Returning to Postman's "experiment": when his listener fails to be sufficiently skeptical, what exactly is their mistake? It seems to me their only mistake is believing Postman to be a credible source of information. Perhaps they should have responded with a skeptical "You're pulling my leg!" (which is, after all, the truth). But this can't be the fault that Postman is wanting to highlight. Surely he isn't wanting to say, "Oh, look at all these naive people that consider my testimony trustworthy. What fools! They should know better than to believe what I report." That would be a very odd complaint. Surely more fault lies with the liar than with his trusting audience.
Alternatively, perhaps Postman was meaning to criticise them for believing the scientist's conclusions, even on the assumption that Postman was telling the truth about the study having been carried out. But that would be even more odd. Postman would effectively be mocking people for believing what the evidence points to. "Empirical evidence suggests that surprising result X is true, and so these naive fools now believe X!" Such criticism of open-mindedness strikes me as downright bizarre. Postman continues:
But I think there is still another and more important conclusion to be drawn, related to Orwell's point but rather off at a right angle to it. I am referring to the fact that the world in which we live is very nearly incomprehensible to most of us. There is almost no fact -- whether actual or imagined -- that will surprise us for very long, since we have no comprehensive and consistent picture of the world which would make the fact appear as an unacceptable contradiction. We believe because there is no reason not to believe. No social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical or spiritual reason...
n fact, George Orwell was more than a little unfair to the average person in the Middle Ages... There existed an ordered, comprehensible world-view, beginning with the idea that all knowledge and goodness come from God. What the priests had to say about the world was derived from the logic of their theology. There was nothing arbitrary about the things people were asked to believe, including the fact that the world itself was created at 9 AM on October 23 in the year 4004 B.C.
...we no longer have a coherent conception of ourselves, and our universe, and our relation to one another and our world. We no longer know, as the Middle Ages did, where we come from, and where we are going, or why.
But of course people in the Middle Ages didn't know any of that either. They thought they did, but they were wildly mistaken in all sorts of ways. We know a great deal more about these matter than they did (in large part because of scientific progress: biology has given us real knowledge of the origins of species). And yet Postman laments our lack of dogma, our refusal to ignore the evidence if it goes against our preconceived notions of "common sense", and appears to join Orwell in considering us "naive" because of this! Incredible.
Improving our epistemic situation has come at the cost of comforting illusions, I suppose. Perhaps that's the essential point that Postman was trying to point to. But surely few of us would consider that a wholly bad thing, and it's awfully misleading of Postman to try to cover this up by steadfastly ignoring considerations of truth and evidence, and attempting to pass off dogmatic illusions as "knowledge"! Not impressed.
And for all those who complain that "science is the new religion", please clarify: are you really trying to suggest that our beliefs should not be responsive to empirical evidence?