Monday, May 23, 2011


I am oft reminded of a phrase spoken by the fool in twelfth night:
"Wit, an't be thy will, put me into good fooling!     
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft       
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may        
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? 
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit"
That might be taken as a general truism that wisdom is found in unexpected places, and not necessarily in the sayings of the experts.

One can also play the academic game and try to discover the source of Feste's appeal to the authority "Quinapulus", what in rhetoric is termed an appeal to authority or "argumentum ad verecundiam" if you want to be all pompous and latin, which brings me to that erstwhile Elizabethan authority Francis Bacon,

Now I am not going to argue from any authority that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, indeed I feel that in Feste's occasional resort to cod latin and faux authorities, Shakespeare is sending up Bacon's essay's in some reconnaissance word play totally obscure to the current mind.

Anyway I cite Bacon rather than Quinapulus, because Bacon is often taken to be one of progenitors of the modern "scientific method". Indeed the following quotation has been paraphrased by many since including John Henry Newman because of it's self evidence in the latter day perspective.
"Another error that hath some connection with this latter is, that men have used to infect their meditations, opinions, and doctrines with some conceits which they have most admired, or some sciences which they have most applied, and given all things else a tincture according to them, utterly untrue and improper. So hath Plato intermingled his philosophy with theology, and Aristotle with logic; and the second school of Plato, Proclus and the rest, with the mathematics; for these were the arts which had a kind of primogeniture with them severally. So have the alchemists made a philosophy out of a few experiments of the furnace; and Gilbertus our countryman hath made a philosophy out of the observations of a loadstone. So Cicero, when reciting the several opinions of the nature of the soul, he found a musician that held the soul was but a harmony, saith pleasantly, Hic ab arte sua non recessit, &c.

But of these conceits Aristotle speaketh seriously and wisely when he saith, Qui respiciunt ad pauca de facili pronunciant. "
In sum what he is basically saying is that some pundits tend to emphasise there opinions by appeal to whatever authorities are their particular favourites, which is something you can see in the writings of many "experts" on autism. It's another way of saying nobody is unbiased, or as I like to say, if I want to know something of the validity of a paper, I want to know what is on the authors bookshelf.

The joke of course is that Bacon is playing the same game himself with the obscure Latin, for as Quinapulus might well have said "Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur" (whatever is said in Latin sounds lofty)

Maybe the Latin was not so obscure to the average Elizabethan schoolboy (Shining morning face, small Latin and less Greek, whatever) and in fact a little research will indicate the source and meaning of the quotations without much foreknowledge of Latin

The first being a truncated version of "He adhered steadily to his system and yet he said something, the nature of which, whatever it was, had been detailed and explained a great while before by Plato"

And the second "He that takes a narrow view, easily makes up his mind"

Of course anyone who cares to look up what Chiasmus means, will see the joke is on me here, for what am I doing in this post but infecting my meditations, opinions, and doctrines with some conceits I have most admired, mine being literary rather than scientific?

The moral to this tale, for there has to be a moral, is that playing the citation game is not enough, the enemies of "science" can play it well enough by appeal to the authority of their fellow pseudo scientists. We have seen this with the mercurian persuasion, The discredited Geir's and Wakefields who tend to review and publish each others papers in a distorted mirror of the "established" academic press.

On the other hand we see it all too often amongst the establishment, particular amongst those insecure academics who seem afraid to hold an opinion of there own and have to wrap everything up with a citation from previous literature. Alas the joke is on them too, for often those citations are no more valid than the customary appeals to the classics in Bacon's time.

When I cite, I like to do so from as wide a number of sources as possible, not the tired favourites, for that way if any cares to follow them up they will be sure to be extending their knowledge outside of their narrow field.  

"But of these conceits Aristotle speaketh seriously and wisely when he saith, Qui respiciunt ad pauca de facili pronunciant" :)