Monthly Archives: November 2012

On reading too much into words

First let it be noted that nothing I say here will have any effect on hostilities in the so-called Holy Land or anywhere else. I have no need here to take any particular line; no reader should assume that I do or do not elsewhere follow any particular line.

I do wish to promote clear thought. I should like to think that my friends and colleagues have a similar wish, especially when they are academics like me.  Of course, what counts as clear thought may vary. I am a mathematician, professionally; I work in the mathematics department of a university. Certain modes of thought are therefore habitual with me; they may not be habitual in other departments, not to mention other walks of life. I may adopt my modes of thought at the expense of others.

I feel compelled to say such things, having been shocked to find that what I say here may be at all controversial. Continue reading

Science and anti-science

I published most of the following as a Note on Facebook, Wednesday, October 3, 2010.

Is there an ongoing or perhaps an increasing antipathy to science, and if so, are scientists to blame? The passage below treats this question, but was written 75 years ago, in December, 1935. The author could remember the war of 1914–1918, a war that he described in his Autobiography as “an unprecedented disgrace to the human intellect”, but “an unprecedented triumph for natural science.” Continue reading

Michael Psellus on learning

The value of learning was in question, a thousand years ago, during and after the reign of Emperor Basil II, in what was to become Istanbul. When learning has no purpose, it may flourish; when it has, it may be abandoned when the purpose is not achieved soon enough. Michael Psellus suggests this in Fourteen Byzantine Emperors (London: Penguin, 1966).

Michael Psellos
Michael Psellos (left) with his student, Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (from Wikipedia)

Basil died in 1025. Michael was born in 1018; here is what he says.

Continue reading