Archive for February, 2011

Science is the Topography of Ignorance

February 12, 2011

“SCIENCE is the topography of ignorance. From a few elevated points we triangulate vast spaces, inclosing infinite unknown details. We cast the lead, and draw up a little sand from abysses we may never reach with our dredges. The best part of our knowledge is that which teaches us where knowledge leaves off and ignorance begins. Nothing more clearly separates a vulgar from a superior mind, than the confusion in the first between the little that it truly knows, on the one hand, and what it half knows and what it thinks it knows on the other.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Medical Essays)

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This Republic is the Chosen Home of Minorities

February 12, 2011

“This Republic is the chosen home of minorities, of the less power in the presence of the greater. It is a common error to speak of our distinction as consisting in the rule of the majority. Majorities, the greater material powers, have always ruled before. The history of most countries has been that of majorities, mounted majorities, clad in iron, armed with death treading down the tenfold more numerous minorities. In the old civilizations they root themselves like oaks in the soil; men must live in their shadow or cut them down. With us the majority is only the flower of the passing noon, and the minority is the bud which may open in the next morning’s sun. We must be tolerant, for the thought which stammers on a single tongue today may organize itself in the growing consciousness of the time, and come back to us like the voice of the multitudinous waves of the ocean on the morrow.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Medical Essays)

Uncertainty of All Information

February 8, 2011

“Finally, the general unreliability of all information presents a special problem in war: all action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are. Whatever is hidden from full view in this feeble light has to be guessed at by talent, or simply left to chance. So once again for lack of objective knowledge one has to trust to talent or to luck.” (Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Howard and Paret translation)

The Authority of Faraway Places

February 8, 2011

“The list of alien areas with which nostrums have been christened reads like a gazeteer. The hardy soul could dose himself around the world. What combination of diseases, howsoever dire, could hold out against such an international therapeutic arsenal as Bragg’s Arctic Liniment, Hayne’s Arabian Balsam, Bavarian Malt Extract, Brazilian Bitters, Carpathian Bitters, Castilian Bitters, Crimean Bitters, Kennedy’s East India Bitters, Hoofiand’s German Tonic, Good Hope Bitters, Hoofland’s Greek Oil, Buchan’s Hungarian Balsam, Wyncoop’s Iceland Pectoral, Osgood’s Indian Cholagogue, Mecca Compound, Peruvian Syrup, Persian Balm, Roman Eye Balsam, Redding’s Russian Salve, South American Fever and Ague Remedy, Jayne’s Spanish Alterative, Hart’s Swedish Asthma Medicine, Tobias’ Venetian Liniment, and Westphalia Stomach Bitters? To the ordinary American looking for a remedy to cure his aches and pains, distance seemed to lend enchantment.” (James H. Young, The Toadstool Millionaires, p. 175)

Boredom and the Law

February 2, 2011

I found evidence that, some time ago, a person needed to be careful not to bore his audience: “A barrister made a long speech in the course of which a boy fell asleep in the gallery and fell into the well of the court and broke his neck. At common law the instrument with which a murder was committed was forfeited to the Crown. Hence the indictment had to charge and the jury had to find its value. The barrister was indicted in the Circuit Grand Court for murder with a certain dull instrument, to wit, a long speech of no value” (Pound, Roscoe. 1953. The Lawyer from Antiquity to Modern Times.) Alas, the crime goes unpunished today.