Counterintuitive

Counterintuitive means contrary to what seems intuitively right or correct. A counterintuitive proposition is one that does not seem likely to be true when assessed using intuition or gut feelings. Scientifically discovered, objective truths are often called counterintuitive when intuition, emotions, and other cognitive processes outside of deductive rationality interpret them to be wrong.

However, the subjective nature of intuition limits the objectivity of what to call counterintuitive because what is counter-intuitive for one may be intuitive for another. This might occur in instances where intuition changes with knowledge. For instance, many aspects of quantum mechanics or general relativity may sound counterintuitive to a layman, while they may be intuitive to a particle physicist.

Many scientific ideas that are generally accepted by people today were formerly considered to be contrary to intuition and common sense. For example, most everyday experience suggests that the Earth is flat; actually, this view turns out to be a remarkably good approximation to the true state of affairs, which is that the Earth is a very big oblate spheroid. Furthermore, prior to the Copernican revolution, heliocentrism, the belief that the Earth goes around the Sun, rather than vice versa, was considered to be contrary to common sense.

Another counterintuitive scientific idea concerns space travel: it was initially believed that highly streamlined shapes would be best for re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. In fact, experiments proved that blunt-shaped re-entry bodies make for the most efficient heat shields.

The Michelson-Morley experiment sought to measure the velocity of the Earth through the aether as it revolved around the Sun. The result was that it has no aether velocity at all. Relativity theory later explained the results, replacing the conventional notions of aether and separate space, time, mass, and energy with a counterintuitive four-dimensional non-Euclidean universe.

Some further counterintuitive examples include: Gödel’s incompleteness theorems (for thousands of years, it was confidently assumed that arithmetic, and therefore similar systems of logic were completely solid in terms of being reliable for deductions — Gödel proved that such systems could not be both complete and consistent); and Wave–particle duality / photoelectric effect (as demonstrated by the double slit experiment light and quantum particles behave as both waves and particles).

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