Archive for March, 2010

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 17, 2010

Take the superlative, which has become the placebo of mass journalism, written and oral. The superlative seems transparent and harmless. How does it corrupt? By the insidious suggestion, which is soon common belief, that among all the things that fill the world the only notable specimens are six: the first, the last, the largest, the smallest, the oldest, and the youngest, Journalistic art consists in making every story a vehicle for one of these mental aphrodisiacs… But surely everybody takes this with a grain of salt? Not at all: there is not enough salt on earth. To the unprotected mind, even though ‘advanced,’ only the superlative deserves attention. One observer has with good reason called this ‘The Paragon Complex.’
(The House of Intellect)

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Lake Tahoe

March 15, 2010

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 15, 2010

On every subject it has mastered, science is correct but incomplete. It is always less than life, much less, and from its very nature cannot stretch to embrace all.
(God’s Country and Mine)

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 15, 2010

The scientist’s habit of exactitude and measurement, like his interest in material things, is probably an offshoot of the trader’s love of regular procedure and intense search for the odd penny.
(God’s Country and Mine)

Drive-Through Chapel

March 11, 2010

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 11, 2010

I do not understand what is meant by being against, or for, wholes—art, science, education, medicine, the state. I can as readily imagine being against sunsets and for the tides.
(Science: The Glorious Entertainment)

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 9, 2010

To believe that the persecution of witches was rife in the early Middle Ages “before the rise of scientific ideas”; that France was not prosperous but impoverished in 1789; that ancient Greece was a peace-loving democracy, peopled entirely by artists and patrons of art; that murder has for centuries been punished by death, and property similarly protected because valued as highly as life; that Magna Carta is the original charter of democratic rights, that scientific discovery precedes technological advance; that the first universities were established to teach liberal arts and did teach them; that Roman law is the antithesis of the English Common Law and contributed nothing to it; that Machiavelli was a ruthless, immoral cynic, Macaulay an apologist for the Whig interest, and Plato a liberal rationalist, that until Darwin nobody knew about evolution and that only after him did religious faith begin to totter; that Hegel was the theorist of Prussian state tyranny and Nietzsche an advocate of world conquest by Nordics; that as the year 1000 approached all Europe feared the end of the world—to believe these and a hundred other pieces of “common knowledge” causes error and blindness in current decisions about science, religion, art, education, criminology, revolution, and social action generally.
(Clio and the Doctors)

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 4, 2010

But what is a fact? Let us hear the usual answer: “For scientific purposes a fact is anything that is potentially susceptible of measurement, and that is all that scientific work is about.” What this definition implies if that the mind can take the peas out of the pod of experience without regard to anything but their size. Yet to carve something out of its environment and call it a fact is to make a judgment and to be doing it for a purpose which expresses value. It is a judgment again, charged with value, to note a relation that has not previously been shown or named. And since like other disciplines science aims at relevance, coherence, and simplicity of form, the facts and theories of science result from judgments of value. Fact and truth embody emotion as well as thought. This is what Pascal meant when he said that a proposition in geometry could become a sentiment. It is no doubt useful at times to separate fact and value, and it might be harmless if the distinction did not abet the tendency to make science the only knowledge, discrediting thereby “mere” choice, “mere” preference, “mere” value. The unspoken reasoning goes: “Fact is reality; the rest is illusion. Science delivers facts; ergo, other modes of thought deliver only illusion.”
(Science: The Glorious Entertainment)

Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

March 4, 2010

The rampant specialism, an arbitrary and purely social evil, is not recognized for the crabbed guild spirit that it is, and few are bold enough to say that carving out a small domain and exhausting its soil affords as much as chance for protected irresponsibility as for scientific thoroughness.
(Science: The Glorious Entertainment)

Weekend Project: Water Bottle Rocket

March 3, 2010