not want "correction".
And it flirts with supreme arrogance to think she needs it.
posted by Dizzy at 9:37 PM on March 24, 2007

Y'know, without getting some quotes out of her, it's impossible to tell whether she's just trolling you or whether she actually has a real anti-science view.
But since the righteous reactionary rationalists have decayed to dumping isotopes, I'll say that you should stick it out. She's probably yanking your chain, likely in response to the condescending SCIENCE discussion often offered by those in the harder sciences. I've seen more than one guy (guys especially do this) totally dismiss his girlfriend's interest in his field, and I've been on the recieving end of more than one lecture on entirely uninteresting research, and I like science. I've been tempted to tell someone that I didn't believe in genetic encoding because they wouldn't stop trying to explain how DNA was just like a zipper, but RNA was like buttons over and over.
I'm not saying you're a dick, but you've gotten plenty of outrage and dudgeon from the same folks who loudly denounce any inklings of faith in the populace at large, and who embody the arrogance of science that tends to push otherwise decent people far, far away from ever wanting to be cornered at a cocktail party by them.
(Hell yes, I'd tell Dawkins I didn't believe in evolution.)
So, maybe this is a dealbreaker for you, but honestly, it's pretty minor and likely to be something that can more easily be overcome by being cool about it than listening to the dickish advice you're getting here.
posted by klangklangston at 9:41 PM on March 24, 2007

I didn't read all these comments - only skimmed - but I'm surprised at the amount of "What an idiot, dump her" type comments.

It's totally unclear what "not believing in atoms" means. An atom is a theoretical construct intended to help make predictions ... does she disagree with the predictions (ex. does she deny the existence of nuclear power)? Or is she more hung up on the "thing" that an atom is supposed to be, i.e., thinks it's silly to say it looks a certain way when it can't be seen? (That wouldn't be such a horrendous position.) Or does she just not care, not take interest in science, and not see the point of acknowledging an argument she hasn't thought through and doesn't want to think through? I'd put my money on the latter ...

If you need to date a science geek, yeah, sounds like it's not a match. Otherwise, who cares. Look at the big picture - if she's smart, she probably has some crazy or difficult-to-explain reason for thinking what she thinks, or she doesn't mean what you think she means, or something. And it's fine, and good that she doesn't agree with you just to agree with you. You've got a theory - she's smart - that probably comes from a reasonably large set of evidence. Then you've got one piece of contradicting evidence - this one thing she thinks that seems dumb. Be a good scientist, keep the theory, and move on with your life. After all, we use quantum mechanics despite an unresolved question or two ...
posted by geremiah at 9:54 PM on March 24, 2007

Being logical isn't a prerequisite for love or lust for most people. If her nonbelief in atoms is indicative of a larger trend in her personality, then it might be an issue, but you said that otherwise it is an awesome relationship. How often do atoms come up in conversation anyway? Will you stop getting erections because she doesn't think atoms exist?
posted by Falconetti at 10:00 PM on March 24, 2007

Tell her that, because you value your relationship with her, it's important to you to understand her point of view.

The wording is key. Don't make her fear that it's going to be an argument, and make sure she knows that it's not going to lead to a lecture from you.

Just let her know that it's not about your desire to be right...it's about your desire to understand and appreciate your girlfriend.

If she still refuses to discuss it with you, then break up with her. Not because she doesn't believe in atoms, but because you don't want a girlfriend who isn't willing to communicate with you about major barriers in your relationship, despite your best and most sincere efforts.
posted by bingo at 10:24 PM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think it's fairly simple: You respect that the others' belief system is different; you agree to disagree then embrace the other things that you can share. If you cannot do this or she cannot - there is ridicule or you just need to have someone in your life who shares more core values, etc., etc., you need to move on. If there is ridicule or lack of respect and you ignore this little fact, your life will become a living hell. Really. "a voice of experience"
posted by ranchgirl7 at 10:27 PM on March 24, 2007

Well, look. There are two ways this can go.

A) It's an odd personality foible. You'll learn to ignore it, or to find it amusing, or to avoid talking about the world on an atomic level.

B) It's a clue about a major part of her personality, and she's actually, I dunno, got some major psychiatric issue.

Personally, I'm a well-educated, smart, extremely logical woman, married to an even smarter, more logical man. And I don't "believe" in Darwin's theory of evolution for no good reason other than that I find the idea of humanity being an accident to lonely.

Drives my husband insane, but this is firmly a Class A offense, and honestly, Darwin and the evolution of homosapians isn't a topic that comes up all that often, so... whatever.

Interpreting for your GF and looking at my own monkey insanity, I can see why a liberal arts major would find the idea that all the stuff she can see around her is made up out of things she can't see. "How exactly do you accumulate enough invisible things to make a visible thing, anyway? How does that even make sense?"

Honestly, I really wouldn't worry about it. She doesn't buy atoms; you leave the loo seat up. Big deal. Get married, have a baby, name him Dalton (don't tell her why!) and live happily ever.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:32 PM on March 24, 2007

Get married, have a baby...

And be ready for when she won't let your kids get vaccinated because she doesn't believe in viruses.
posted by sexymofo at 10:46 PM on March 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

paulsc: So, if you're comfortable with a person who doesn't believe in atoms talking with your doctors, when you can't, go for it.

sexymofo: And be ready for when she won't let your kids get vaccinated because she doesn't believe in viruses.

I just want to add that there is no basis in the question for these inferences. Presumably it is based on some unrelated personal experience of the posters.

Hell, I'm not sure my own mother believes in atoms but she is certainly the first person I call when I'm getting really sick. Not believing in atoms does not suddenly make you a voodoo priestess.
posted by vacapinta at 11:45 PM on March 24, 2007

Sad to say, perhaps you are having a Taquito Moment.
posted by kindall at 12:12 AM on March 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

She definitely believes in atoms. She--and some other annoying people who try to be cute--decide that they want to have a "thing". Not believing in atoms is her "thing". Just like some people will say that they don't like their green beans and carrots to touch on the plate or they can't eat it. Maybe that's a bad example because there are some obsessive compulsive people who actually can't stand food intermingling. But you get my point. Someone I used to date would always jump when something startling would happen. Only, I could tell it was an act because sometimes there would be an unnatural delay between the point where the sudden event occurred and the (over)reaction would take place. Say, for example, that the house was quiet. I'd walk into the hallway and see the person, who would jump and gasp, "OH!" It was so annoying and so totally put-on.

What I really mean is that some people think if they develop or pretend to have a certain idiosyncrasy, it will make them seem funny, quirky, memorable, endearing. This species of Homo sapien must be avoided, as they will inevitably develop other, more obnoxious behaviors. They are insecure, and therefore feel a need to compensate.

Your girlfriend will think that it's cute to pretend that glaringly obvious things are unprovable. She thinks it either makes her seem naive and cute or she might just love to argue and see you get worked up. Dump her.
posted by HotPatatta at 12:47 AM on March 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you don't know your girlfriend very well. If you knew her well, you would know that she is doing one of three things:

(1) fucking with you
(2) denying reality
(3) using words in a way that suggest she is denying reality, but she is really just saying she doesn't care to think or talk about stuff like that.

Is it possible that you are an overbearing, pretentious, pseudointellectual geek and she is just trying to shut you up? Or that she thinks you're trying to lord your scientific knowledge over you? Maybe my wife's and my conversations are unusually lowbrow --- but I am not sure the topic of "atoms" have come up at any point during our acquaintance, and that has been fine with me.
posted by jayder at 12:59 AM on March 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

To be honest, I'd be more curious then anything else.

I'd simply have to ask her, "If stuff isn't made out of atoms.... what is it made of?" I mean, does she think that chairs are made out of chair ore, which is dug up from a chair mine somewhere in Montana?

Once she admits that stuff is made out of other stuff, she'll have to admit that, at the base level, there have to be some "building block" materials that just can't be made out of other stuff. And, boom! There you have it. Atoms.

Another question - is it only atoms that she's resistant to? Or are there other branches of science that draw her skepticism?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:01 AM on March 25, 2007

I'm used to this. Lived in Africa for long enough to know that if you have never been directly exposed to some concepts, and when those concepts sound very off-beat, it can be difficult to accept them.

The problem is not her, the problem is you. Really. She does not have a problem with science, YOU have a problem with her understanding of science.

She'll be the same with or without you. Now decide, are her beliefs irritating enough for you or not?
posted by markovich at 1:43 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

If she'll go to church but doesn't believe in atoms, she clearly has some severe issues with reality and rationality. Don't get married/have kids, is all.
posted by reklaw at 1:52 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I believe science has an explanation for the things around us, as opposed to a god 'creating' them. It's a big universe and maybe these things were just there. I see a train wreck if that's the bottom line with her thinking. It's god. Is that her explanation for atoms¿ Just because we don't see something does not mean it doesn't exist. ]oops, I walked into that one....[
Where's that inquisitiveness you speak of¿

It's been 2 months and it's bothering you. What does your gut tell you¿
posted by alicesshoe at 1:53 AM on March 26, 2007

I had a boyfriend in high school who claimed not to believe in Africa. I knew he was full of shit, but it bugged me anyway. I'd show him pictures of Africa, mention I'd had friends and relatives who had been there, and yet he just decided that Africa as a concept was not something he was interested in believing. Still, he was a hell of a bassist, and he was completely smitten with me. It was fun while it lasted. I agree with the people above who think she's likely just saying this to be contrary. It clearly gets your goat and she probably thinks that's cute.

On the other hand, this boyfriend also didn't think feminism was a thing that made sense, and over the course of a few weeks I managed to convince him that, yes, there were reasonable things going on that engendered feminism and there are things going on now that give us reason to sustain it. It was extremely satisfying. Busting out the evidence was really fun, and there's nothing like really winning a convert singlehandedly. He just didn't have all the facts. As I said, he was a bassist by education and interest, and just didn't pay attention to much other than music.

My suggestion is to get ahold of some educational shorts on the atom from the 60s. The Disney collection called "Tomorrowland" has some great short subjects geared to kids about atomic science. I watch them for fun and I actually believe in atoms, so you could plausibly say you just wanted to see them and ask your ladyfriend if she wants to watch with you. They are highly entertaining and illustrate things in a way that - well, that a child could understand.
posted by crinklebat at 3:04 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

'Holmes's knowledge of astronomy was nil; he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the solar system. "You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."'

It doesn't matter. If you beat her over the head with it, you'll come off like an ass.

(But if you really want to.... Brownian motion).
posted by Leon at 3:21 AM on March 26, 2007

1. She knows you can't bring the smackdown on atoms, and she's loving it.

2. Either say uncle and stop believing in atoms too, which isn't really a problem for you, or learn about how you can demonstrate atomic theory to her...

John Dalton is your man if you want to bring it.
posted by ewkpates at 3:16 AM on March 26, 2007

You won't change her mind. If lack of respect for science is a dealbreaker for you, then, it's a dealbreaker. If it isn't, it isn't.

I, personally, would be moving very rapidly in the other direction at a high rate of speed, because I do and have a strong interest in (admittedly soft) science and have a lot of respect for science, so refusal to even consider it would be a dealbreaker in my world.

Then again, I know an older couple consisting of an atheist and a former nun-in-training, and both of them seem to be about as happy as two people who've been married for 30+ years can be.

So YMMV, but be careful. If you can respect her, you're golden. If not, probably better to get clear before somebody gets (emotionally) hurt.
posted by Alterscape at 3:50 AM on March 26, 2007

I think the upshot I'm getting from this thread is that it's OK not to believe in something everyone believes. Skepticism is a good thing.

But for me, a strong belief in something kooky [long offensive list of kooky beliefs deleted] would be a definite deal breaker.
posted by DarkForest at 4:08 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

i used to have a roommate who didn't believe in germs. not like she had studied microbiology and discovered it to be all wrong...she just didn't believe in germs (which meant bacteria really). i tried to explain that without these "germs" (bacteria) there would be no cheese, no bread, no summer sausage, and no black plague. she didn't buy it... nothing i did would convince her. i wonder if they are sisters... to answer your question, if she truly doesn't believe in atoms, i doubt that you will be able to change her.
posted by catseatcheese at 4:17 AM on March 26, 2007

And I don't "believe" in Darwin's theory of evolution for no good reason other than that I find the idea of humanity being an accident to lonely.

DarlingBri, I suspect you could be very helpful if you could elaborate on your quoted "believe." (I'm making the dangerous assumption that your position may be similar to wfrgms's girlfriend's.)

To a literal person like me (and wfrgms?), it's really hard to understand "believe" and "don't believe." It sounds like -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- that you actually do believe in evolution or that you at least feel that it might be true (or that people who believe in it have a rational reason for doing so), but that you use some sort of mental trick to suppress these feelings.

That's probably not quite right, and I don't mean to imply that you're doing any shady, insane or unnatural. Most people seem to be capable of some sort of doublethink (believing and disbelieving at the same time). But I'm not. I literally don't understand how this is possible and -- more important -- how it feels.

I realize that it might be hard to pinpoint exactly what's going on in your head, but any attempt would be useful. When you say you "don't believe," do you mean that you don't like the implications of evolution so you just try not to think about it? Do you mean that you do believe, but it makes you uncomfortable so you go through a ritual of pretending disbelief and joking about it?
posted by grumblebee at 5:13 AM on March 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think she's just not very interested and/or trying to get you to talk about something else. She may even be (subconsciously) testing you to see if you care about her enough that you can still respect her even if she holds a peculiar but harmless opinion.
posted by teleskiving at 5:25 AM on March 26, 2007

There's no way you'll ever convince her that atoms exist if she doesn't believe in them. None of the suggestions above will work in the slightest because the scale of atoms makes them an abstract concept.

Think about it - how do you prove that atoms exist? Letting her watch a nuclear reactor won't do anything (not even a mythical one which she could climb inside) because all it is is a lot of stuff getting hot. Clever chemical reactions won't explain it, for the same reason - stuff just happens.

What does a fancy microscope prove? Electron microscopes only let you see on an atomic level, and that looks nothing like the lump of crud that you stick on a slide. The only possible way that she'll accept that kind of evidence is if you can find a microscope that allows you to zoom in from 1:1 right down to atomic level without any visual switches and (to the best of my knowledge) that's not possible. Seriously, you can create much more believable graphics on a modern PC so what's so thrilling about a crappy picture through a microscope?

Your only way to change her opinion on this matter is to find a key fact that she didn't believe or which was never explained at school - something that blocked her entire line of thought so that she either doesn't understand or doesn't care about atoms. And, frankly, is it worth it? She's obviously survived so far without needing to know about atoms.
posted by twine42 at 5:35 AM on March 26, 2007

My brother once dumped a girl because she had no idea what he was talking about when he said, "Beam me up Scotty".

Just saying...
posted by matty at 5:57 AM on March 26, 2007

There are too many posts here which encapsulate my feelings that no matter what I add, it won't measurably weight this thread. However, I might want to ask YOU, why do you choose who you choose? Why did you/are you choosing this person?

Do you sincerely think that there are no women out there who not only have all those other checkboxes, but also the one labeled 'Scientifically literate/informed'? Do you think the math is against you in such a search, given that the planet holds about 3,000,000,000 women? That's three BILLION!

Part of the mating process is evaulating pontential mates. (I happen to believe that nature wants us to evaluate mostly for breeding purposes.) Sometimes the evaluation fails for gross reasons, sometimes fine ones. This one appears in the former category to me.

I am sure she's a sweet lady. She sounds like a ditz. By adulthood, most of us have managed to incorporate reading, reasoning, and some cultural content. This is as serious as her being unable to read. Failing to recognize it might be just as huge a personal mistake on your part.

At some point, on a subject much more relevant to daily existence than atoms, you will be met with a person that cannot be swayed by reason. What if she doesn't believe in fire extinguishers, antibiotics, or CPR? What if you don't have a few years to 'bring her along' in understanding those rather time-critical topics?

She may make stupid babies or train them to be so. Use your genes to better advantage.
posted by FauxScot at 6:12 AM on March 26, 2007

It's rather ironic that, in this thread that is obstensibly about what constitutes healthy skepticism, so many people are equating not believing in atoms with Creationism.

Now, I'm a die-hard pro-science guy, but I recognize that there is a vaguely well-formed theory (I'm being generous, but bear with me) that God made us all and that we didn't evolve. Atoms, on the other hand, are fairly indisputable. There is no alternate theory that your Everyday Joe could keep a straight face listening to. A lot of modern terms- atomic, nuclear, electronic- trace their origins back to this.

This is not a simple issue of your girlfriend having an alternate view on something. She is either fucking with you or displaying a really problematic lack of intellectual curiosity.

well educated (er... Art History major)

All other things aside, I think you need to take a moment and think about what you're saying here and what that says about you.
posted by mkultra at 7:29 AM on March 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

My concern isn't so much that she doesn't believe in atoms, as much as the fact that she seems to be deciding this in complete blind ignorance.

My husband and I get into a lot of debates that upset one of us, and bring up concern in what the other one believes in, but I feel that all we are really searching for in these debates is an intellectual reason to back up our beliefs. I know that I personally want to know that someone I love takes the time to think out their beliefs instead of accepting whatever garbage someone tells them.

If my husband told me he didn't believe in atoms, I would have that same gut wrenching reaction, but if he could give me a detailed intellectual theory as to why he believes such things I would respect his right to his beliefs and admire his ability to think outside the box. I believe in atoms but I don't believe anything is ever absolutely the final truth, and I'm always open to hear something new that I didn't think of before. If she is an art history major she knows how to do this because she will have to sit and analyze every piece of art she ever comes across.

Soo, sit her down, tell her how much it bothers you that she said she doesn't believe in atoms but that if she can explain why, you will give her your up most respect in the matter, if you find out that its just that she doesn't care then don't bother her with it.

Also, beyond all this, if you want to be with her, you need to respect what she wants to do with her life. Art history is a fascinating subject.
posted by trishthedish at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2007

You say that your love of science is fundamental to your character. Assuming she isn't messing with you or brushing off topics she finds dull, can you still respect her if her beliefs never change?

I was in a long-term relationship with a man who believed in this pseudo-wiccan earth religion. He believed in fairies, and that people inherently have psychokinetic powers. He wasn't unintelligent at all, he was just odd. I told myself at the beginning that it didn't matter, that I would love him anyway. Deep down inside, I hoped he'd grow out of it. I didn't respect his beliefs at all, and they became a source of heated arguments throughout the relationship. In time, that lack of respect ate away at the rest of my feelings for him.

My advice is to get this sorted out immediately. Sit down with her and lay it on the line. Ask her to be straight up with you, and if she confirms that she thinks atoms are a lie, let her know how you feel about it. It will surely be difficult, but you might be saving yourself from a lot of strife in the future, no matter how the conversation turns out.
posted by zebra3 at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2007

Take her on a tour over to Fermilab. That place is awesome and if after a visit, both of you don't gain a better understanding of the sub-atomic universe, there is no help.
posted by JJ86 at 7:39 AM on March 26, 2007

I don't see why you can't convince her. Tell her about the gold foil experiment. What do those results mean if not that matter is made of tiny indivisible units?
posted by phrontist at 8:02 AM on March 26, 2007

Also, beyond all this, if you want to be with her, you need to respect what she wants to do with her life. Art history is a fascinating subject.

Aaaargh! It's okay not to know about Art History instead of science. I realize people have different talents and abilities, but science is essential for everyone, and an intuitive (non-mathematical) understanding is easily within the realm of any cognitively normal person.
posted by phrontist at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2007

Art History is a great subject and is useful for every cultured person to know but her attitude about atoms is akin to believing that Vincent Van Gogh never existed and his paintings were done by Gauguin.
posted by JJ86 at 8:25 AM on March 26, 2007

science is essential for everyone

I can see ways in which this is true. If someone is totally ignorant about science, they may make some unsafe decisions (e.g. go to a faith healer when they have cancer).

On the other hand, many of us -- even those of us who are into science -- trust experts when it comes to issues of safety.

So ask yourself if this is your REAL objection. Are you really worried that, due to her lack of interest/understanding re: science, she'll put you or herself in danger or, in some other way, be unable to function in day-to-day life?

MY objection to someone who is science-illiterate is more selfish. I personally find science to be fascinating a beautiful, and it's (sometimes) hard for me to relate to people who don't. It FEELS to me like "science is essential," but if I'm honest with myself, it really comes down to something similar, "Man! No way I could date someone who doesn't like The Beatles!"

If this is the case then Art History can be equally "essential." It's a matter of personal taste. In fact, I'm saddened when I meet people who haven't read most of Shakespeare's plays, who know little about history, who rarely watch silent movies, who don't listen to Shostakovitch... but I rarely meet anyone who has all those interests. Yet they ALL seem "essential" to me.

Several people here have suggested that the problem is less about her disbelief in atoms and more about her closed mind. Yet most people's minds are closed about SOMEthing. Often politics. Or hiphop (my mind is closed about that!). Or certain moral issues (are you willing to entertain the idea that slavery might be a good thing?)

It is NOT true that just because someone's mind is close about one thing, it's necessarily closed about all things (or even most things). People have intellectual blind spots.

In geeky circles, we often use "into science" as a token for "is smart," and that's fine. All groups have such tokens. But it's useful to recognize them for what they are.

I also think that both wfrgms and the commenters in this thread should beware of using the wfrgms's girlfriend as a symbol. I HATE the fact that people are so science-illiterate nowadays, and it's tempting to yank this poor girl up onto my soapbox and put a dunce cap on her. But she's not an issue. She's a human being. She probably IS smart about many things, and her relationship with wfrgms should be about their love for each other -- not about proving a point.
posted by grumblebee at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

The obvious question is, what does she believe. Without that information, and wfrgms fails to give us any clues, there is no way to even approach answering this question.

Without knowing how she thinks, it is simply self serving to assume it is about intellectual curiosity, or faith/religion.

What do those results mean if not that matter is made of tiny indivisible units?

Whether our modern understanding is "correct" or not aside, atoms are certainly divisible. So, what's better, a mistaken understanding, or suspension of judgment? And here I quote wikipedia:
Suspension of judgment is a cornerstone of good research methodology.
posted by Chuckles at 8:41 AM on March 26, 2007

I haven't pushed her on the subject because frankly it is so strange to me - I'd have a much easier time dealing with a devoutly religious person. But she has (lamely in my opinion) explained that she, "just doesn't believe in that stuff." Basically I think it comes down to the fact that she is suspicious of anything she can't see with her own eyes (never mind her church going...)

Since it's important to you, you should push her on it and figure out if you can live with her responses to it. She reminds me of me. I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around anything I can't see or touch. Math, physics, chemistry--they all made me want to cry during high school and college. I wouldn't say I don't believe in atoms because people who are smarter than I am say that they're there and I guess I believe them. But it's a really difficult thing for me to think about.

If you push her, you might find out more about what's going on behind her "disbelief." Then you'll know whether you can live with her ideas or not.
posted by BluGnu at 8:46 AM on March 26, 2007

For me, this would be a deal-breaker. She's either A) trying to be cute/weird/funny/different/whatever, which I find annoying or B) genuinely refusing to make even the smallest attempt to show any interest or attempt at understanding about the world in which she lives. What other scientific principles does she reject?

This is bigger than having different hobbies or interests. She doesn't have to read Dawkins in her free time or have a membership to the local science museum, but refusing to "believe" in atoms or the periodic table is not the same as not wanting to watch Battlestar Galactica with you. It's a kind of blatant apathy and ignorance that I can't tolerate. But the question is whether or not you can. It seems clear that if she hasn't learned and/or accepted these basic facts at this point in her life, you're not going to change that. So, you have to decide whether or not it's something you can live with.
posted by curie at 9:01 AM on March 26, 2007

I've known a number of people like your girlfriend. They've been in my group of friends, or dated some of my friends, but I've never dated any of them because the chemistry wasn't quite right. I don't know how I'd react if I found a lack of critical thought in a girlfriend, but I'd imagine it'd drive me crazy.

Really, that's probably what you've encountered -- someone who isn't into critical thinking. You can go the majority of your life without making the sort of decisions that involve evaluating a lot of evidence to form conclusions. Does she honestly have a conscious disbelief in atoms? Maybe when pressed. But I doubt she even has used the critical thinking toolkit on a regular basis.

I think it was some of the philosophy-lite practices of these friends, combined with a philosophy of logic (basically logic 101) course I took in college that made me realize this group even exists. In the class, there were a number of people, mostly journalism students, who were having serious problems determining whether statements were falsifiable. Not true or false, but falsifiable. The difference between provable facts and opinion was completely foreign! Note that for their major, this disturbingly counted as a math credit.

I'd imagine your girlfriend has the same sort of deficiency. You can try to teach her these things, but she may have no interest whatsoever.
posted by mikeh at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2007

I'm also amused at the great shock and revulsion that everyone's expressing. MeFi is pretty much made for critical thinkers -- I can't imagine your girlfriend would really be into the site at all, am I right? I'd also predict she's not deeply political and probably has more of a taste for the aesthetic points in life.
posted by mikeh at 9:28 AM on March 26, 2007

I wouldn't go so far as to say she's mentally ill, like some commenters have. Sure, she might be. But her lack of a working understanding of science doesn't necessarily mean she's deluded or somesuch.

It might be an indication of her personality... closed-minded, stubborn, unwillingness to learn things she finds boring or too difficult, passive-aggressively contrarian, etc. You'd be a better judge of that than any of us. If those are aspects of her personality, ditching her shouldn't cause you any guilt. This situation could be the seed of many, many arguments to come. Not just about atoms, but about any other thing that could fill that space (viruses, vaccines, as mentionned above). Or, about your potential children's educations.

If you want to try to bridge the gap, you could try exposing her to science as it pertains to art. Like, say, how people differentiate between genuine and faked antique paintings. Carbon dating, paint and textile analysis, and so forth.
posted by CKmtl at 9:32 AM on March 26, 2007

In geeky circles, we often use "into science" as a token for "is smart," and that's fine. All groups have such tokens. But it's useful to recognize them for what they are.

I think grumblebee's point is important, and worth repeating. People are loading tons of assumptions onto this poor woman, and making tons of ridiculous leaps of logic about what a single second-hand statement might imply. Which would seem to indicate a complete lack of scientific method in analyzing this woman, which would seem to indicate that even people who "believe" in atoms, whatever that means, aren't exactly always "into" science.
posted by occhiblu at 9:45 AM on March 26, 2007

Ok, this thread is already crazylong, but may i suggest Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything? Explains science, the whole lot of it, in layman's terms. Maybe it'll help.

Good luck.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:58 AM on March 26, 2007

"This is as serious as her being unable to read. Failing to recognize it might be just as huge a personal mistake on your part. "

Oh, that's self-serving bullshit.

Look, my ma's an incredible photographer (not just because I'm her kid and like her work). When asked how the photographic chemicals work, she'll often say "magic." She knows that there's a chemical reaction, and I have a feeling that she knows how photoreactive silver nitrate or whatever works on some abstract level, but to her that's a distraction from the wonder and, yeah, magic of an image forming on a sheet of paper. She's not an idiot, but if you pressed her, she'd be likely to say something like professing a disbelief in atoms, because you're missing the fucking point.
As I've moved further toward atheism, I've gotten into it with her over her sort of new-agey Buddhist metaphysics, but I also realize that a fair amount of that was me being a dismissive dick.
Oh, and to the scientists discounting art history— there's more on heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophy. Real art history takes no less intellectual rigor than the abstractions required in mathematics and physics, and snarking about that shows you to be just as limited as she is, if not more so.
posted by klangklangston at 10:12 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ask her to listen to or read Asimov's Isaac Asimov's Guide to Earth and Space, or really, any of his books on general evolution and understanding of science. They are the most approachable books on the subjects for adults that I've ever read.

If she won't read them- dump her, or at least have a really big argument about the subject.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:16 AM on March 26, 2007

I rolled my eyes when I read your question, but you have inspired a brilliant, brilliant thread. Thank you.

My sister is like this. She had an eidetic memory, and she got through all math and science classes by memorizing enormous amounts of facts (essentially as pictures) without worrying about how any of these facts may have been connected. Your girlfriend's background in art history made me wonder if you could possibly dealing with a similar case.
posted by jamjam at 10:49 AM on March 26, 2007

Really, that's probably what you've encountered -- someone who isn't into critical thinking.

Many people -- including some who are "into science" -- are not into critical thinking, so this might be the case.

But disbelief-in-atoms != lack-critical-thinking-ability.

It's really convenient to believe that critical thinking is binary: you either do it or you don't, and if you do it in one sphere, do it in all spheres. And there ARE people who are critical-thinking polymaths. But I suspect they're in the minority. Most people think critically about some things but not about others.

Here are a couple of hypothesis about how this might work in the brain:

1) Say there's a critical-thinking module. We'll call it C. Then there are a bunch of sphere's of thought, say a science sphere (S), a literature sphere (L) and a basketball sphere (B) (of course, there are many others).

C ----- S

Naturally, if C is defective, one can't critically think about anything. But even if it's working perfectly, we may find this situation:
C            S
Some polymaths may automatically hook up C to all subjects. Maybe that's just how their brain is wired; others may also hook C up to all subjects -- but not automatically. I think I'm a bit like that. Sometimes I need to prod myself: "remember to use reasoning when thinking about X." It's feels like I'm literally hooking two machines together.

Sometimes I CAN'T hook them together: remember to hook C up to thinking-about-my-wife-dying. I can try all I want, but it ain't gonna happen. I also have a hard time doing it with politics, because the subject bores me to tears. And I have a hard time doing it with some other subjects that I associate with childhood traumas.

Some people probably have a meta-module -- a little brain program that's constantly running:

if (new subject is being thought about) hook subject up to C.

But not all people have this (or maybe they have it, but it doesn't run all the time). But you can see how C might still exist even in the absence of this program. And C might even be used -- but not for all areas of thought.

2) Maybe the mind is more redundant. Maybe there isn't one critical-thinking module. Maybe each area of thought needs it own.


If this is true, we can easily imagine


Maybe there's a way you can copy C from one sphere and paste it to another. Maybe that's what I'm doing when I'm prodding myself: "Come ON! Think about X the way you think about Y!"

These are just possible models. I may be way off base, but I do constantly meet people who make me wonder, "how can he be so smart about A but so stupid about B?"
posted by grumblebee at 11:28 AM on March 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

You say she's an art history major ... that to me translates to one of those women whose goal in life is to jump from daddy to husband.

Wow, dude. Way to glibly dismiss an entire area of study based on a stereotype. Is your B.A. in Manliness?
posted by mkultra at 11:36 AM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

It comes down to this: you are obviously inquisitive. Curious. You enjoy learning things. If she is, great, there will be many fascinating conversations. If she isn't, that's probably the dealbreaker, not the specifics. Although the specifics are pretty weird and fascinating.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2007

On preview, maybe an art history lesson from her would put some of this in perspective? If she's truly fascinated by it and passionate about it, that will go a long way towards showing that she's not a moron, and might help you get a better handle on how intellectually compatible you are. Ride it out awhile. It's just the beginning. If you start running out of things to talk about, or finding yourself thinking she's an idiot, that's when you end it, for both of your sakes.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 11:46 AM on March 26, 2007

Seconding mkultra---
This exceptionally silly thread has now devolved into shitting on ALL non-science types.
Can't we all get along without shouting "Dump Her!" or "Art Historians Suck"?
(What the fuckety-fuck?)
posted by Dizzy at 11:53 AM on March 26, 2007

atoms ... can't see em, can't touch em. Let it go ... but don't let her teach your kids science.

God, Can't see it, can't tough it ... lots of people believe!

Dangers of smoking ... Can't see it, can't tough it ... etc.

However don't let her use your credit card!
posted by jannw at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2007

My wife isn't really positive about the relative sizes and positions of the sun, moon and earth either.

Explaining it won't do any good, because she doesn't want to hear either. Not because she won't understand or believe it, but because it seems so irrelevant to her.

My wife told me that she only wants explanations on a "need to know" basis, and these things aren't on her "need to know" list.

This also explains some of our mis-assembled kitchen appliances. I've only just recently persuaded her that the instructions that come with new items should be on her "need to know" list.

Still, she's great fun.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't have a good answer.

On one hand, a person could get through 99% of your daily life believing the Earth is flat. I mean, do you correct for its curvature when throwing a ball or planning a roadtrip? Unless you're a pilot, a meteorologist, etc., it just doesn't matter.

On the other hand, how the FUCK does somebody grow to adulthood without knowing the Earth is round?? I don't know if I could have a serious relationship with that person.

As an single atheist among mostly religious women (Greenville, South Carolina -- home of the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University) it's a relevant dilemma to my own dating environment. Consider that 95% of women around here believe in an all-powerful invisible sky wizard, believe that He directly influences their daily lives, and they can call upon Him for special favors. In a LOT of cases, we're talkin straight-up world-is-6000-years-old-and-evolutionism-is-teh-religion-of-Satan fundamentalists. When pushed, I would have to admit that I believe these ladies to be somewhere between deluded and genuinely insane (schizophrenic).

Now: As an kind and ethical person -- or at least one that strives to be -- should I "enlighten" them? Or should I steer well clear? Or should I date them but keep it all superficial?

It sounds crazy when framed as "she doesn't believe in atoms", but framed as "she's religious, I'm not", it's a pretty common relationship problem. Maybe that'll provide some inspiration for future replies, and/or wfr's own google fu.
posted by LordSludge at 12:49 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Asking this question here was about as innocent and fair as asking Falwell his opinions on natural selection. This thread does an excellent job of illustrating a certain narrow, highly biased, positivistic subsection of metafilter. This is a group that equates science with intelligence, while being proudly ignorant of other domains of thinking. Members of this group typically believe that its access to a certain scientific tradition implies that they have no beliefs or culture, when in fact the thread is incredibly infused with culture: note the highly gendered tone (many of these posts seem to assume a certain figure of the poor dumb girlfriend who doesn't understand science) and the antihumanism (your own question about someone studying art history as not being "educated"; the other poster's remark about art history as a field for golddigging housewives).

Most of the posters here are suggesting that it is heretical to have important healthy relationships with people who have dissimilar beliefs or worldviews. Without knowing your girlfriend, they equate this different worldview with stupidity, lack of curiosity, ignorance, mental illness, when your post suggests that your girlfriend is intelligent and that the existence of atoms isn't terribly important to her. Does this mean that you can't have any relationships with people who have substantially different worldviews? How about different religions?

How has this difference in belief made a practual difference in your life? What sort of answer did you want to get from this group? Many of the people responding here have basically ignored the contextual and psychological content of your post and have jumped to urge you to ostracize her from your group. My sense is that when people here are suggesting that you educate her, they are telling you that it's not permissible to like her the way she is. In other words, they are telling you to control her until she believes in what you also believe. This may sound provocative, but I think that anyone being on the receiving end of this sort of education, no matter what the topic, would find it highly offensive. This thread reminds me of Richard Dawkins's letters to Ohio voters during the last elections in which, with his typically brilliant grasp of human psychology, he informed them that he didn't necessarily think they should be ashamed of themselves--they could still vote against Bush and prove their lack of stupidity! What would you think if you were a right-of-center swing voter receiving this letter in the mail? Would you think the person's letter evinced persuasion, dialogue, or a sneering command? What do you think your girlfriend would think about this thread? Would you feel comfortable with her reading it? Do you think she would believe that you respected her after reading this thread?
posted by johnasdf at 12:50 PM on March 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

I don't think we can really help out wfrgms until we get some more clarifications. I think our collective curiousities are as big as a visible pile of atoms (meaning: trillions of bits of curiousity!)

wfrgms, if you're out there and would like to update us or answer some of the questions people have posed, that would be truly fantastic! And I'm sure we can come up with some more helpful suggestions about how to deal with this odd situation.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:57 PM on March 26, 2007

If you do decide this girl's not worth your time, maybe you'll have better luck here.

That being said, if you make each other happy, the sex is good, and you can trust and depend on one another, I wouldn't let trillions and trillions of invisible balls of energy get in the way. Life's too short and the atoms will continue to exist regardless of her thoughts on the matter.
posted by SBMike at 1:30 PM on March 26, 2007

As an single atheist among mostly religious women...

My wife and I are both atheists, and that's great, but it rarely comes up in conversation. Most of time, we discuss stuff we've read in the NY Times, what's for dinner, or what we're going to do this weekend. If she suddenly became a theist -- or stopped believing in atoms -- I'm not sure how things would be different.

Before I met her, the other atheist in my life was my best friend John. John and I were "brothers in atheism" for years and years. Then he found Jesus. I was deeply upset at first. I felt very alone. I almost felt like he was dead. But after a couple of months, I started to realize that he was the same person. He still liked the same movies, the same books, etc. We could still have the same discussions we had before. Now, years later, I realize that his conversion hardly affected our relationship at all.

STILL, I would have a hard time if I was wfrgms. I would have a hard time if my wife DID become a theist -- even knowing what I know about John.

But I'm aware that (a) most of my "hard time" would be irrational, and (b) I understand the locus of the irrationality.

The irrationality stems from the fact that I've equated certain beliefs and stances with intelligence. AND SO HAVE MANY OTHER PEOPLE I KNOW. So I'd suddenly stop being "that guy with a brilliant wife." In other words, I'd be socially embarrassed. I know that atheism does not equal intelligence, but it -- and a love of science -- SYMBOLIZES intelligence amongst certain groups of people.

I'm not ashamed of my embarrassment. I think it's natural to be embarrassed when a close friend doesn't conform to social norm (of your group). But I'm not proud of it, either. And I think it's something worth mastering.

I don't know wfrgms's age, but when I was young -- in my early 20s -- I would have had another problem. Back then, I was still in that rebellious "stick it to the man," phase. And my "man" was conservative, religious and uneducated. In that young-person's way, I saw my life as more than my life. I saw it as a STATEMENT. And it was important to me to live according to that statement, which included ensuring that my friends lived according to that statement.

For instance, back then I was a BIIIIG pacifist. I hated all things military, and I HATED THEM OUTLOUD TO ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. I had a low opinion of anyone in the military. I probably would have rejected a brilliant, beautiful, kind woman if she told me she was once in the army.

I'm glad I grew out of that stage.

But if you and you friends have spent years mocking certain types of people, it's embarrassing if you suddenly fall in love with one of those types.
posted by grumblebee at 1:38 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is a group that equates science with intelligence, while being proudly ignorant of other domains of thinking.

Whaa?? Science exists whether you believe in it or not. Science is not a belief system. It is not elitist to not give equal time to science, shamanism and voodoo. The gravitational force will exist whether you believe in it or attraction fairies or that apples choose to fall to the earth because they like the x-treme rush. People who "believe" in science don't do it because we hate voodoo, we like it because science tries to explain the universe accurately and truthfully. If proof came along that shook the foundations of our model of the universe, our theories would be revised to be more accurate and to promote a better understanding of the world. The people who pioneered these revolutions are considered the giants of science.

It is not elitist to say "I think" does not carry as much weight as "Hundreds of years of study and research and rigorous testing has produced a model which accurately explains natural phenomena so well that we can make gargantuan leaps in our technology and create things like cathode ray tubes, nanotech fibers, atomic bombs, and MRI machines." If she is making a flippant comment and is declaring that she doesn't give a damn, that's one thing, but if she is actively denying science, then the burden of proof is on her.

If I claimed that you stole $20 from my wallet when you were not in the same room as it, the wallet was in plain sight the whole time, and in fact, the $20 is still there, but I refused to believe that because I feel that you robbed me of $20, then the feeling of exasperation/pity/confusion would be approximately what I am feeling about wfrgms's girlfriend right now. If you still feel that I am not valuing her belief system sufficiently, please paypal $20 to my email account in profile.
posted by hindmost at 3:07 PM on March 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm shocked at the response in quite the opposite direction as a lot of people here seem to be. Many comments talk about not understanding science or not caring about science, which may be unfortunate, but is fine. Unless more is going on that isn't described in the original post, the woman here is presenting a huge lack of intellectual curiosity. I'm not saying that everyone needs to understand atomic theory and be able to explain absorption spectra, though I do put a cursory knowledge of such things as part of the general canon of great cultural works that includes Shakespeare, Picasso, etc. All of which, by the way, are worth knowing. Art History folks are certainly as well educated as science types (and don't get me started on how annoying it is when scientists dismiss humanities people, or even other scientists in different disciplines. It happens all the time and is a disgrace to the sort of intellectual rigor that we espouse.). What I do believe is that to not believe in atoms requires either a willful disregard for evidence — there is as much evidence that they exist as there is that any painting she's studied does — or some internal system that allows her to go from "I don't care in atoms" or "I don't understand why people believe in atoms" to "I don't believe in atoms." I'd have a hard time with that, not because it rejects the science that I know and love, but because it seems to reject an open approach to viewing the world.

That said, if she is open to hearing about why atoms are real, show her pictures of them from STMs, perhaps focus on molecules and discuss stoichiometry, get into Brownian motion, look at emission spectra from a flourescent light. And you should learn about some art history from her, for that matter.

And if she isn't and you need to cope, figure out how important it is to you to be able to share your curiosity about science with her. Don't treat her as stupid or mock her because of it, but try to assess its direct impact on your relationship. Talk to other people about science, so you don't feel like she's forcing part of you to be quiet. Best of luck!
posted by Schismatic at 3:46 PM on March 26, 2007

Whaa?? Science exists whether you believe in it or not. Science is not a belief system. It is not elitist to not give equal time to science, shamanism and voodoo.

You've made some really complex claims, hindmost. Claims that my gut wants to agree with (and some of which, I'm sure, I've said before), but I think we should slow down and examine them.

1) Science exists whether you believe in it or not. What do you mean by Science? Do you mean The Scientific Method? Do you mean that people (scientists) perform experiments, gather evidence, develop theories, etc., and that the do this "whether you believe it or not"? I doubt you mean this, and I doubt many people disbelieve it.

Do you mean that the FINDINGS of Science -- e.g. gravity -- exist whether you believe in them or not? If so, "exist" isn't exactly the right word, is it? Aren't we talking about truth? Aren't you saying that if Scientists -- using The Scientific Method -- prove (or provide overwhelming evidence for) the truth of something, then it exists, whether or not you believe it exists?

If so, then what you're saying is that Science makes certain claims and these claims are unfalsifiable EXCEPT via more Science. You're saying it's pointless to use Religion or "your gut feeling" or whatever to refute Science's findings, because those findings can't be refuted by anything other than Science. Right?

That's fine, but you need to go the next mile and explain WHY Science inevitably leads to the truth.

(It also seems possible that you're claiming an objective reality it which certain things, like gravity, exist -- and NO system, including Science, can make them not exist. Systems either stumble upon the truth, or they are wrong. My guess is, if this is what you believe, you feel that Science is the best bet we have for stumbling upon the trurh. Again: WHY?)

2. Science is not a belief system. Science is a confusing word, because it can have several meanings, but I'm assuming here, again, that you mean that The Scientific Method is not a belief system. I agree with this. It's a technique (or a series of techniques), and techniques are never belief systems.

For instance, the technique of baptizing a child is not a belief system (though people who hold a certain belief system may be apt to use this technique).

The question is, do people who USE scientific techniques have any belief systems that inform their use of it? I'd say that most scientists DO have belief systems. And, in fact, they would quit using The Scientific Method if they lost their "faith" in these systems.

For instance, most scientists believe in a material universe and cause-and-effect. You can't prove the truth of a material universe. You can mince words and say that scientists don't take the material universe on faith, but rather they assume it to be true for testing purposes. I'd say (a) that's a distinction so fine to be almost useless and (b) I don't believe. I think most scientists BELIEVE in a material universe in much the same way most theists believe in God.

The main thing Science has going for it, in my opinion, is that it's useful for making predictions. That's a colossal understatement. It's the ONLY useful system (ever discovered) for making predictions and it's VERY good at making them.

(If one is trying to "sell" Science, one should pause here and explain why "making predictions" is so important.)

Science should have ONE thing to say to Religion (and other supernatural belief systems): "I don't care about you unless you step on my toes." In other words, Science is concerned with the material universe. As-long-as Religion doesn't make claims about the material universe, Science shouldn't care. As-soon-as Religion makes the tiniest claim about the material universe, Science should perk its ears up.

Science can not budge on a single piece of nonsense (claims about the material universe that come from competing methods) about the material universe. It MUST answer each of these claims (or deny the entire systems that make them), because all of Science is connected.

But if Religion stays out of Science's hair, Science should leave it alone. They may be OTHER reasons -- reasons that have more to do with logic or philosophy -- to look askance at Religion. But Science has a more limited domain.

3) It is not elitist to not give equal time to science, shamanism and voodoo. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you saying that (a) Science is right (as opposed to voodoo, which is wrong), and so it follows that (b) it's not elitist? I think you've assume causation where none exists.

For the sake of argument, I'll agree that Science is right. (I tend to think this anyway.) Does the fact that something is right make it not elitist?

MIT is an elite school that only accepts students who are really good at Math. Right?

"Elite" has nothing to do with right or wrong. It has to do with making a statement that item A is better than item B. Item A may in fact be better or worse than B. That has no effect on whether the CLAIM that A is better than B is elitist!

It's not necessarily bad to be elitist. It's only bad in certain systems. For instance, in a democracy, most people feel it's bad to be elitist in terms of who has the right to vote.

And -- bringing this down to thread-level -- elitism is generally a very bad thing to bring into a romantic relationship!
posted by grumblebee at 4:02 PM on March 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

You really are putting scientific, logical men in a bad light, to me at least.

I've actually said I don't believe in atoms. Why? Because I'm not a science nerd and at the time I was completely surrounded by bio and chem freaks who'd natter on and on about nucleotides and chemical bonds and blah blah blah. Shut up about all these facts you've memorized (what's funny is that science undergrads are some of the least critically thinking people I've ever met. Not that I want to paint all science types with the same brush, but a lot of them were book smart only, and I couldn't have in-depth conversations about topics I loved because they had never taken any liberal arts classes beyond English 101).

Either you're annoying her with your "science is so great, nyah on your art history major" attitude, or she just doesn't care. Either way it means on this specific topic she's decided not to be inquisitive about; do you love art history? Do you know your Caravaggio from your Correggio? Do you care?

I'm a Liberal Arts woman. I probably have a high school level of understanding about science. Does that make me dumb? Maybe to people who think science and math are the only measurements of intelligence. I have had tremendous success in school and my career; something no one's ever said about me is that I am dumb. (In addition, from all the science people I knew in college, none of them are actively in grad school or working in their field. I'm kicking ass in mine. So nyah to you.)

Do I respect and admire scientists who are exploring and pushing the boundaries of current knowledge? Hell yes; I want to live on the moon someday. Do I know my own talents and modes of understanding do not lend themselves to being a scientific mind? Yup. Do I care? Not really.

Without knowing more about your girlfriend's intellectual curiosity and her demeanor in general, I think this is an unfair question, meant to make us take your side since you've already made your value judgment on her lack of interest in a field that's very important to you.
posted by lychee at 4:13 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd have a hard time with that, not because it rejects the science that I know and love, but because it seems to reject an open approach to viewing the world.

Schismatic, do you have a 100% open approach to viewing the world? If you're a rare person who does, do your smart friends have an open 100% open approach to viewing the world? Please, really give this some thought, because I think most "open" people are actually really closed about a great many things. Maybe less so that the majority, but still not open enough to pass judgment of others.

Most people think of me as open-minded. I'm interested and fairly well read on a broad range of subjects; I'm a atheist, but I'm passionately interested in Religion; I'm often swayed by powerful argument; etc.

Yet I'm shamefully close-minded.

For instance, I feel that my wife has too many shoes. She keeps buying more and more, and one shoe isn't much different from another shoe, right? And those people who make a big deal about wine! Honestly, a six-dollar bottle tastes about the same as a hundred-dollar bottle, right?

On the other hand, I'll fight you if you claim Stephen King's TV-version of "The Shining" is better than Stanley Kubrick's film version. And it's not a minor issue for me. If you disagree with me, then you're basically a philistine. You have completely screwed up aesthetics. You are close minded!

The truth is, as catholic as I try to be, there are subjects that bore me, subjects that frighten me, and subjects that I'm too dumb to understand (hello, String Theory!)

On some level I know that there's a whole aesthetic to shoes and wine, and that if I really go to know them, I'd probably feel as passionately about them as I do about cinema. But I'm not interested. I'm close-minded about it.

So -- like many people -- I have picked a few topics and dubbed them The Ones To Be Open Minded About. As long as you're down with Science, History, Literature and Theology, you pass the open-minded test. And it really helps that most of my friends use the same criteria. It's makes it easy to forget that this is a somewhat arbitrary list and to feel that it's somehow cosmically inscribed.

With the exception of a few freaks of nature, I don't believe anyone is totally open minded. Many people are generally open minded (with a few blind spots which vary from person to person) and some people are extremely close-minded.

We don't know enough about w's girlfriend to know where she lies on this continuum. Maybe she's close-minded about science by extremely open-minded about Art (do you like ALL forms of art? Abstract? Gothic? Representational? Baroque? How about music? Do you like hiphop, classical, jazz...?) Maybe she's open-minded about people, about politics, about food, about literary styles...
posted by grumblebee at 4:18 PM on March 26, 2007

Whaa?? Science exists whether you believe in it or not. Science is not a belief system. It is not elitist to not give equal time to science, shamanism and voodoo.

Who said anything about shamanism and voodoo? I think the elitist claims are coming because people have been claiming that not understanding -- or not caring about --atomic theory is somehow a tragic lack of intelligence, curiosity, and common sense.

I would, and have, argued that people who dismiss postmodern literary theory without taking the time to actually read the sources are showing a tragic lack of intelligence, curiosity, and common sense. I would be happy to argue that people who dismiss art as ornamentation rather than one of the central goals of humanity are showing a tragic lack of intelligence, curiosity, and common sense. I would also be happy to argue that people who can't understand hyperbole and read the world at such a literal level are showing a tragic lack of intelligence, curiosity, and common sense.

I don't date people who don't read fiction, or enjoy art, because I think their intelligence doesn't match mine, and I've found that people who are into science and not art are not very interesting. Are they stupid? Probably not. Can they talk to me intelligently about things that are important to me? Probably not. They're missing an appreciation for a major part of human existence, and I think that's sad and a little pathetic, but they're probably smart in their own way.

It's fine to feel that you don't want to be around people who prioritize the material world, and a rational approach to that world, in your intimate life. It's fucking obnoxious and the height of arrogance to declare that your approach to the world is the only correct one for intelligent people to take, and it's the height of ignorance to claim that approaching the world in such a way is not a belief system. It may be a belief system backed up by a hell of a lot of evidence, but it's still a system of beliefs about the world, most of which you're taking on faith (the fact that you could test them does not mean that you have, right?).
posted by occhiblu at 4:19 PM on March 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Something we haven't touched on all that much here: is there a body of knowledge that we rightfully expect all adults to possess? If so, why and what is it?

I think this is an unfair question, meant to make us take your side...

Re: my responses in this thread so far, I generally agree with this. But, lychee, how would you feel if w had said, "My girlfriend hates books and reading. She's barely literate, and if somethings not on TV, it doesn't interest her"? My guess is that most people here feel that reading is "an essential," and that though it may not be polite, it's at least understandable that might judge a willfully illiterate person as an idiot.

So the question is, is knowing something about atoms as essential (or even in the same ballpark of essentialism) as reading, basic math or knowing how to tie your shoes.

I'm not going to answer that. I don't even know where to begin. But I think various assumptions about this issue are lurking behind much of this thread.
posted by grumblebee at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2007

I would, and have, argued that people who dismiss postmodern literary theory without taking the time to actually read the sources are showing a tragic lack of intelligence, curiosity, and common sense. Guilty as charged! Because everything I've read -- not first-hand sources, I grant you -- has been gibberish to me. occhiblu, what should I read that will help me understand what the po-mo folks are on about? I know this is off-topic. Feel free to email me.
posted by grumblebee at 4:29 PM on March 26, 2007

I hope no one gets offended by the following. I'm going to make some comments about women, and I don't mean all women. But I'm not going to keep writing "some women," because that's tedious.

One thing that many men don't get is that smart women tend to have very high social intelligence -- much higher than many of us guys. We tend not to credit it as much as other kinds of intelligence, because (a) we don't understand it, (b) we don't notice it, (c) it's not generally taught in college, and (d) we assume it's innate (and we don't tend to have high respect for traits people are born with, because they didn't WORK to acquire them).

The truth is that most of these women worked VERY hard -- without the benefit of schooling (on this subject) -- to become as good as they are, socially. For some women, it's their life's work.

And it's nothing to scoff at. Social understanding is tough, because even a small social-circle is mind-bogglingly complex. If you doubt this, you're probably not attuned to the hundreds of tiny, almost-imperceptible social cues that occur every minute.

Getting people is every bit as difficult, every bit as rewarding, and every bit as exhausting as getting Calculus. And the people who are really good at it -- mostly of whom (not all) being women -- have to do it full time to keep up their skills.

So they tend to be uninterested in topics that aren't obviously part of their passion. Such women (or, more rarely, men) will be interested in Art and Literature, because those are so tied in to the Social. But atoms and quarks? What baring do these things have on the tiny upcurling of Janice's lip when she saw Mary enter the room?

If it turned out, tomorrow, that someone physics had a really strong baring on the social sphere, I'd bet we'd be floored by the genius some our wives and girlfriends showed at physics.
posted by grumblebee at 4:39 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

If it turned out, tomorrow, that someone physics had a really strong baring on the social sphere, I'd bet we'd be floored by the genius some our wives and girlfriends showed at physics.

Which is where we get back to science as a belief system -- wasn't it Feynman who said he heard two women discussing intricate physics, then it turned out they were talking about knitting patterns? But that's not "science," because when you construct things out of those funky wires and balls it's science, but if you do it out of yarn and tassles, it's domestic work and negligible. Why? Because the concept of "science" arbitrarily includes some things and arbitrarily excludes other things (conveniently, many of the things traditionally associated with femininity -- the chemistry of cooking, the physics of constructing dress patterns and clothing, the biology of human interaction).
posted by occhiblu at 4:48 PM on March 26, 2007

I can't go all the way with you, occhiblu. Sure, many ScienTISTS -- like many people in all fields -- have been sexist, but Science is anything buy an arbitrary system. If it throws away tools, it's because those tools don't further its aim, which is to make sense of the material universe ("makes sense" generally means "makes predictions about".)

Science does rely on some unproven (probably unprovable) assumptions (e.g. the existence of matter), but these assumptions aren't arbitrary, either. They are the the bare assumptions one MUST make to get any work done at all.

Science that ignores ANY aspect of the physical universe -- including cooking and dress patterns -- is bad science, and most contemporary scientists would agree with this.
posted by grumblebee at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2007

since you've already made your value judgment on her lack of interest in a field that's very important to you.

It's not just an expression of lack of interest, it's more akin to denying one of the fundamental materials of that field exists. This is not "I don't really understand the difference between artist x and artist y, and you know what? I don't care." It's closer to saying something like "I don't believe in color: saturation, luminance, none of it. They don't exist." Taking such a stand implies more interest not less. Someone who does not care is more inclined to say "oh, everyone else says they exist, guess that works for me."

on preview:
Because the concept of "science" arbitrarily includes some things and arbitrarily excludes other things (conveniently, many of the things traditionally associated with femininity -- the chemistry of cooking, the physics of constructing dress patterns and clothing, the biology of human interaction).

I don't know what you think you're saying here, because there are scientists who have built entire careers on studying these very things...
posted by juv3nal at 5:06 PM on March 26, 2007

I would agree with the science/scientists distinction; my point was more that we all have blindspots, and we're all working with assumptions, many of which we're not even aware of, and those are going to influence how we interpret things. Acting as if scientists are not people with prejudices, assumptions, and human idiosynchracies is silly, and acting as if the field their work has created is without its prejudices, assumptions, or idiosynchracies is also silly.
posted by occhiblu at 5:08 PM on March 26, 2007

You can't change people who don't care or want to change. People have been failing on this concept 3000 self help shows later and still going strong.

If this is a fundamental cornerstone of a relationship for you, then you'll either have to a) let it alone (let her come to you about it) or b) make it interesting enough for her to listen to what you have to say, and maybe she'll find it logical enough to understand as your relationship evolves. If you try to MAKE her understand, it's kind of like the old joke about teaching a pig to dance.

Or, if she IS into you enough to just change her mind based on what you say (even if it IS critical evidence etc), and not what she thinks for herself (no matter how obtuse you think it might be) is that really the type of person you want in a relationship?

BTW There's no scientific formula for coping - if there was, then someone would have written the answers already, and the world of human relationships would be perfect by now.

I have a strong suspicion this relationship may struggle after the "honeymoon" wears off.
posted by queenofthegeeks at 6:13 PM on March 26, 2007

At the risk of getting this AskMe answer discussion back on track...

Actually, the comparisons between this girl's absurd ignorance of basic science and an absurd belief in religion may be helpful in answering wfrgms's question: Have you ever dated a religious girl? How did that go?

FWIW, I gotta think that a strong religious bent, while more socially acceptable, would be far more influential in a person's daily life than a peculiar hole in scientific knowledge. At least she isn't chatting with her imaginary friend several times daily. (Yet.)

I suck at relationships, so this is the best I can do: Follow your heart. If you have feelings for this girl, go with it. If it doesn't work out, come down and drink beer with me. You're a good guy and can always find another lady.
posted by LordSludge at 6:30 PM on March 26, 2007

Grumblebee, I agree with you about a great many things, but I'd like to make a distinction between some things you discussed when on your post about open mindedness. Is anyone 100% open minded? No, not really. Like you said, as long as you are willing to hear arguments, weigh evidence, or even just say "I don't care," that's one thing. But there is something distinct about having an elephant behind you and saying "nope, there is no elephant and I'm unwilling to turn around" (versus, of course, "I couldn't care less if there's an elephant behind me"). I really do feel like that that sort of decisiveness is problematic if it is anything other than a proxy for apathy. Not in this particular instance necessarily, but when something like that gets espoused by, say, a senator or president, my toes do get stepped on. This is also different than something like the taste of a $100 wine versus three-buck chuck, where the experience is different for every person. I don't really believe that you think that no one tastes a difference between them, or gets distinct use out of a dozen shoes. But I think I'm picking nits and I like what you're saying. Except about The Shining, of course.
posted by Schismatic at 8:39 PM on March 26, 2007

I hear what you're saying, Schismatic, but I've never met anyone who does have their elephants. Of course, everyone thinks they're open minded. Most people aren't. Me included, though I've nearly made a cult out of open-mindedness.

But I know I'm not open-minded, because every now and then, I have that scary experience of realizing, "so-and-so has been trying to tell me something for years, and I never really listened. Wow! He's right." I believe these realizations are the tip of the iceberg. I can't know the limitations of my own mind because I can't step outside my own mind. I can only see other people's elephants.

Pretty much every bright, liberal-minded, open-minded person that I've met has that one subject that he can't discuss rationally. I don't feel like this is true with me. I feel like I can discuss anything rationally and am always open minded and willing to be proven wrong.

Of course, I'm fooling myself.
posted by grumblebee at 9:31 PM on March 26, 2007

This question is not about atoms or science, it's about how you communicate with the woman you're in a relationship with. She does not value a discipline that you think is important; That's fair, since you don't value her area of study either.

Now, her response to that is to be (likely deliberately) exasperating by denying a "belief" in atoms. Of course, the framing of the discussion is inherently absurd, but many people do fall into self-delusions to various degrees in order to keep themselves happy. (religion, voting libertarian, having a preference in computer operating systems)

There are two things that are really broken here. First, that you aren't able to recognize the core of her frustration/insecurity/disinterest that fuels her statement that she doesn't "believe" in atoms. It means you're out of touch with her emotionally, or likely too arrogant and wrapped up in your own viewpoint to see things from her perspective. (I know this one from firsthand experience.)

The second major problem is that she's letting herself exasperate you about something that's important to you. By disrespecting a discipline that you consider essential, she's being thoughless. Hopefully, it's just a petulant reaction to you being overbearing, but if not, it's the kind of hurtful behavior nobody should put up with.

If you persist in trying to "convince" her about atoms using logical persuasion and evidence, you'll just be cementing your image as an emotionless cyborg android science dork geek who values dry facts over feelings.
posted by anildash at 11:21 PM on March 26, 2007

I missed this thread originally partly because I was at a conference that included talks on consciousness, religion & science... Dunno if anyone's still reading, but thought I'd weigh in nonetheless. The girlfriend's opinion initially struck me as having to be deeper - that she was rejecting a notion of a Democritean atom, so to speak, or a smallest possible unit of matter; that she was rejecting finality or total separation and instead seeking a holistic account, etc. If this is the case, her concerns are legitimate and there are philosophical and even a few scientific writers (like david bohm) trying to work out some answers there.

On the other hand, maybe it is more of a not-caring thing. I find it incredibly hard to relate to that, because to me science seems fundamentally like curiosity about the world. However, I hate when it is set against art and creativity, as I see those pursuits as equally important. So I'm always bummed by people who "don't get" either side. But see, I just sort of framed it as if those are the only two "sides", and the fact is, there are plenty of other areas people are fascinated by. When I think about it, surely there are some areas of life I just "don't get" myself.

I guess sports would be one - I can appreciate the beauty of the athlete, and I like sports well enough, but I cannot claim to care deeply about major league events or championships etc. I sometimes watch the world series, occasionally wimbledon, usually a bit of the olympics, but my life would not be seriously affected if I never got to do any of those things again as long as I live. I don't think I've ever seen the superbowl. Someone who loved these things (& the countless other sports & seasons in general) would probably feel sad that I dismiss such important parts of life so easily.

Maybe you just have to accept her priorities and look at your own: how important is this connection to you? as I said in another thread, no one's gonna match perfectly, but you have to face, accept and get past or even learn to love the ways you don't fit, or it'll just gnaw at you.
posted by mdn at 9:21 PM on April 2, 2007

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