I like this story to explain reasonable doubt. (From Sam Leith’s wonderful “You talkin to me?“)
“A man is in the dock, accused of murdering his wife. Although the body was never recovered, all the evidence points to the defendant: his car boot was filled with baling twine, bloodstained hammers, torn items of his wife’s clothing and suchlike. He had abundant motive – as the cashing in of a huge insurance policy taken out on the eve of his wife’s death demonstrates. And no sooner was his wife reported missing than he was holidaying in the Maldives with his pneumatically enhanced twenty-three-year-old mistress, his Facebook page filled with photographs of him in a pair of Speedos and a snorkel, grinning his murderous head off.
Nevertheless, his lawyer at trial pulls off a remarkable coup de théâtre.
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,’ he says. ‘The prosecution has presented you with a mountain of evidence that tends to show that my client is guilty of the crime with which he has been charged. But that evidence means nothing. For not only is my client not guilty of his wife’s murder, but no murder has in fact taken place. My client’s wife is alive and well. And I can prove it. It is now five minutes to midday. At precisely midday, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, those doors over there will open –’ he indicates the main doors into the courtroom with a flourishing sweep of the arm – ‘and my client’s wife will walk through them into the court.’
Gasps, naturally, go all round. For the next five minutes, the eyes of the presiding judge, the jury and every functionary of the court are glued to the main doors. Eventually, the heavy hands of the courtroom clock tick round to midday and a solemn bong is heard. The doors remain tight shut.
‘Well?’ says the judge. ‘Your promised miracle has not materialised.’
‘Indeed not,’ replies the defending barrister. ‘But every single one of you was watching those doors in the expectation that it would. In the absence of a body, that is surely an object demonstration that there remains a reasonable doubt over my client’s responsibility for his wife’s disappearance.’
‘Very good,’ says the judge. ‘However, I ask the jury to note that the only person in the courtroom not watching the doors was your client.’”
Two things had been bouncing around recently: Toffler’s ubiquitous “Learn, unlearn, relearn” and the Trivium, in no small part thanks to Martin’s excellent Trivium 21C. I wondered, slightly loosely, whether they were connected, along the lines of this diagram.
Carl did not see any obvious connection and (sensibly, I think) warned against numerology/seeing patterns in 3 and the like and, broadly, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that he’s right in that the two are not interchangeable (as I’d initially thought). That said, I do think there is a connection. If nothing else, they are sibling concepts in that both are born of the idea that knowledge is fluid and changing.
There are two differences that Carl’s doubt and Martin’s questions highlighted for me. First, the Trivium is not quite so overtly pro-“change for its own sake”. While the unlearning phase seems fairly wholesale under Toffler, the Trivium’s dialectic is more even-handed. Critique doesn’t have to shatter one’s beliefs or force you to reject what you have learned; it can strengthen them too. Second, for my money, the Trivium deals with the social aspect of learning in a more sophisticated, group-oriented way. Toffler’s “learn, unlearn, relearn” works on an individual level (as it did for Carl’s drumming), but the rhetoric phase of the Trivium works at both individual and social (whatever you think you’ve learned, you can’t have learned it until you’ve persuaded someone else of it).
Anyway, enjoyed the tweets. Especially discussing the holy trinity of Xavi, Messi and Iniesta on a Sunday morning. Seem to remember Maradona talking about Messi playing with Jesus, which sort of begs a question …
“Of course, good teaching is always going to be crucial, as is the mastering of formal academic prose. But it’s also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.
We think of writing as either good or bad. What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.”
Explaining that this type of writing is valuable is the hard part.
(Following on a little tardily from May’s notes)
Chapter 2: Modern discovery of Primary Oral Cultures
Early Awareness of Oral Tradition
“Besides being wise, Qoheleth taught the people knowledge, and weighed, scrutinized and arranged many proverbs. Qoheleth sought to find pleasing sayings, and write down true sayings with precision.”
The Homeric Question
Milman Parry’s Discovery
virtually every distinctive feature of Homeric Poetry is a result of the economy enforced on it by oral methods of composition.
“Instead of a creator you had an assembly-line worker”
“Homeric poems valued and somehow made capital of what later [literate] readers had been trained in principle to disvalue, namely, the set phrase, the formula, the expected qualifier – to put it more bluntly, the cliche.
“In an oral culture, knowledge, once acquired, had to be constantly repeated or it would be lost: fixed, formulaic thought patterns were essential for wisdom and effective administration.”
[My note: as per proverbs, too many cooks, what's good for the goose, etc...]. Writing, and stored knowledge, and especially interiorised alphabetic literacy freed the mind allowing it more original, abstract thought. Hence Plato forbade poets in his Republic – their reverence for thought meccano ran agin everything the philosopher was trying to build.
“Kahlil Gibran has made a career of providing oral formulary products in print to literate Americans who find novel the proverb-like utterances that, according to a Lebanese friend of mine, citizens of Beirut regard as commonplace.”
Consequent and Related Work
Amazing really how much one takes for granted, in terms of how one thinks, and how others think. And how prevalent that “cliche” idea is in oral media like music (mixing, refrains, what have you). Anyway, the next chapter is about the different psychodynamics of oral and literate cultures, and is great. Will post some notes when I get a chance.
Slightly alarmingly, as part of Princeton’s 100 Years of ExcellenceH.G. Frankfurt is interviewed about his book “On Bullshit”. (There’s a video of it which is worth watching, though the interviewer seems to need the bathroom)
“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.
In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis. I shall not consider the rhetorical uses and misuses of bullshit. My aim is simply to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not–or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate, more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept.”
I like the idea that truth, while it may be difficult or even impossible to pin down, should not just be ignored and ridden roughshod over willy-nilly.
Jonathan Dresner at Cliopatra hits the nail on the head.
I don’t think any of us can be objective about our own claimed objectivity. — Daniel Okrent, NYTimes, 4/24/05
There are three categories of common arguments in blogspace:
I don’t mean to categorize posts, or bloggers, but disputes. Of these, I think the first two categories are pretty self-evident, but the third needs some explanation. It might look, to a casual observer, that Tone is an epiphenomenon, coloration rather than substance, the least important and/because the most emotional. But Tone includes subtexts, implications, style and inferences; it is where the issues of audience and the active agency of readership become central. Tone matters.> [My emphasis]“