Monday, January 31, 2011

Inimical to knowledge

From Plagues of the Mind by Bruce S. Thorton, page XVI.
More to the purpose of the essay, the "horizontal" spread of knowledge, its dissemniation through widespread literacy, universal education, and high-tech media of transmission, has not banished ignorance, false knowledge, interested error, or institutionalized lies. The increase in facts and data has simply created a glut of decontextualized information that is inimical to knowledge, let alone wisdom.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chandler and Fleming

For Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler fans, here is a conversation between them recorded by the BBC in 1958.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Count it a bondage to fix a belief

From Fancis Bacon, Book of Essays.
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural, though corrupt love, of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


From a book review in The Economist:
Here are two predictions about the world economy. First, the West's malaise and the rise of emerging economies will yield a mountain of books. Second, few of these are likely to be as bad as "How the West Was Lost".

Monday, January 24, 2011

The myth

John F. Kennedy in Conversations with Kennedy by Benjamin Bradlee.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - presistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The clock has stopped

Ouch. From a review by Russell Jacoby, Real Men Find Real Utopias.
The issues that rivet Wright unfold in an eternal graduate sociology seminar where the clock has stopped.

Bad Luck

Robert Heinlein:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded - here and there, now and then - are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as "bad luck."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

60,000 words

From The New York Times, Sit, Stay, Parse. Good Girl!. A report on a dog with a large vocabulary. Comparing to human word acquisition. This estimation seems high when compared to Bill Bryson's discussion in The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way.
Children pick up about 10 new words a day until, by the time they leave high school, they know around 60,000 words.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Misguided in different ways

From Penelope Trunk on her website, Brazen Careerist.
All goals for attaining a happy life are the same, but all the paths to not reaching those goals are misguided in different ways.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It is not difficult to be virtuous on ten thousand a year

Thomas Huxley, An Essay: Joseph Priestley.
I will only remark, in passing, that material advancement has its share in moral and intellectual progress. Becky Sharp's acute remark that it is not difficult to be virtuous on ten thousand a year, has its application to nations; and it is futile to expect a hungry and squalid population to be anything but violent and gross. But as regards other than material welfare, although perfection is not yet in sight--even from the mast-head--it is surely true that things are much better than they were.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Greek Middle Class

Euripides, The Suppliants c. 420 B.C.
"There are three classes of citizens. The first are the rich, who are indolent and yet always crave more. The second are the poor, who have nothing, are full of envy, hate the rich, and are easily led by demagogues. Between the two extremes lie those who make the state secure and uphold the laws."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is all our Life, then, but a dream

By Lewis Carroll in Sylvie and Bruno.
Is all our Life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the earth with bitter woe,
Or laughing at some raree-show,
We flutter idly to and fro.

Man's little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Three stages

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Accurate observation

George Bernard Shaw
The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Their work will live as long as time endures

Thomas Huxley, An Essay: Joseph Priestley. A Tribute to Joseph Priestley.
If we ask what is the deeper meaning of all these vast changes, I think there can be but one reply. They mean that reason has asserted and exercised her primacy over all provinces of human activity: that ecclesiastical authority has been relegated to its proper place; that the good of the governed has been finally recognised as the end of government, and the complete responsibility of governors to the people as its means; and that the dependence of natural phenomena in general on the laws of action of what we call matter has become an axiom.

But it was to bring these things about, and to enforce the recognition of these truths, that Joseph Priestley laboured. If the nineteenth century is other and better than the eighteenth, it is, in great measure, to him, and to such men as he, that we owe the change. If the twentieth century is to be better than the nineteenth, it will be because there are among us men who walk in Priestley's footsteps.

Such men are not those whom their own generation delights to honour; such men, in fact, rarely trouble themselves about honour, but ask, in another spirit than Falstaff's, "What is honour? Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday." But whether Priestley's lot be theirs, and a future generation, in justice and in gratitude, set up their statues; or whether their names and fame are blotted out from remembrance, their work will live as long as time endures. To all eternity, the sum of truth and right will have been increased by their means; to all eternity, falsehood and injustice will be the weaker because they have lived.