Sunday, August 05, 2018

The genius of Poe

Despite being a mild Edgar Allen Poe aficionado, I wasn't familiar with his Eureka, which is a sort of brilliant stream-of-consciousness intellectual exploration that is almost exactly what Jordan Peterson, in his fevered, cousin-devouring dreams, must have imagined his Maps of Meaning would be. I've been reading Eureka and finding it to be an absolute delight, particularly in Poe's prophetic anticipation of the instrinsic limitations of the methodology of modern science, which he described in the summary of a letter said to have been written in 2848.
“Well, Aries Tottle flourished supreme, until the advent of one Hog, surnamed ‘the Ettrick shepherd,’ who preached an entirely different system, which he called the à posteriori or inductive. His plan referred altogether to sensation. He proceeded by observing, analyzing, and classifying facts—instantiæ Naturæ, as they were somewhat affectedly called—and arranging them into general laws. In a word, while the mode of Aries rested on noumena, that of Hog depended on phenomena; and so great was the admiration excited by this latter system that, at its first introduction, Aries fell into general disrepute. Finally, however, he recovered ground, and was permitted to divide the empire of Philosophy with his more modern rival:—the savans contenting themselves with proscribing all other competitors, past, present, and to come; putting an end to all controversy on the topic by the promulgation of a Median law, to the effect that the Aristotelian and Baconian roads are, and of right ought to be, the solo possible avenues to knowledge:—‘Baconian,’ you must know, my dear friend,” adds the letter-writer at this point, “was an adjective invented as equivalent to Hog-ian, and at the same time more dignified and euphonious.

“Now I do assure you most positively”—proceeds the epistle—“that I represent these matters fairly; and you can easily understand how restrictions so absurd on their very face must have operated, in those days, to retard the progress of true Science, which makes its most important advances—as all History will show—by seemingly intuitive leaps. These ancient ideas confined investigation to crawling; and I need not suggest to you that crawling, among varieties of locomotion, is a very capital thing of its kind;—but because the tortoise is sure of foot, for this reason must we clip the wings of the eagles? For many centuries, so great was the infatuation, about Hog especially, that a virtual stop was put to all thinking, properly so called. No man dared utter a truth for which he felt himself indebted to his soul alone. It mattered not whether the truth was even demonstrably such; for the dogmatizing philosophers of that epoch regarded only the road by which it professed to have been attained. The end, with them, was a point of no moment, whatever:—‘the means!’ they vociferated—‘let us look at the means!’—and if, on scrutiny of the means, it was found to come neither under the category Hog, nor under the category Aries (which means ram), why then the savans went no farther, but, calling the thinker a fool and branding him a ‘theorist,’ would never, thenceforward, have any thing to do either with him or with his truths.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It's also fascinating to see how the Mozart-Salieri relationship seems to play out again and again over time, the inevitable public rivalries between the original thinkers with integrity and talent and the popular pretenders with neither. Sometimes the Mozarts win out, sometimes the Griswolds do. But time always eventually exposes the latter, as your complete failure to recognize the name of Poe's bitter would-be rival should suffice to demonstrate.

On a possibly-but-not-necessarily-unrelated note, I found this email from a reader to be more than a little amusing.
I was over at my sister’s place today and saw a copy of The Irrational Atheist in their library. When I asked about it, her husband, who is a recent MDiv graduate, told me that it was assigned reading in seminary. Amen. 
Anyhow, "Hogian" is an apt description of the science-loving dogmatists who demand "proof" and "evidence" for event the simplest and most straightforward claims. They inevitably confuse the means with the end, and not infrequently go so far to claim, without any apparent sense of irony intended, that any factual statement made without evidential support and reliable sourcing being subsequently provided is inherently untrue.

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Blogger Johnny August 05, 2018 8:22 AM  

The areas where modern and well established science has done the best are those areas where divide and conquer, or observation work the best. For observation, I take history and astronomy as examples. For divide and conquer, chemistry comes to mind easily.

The difficulty arises when divide and conquer doesn't work and observation is suspect because it requires interpretation that is suspect. And both of these problems are common in the social sciences.

Blogger Aaron Farnsworth August 05, 2018 8:46 AM  

"Genius" is to be used sparingly, but Poe is completely deserving. I have never read anyone like him; he is unique, an innovator of language, and I always thought the most naturally gifted writer I'd ever studied. What a pleasure to read some Poe here on Vox.

Blogger Steve August 05, 2018 8:49 AM  

James Hogg should be more widely known than he is these days.

Blogger Phillip George August 05, 2018 8:55 AM  

If it isn't a control variable experiment/ reproducible experiment it isn't science.[scientia] Doesn't mean it isn't true. It just isn't science. Science simply means "knowledge" [scientia] So how is knowledge established as fact?

How do you know anything is epistemology. Philosophy always trumped science. Theology always trumped philosophy. Like Q beats CNN.

Wittgenstein approves.

Blogger John Regan August 05, 2018 9:24 AM  

Any meaningful statement must be empirically verifiable or analytically true, said the logical postivists, during that late 19th to early 20th century period when thought, as traditionally understood, was to be made adjunct to the age of "science" and nothing more.

Irony indeed.

Blogger Johnny August 05, 2018 9:25 AM  

I suspect the reason the early Greeks stressed what we now call philosophy so much was because of funding. State funding was less common or nonexistent, thinking is cheaper than doing, thus they stressed thinking. And the same thing now in the other direction. Doing requires money and often a staff, that requires funding, and the money spent gives status to whatever it is the person is doing. Thus we tend to stress doing rather than thinking.

A good understanding of the world requires observation to discover fact, and thought to establish association, and thus conclusions. The current tendency by many in the scientific establishment is to overlook the extent which to which current conclusions require a logical model. By not admitting that logic is part of it, or more commonly simply ignoring the logic imbedded in current conclusions, they error more commonly in their analysis than in the extent of their factual knowledge.

Blogger Warkicker August 05, 2018 9:30 AM  

"her husband, who is a recent MDiv graduate, told me that it was assigned reading in seminary. "

That's awesome to hear. It's about time.

Blogger Phillip George August 05, 2018 9:47 AM  

word salad by Johnny??
"what we now call philosophy"
How exactly does your weight compare with that of a
Anas Platyrhyncos?

Blogger Stg58/Animal Mother August 05, 2018 9:52 AM  

Poe wrote some of the best short stories ever. Mind blowing.

Blogger Dave August 05, 2018 10:16 AM  

Do you have a bitter rival, Vox? I wouldn't consider Scalzi a rival; maybe PNH? I'll never understand how writers end up with bitter rivals.

Blogger MendoScot August 05, 2018 10:22 AM  

And the Hammer House of Horror had some of the sexiest women of my adolescence.

Blogger VD August 05, 2018 10:27 AM  

Do you have a bitter rival, Vox?

Not really. What people never seem to understand is that I don't want to be a Scalzi, Shapiro, or Peterson. Gaiman, Garriott, Martin, and Roberts are more in line with what I want to accomplish.

At least I've demonstrated I can not deliver an epic fantasy almost as well as Martin....

Blogger VD August 05, 2018 10:30 AM  

I'll never understand how writers end up with bitter rivals.

By criticizing their work. One writer asks another for a review, the second one doesn't praise it enough, or worse, legitimately criticizes it, and he's made an enemy for life.

That's what's funny about Scalzi. I very politely kept my mouth shut after I realized he couldn't write fiction if he wasn't coloring Heinlein by the numbers. I read the second Old Man's War book and the very bad Dick imitation book, both of which he sent me for review, and decided I should not say anything about either of them.

Blogger Durandel August 05, 2018 11:01 AM  

@VD Speaking of epics, any news on the completion of a Sea of Skulls? I don’t recall you posting any recent news on it and you’ve been busy with other projects that are more important to the war effort.

Blogger tuberman August 05, 2018 11:17 AM  

The "means" enablers likely understood how easily the "scientific method" could be flim-flammed, or duped, and manipulated, especially using statistics. Yet in medical science (like engineering) producing innovations often takes those intuitive jumps to create cures, or at least something close to that (increasing quality of life with the lengthening of life). Many doctors and scientists are still willing to make such leaps of intuitive faith...with some success. It has been alleged by Q that there are a good number of these doctors/scientists who have been murdered by the " keep them alive, but keep them chronically sick" NWO run Pharmacy companies. There are trillions of dollars involved.

Obviously, often this is just the usual "crawl" of bad ideas surviving proof. Why not just ignore the truth, and destroy the reputations of scientists offering proof that goes against what is accepted "facts." In the late 1980's through most of the 1990's, it was an accepted fact that new brain neurons could not be produced after adulthood. At least four scientists had proof that this was wrong, and their careers and lives were destroyed. Dr. Edward Taub at the UAB came up with tons of proof finally that could not be ignored, and his rehabs later did remarkable work with even long-term stroke victims. But, before the rehabs happened he was attacked and nearly destroyed by the PETA NWO group. (coincidence??)

Blogger Dave August 05, 2018 11:25 AM  

At least I've demonstrated I can not deliver an epic fantasy almost as well as Martin....

Not quite in the same league...yet

Blogger VD August 05, 2018 11:40 AM  

Speaking of epics, any news on the completion of a Sea of Skulls?

Nothing has changed since the last report. If something does, I will say so. Otherwise, December.

Blogger Avalanche August 05, 2018 12:10 PM  

@15 "there are a good number of these doctors/scientists who have been murdered by the " keep them alive, but keep them chronically sick" NWO run Pharmacy companies."!/vizhome/MedicalResearcherDeaths/MedicalResearcherDeaths

[Linked off here:]!/

[and here:]

[and here:]

(Man-oh-man, I LOVE the interwebs! It's ALL Out there!)

Blogger Steve August 05, 2018 12:24 PM  

I read the second Old Man's War book

The first was good, but in retrospect it's even more mindboggling this guy was able to worm his way into an expensive contract with Tor off the back of OLD MAN'S WAR and its increasingly crappy sequels.

Rod Walker has already beaten Scalzi in the Heinlein-alike stakes, and the one Johan Kalsi book I've read is miles better than any of the (several) Scalzi books I've finished.

Not to mention the incomparable John C Wright.

If Tor was a record label, they'd have said "no thanks" to The Beatles and handed a 10-album deal to the guy who wrote "The Macarena".

Blogger OGRE August 05, 2018 12:25 PM  

@5 John Regan

Most of the science fetishists--those who claim that only science can give truth, or erroneously define knowledge as necessarily falsifiable--are but attempting to reestablish the verificationism of the logical positivists as the ultimate test for truth. Most have no idea how quickly, thoroughly, and savagely the positivist school was destroyed, particularly because of the inherent weakness of the verification principle. It is very laughable to see the science types trotting out such a dead and buried philosophy and hold it up as "Science: the Uber Truth!," while at the same time declaring the entirety of philosophical inquiry to be useless drivel. see Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson

Blogger Warunicorn August 05, 2018 12:28 PM  

Wait, what? I'm thoroughly enjoying Arts of Dark and Light. At least it's not rape fantasy. Don't sell yourself short, Vox.

Lord, I hate pop culture. Never understood the popularity behind GoT. The dragons are the only interesting thing to me.

Blogger VD August 05, 2018 12:44 PM  

If Tor was a record label, they'd have said "no thanks" to The Beatles and handed a 10-album deal to the guy who wrote "The Macarena".

The funny thing is that Tor is - or was - the biggest publishing house in science fiction. And it has missed EVERY major new science fiction or fantasy series since Robert Jordan. Every single one.

Blogger Al K. Annossow August 05, 2018 12:46 PM  

Science lets a person 1) not believe in God because His existence will not be proven scientifically and 2) not think because a mere reference to a single research paper proving the pre-chosen outcome is sufficient. Reliance on science lets a person use simple appeals to authority and confirmation bias to avoid uncomfortable truths.

I'm sure I can find a reference to support the above statement.

Midwits can reject religion by dismissing the kids' level Sunday school stories, but it takes more knowledge and thinking to reject the weaknesses of science's thinking and outcomes. I wish we had a strong Church with well rounded thinkers putting some reigns on the current reckless gene splicing.

Blogger pyrrhus August 05, 2018 1:39 PM  

Poe, despite his very premature death, is probably the most important American author, and certainly the greatest innovator, having invented both the modern mystery and the horror genres....
But in Eureka, he also anticipated aspects of Relativity and quantum physics, which is pretty unbelievable.

Blogger SciVo August 05, 2018 3:06 PM  

If your book is assigned as a classroom text, does that make you a textbook writer? #ShowerThoughts

Blogger Amos Bellomy August 05, 2018 3:58 PM  

The Fall of the House of Usher is the greatest Gothic Horror story of all time.

Blogger Daniel Paul Grech Pereira August 05, 2018 4:18 PM  

This is one of many reasons I bought that big leatherbound Poe anthology. He's a classic!

Blogger Pope Cleophus I August 05, 2018 5:19 PM  

Poe, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sherwood Anderson. These are some of the greats in American literature. Hemingway is garbage. There are a couple of other authors that I really enjoyed reading, but I cannot recall their names. Poe is always my favorite.

Blogger AnvilTiger August 05, 2018 5:25 PM  

Phillip George wrote:If it isn't a control variable experiment/ reproducible experiment it isn't science.[scientia] Doesn't mean it isn't true. It just isn't science...

Originally science was known as "natural philosophy". According to your strict definition, neither geology nor botany is a science. And perhaps that is correct. Modern "science" is a subset of natural philosophy.

Blogger Man of The West August 05, 2018 8:42 PM  

I think he is referring to not being able to get a sequel out in time as well as Martin, not necessarily the quality of the works but the slow rate of publishing them

Blogger Man of The West August 05, 2018 8:47 PM  

You’ve obviously never read Twilight...

Blogger Stg58/Animal Mother August 06, 2018 12:17 AM  

Twilight: The story of a girl having to choose between necrophilia and bestiality.

Blogger Stg58/Animal Mother August 06, 2018 12:18 AM  

Pipe Cleophus,

No Cooper, L'Amour, Grey, Melville, Hawthorne?

Blogger Bob August 06, 2018 7:44 AM  

Now read Poe's Mellonta Tauta, which goes over some of the same ground in a satirical fashion, along with some of Poe's heavy-handed humor.

Blogger John Regan August 06, 2018 8:59 AM  

@20 OGRE and VD

Interesting that Eureka is more or less the same "prose-poem" format as Parmenides' "On Nature", a pre-Socratic work that arguably got the whole "western thought" ball rolling.

Blogger Spud August 06, 2018 12:56 PM  

Bob wrote:Now read Poe's Mellonta Tauta, which goes over some of the same ground in a satirical fashion, along with some of Poe's heavy-handed humor.

Mellonta Tauta was a very intersting story centering around, IMO, the overwhelming ignorance of history. Aries Tottle and Hog! This is the story that opened up my world to Francis Bacon and, wow... what a rabbit hole that has been. If one could but paint his mind...

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