Quote of the moment: Darwin, on confidence begotten by ignorance

February 12, 2014

Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image

Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image.  Darwin sits contemplating two of his works, title in Italian, Origin of Species (1859), and Descent of Man (Origin of Man), 1871

How could I have forgotten this wonderful passage from Darwin?

Maria Popova’s Literary Jukebox reminded me today.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

— Charles Darwin, Descent of Man; Introduction, p. 2.

Today was the 205th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Faithful readers of this blog may recognize Darwin’s thought as very close to a description of the Dunning Kruger Effect, as indeed it is.  How many others, through the years, recognized the phenomenon, and commented on it, before Dunning and Kruger gave it scientific heft?

The quote attributed to Darwin is edited just a tiny bit from his actual statement, though without loss of effect.  Darwin, ever the hard science stickler, had limited his statement much more.  In the introduction to Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

This work contains hardly any original facts in regard to man; but as the conclusions at which I arrived, after drawing up a rough draft, appeared to me interesting, I thought that they might interest others. It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. The conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form, is not in any degree new.

Any way the knowledge is sliced, creationists are cock-sure they’re right, when they are most solidly in the wrong.

More:

Advertisements

Quote of the moment: Charles Dodgson and Tea Party logic, “six impossible things”

September 27, 2011

John Tenniel's drawing of Alice A-dressing the White Queen, in "Through the Looking Glass" 1865 - Wikimedia image

John Tenniel's drawing of Alice A-dressing the White Queen, "Through the Looking Glass" 1865 - Wikimedia image

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Through the Looking Glass, Chapter V, “Wool and Water.” 1871 (Gutenberg edition)

Below the fold; the quote in larger context.

Read the rest of this entry »


Quote query: Where did Boorstin write this?

August 17, 2009

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, Information Bulletin January 2003

According to several sources, Daniel Boorstin, the late historian and former Librarian of Congress, wrote:

I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever.

Does anyone know in what book or essay, or speech, he wrote or said that, and when?


Thought of the moment: Environmental movement most diverse

August 6, 2008

Environmentalism is the most politically diverse movement in history. Here in the Kingsnorth climate camp, I have met anarchists, communists, socialists, liberals, conservatives and, mostly, pragmatists. I remember sitting in a campaign meeting during the Newbury bypass protests and marvelling at the weirdness of our coalition. In the front row sat the local squirearchy: brigadiers in tweeds and enormous moustaches, titled women in twin sets and headscarves. In the middle were local burghers of all shapes and sizes. At the back sat the scuzziest collection of grunge-skunks I have ever laid eyes on. The audience disagreed about every other subject under the sun – if someone had asked us to decide what day of the week it was, the meeting would had descended into fisticuffs – but everyone there recognised that our quality of life depends on the quality of our surroundings.

The environment is inseparable from social justice. Climate change, for example, is primarily about food and water. It threatens the fresh water supplies required to support human life. As continental interiors dry out and the glaciers feeding many of the rivers used for irrigation disappear, climate change presents the greatest of all threats to the future prospects of the poor. The rich will survive for a few decades at least, as they can use their money to insulate themselves from the effects. The poor are being hammered already.

British ecologist, journalist and activist, George Monbiot (Wikimedia image)

British ecologist, journalist and activist, George Monbiot (Wikimedia image)


Quote of the moment: Newton, giants

December 26, 2007

Newton, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689

If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.*

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675/1676. Newton was born on December 25 by the Julian Calendar, at a time when it mattered which calendar was used.


[*] Newton’s giants: Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Kepler, René Descartes. Bartlett’s 16th Edition phrases the letter to Hooke a little differently: “If I have seen further than (you and Descartes) it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants.” Others attribute the quote much earlier; it was a saying of the times, it appears, and this is one of the most famous uses of it.


%d bloggers like this: