How Human Bias and Ego Shaped and Hindered Progress Through History

The Impact of Human Ego: 16 Historical Examples of Misconceptions

Yogesh Malik
7 min readMay 22, 2024
Created by the author

Throughout history, human bias and ego have led to significant misconceptions and errors that have shaped and often hindered progress.

Here, we explore sixteen such examples, illustrating how deeply entrenched beliefs have influenced societies and delayed advancements until challenged by new evidence and perspectives.

The Flat Earth Belief

For centuries, many cultures, including the Greeks and early medieval Europeans, believed that the Earth was flat. This misconception limited exploration and trade, as people feared that traveling too far could cause them to fall off the edge of the world. However, Greek scholars like Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE) and later explorers, such as Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century, provided evidence of a spherical Earth, which eventually ushered in an era of global exploration and the Age of Discovery.

Natural Disasters as God’s Curse

Throughout ancient and medieval times, up to the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions were often interpreted as divine punishment or curses from gods. This belief hindered scientific understanding and the development of strategies to mitigate the impact of these disasters. Scientific advancements in geology and meteorology, such as the work of James Hutton in the 18th century and the development of seismology in the 19th century, eventually helped people understand natural disasters as natural phenomena rather than supernatural events.

Diseases as God’s Curse or Past Life’s Sins

Throughout ancient and medieval times, up to the late 19th century, diseases were often seen as punishments from gods or the result of one’s sins or misdeeds in a past life. This belief delayed the development of medical science and effective public health measures. The germ theory of disease, developed in the 19th century by scientists like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, revolutionized our understanding of diseases, leading to significant advancements in medicine and hygiene.

The Geocentric Model

From ancient times until the 16th century, it was widely believed that Earth was the center of the universe and that all celestial bodies revolved around it. This geocentric model, supported by the Catholic Church, stifled scientific inquiry and progress. The heliocentric model proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 and supported by Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler faced significant opposition but eventually laid the foundation for modern astronomy and physics.

The Spontaneous Generation Theory

From ancient Greece through the 19th century, many believed that life could arise spontaneously from non-living matter. This incorrect theory delayed the development of microbiology. Experiments by scientists such as Francesco Redi in the 17th century, Lazzaro Spallanzani in the 18th century, and ultimately Louis Pasteur in the 19th century disproved spontaneous generation, leading to a better understanding of biological processes and the development of germ theory.

The Miasma Theory of Disease

From ancient times through the 19th century, the belief that diseases were caused by “bad air” or miasmas was prevalent. This theory hindered understanding of disease transmission and delayed effective public health measures. The germ theory of disease, solidified in the late 19th century, revolutionized public health and medicine by providing a scientific basis for disease transmission and prevention, largely due to the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.

The “No Way Out” Belief in Agriculture

Before the industrial revolution, primarily before the 18th century, many believed that large populations were bound to subsistence agriculture and that there was no way to produce more food efficiently. This belief limited innovations in farming techniques. The agricultural revolution brought advancements like crop rotation, selective breeding, and mechanization, significantly increasing food production and supporting larger populations. Innovations such as Jethro Tull’s seed drill in 1701 exemplified this shift.

Bloodletting as a Medical Treatment

From ancient times through the 19th century, bloodletting was a common medical practice believed to cure or prevent illness by balancing bodily humors. This practice often harmed patients and delayed the development of more effective medical treatments. The understanding of the circulatory system by William Harvey in the 17th century and the advent of modern medical science eventually led to the decline of bloodletting as a treatment.

Witch Hunts and Trials

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the belief that certain individuals (mostly women) were witches practicing harmful magic led to widespread persecution. Thousands of innocent people were executed or tortured based on unfounded accusations and mass hysteria, most notably during the Salem witch trials of 1692. The Enlightenment and the rise of rational thought helped discredit witch hunts and improve legal protections for individuals.

The Phlogiston Theory

In the late 17th to late 18th century, many believed that a fire-like element called phlogiston was released during combustion. This incorrect theory delayed the correct understanding of chemical processes. The discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley and the work of Antoine Lavoisier in the 18th century established the principles of modern chemistry, replacing the phlogiston theory and advancing scientific knowledge.

Mass Schooling for Factory Workers

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the education systems were designed to produce disciplined, obedient factory workers, rather than fostering creativity and critical thinking. While this system did increase literacy rates, it often limited the intellectual and personal growth of individuals. Modern educational reforms continue to address these limitations by promoting diverse learning methods and critical thinking skills.

Government and Academia as Ultimate Authorities

Throughout various periods, prominently in the 20th century, the belief that government and academic institutions were the ultimate authorities on knowledge and truth often led to the dismissal of dissenting or unconventional viewpoints. This belief suppressed innovative ideas and critical discourse. Examples include Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union, which led to widespread famine due to pseudoscientific agricultural practices. Recognizing diverse perspectives is now seen as essential for a more inclusive and dynamic society.

Lysenkoism in Soviet Agriculture

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Trofim Lysenko’s pseudoscientific ideas about genetics and agriculture were endorsed by the Soviet government, rejecting Mendelian genetics. Lysenko’s practices led to widespread crop failures and famine, as well as persecution of geneticists who opposed him. The eventual discrediting of Lysenkoism allowed Soviet science to advance more realistically.

The Eugenics Movement

In the late 19th to mid-20th century, the belief that selective breeding could improve the human race led to policies aimed at sterilizing or eliminating those deemed “unfit.” This pseudoscientific movement resulted in human rights abuses, including forced sterilizations and genocidal actions, most notoriously by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Modern genetics and a better understanding of human rights have discredited eugenics.

The Prohibition Era in the United States

From 1920 to 1933, the belief that banning alcohol would reduce crime and social problems led to Prohibition. This policy resulted in the rise of organized crime, illegal speakeasies, and widespread corruption. The 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, recognizing that the policy was ineffective and counterproductive.

Perceived Expertise Due to Institutionalized Education

Increasingly prominent in the 20th and 21st centuries, the assumption that individuals with institutionalized education are always more knowledgeable or correct than those without formal qualifications has been prevalent. This bias undervalues practical experience, traditional knowledge, and self-taught expertise. Recognizing diverse forms of knowledge and expertise is essential for a more inclusive and dynamic society.

Technological Advancements Hindered by Human Bias and Ego

Humanity’s biases and ego continue to hinder the advancement of technology. Historical examples include the initial skepticism and resistance to groundbreaking technologies such as electricity, the telephone, and the internet. Even today, emerging technologies face similar obstacles due to fear of change, lack of understanding, and resistance from established industries.

Resistance to Electricity

In the late 19th century, the introduction of electricity faced significant resistance. People feared electrocution and fires, and existing gas lighting companies lobbied against electric lighting. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla’s pioneering work eventually proved the safety and utility of electricity, leading to its widespread adoption and the modern electrical infrastructure we rely on today.

The Telephone and Internet

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, many doubted its practicality and necessity. It took decades for the telephone to become a household staple. Similarly, the internet, developed in the late 20th century, faced skepticism regarding its usefulness and security. Today, the internet is indispensable, driving global communication and commerce.

Resistance to Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence

As we advance further into the age of technology, humanity’s perceptions and biases continue to pose challenges, particularly with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). The resistance stems from several factors:

Fear of the Unknown

AI and AGI represent a significant leap into the unknown, evoking fear and uncertainty. Concerns about job displacement, loss of control, and ethical implications dominate public discourse. Historical precedents show that society often fears new technologies before understanding and accepting their benefits.

Perceived Threat to Human Uniqueness

The development of AGI, which could potentially surpass human intelligence, challenges the notion of human superiority. This perceived threat to human uniqueness and dominance fosters resistance and skepticism. Similar fears have accompanied technological advancements throughout history, from the mechanization of agriculture to the automation of manufacturing.

Ethical and Moral Concerns

The ethical and moral implications of AI and AGI raise significant concerns. Issues such as data privacy, decision-making transparency, and potential misuse of AI technologies contribute to public apprehension. Ensuring ethical development and implementation of AI is crucial to gaining public trust and acceptance.

Impact on Employment

The potential impact of AI and AGI on employment is a major concern. Automation and AI-driven processes can lead to job displacement in various industries. While technology historically creates new job opportunities, the transition period can be challenging and disruptive for affected workers.

Institutional Resistance

Established institutions and industries often resist disruptive technologies to protect their interests. The healthcare, legal, and financial sectors, for instance, may resist AI integration due to concerns about reliability, regulation, and potential loss of professional autonomy.


These stories illustrate how human bias and ego have shaped our understanding of the world and often hindered progress. Overcoming these biases has been crucial for scientific, social, and technological advancements.

By learning from these past mistakes, we can foster a more open-minded and progressive future. Embracing new technologies like AI and AGI with a balanced approach, addressing ethical concerns, and preparing for socio-economic impacts can help humanity navigate the challenges and opportunities these advancements bring.



Yogesh Malik

Exponential Thinker, Lifelong Learner #Digital #Philosophy #Future #ArtificialIntelligence