From the Stacks: "Thobbing: A seat at the Circus of the Intellect" by Henshaw Ward & "The Natural Science of Stupidity" by Paul Tabori.

Fri, 10/25/2013 - 10:35am -- anonymous

Thobbing: A seat at the Circus of the Intellect by Henshaw Ward 

 “To thob”, according to Henshaw Ward in this 1926 treatise is to “think out the opinion that pleases us and then believe it”. Sounds reasonable; sounds like a study that will tear asunder superstitions, unclear reasoning and fuzzy logic. However, as his conversational style unfolds in describing thobbing through parables, stories and anecdotes in education, politics, philosophy and science, it becomes apparent that the author is more interested in pointing out the intellectual fallacies of humanists and in general scientific uncertainty than in also pointing out the foibles of faith-based, “common sense” approaches. Frankly, his airs of a humble servant whose self-styled simplicity underlines objectivity in pointing out instances of “throbbing” can make Forest Gump look like a academic logician.  For example, the chapter “Radicals & Conservatives” sounds, on the face of it, to be fair and balanced by promising to open the reader’s eyes to the thobbing of both radicals (left-leaning) and conservatives (right-leaning). However, after describing in depth and over many pages the myriad ways “reformers” (i.e. radicals) thob in reaction to conservatives, he is left to bemoan: “the funny part of it is that conservatives, by not thinking at all but by living according to the customs that society dictates to them, are often more useful to society [than radicals]…a conservative has so little imagination that he cannot even thob…” Well isn’t that’s a pity.

 In short, this tome is simply an early 20th century example of the same arguments that underpin current Creationist and Climate-change deniers’ viewpoints up against the “thobbing” of evolutionary scientists, climatologists, humanist philosophers, legal jurists and, in the words of Ward, the “radically fapperish” because, as he points out very clearly, we can never know what we don’t know, so why try. The verb “to thob”, incidentally, never made it into the OED.

 The Natural Science of Stupidity by Paul Tabori.

In contrast, Paul Tabori’s 1959 study, The Natural Science of Stupidity provides a historical laundry list of “stupid” throughout the ages. He investigates the lack-brained, shallow-pated and besotted in their shortsighted idiocy. But this is no “Darwin Awards” surface treatment; Tabori provides a great deal of background for each case and couches these examples in their respective historical contexts. He investigates the history of stupidity as it relates to money, empty ceremonial traditions, and legal shenanigans; the antics of the doltish doubters and the pie-eyed, rantipole lovers.  He is at pains to describe this concept fully; to wit, stupidity is not simply doing something incorrectly, rather, it is intentionally “putting out the candle – shunning the light – confusing cause and effect” and further, “fear – the fear of exposing oneself to criticism; the fear of other people or of one’s own self”.  While under this self-inflicted fear, we become lethargic and addlebrained; indeed, stupid. Genius, on the other hand, according to Tabori, is the “perfect cooperation of instinct and reason”; most people have either one or the other working at different times—occasionally working together to provide a flash of remarkable insight --  but it is the rare bird that can do both consistently.

A particular case highlighted by Tabori worth noting is that of the gullible 19th century French mathematician and geologist Michel Chasles who, over an 18 year period, was duped of over 140,000 Francs as well as tarnishing his high standing among the Académie des sciences by the master forger Denis Vrain-Lucas who wrote over 18,000 historical letters, passing them as authentic to Chasles. In time, Vrain-Lucas was found out and was sent to prison for three years. While there, he wrote a cloying, desperate yet obstinate letter to his former mentor. In a line of clarity and remarkable insight, Vrain-Lucas wrote to Chasles, “My letters were not forgeries but a kind of truth, a work of verisimilitude....a representation that commands our assent despite our skepticism about human deceitfulness…we sit back and enjoy the show…we acquiesce in the mystification and embrace the Simulacrum” (Critical Inquiry: 30; Summer, 2004). Indeed, a man before his time; oh, if only Oprah had been around in 1880! As Tabori takes pains to explain, it is not only the criminal who displayed stupidity here but rather, and more importantly, the victim (or, in the immortal words of P.T. Barnum, “the sucker”) by being blinded by his own greed, covetousness and ambition to collect more and more “authentic” historical letters.                 

 Both volumes are currently located in our lower-level area and may be checked out for 3 weeks to Redwood members.