You’ll be accused of some form of heresy

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

If you discover something new, Paul Graham says, there’s a significant chance you’ll be accused of some form of heresy:

To discover new things you have to work on ideas that are good but non-obvious. If an idea is obviously good, other people are probably already working on it.

One way for an idea to be non-obvious is for it to be hidden in the shadow of some mistaken assumption that people are very attached to. Anything you discover from working on such an idea will tend to contradict the mistaken assumption that was concealing it. And you will thus get a lot of heat from people attached to the mistaken assumption.


So it’s particularly dangerous for an organization or society to have a culture of pouncing on heresy. When you suppress heresies, you don’t just prevent people from contradicting the mistaken assumption you’re trying to protect. You also suppress any idea that implies indirectly that it’s false.


There is a positive side to this phenomenon though. If you’re looking for new ideas, one way to find them is by looking for heresies. When you look at the question this way, the depressingly large dead zones around mistaken assumptions become excitingly large mines of new ideas.


  1. CVLR says:

    “Most struggles, whatever they’re really about, will be cast as struggles between competing ideas. The English Reformation was at bottom a struggle for wealth and power, but it ended up being cast as a struggle to preserve the souls of Englishmen from the corrupting influence of Rome. It’s easier to get people to fight for an idea. And whichever side wins, their ideas will also be considered to have triumphed, as if God wanted to signal his agreement by selecting that side as the victor.”

    Paul Graham c. 2004 speaketh: “interests über ideology”.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    Any struggle involving more than two individuals will be a struggle between groups, and a group needs an identity in order to function as a group. An idea is an identity. Maybe not the true common interest, but at least a rationalization.

    This is why there is no such thing as collective genius. A breakthrough idea can only be discovered by distancing oneself from all established group ideologies whatsoever.

    In order to lead, you must first learn not to follow.

  3. L. C. Rees says:

    Why Lisp programmers are lonely.

  4. CVLR says:

    L. C. Rees,


  5. Lucklucky says:

    This is my heresy: most science has been wrong most of the time, and most scientists have been wrong. Just a small proportion of scientists have been correct.

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