October 21, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom

Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only as far as the guardsman's cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.

Thomas H. Huxley


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Climate science: too many raw recruits too few vets.


  2. ... too many savages, not enough cutting & thrusting guardsmen.

  3. Hmm, a martial analogy to explain the difference between what we do in everyday life and what boffins do in ivory towers.

    Not sure I like being compared to a troglodyte waving a lump of 4x2. But that's just tough titties, I guess Uncle Hal knows best.

    Thanks Uncle Hal!

  4. Anonymous8:34 PM

    Never fear dear Jacob - a primitive poison dart fired from a primitive blow pipe from the mouth of a naked pigmy will take down a guardsman in no time flat.


  5. Oh Jacob, think a moment: nearly everything in politics and business is framed in military metaphors. If not military, then sport is a second best choice.

    This is no trivial thing, since human existence is mediated by language, and our language is mediated by metaphors.

    Imagine what the world would be like if our dominate metaphor was flowers, or metaphors of a feminine nature.

    How about: "doing our very best to impose a rosier perspective on drugs"?

  6. Aw heck, T.H. is actually one of my heroes. He and Wallace were self-made autodidacts of the first order, in distinction to Darwin, the struck-lucky upperclass country oaf who probably wouldn't even have published were it not for Huxley and Wallace.

    (That's all a wee bit hyperbolic perhaps, but I think defensible after the 4th or so round of drinks.)

    Jeez, Huxley even fought agin the tide of Social Spencerism (incorrectly known as Social Darwinism).

    Just a day or so ago I heard Sharman Bloody Stone refer to the "survival of the fittest" as a Darwin thing, when all along it was Herbert Bloody Spencer.

    Ah well, sorry to go off on a tangent there, but anyway you've a point, Caz -- humans are ALWAYS impressed by all that martial shit. It's always nice to identify with the preeminent (i.e., winning) side.

  7. What a coinky-dink Jacob.

    Only a few hours ago I was mulling, with much irritation, over the social & cultural absorption of the incorrect notion that evolution is about survival of the fittest, the latter concept having been appropriated from Darwin by people with far less scientific motives.

    Simplistically, evolution is survival of the fecund - if one insists on sound bites, as one does these days (albeit, preferably without the use of correct spelling or punctuation).

    The winning side? Ooooh, no, I must object. It's the masculine side, the aggression, the fight, the violence - they come for the fight, they stay for the blood.

    Within a metaphoric framework, the use of military language for setting the solution to a problem almost always tells us, right from the get-go, that failure is inevitable. Think, for example, the "war on drugs" - it was never a winnable war, it was the Vietnam-brand of war. Likewise getting "tough" on street violence or teen drinking. Yeah, yeah ... we kinda know how that's working for them, and for us.

    Sorry, you can take the girl out of the ivory tower, but you can't ever take the sociologist out of the girl. :-D

    Ever read Sontag's 'Illness as Metaphor'?

  8. Jacob1:23 PM

    Yeah, it's always fatal to reduce a big idea to a soundbite. But if put on the spot, I'd be inclined to sum up Darwin with the expression 'tangled bank'. That, more precisely, is what he was on about. And fecundity, yep, which is why cockroaches will inherit the earth.

    It's often instructive to consider the paradigms with which people/groups represent a big idea. With evolution, there are two broad models contending in the marketplace of ideas: 'tooth-and-claw struggle for survival' (Spencer et al) against 'sympathetic association or mutual aid' (Kropotkin et al). In reality these are but two points on the coast of a massive continent.

    Still crops up from time to time... I heard recently Lynn Margulis (whom one of the science rags a while ago derided as an "unruly earthmother") bemoaning the science establishment's "hideous phobia against community".

    Then Sharman Stone argues against a 'survival of the fittest' approach to immigration and boat people. (That was on Lateline, but the transcript I was reading only the other day has disappeared!)

    Dr Stone is obviously a 'mutual aid' socialist who's somehow infiltrated the Liberal Party.

  9. Muslims are doing quite nicely in the fecundity stakes Jacob, nearly two billion and counting. It's a trend that I observe with, umm, some level of discomfort.

    Funny thing about the "boat people" is that, while we get a few, most unauthorized refugees have the sense to spend far less than $15 or $20 thousand, preferring to fly in - cheaper, little danger, other than airline food and unpleasant fellow passengers.

    About 4000 fly in each year, most gaining refugee status.

    The Sri Lankans continue to refuse to leave the Aust Customs ship, refuse health checks and refuse identity checks. Yeah, those sort of stunts work so well. Next they'll threaten to cut their toenails and it will be all over, Kev will fold.