This barely qualifies as a post…

…but a couple of thoughts prompted by reading this post from Gardner Campbell:

I think there’s a strong streak of Aristotelian propositional method in the idea of a data-driven web. Read the Poetics and wonder at Aristotle’s indefatigable defining, analyzing, parsing, specifying. The man never tires, never even hesitates in the face of the enormous task he sets for himself. And even the most breathtaking propositions–his firm assertion about the end [purpose] of life, for example–are just more confident statements in the long march of sureties.

First thought: if you are a geek in academia, or an academic with a geek streak, does it get any better than reading Gardner Campbell?

Second, I am reminded of my single favorite piece of cottage reading, one which has tragically disappeared from my favorite cottage. [An aside and blood-oath to the thief: I will never tire in my quest to hunt you down and bring you to justice.] Will Cuppy’s How to Become Extinct, with illustrations by William Steig, himself author of some of my favorite books to read to my boy, including the wondrous When Everybody Wore a Hat.

I’m dependent on the web for quotes from Cuppy’s devastating chapter on Aristotle and his “observation is optional” approach to science detailed in How to Become Extinct , and they don’t do this wonderful literary takedown justice, but:

* “Aristotle described the Crow as chaste. In some departments of knowledge, Aristotle was too innocent for his own good.”

* “[Footnote:] Aristotle maintains that the neck of the Lion is composed of a single bone. Aristotle knew nothing at all about Lions, a circumstance which did not prevent him from writing a good deal on the subject. …Some people lose all respect for the lion unless he devours them instantly. There is no pleasing some people.”

* “Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons.”

* “The Chameleon’s face reminded Aristotle of a Baboon. Aristotle wasn’t much of a looker himself.”

If you see the book in a used bookstore (or care to snag one of the reasonably priced volumes available online, but please wait until I snap up my own copy from Powell’s), you won’t be disappointed — you most certainly will be amused.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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4 Responses to This barely qualifies as a post…

  1. > I think there’s a strong streak of Aristotelian propositional method in the idea of a data-driven web.

    Yes – it’s the web of statements. Logicians call them ‘tuples’ while RDF advocates call them ‘triples’. It’s the web of propositions.

    Except… even now, the web has gone well beyond propositions. Images, videos, animations, parodies and spoofs, MP3s (legal and illegal), all this and more – the web is far more of a universe than Aristotle ever dreamed of.

    The web may force us to finally leave Aristotle’s propositions behind, and to begin using a language of logic that is genuinely expressive.

  2. Alan Levine says:

    Yeah, for William Steig! Author of “CDB!”, my first favorite book.

  3. Brian says:

    My ignorance with both of your fellows’ comments will require me to follow up with effort on my own. Stephen, on the concept of “tuples” and “web of propositions” (I will read the Wikipedia entries before I bug ya), and Alan, on “CDB” (which I suspect will be less grueling).

    Thanks so much to you both, and to Gardner. I love working in a field where people throw wonderful strange shit at me as a matter of course…

    You rock, thanks!!

  4. Gardner says:

    “A language of logic that is genuinely expressive”–yes indeed, Stephen. Something like poetry. The web’s a metaphor for metaphor itself.

    Can’t wait to see that Steig book, Brian. It’s just the rinse I need after a head full of Aristotle.

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