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The Stages of Truth: How New Ideas Are First Ridiculed, Then Violently Opposed, Before Finally Being

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

This quote by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer perfectly encapsulates the inevitable life cycle of any new transformative idea that challenges conventional wisdom.

Great thinkers ranging from Galileo to Gandhi have experienced first-hand the predictable stages of ridicule, opposition and eventual acceptance when bringing new ideas into the world. Their stories teach us much about the evolution of human consciousness.

Understanding these stages can help us have compassion for those who are still in the earlier phases of assimilating unfamiliar concepts. It also gives us faith that today’s fringe thinking has the potential to become tomorrow’s mainstream best practice.

The 3 Stages Explained Stage 1: Ridicule In the first stage, when an unconventional or groundbreaking concept is introduced, the most common knee-jerk reaction is complete dismissiveness.

New ideas that fall too far outside of accepted social, scientific or spiritual paradigms are often instantly laughed off as ludicrous. They may be mocked, parodied and viewed as utterly inconceivable.

Examples of ideas that were initially ridiculed include Galileo’s assertion that the earth revolves around the sun, Darwin’s theory of evolution, Ignaz Semmelweis’discovery that handwashing prevents disease, the Wright brothers’ belief that human flight was possible...the list goes on.

The uncomfortable truth is that the majority of people are deeply programmed to conform to status quo groupthink. Ideas that threaten their worldview or social belonging tend to activate a defensive psychological response. Challenging assumptions requires an openness that many find threatening in the early phases of absorbing disruptive concepts.

Until an individual has personally experienced the validity of a new paradigm, it is common to contemptuously dismiss it rather than rationally considering the evidence. As Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

So what allows certain ridiculed ideas to eventually move into wider acceptance? According to Schopenhauer, the force of truth itself, in the face of continued evidence and advocacy, will inevitably gain momentum and pierce through initial barriers of mockery and disbelief.

Stage 2: Violent Opposition Schopenhauer identified the second stage as a phase of violent opposition. This is when threatened established interests move beyond mere ridicule and start actively organizing to suppress a challenge to the status quo.

While ridicule is more of an emotional reaction, violent opposition is strategic. Power dynamics are at play. Financial livelihoods, social dominance and long-held assumptions are being put at risk.

The revolutionary ideas of the American Founding Fathers providing inspiration for independence from British rule were seen as traitorous criminal actions by King George III and many loyal to the Crown’s authority.

Martin Luther facing backlash and ex-communication from the Catholic church for confronting ecclesiastical corruption and hypocrisy.

Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone initially being dismissed as a toy, later followed by fierce legal attacks by Western Union when its potential became a threat to their telegraph monopoly.

William Harvey being ostracized for discovering blood circulation, Ignaz Semmelweis persecuted for his hand washing suggestions, Alfred Wegener ridiculed for his Continental Drift theory...

The list of examples showing violently opposed discoverers, inventors, philosophers and reformists who challenged entrenched power structures and norms is extensive.

During this turbulent stage, orthodoxies and vested interests work actively to discredit inconvenient ideas, rather than intelligently examining and debating their merits. Politics, profits and human psychology make this resistance inevitable. Suppression tactics escalate from rhetorical criticism to punishments, threats, lawsuits, imprisonments or worse.

But why does this wave of opposition arise if a new concept has merit? And what needs to happen for it to move into widespread acceptance?

For an idea to leap from violently opposed to self-evident, a growing number of respected thought leaders must embrace it and overcome institutional inertia. Confirming evidence from multiple sources erodes defensive resistance, as social habits gradually adapt.

Eventually a ‘tipping point’ is reached where latent public support becomes activated. Opposition efforts then progressively lose credibility, influence and power.

Stage 3: Self-Evident Acceptance In the third stage, acceptance of a new truth becomes the norm. The once-controversial concept is now established, commonplace knowledge.

At a societal level, this self-evident acceptance occurs through intergenerational evolution. Individuals born into the post-innovation world simply absorb it as reality during childhood assimilation.

Examples of ideas that were violently opposed but now seem self-evident include:

  • The Earth being round, not flat. Public acceptance grew after naval exploration established overwhelming proof. Denial became fringe.

  • Germ theory replacing miasma theory as the cause of contagious disease. Louis Pasteur provided irrefutable evidence that pathogens cause infection.

  • Evolution displacing biblical creationism as the accepted origin of species. As fossil evidence accumulated and Darwin’s research gained credibility, attitudes shifted.

  • Heliocentrism recognized as fact. Galileo’s astronomical observations conclusively demonstrated Earth orbits the Sun, not vice versa.

Once a truth has become normalized and internalized by the general public, it is easy to take it for granted. People forget that widely accepted worldviews were once shocking, disputed concepts.

Understanding truth’s inevitable stages of ridicule, violent opposition and accepted obviousness helps us recognize gaps between what we currently consider normal versus what may be possible in a more enlightened future civilization.

Progress through Disruptive Ideas Human progress depends on trailblazers and thought leaders questioning status quo boundaries of knowledge, introducing paradigm-busting theories and fighting to overcome inevitable waves of defensive resistance.

Their disruptive ideas become the building blocks for new ways of structuring societies, interpreting existence and harnessing the power of nature.

Dr. Albert Einstein reflected that “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

Yet when voices of conformist conventionality lose credibility and persuasive evidence mounts, blockades erode. Radical reformers once punished as heretics or agitators come to be admired as visionaries. Their example influences others to exercise moral courage rather than acquiescing to authority-minded obedience.

Progress is thereby advanced through a virtuous cycle of individual boldness. As Radiohead’s Thom Yorke sang, “Just because you feel it, doesn't mean it's there.” Yet when ancient truths, provocative discoveries and innovative ideas align with empirical reality, it becomes inevitable that ridicule will give way to revelation.

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