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epimetheus and procrustes

'I think in a line — but there is the potential of the plane.' This perhaps was what great art was: a momentary apprehension of the plane at a point in the line.
— Charles Williams

A theory is a machine for answering a class of questions.
— Judea Pearl
What philosophers and social thinkers and literary critics call their "theories" do not often merit the word. Rather, these people lay out models - with all the artificiality, partiality and temporariness that implies, and seldom the precision. A model is a tool for making sense of things, for filtering out things in self-defence, and is not necessarily a general claim about reality, a truth-machine.

(Some of them agree with this low estimate, like the post-modernists. People don't realise that post-modernists are often self-deprecating - some of them even call their works little: Minima Moralia, Minima Memoria, les petits récits.)

These theories are actually language games. O.K. Except that (the best) science contains a component beyond all language games. Good science can reach into all language games and transform them with unique authority. Science sometimes merits the word "theory".


It's hard to see an object properly, if it doesn't appear in your model. (Gardeners see much more than you do when they look at a garden, so do radiologists with their screenings, and so do all the rest of our mental speciations.)*

Maybe we feel that something is profound just when it represents a more general model than the one we live in at the moment.

You'd think that this feeling would fade quickly - that a sensible systematiser would absorb the profundities, and then wouldn't get awed again from the same stimulus. But some things are still profound to me ten years after finding them. Wittgenstein's writing, John Darnielle's music, the great strict circus of mathematical physics, Auden's shorter poetry, Nietzsche's one-liners, the heights of hacker culture. These works point at things I don't see, even after they've made me see more.

* I don't believe in untranslatables, and I don't believe in Sapir-Whorf. A simple argument against: someone had to invent these words, so it is impossible that humans are fully determined by language. It just takes one moment of clarity / deviance / pure rare thought from one person, and then the rest of us get a royal road to the concept.