[lit-ideas] Re: Back to Popper (and further back to Hume)

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 14:04:54 -0800

On Nov 23, 2006, at 10:52 AM, Simon Ward wrote:

Given that everybody knows the urban myth about there only being white swans until black ones are discovered (I recently answered a pub quiz question on this basis though I won't bore you with my reasoning), given all that, it stands to reason that the third box must contain a black swan. Otherwise the philosophical question wouldn't make any sense.

If, on the other hand, the question was being posed prior to the discovery of Australia (a hint to the answer to the pub quizz question...no not a hint, the answer), if we were in the sixteenth century say, then it would be impossible (or as near as dammit) for there to be a black swan in the third box. Given that we know about Australia and black swans, and given that we know the guff about white and black swans, and given that this is about philosophy, I think that the probability that there is a black swan in the box is 'probably' close to 100 per cent.

Can I open it yet?

Before Geary beats me to the punch--oh, he's already *in* the punch?--let me mention the possibility that this is not, in fact, a question that need be addressed by logic but by what Edward de Bono called "lateral thinking." Years ago de Bono gave a lecture I half attended. Among the few things I recall from that lecture was an example. When asked "How do you get to Wales in a mini," some people will hear, "How do you get to Wales in a mini" and others, "How do you get two whales in a mini?" It was de Bono's contention that most people would hear the latter possibility first and thus struggle to find an answer. Those who think laterally will offer simple advice, "Head down the M4 and cross the Severn Bridge."

That was the solution that occurred to me, so as a fully qualified lateral thinker I offer a solution to the Popperian's puzzle. In the third box we find some kind of mysterious absence. That is the nature of the third box, to function as a kind of negative space that defines the other two boxes. And in a gyne-hostile literary climate what is the most negative act we can imagine? To rob someone of authorship, to take away the rightful reward for creativity, to re-masculate an author by privileging the claims of an upstart swan. By this route we arrive quite easily at the answer to the puzzle. The third box contains Mary Sidney, the subject of , "The Sweet Swan of Avon," a book that restores authorship of "Shakespeare's plays" to the woman who, in fact, wrote them.

Guests are here. Time to return to normal discourse, or maybe find a better form of blither.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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