Friday, June 02, 2006

The Default, Dear Brutus, Is Not in Our Stars

Unless you’re listening to your relatives, you have a right to expect something new in every declarative sentence, some hint of surprise, since a perfectly predictable utterance conveys no information. This pragmatic rule is presumably more rigorously enforced in written language since print costs more, at least in bother, than idle conversation. Unfortunately, this net effect of this imperative can create a misleading impression of what people actually believe at any given time in history since what is written is written against a set of assumptions that seldom get stated except by mathematicians and sociologists. Statistically considered, the Zeitgeist described by the intellectual historians is not the default position of the educated people of an Age but some sort of measure of the typical forms of dissent to the mysterious dark matter of the real consensus. This problem isn’t just academic. I may not care very much about what they really thought during the Scottish Enlightenment, but I’d very much like to know what I myself am thinking right now. To figure that out, I’d have to dare to be dull; and, appearances to the contrary, I’m not sure that I’m that audacious.

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