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As you say, Nobody, this is my swansong so with your permission I’d like to open up the discussion in order, as it were, to close it down.

The Modern Academy is based on reason, that is the causal principle. The previous system had been based on faith: faith in God, in the Church, in Classical authorities. If these sources used the causal principle, all well and good; if they didn’t, that was fine too; if they got the causal principle wrong, that was just too bad.

The Modern Academy put an end to all this. If you can’t demonstrate A caused B then that was an end to the matter. It was no longer sufficient to say that God can cause anything he likes, or accept the Church’s view that A definitively couldn’t cause B, or that there was no point in demonstrating A caused B if the Classical authorities had already demonstrated that it didn’t.

There was just one snag. Systems-of-faith have one very great advantage over systems-of-causality. They provide a certainty of beginning on which to build an explanation of the real world. Rational systems do not have certainty of beginning because however much you think you can demonstrate that A causes B there is always a Z that causes A that you can’t demonstrate, and that means the status of A is always and forever in doubt. And if the status of A is in doubt the causal connection between A and B will always be in doubt.

The Academy overcame this problem. It said, in essence:

Look. By definition, we can’t ever solve this problem so we’re going to finesse it instead. If we assume AS CERTAINTY that A causes B this will allow us to concentrate our energies on B causes C, C causes D etc. The more we find out about this “academic subject” (as this process came to be called) the more likely it is that one of the following three things will occur

1. We will eventually understand enough about this subject to establish that Z causes A and that therefore A causes B, thus vindicating our original decision.

2. Alternatively, we may understand enough to find out that Z definitely does NOT cause A, that therefore A does NOT in fact cause B and we can make root-and-branch changes to the entire subject to take account of this.

3. In the event that our original assumption that A causes B does NOT lead to the discovery that B causes C, C causes D etc i.e. an academic subject does NOT come into existence, this will be clear evidence that A probably does not in fact cause B and we can try something else to kickstart the process. This is a fail-safe procedure since it is inherently obvious when no progress is being made.

The new system was phenomenally successful. Soon The Academy was a worldwide institution with thousands and thousands of branch offices, and just to make sure of its continued success, The Academy (like the Church before it) was granted a de facto monopoly over all learning which was quickly converted to de jure control when legislation was passed that made it compulsory for all citizens to attend The Academy for at least ten years (aka school). And just to make certain sure, any citizen that wanted to get on in life had to spend a further three, later six years under its tutelage. Professional practitioners, responsible for the orderly running of The Academy, had to spend even longer undergoing indoctrination.

What happened next? The first crack in the structure was the publication of a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by T S Kuhn. He pointed out that there was an almost ineradicable flaw in the process.

Even when the original A causes B is completely wrong, he argued, lots of very useful work can be generated from the incorrect assumption and that therefore argument (3) above may not operate properly as a fail-safe. In other words it is possible to build a complete academic subject on a faulty premise and you’ll never know.

Kuhn was himself an academic and contented himself with examples from before the Academy was established. Thus he showed that although Ptolomy had got A causes B wrong (i.e. the earth was not the “cause”, the center, of planetary motion) you could still predict every planetary motion, you could still navigate the oceans using the Ptolomaic Sytem.

Although Kuhn’s work led to some fluttering in the dovecotes, this was mainly in the specialized area of (indeed in many ways it was the foundation of) the Philosophy and History of Science. Everywhere else (and even among Philosophers and Historians of Science) it was generally considered that Kuhn's arguments were mainly applicable in areas where the Academy was up against various faith-based systems of thought. And that The Academy itself, via a system of internal controls, was pretty much immune.

Time passed. Then along came a much more spectacular thinker, M J Harper, who pointed out that all academic subjects are faith-based systems since their original A causes B paradigm was an act of faith (that is it was an ex hypothesi assumption) and that Kuhn had shown there was no fail-safe procedure for reviewing whether current knowledge did or did not support A causes B. And that furthermore these widely trumpetd "internal conrols" were a bunch of hooey.

Armed with this insight, M J Harper scoured his way through all the A causes B that he could lay his hands on, or at any rate get his brain round, and found that, yes, they were all either fatally flawed (i.e. just plain wrong) or in need of urgent radical amendment.

More time passed and M J Harper decided to launch these musings on an unsuspecting world. He knew of course that a philosophical treatise would not hit the spot so he decided instead to take a particular A causes B that would be of widespread interest and that is particularly easy to demonstrate as being false. He would then write it up as a book ostensibly on that subject alone rather than on the phenomenon itself. He chose the proposition “Anglo-Saxon causes English”.

I (yes, I WAS that masked man) am now in a position to tell you how this strategy works in the real world and, by inference, just why (and how) a faulty A causes B gets to hang around for quite so long.

1. Nobody is interested. This was a genuine surprise. You would think that English-speakers might be interested in the true origins of their own language; you would think that such a crucial piece of their national creation myth would stir their intellectual juices; you would think that the rest of the world might be smacking their lips at the imminent embarrassment of the Anglo’s. Not a bit of it of it. People couldn’t care less.

2. Those who are professionally interested are professionally not interested. In other words academics in the fields of linguistics, history and archaeology assume (quite correctly) that a book questioning a fundamental assumption of their respective disciplines cannot itself be an academic book. Since academics (quite correctly) choose what to read on the basis of academic credentials, they will never read a radically revisionist book. (but see below)

3. Eventually, a VALID attack on A causes B will begin to break down this defence and active measures will be required to shore up the old paradigm.

4. The first line of defence consists more or less entirely of ad hominem attacks on the author and/or stylistic objections to the book.

5. If this doesn't solve the problem, detailed counter-arguments are launched. Given that the attack is valid, it follows that these detailed counter-arguments will fail. However, counter-arguments of a detailed nature are, of their nature, infinite in amount so it also follows that this stage can be kept going indefinitely. This stage is further prolonged because whether detailed counter-argments have failed or not is judged by the peer review of the peers of the counter-arguers.

6. Eventually, it gets mildly embarrassing to have detailed counter-arguments constantly failing so the attack (i.e. the defence) switches to more fundamental questions about the relationship between A and B.

7. Using quite valid arguments it is generally possible to introduce A1, A2, A3 etc as intermediate steps between A and B. Specific evidence for the existence of A1, A2, A3 in unnecessary because “they must have existed” for A to have eventually caused B. The circularity of this argument is freely conceded because

8. Most people, including the original revisionist, can understand A and B because they are real things that exist in the real world and for which there is a wealth of easily available material. But, A1, A2 A3 etc are academic constructs and require a great deal of specialist knowledge to understand, much less refute.

9. And once an academic subject is in possession of a model that permits the indefinite construction of POSSIBLE things in order to establish causal links between REAL things, then any problems about A1, A2, A3 etc can be solved by postulating A1(a), A1(b) etc. The would-be revisionist and everyone else is then obliged to follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole of increasingly complex causality.

10. Eventually, everyone gets so thoroughly fed up with all this, that one day the academic subject accepts without any fanfare that A did not cause B, whereupon there is a brief efflorescence as the consequences of the new paradigm are worked through (not a long process since all the old data is found to fit the new paradigm) and then things return to normal.


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Subject Views Written By Posted
AOM: Inertia 346 AOM-Presenter 25-Apr-03 13:28
Re: AOM: Inertia 235 Doug 25-Apr-03 16:56
Ignorance is Bliss 171 AOM-Presenter 25-Apr-03 17:54
Re: Ignorance is Bliss 188 Doug 25-Apr-03 19:52
Re: Ignorance is Bliss 216 hera 25-Apr-03 20:10
Off-hand Comment 236 AOM-Presenter 29-Apr-03 16:44
Re: Off-hand Comment 215 hera 29-Apr-03 17:35
Apologies 217 AOM-Presenter 29-Apr-03 19:26
Re: AOM: Inertia 194 M J Harper 25-Apr-03 18:38
Re: AOM: Inertia 234 nonconformist 26-Apr-03 20:05
Re: AOM: Inertia 149 M J Harper 29-Apr-03 17:42
Re: AOM: Inertia 189 DPCrisp 29-Apr-03 18:14
Re: AOM: Inertia 255 Dr. Sunil 29-Apr-03 18:29
Re: AOM: Inertia 199 jameske 29-Apr-03 18:51
Indus Valley Seals Deciphered 1283 Astikapati 29-Apr-03 21:44
Re: Indus Valley Seals Deciphered 349 Dr. Sunil 30-Apr-03 13:52
Re: AOM: Inertia 233 nonconformist 30-Apr-03 04:09
Re: AOM: Inertia 261 BrianAmbrose 30-Apr-03 10:46
Re: AOM: Inertia 202 Doug 30-Apr-03 13:15
Re: AOM: Inertia 299 M J Harper 30-Apr-03 15:40
Re: AOM: Inertia 171 Doug 30-Apr-03 17:22
Re: Stupidity vs Ignorance 197 Doug 25-Apr-03 21:20

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