Thursday, September 1, 2011

Watch What You Say

"The art of concluding from experience and observations consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated than one might think. It demands a great sagacity generally above the power of common people. The success of charlatans, sorcerers, and alchemists—and all those who abuse public credulity—is founded on errors of this type of calculation." Link
~Antoine Lavoisier (the father of modern chemistry and who was guillotined during the French Revolution)


  1. I like how John Locke put it: "One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant."

    Therefore, if Locke (and Lavoisier) are to be believed, we can't theorize without adequate information because when we do we inevitably twist facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts.

  2. Locke and Lavoisier were emerging from a long period of authoritarian rule, which may be closer to the default human condition. In Lavoisier's case, he had battled the intuitive but unfounded phlogiston theory. Yet Lavoisier himself put forth (and apparently believed in) the subsequent theory of the caloric, which had to be undone by successors.

    I know much less about John Locke. Do you have a recommended starting point?