The Domain of the Interesting

QUESTION: How do theories that are generally considered interesting differ from theories that are generally considered non-interesting?
ANSWER: Interesting theories deny certain assumptions of their audience, while non-interesting theories affirm certain assumptions of their audience.

To be a great theory it is more important to be interesting than true. To be interesting, an idea needs to challenge the taken-for-granted assumptions in a particular area. Less interesting ideas are those that tend to be consistent with what readers already take to be true. They are well within the grasp of intuition and because the reaffirm our beliefs, often elicit a “So what, I already suspected that” reaction on the part of reviewers and readers. In contrast, interesting ideas often elicit a strong visceral emotional reaction in readers.

An interesting idea is on that, if it were true, would require a large number of people to undertake a substantial change in their beliefs o behaviours. The goal of an essay is to explain what makes one theory interesting, another not.

Summing-up: The difference between the dull and the interesting lies in the element of surprise. When an idea affirms what we already believe, we’re bored–we call it obvious. But when an idea is counterintuitive, we’re intrigued. Our curiosity is piqued, and we’re motivated to ask questions: How could this be? Is it really true? What else might this explain?

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