Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The search for Truth

I am looking for an honest man.
Diogenes (the Cynic) 400 - 325 BC

Remember the chicken feathers? Here’s a story about Diogenes from a footnote in Bartlett’s: Plato having defined man to be a two legged animal without feathers, [Woody Allen!] Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it to the Academy, and said, “This is Plato’s man.” On which account this addition was made to the definition: “With broad flat nails.”

Talk about your bandaide fixes! No wonder he was a cynic. Even after having their lunch handed to them by Diogenes, the members of the Academy still didn’t get it. And they were supposed to be the wise guys. I suspect that this episode predates the time of Aristotle’s rigorous logic. Or more likely proves the point that just because the rules of logic have been explicated, doesn’t mean that the politicians will use them when flim flam and obscuration will work just as well.

I’m not sure that Diogenes actually said the honest man thing (Aesop did) but if he was wandering around with that lamp and didn’t ask, then he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It’s a great image, the man with the lamp. A great many people will recognize it immediately. Our collective gestalt of images in our culture is another of the things we take for granted. But it allows us to communicate so much more effectively. I suppose that this is one of those things that translators and diplomats have to be cognizant of. If they’re not, then the risk of miscommunication is significant. So it really frightens me that diplomatic posts are political rewards passed out after the campaign has been successful. It’s documented that George W. passed out important posts to near idiot wet behind the ears Jesus freak idealogues in Iraq (the Iraqis are Moslems!). That really helped the cause (even if you WANT to convert them to Christianity, don’t send the least qualified people you can find). They were likely to have said something like:

If English was good enough for Jesus Christ it’s good enough for me.

This is a semi-quote I read somewhere. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I read it nor did the quoter reveal the quotee. But it was attributed to a US Congressman from the Bible Belt voicing his concerns about the erosion of our great Nation because some folks are so ignorant that they don’t speak English like he does. Which requires me to jump out of chronological order again to:

Against stupidity the very Gods Themselves contend in vain.
Freidrick Von Schiller 1759 - 1805

And coincidentally back to Diogenes’ time....next on my list is:

QED Quod Erat Demonstradum (should I translate? That which was to be demonstrated [proven])
Euclid 300 BC

I think that I did too.

I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
Chuang Tzu 369 - 286 BC

This one isn’t anything like an adage but it makes you think, and it moved me because I once had a dream wherein I dreamed that I was sleeping and dreaming that I was sleeping and dreaming. That night I was awakened from a vivid dream by lights and voices on my porch in the Broadway house. As I struggled to rise, I awoke and found myself in my bed in Fulks Run. I again tried to rise to go outside, only to awaken again in a different house in a different Fulks Run. I just lay there for a long time. I sometimes wonder if I’m still sleeping somewhere. I guess if you’re reading this, I’m not, unless you’re in my dream too.

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.
Theophrastus D. 278 BC

When asked at a very advanced age why he was studying geometry, Lacydes said:

If I should not be learning now, when should I be?
Lacydes ca. 241 BC

Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth.
Archimedes 287 - 212 BC

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