[lit-ideas] Re: The Boccaccian Sources of Shakespeare

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:24:25 +0000 (UTC)

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people  who, by the 
standards of the 
traditional culture, are thought highly educated  and who have with 
considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the  illiteracy of 
scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the  company how 
many 
of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The  response was 
cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the  
scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?  I now  
believe 
that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean  by 
mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you  
read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that 
I  was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics 
goes up,  and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have 
about as much  insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."
We have seen this on the list, many many times. It is why I (at least) once 
used the term "scientifically illiterate", which seems to me a fair counterpart 
to the alleged "illiteracy of scientists" as termed by the "highly educated" 
[or "half-educated" as Popper once dubbed them]. The response to a term like 
"scientifically illiterate", from those to whom it applies, is that it is an 
unfair term of mere abuse - yet clearly scientists are not literally 
"illiterate" but when do the scientifically illiterate get up in arms when 
scientists are described as illiterate? It is not merely "Two Cultures" but a 
culture of arrogance and condescension that is widespread in the humanities, 
both in its internal disputes and in its treatment of science as an external 
body of knowledge that can be safely ignored. 

Afair, the point which prompted my use of "scientifically illiterate" was that 
someone seemed to think Newton's physics could be true even where it failed a 
test because it nevertheless passed many other tests [so it was true for those 
tests it passed] - this really is "scientifcally illiterate", for if a theory 
fails a test it is false, and this falsity cannot be removed by pointing out 
the numerous or even potentially infinite set of tests it otherwise passes. 
[This is because the theory is describing laws with a universal character 
rather than offering a mere description that 'fits' a specific set of data: but 
even where a theory 'fits' a specific set of data it is "scientifically 
illiterate" to conclude it must be true as an explanation of that data]. This 
is "scientifically illiterate" in a way akin to thinking Shakespeare was a 
sculptor - but actually it is more "illiterate" than thinking Shakespeare was a 
sculptor. But far from being embarrassed at their illiteracy, people simply 
take umbrage when it is exposed. In this they show, typically, an intellectual 
arrogance that is not typical of scientists when accused of "illiteracy". This 
arrogance is often unwitting and is partly due to people being trained in 
disciplines where competing claims are made but there is an absence of severe 
tests to decide between them - nor are they trained that they should bother to 
develop tests that are as severe as possible to decide between competing 
claims: so when it is argued that science is not merely 'JTB' they do not think 
this dents their 'JTB-theory' but prefer to conclude that only means science is 
not proper "knowledge". In effect they do not conclude that 'JTB-theory' fails 
the test of science but that science fails the test of 'JTB-theory'. The sheer 
dogmatism and obscurantism of this seems to entirely escape them. But then they 
are scientifically illiterate....
No wonder they don't care much for Popper.
DnlLdn



It is more often 'there by absence', as when    

     On Wednesday, 19 November 2014, 14:43, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" 
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
   

 In a message dated 11/17/2014 2:20:52 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
"Preferring the culture that produced Dante?", lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx  
quotes 
from Frye, 
“The First World War discredited the view that northern, liberal, largely  
Protestant cultures of England and Germany were, with America, the 
architects of  a new world.  Latin and Catholic Europe began to look like a 
cultural 
as  well as a political ally.  The essay on Blake in The Sacred Wood is full 
of  anti-Nordic mythology: Blake’s prophecies ‘illustrate the crankiness, 
the  eccentricity, which frequently affects writers outside the Latin  
tradition.’  So although Eliot’s view of literature is ‘classical,’ his  
Classicism regards Latin medieval culture and Dante in particular, as the  
culmination of the Classical achievement.  Dante’s greatness is partly a  
product 
of a time when Europe was ‘mentally more united than we can no  conceive.’  
At such a time literature achieves its greatest power and  clarity: ‘there 
is an opacity, or inspissation of poetic style throughout Europe  after the 
Renaissance.’  So Eliot explicitly prefers the culture which  produced Dante 
to that which produced Shakespeare", and comments:  "We are  dealing with 
matters not conceived of by Dante. We are doing things with our  minds we 
never did before. Is the crankiness and chaos that produced Shakespeare  really 
such a bad thing?"
 
Perhaps Frye is oversimplifying things. After all, isn't there like a  
recognised Boccaccian influence on Shakespeare. 
 
Unless by Anglo-Saxon we _mean_ "Anglo-Saxon" (as seen by Tacitus, say, in  
"Germania"), i.e., the Indo-Germanic stock _sans_ Roman influence, there 
idea  that there are two cultures, one that produces Dante (and Boccaccio) and 
one  that produces Shakespeare may have a Snowian* misimplicature about it!

Cheers,
 
Speranza
 
*The Two Cultures is the title of the first part of an influential 1959  
Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that 
 "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the 
 titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that 
this  was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. The talk was 
delivered 7  May 1959 in the Senate House, Cambridge, and subsequently 
published as The Two  Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. The lecture and 
book 
expanded upon an  article by Snow published in the New Statesman of 6 
October 1956, also entitled  The Two Cultures. Published in book form, Snow's 
lecture was widely read and  discussed on both sides of the Atlantic, leading 
him to write a 1963 follow-up,  The Two Cultures: And a Second Look: An 
Expanded Version of The Two Cultures and  the Scientific Revolution. Snow's 
position can be summed up by an often-repeated  part of the essay: A good many 
times I have been present at gatherings of people  who, by the standards of the 
traditional culture, are thought highly educated  and who have with 
considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the  illiteracy of 
scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the  company how 
many 
of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The  response was 
cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the  
scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?  I now  
believe 
that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean  by 
mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you  
read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that 
I  was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics 
goes up,  and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have 
about as much  insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.  
In 2008, The  Times Literary Supplement included The Two Cultures and the 
Scientific  Revolution in its list of the 100 books that most influenced 
Western public  discourse since the Second World War. Snow's Rede Lecture 
condemned the British  educational system as having, since the Victorian era, 
over-rewarded the  humanities (especially Latin and Greek) at the expense of 
scientific and  engineering education, despite such achievements having been so 
decisive in  winning the Second World War for the Allies. This in practice 
deprived British  elites (in politics, administration, and industry) of 
adequate preparation to  manage the modern scientific world. By contrast, Snow 
said, German and American  schools sought to prepare their citizens equally 
in the sciences and humanities,  and better scientific teaching enabled these 
countries' rulers to compete more  effectively in a scientific age. Later 
discussion of The Two Cultures tended to  obscure Snow's initial focus on 
differences between British systems (of both  schooling and social class) and 
those of competing countries. The term two  cultures has become a shorthand 
in certain academic circles for differences  between two attitudes; Snow 
himself, in a reconsideration, backed off some way  from his dichotomized 
declarations. In his 1963 book he talked more  optimistically about the 
potential 
of a mediating third culture. This concept  was later picked up in Brockman, 
John (1995), The Third Culture: Beyond the  Scientific Revolution. 
Introducing the reprinted The Two Cultures, 1993, Stefan  Collini[7] has argued 
that 
the passage of time has done much to reduce the  cultural divide Snow 
noticed; but has not removed it entirely. The literary  critic F. R. Leavis 
called Snow a "public relations man" for the scientific  establishment in an 
essay published in The Spectator, which was widely decried  in the British 
press. Stephen Jay Gould's The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the  Magister's Pox 
provides a different perspective. Assuming the dialectical  interpretation, it 
argues that Snow's concept of "two cultures" is not only off  the mark, it is a 
damaging and short-sighted viewpoint; and that it has perhaps  led to 
decades of unnecessary fence-building. Simon Critchley, in Continental  
Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction suggests:[9] [Snow] diagnosed the loss of 
 a 
common culture and the emergence of two distinct cultures: those represented  
by scientists on the one hand and those Snow termed 'literary intellectuals' 
on  the other. If the former are in favour of social reform and progress 
through  science, technology and industry, then intellectuals are what Snow 
terms  'natural Luddites' in their understanding of and sympathy for advanced  
industrial society. In Mill's terms, the division is between Benthamites and 
 Coleridgeans. —Simon Critchley. That is, Critchley argues that what Snow 
said  represents a resurfacing of a discussion current in the mid-nineteenth 
century.  Critchley describes the Leavis contribution to the making of a 
controversy as 'a  vicious ad hominem attack'; going on to describe the debate 
as a familiar clash  in English cultural history citing also T. H. Huxley 
and Matthew Arnold.[10][11]  In his opening address at the Munich Security 
Conference in January 2014, the  Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said 
that the current problems related  to security and freedom in cyberspace are 
the culmination of absence of dialogue  between "the two cultures": "Today, 
bereft of understanding of fundamental  issues and writings in the 
development of liberal democracy, computer geeks  devise ever better ways to 
track 
people... simply because they can and it's  cool. Humanists on the other hand 
do not understand the underlying technology  and are convinced, for example, 
that tracking meta-data means the government  reads their emails." 
Contrasting scientific and humanistic knowledge is a  repetition of the 
Methodenstreit of 1890 German universities. In the social  sciences it is also 
commonly 
proposed as the quarrel of positivism versus  interpretivism. See also[edit]
Culture war, The Third Culture, Science wars,  Aldous Huxley, Consilience: 
The Unity of Knowledge, a 1998 book written by  biologist Edward Osborne 
Wilson, as an attempt to bridge the gap between "the  two cultures" Lyman 
Briggs College, a college of Michigan State University with  a curriculum 
specifically designed to address the problem of "the two cultures",  Lewis 
Mumford, 
Michael Crichton
Gerald Heard. References: Snow, Charles Percy  (2001) [1959]. The Two 
Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. .  "The hundred most 
influential books since the war". The Times (London). 30  December 2008. Snow 
2013.  
Snow, Charles Percy (1963). "The Two Cultures: A  Second Look". The Two 
Cultures: and A Second Look. Cambridge University Press.  "Across the Great 
Divide". Nature Physics 5: 309. 2009. doi:10.1038/nphys1258.  Jardine, Lisa 
(2010). "CP Snow’s Two Cultures Revisited" (PDF). Christ's College  Magazine: 48
–57. Retrieved 2012-02-13. Jardine's 2009 C. P. Snow Lecture honored  the 
50th anniversary of Snow's Rede Lecture. She places Snow's lecture into its  
historical context, and emphasizes the expansion of certain elements of the 
Rede  Lecture in Snow's Godkin Lectures at Harvard University in 1960. These 
were  ultimately published as Science and Government. New American Library. 
1962.  Collini 1993, p. lv. Kimball, Roger (12 February 1994). "The Two 
Cultures'  today: On the C. P. Snow–F. R. Leavis controversy". The New 
Criterion. Critchley  2001, p. 49. Critchley 2001, p. 51. Collini 1993, p. 
xxxv. 
Ilves, Toomas  Hendrik: "Rebooting Trust? Freedom vs Security in Cyberspace" 
Opening address at  Munich Security Conference Cyber 31 January 2014. 
31.01.2014. Brint, Steven G  (2002), The Future of the City of Intellect: The 
Changing American University,  pp. 212–3, "positivism-versus-interpretation 
language [...] these fractal  distinctions are generally quite old. Most of 
them 
have been around at least  since the celebrated Methodenstreit of the German 
universities in the late  nineteenth century. CP Snow's "two cultures" 
argument captures a later  instantiation of them. [...] In negotiating the 
complexities of social  scientific and humanistic knowledge, it is extremely 
helpful to have a dichotomy  like positivism versus interpretation, because it 
saves our having to remember  the exact degree of positivism of any scholarly 
group. [...] Every single social  science discipline has internal debates 
about positivism/interpretation,  arrative/analysis, and so on. The 
narrative/analytic debate may look very  different in economics, anthropology, 
and 
English. But underneath all the  surface differences it is quite similar." 
Bragg, Melvyn, The Two Cultures  (discussion), UK: BBC Radio 4.
Critchley, Simon (2001), Continental  Philosophy: A Very Short 
Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN  978-0-19-285359-2. Collini, Stefan 
(1993), 
"Introduction", in Snow, Charles  Percy, The Two Cultures, Cambridge 
University Press, Ferris, Timothy (13 October  2011), The World of the 
Intellectual 
vs. The World of the Engineer, Wired.  Griffiths, Phillip (13 September 
1995), 'Two Cultures' Today, UK: St  Andrews.
Precht, Richard David (2013), "Natural Sciences and Humanities:  Genesis of 
two Worlds" (Webvideo), ZAKlessons, Google You tube. Snow, Charles  Percy 
(Jan 2013), "The Two cultures", Cultural capital, The New Statesman. Are  We 
Beyond the Two Cultures?, Seed, 7 May 2009. Categories: 1959 booksBritish  
culture Science and technology in the United KingdomScience studies Science  
books Dichotomies Scientific revolution
 
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