Well - now Christmas is over and we've finished the booze I think it’s about time we invented a new universe. I’m afraid it
will vary in only a very tiny detail from the old version we are bumbling along with at the
moment, but it's not the best time of year for new universes.
I’ve called it the Sherlock-Spinoza universe after two great
logical thinkers Sherlock Holmes
and Benedict Spinoza
, only one of whom is
fictional. The only newish feature of the Sherlock-Spinoza universe lies in the how we deal with matters of fact.
Spinoza had a much rougher time of it than Newton. He was widely reviled as an atheist,
which he strenuously denied, but nevertheless his books were banned and had to
be printed and circulated clandestinely. However he soon became a forgotten
name in the history of ideas and so until the nineteenth
I often wonder how things would have turned out if Spinoza’s
ideas had formed a cultural basis for Newton’s science. If our view of the universe had been shaped by Spinoza’s thinking rather than the vaguely scientific but-only-when-it-suits
culture we inherited.
We neither feel nor perceive any individual
things save bodies and modes of thinking.
How often have I said
to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however
improbable, must be the truth?
In a Sherlock-Spinoza universe we have eliminated
impossible forms of awareness to be left with only two - physical reality and
modes of thinking. A physical and logical duality. Scientific and many other issues
are resolved by physical observation intimately coupled with a logical use of
It is worth noting that both Sherlock and Spinoza’s
logical take on things were rooted in natural language rather than symbolic
logic. So in a Sherlock-Spinoza universe, the following argument would be decisive.
- Unrestrained increases in atmospheric CO2 will cause catastrophic
- Unrestrained increases in atmospheric CO2 have caused no
warming for 16 years.
- Therefore the first statement is false.
However, in our universe many people with pro-AGW allegiances
would attack the argument, in my view because our vaguely scientific
culture is – well vague. However, the point of interest is not sterile climate
debates, but our cultural use and abuse of language.
The key point is surely this. In a Sherlock-Spinoza
universe, the argument above would be readily accessible to almost anyone who
speaks the language, has a very basic understanding of logical structures and
access to some basic climate data.
In other words, the argument is easily taught – expert opinion
is not needed. Almost anyone in a Sherlock-Spinoza universe could use the
argument with no appeal to authority other than the implicit authority of a
Not only that, but in a Sherlock-Spinoza universe, physical
reality, grammar and other linguistic structures would all be key aspects of
our world view, our science, economics and politics.
English teachers would teach the intellectual framework for all matters of fact - cogently expressed and not easily assailed by charlatans.
Fortunately for charlatans, all this has been avoided in our universe.
The reason of course, is elementary my dear reader.