A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Old Boskone Panel on You Tube

I had run across this a few years ago and thought it would amuse some folks. It is a video of a panel on the Rise of Modern Science done at Boskone a few years back. For the patient, it is in seven parts and the embed below is for the first part, after which you will be cued to pick the second, etc. The panelists are John Farrell, Br. Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory, and yr. obt. svt.


  1. Good sir, I wonder at your citation on a claim in the Afterword to Eifelheim. (I think that's where it's from.) This is from memory, because I do not have the book, but it was basically:

    More were trained in logic during the Middle Ages than anywhere before or since.

    What is your citation for this claim? In an unfriendly thread, I'm trying my best to make sense of how this is true. As you are a statistician, I politely wonder at your sources and methodology on this point. I am tempted to agree with you as I had since I read it, but a good man challenges my assumptions: so I come to the source.

    Thank you for your time.

    1. a) There were no universities anywhere in the world prior to that time and place. That takes care of "before." (No, the "cram schools" of China, which opened every three years to prep candidates for the imperial exams, were not universities

      b) The curriculum of the medieval university was exclusively focused on logic, reason, and natural philosophy. You could not major in literature or basket weaving. How many college students nowadays receive =any= training in logic? That takes care of "since."

      Sources include:
      David Lindberg, ed. Science in the Middle Ages (articles on all the sciences).
      David Lindberg: The Beginnings of Western Science.
      Edward Grant: Science & Religion 400 BC-1550 AD.
      Edward Grant: God and Reason in the Middle Ages.
      Edward Grant: The Foundations of Science in the Middle Ages.
      Toby Huff: The Rise of Early Modern Science.
      paying attention to the sections dealing with the university system.

      There is also a section in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths:

      The proliferation of universities between 1200 and 1500 meant that hundreds of thousands of students - a quarter million in the German universities alone from 1350 on - were exposed to science in the Greco-Arabic tradition.

      these individuals benefited from the considerable freedom of thought allowed by the university disputation, which required that arguments pro and contra various propositions be advanced and defended on rational grounds alone. It was the scholars' fellow disputants who regularly sought to give them grief; most of the time, "the Church" did not.

      Between 1150 and 1500, more literate Europeans had had access to scientific materials than any of their predecessors in earlier cultures, thanks largely to the emergence, rapid growth, and naturalistic arts curricula of the medieval universities. If the medieval church had intended to suppress the inquiry into nature, it must have been completely powerless...

      -- Michael H. Shank, "Myth 2. That the Medieval Christian Church Suppressed the Growth of Science," in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science, ed. Ronald L. Numbers.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thank you, sir! Most excellent.

      For your consideration, I assembled a proper playlist for all seven parts of the video.

    4. Also, I was wondering at your understanding of this quote found on Wikipedia.

      "As the students had the legal status of clerics which, according to the Canon Law, could not be held by women, women were not admitted into universities."

      Is this true? I thought some medieval women got scholarships to uni.

    5. Most university students were clerics under canon law, but there were plenty of exceptions; this is somewhat obscured by the fact that 'clericus' was often treated as a synonym for 'scolaris' when speaking colloquially, and by the fact that lay scholars were generally granted the same privileges as as clerics, but the regulations for clerical and lay students were quite different in many ways. In general, though, I'm pretty sure university students were male, although there are stories of students who turned out to be women masquerading as young men. Women were usually educated not in the university itself, but by a tutoring system -- usually university students were hired (a common way of getting spending money). On rare occasions it was by husbands and fathers who were at university (celibacy was generally required of all university students, clerical or lay, but it was not universally enforced) -- there was the very famous case of the canon lawyer Giovanni d'Andrea, whose daughters Novella and Bettina were so competent in canon law that they often taught -- Novella usually for her father at Bologna and Bettina with her husband at Padua. But we actually know surprisingly little about women's education for most of the medieval period.

      This paper has some brief discussion of these issues:

    6. @Ubi:
      I recollect Regine Pernoud writing that this was true at Paris and (I think) in England; but that there was no bar in the Empire against women students. But since as Brandon says there was supposed to be celibacy while a student -- hence, "bachelor's" degree -- they were not usually mixed in the same classes. In this image:
      of the six students one is tonsured and two are women.
      In this image:
      they are mostly men (some older, several chatting, one sleeping) but the figure in the center of the first row appears (perhaps) to be female.

    7. How many college students nowadays receive =any= training in logic?

      Any of them that took the high-school Geometry course, at a minimum. The notions of postulates, proofs, reasons, etc. are a fundamental part of that coursework. The teaching of logic in that course is not incidental to the material, it is one of the primary course goals.

    8. Alas, I have to wonder from my granddaughter's class whether any of them approach geometry in the old fashion any more. And even if so, how many of them learn to extend that beyond mathematics to modus ponens, modus tollens, or universal instantiation.

    9. I'm not sure what you think the "old-fashioned" way is. All of the high-school texts I seen them use axioms and proofs, although they may use a different, equivalent set of axioms.

      I'm in favor of more people extending their knowledge of logic, as well. I would never say what is covered in Geometry is sufficient, just that is meets the standard set by "any".

    10. Well, even then --- it should be emphasized that the scholars of the Middle Ages were grilled on the trivium in a way that no students today are grilled by their teachers in anything but self-esteem.

      So, at best, even if what you said was true you would have a minor concession in the face of an unimaginably false equivalency.

      I say this only worried that what you said would downplay the incredible differences between education among the cathedrals and education done in the International Style. I apologize in advance if this was not your intent; even if not, it may be an effect of the substance of your comment.

      (For what it's worth, a computer science major I talked to online lately did not seem able to intuitively apply his training in programmatic logic and arguments on a question of social ontology. It was only after dozens of posts back and forth that he hit on a programming metaphor that adequately articulated how we disagreed. Our argument remains unresolved.

      (It might perhaps be worth reflection to consider how the almost idolatrous specialism of today's technical fields leaves a man unarmed, even naif, outside his field. Case studies might include Asimov's history on Byzantium, or so I am told.)

    11. ... even if what you said were true ...

    12. The Ubiquitous
      ... in a way that no students today are grilled by their teachers in anything but self-esteem.

      I help my kids with their homework frequently. Self-esteem has never been the subject of it. I'm curious how many years of public education experience you have as teh basis for that statement.

      So, at best, even if what you said was true you would have a minor concession in the face of an unimaginably false equivalency.

      Both the amount of knowledge available to be passed on to students, and the porportion of the population to whom it is to be passed on to, as increased greatly. Naturally, that means many subjects are no longer covered in the depth they once were.

      I say this only worried that what you said would downplay the incredible differences between education among the cathedrals and education done in the International Style.

      Is saying that the differences are the expected result of the circumstances of the educators and students an attempt to downplay them, to you?

    13. I'm curious how many years of public education experience you have as teh basis for that statement.

      All of them, K to College. But I'm flattered that I could fake you out.

      Naturally, that means many subjects are no longer covered in the depth they once were.

      Naturally. Logic having been dismissed to go live with the crowd of "merely subjects" gives it far less emphasis. I argue it should be not a later digression but a foundation.

      Typos happen; there might be a critical typo in your last comment. Respectfully, I'm not sure I understand it.

    14. Also, our gracious host and I have each proffered in our own way, a frustration with the problems of teaching logic as a subject rather than a foundation.

      One way to look at this: I agree with your points and am compelled to disagree with your position. Chesterton was in the same position once. "Gentlemen of the secularist guard, fire first!"

    15. Logic is the foundation of one type of knowledge gathering process, that of formal systems. There are other formal systems, in addition to other fundamentally distinct ways of acquiring knowledge. Using logic as a foundation no doubt has a certain emotional appeal, but it has limited use many people. Lawyers, philosophers, etc. need a solid foundation in logic. If a carpenter or roofer finds more value in studying sports statistics, what's your argument that to them that they are better served by logic?

    16. This concedes the point, you know. Logic isn't taught as it used to be, we say, and at first you disagree. Now you do not disagree with the fact but the value, that logic should be taught and be the foundation.

      In a democratic society where everyone gets a vote, and even in our republic, it is vital to have a well-educated society vaccinated against illogic. Otherwise we'll get bread and circuses.

  2. Since every attendee of a monastic school or university had to learn logic as part of the basic curriculum, that should help. (Grammar (ie, Latin), Rhetoric, and Logic were the first three subjects.)

    1. Actually, though, most educated people learned the rudiments of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic in the medieval "grammar school" at a local convent or monastery, or the schoolhouse of some educated man or woman in the neighborhood, or from a tutor. After the dissolution of the monasteries in the UK, some clandestine monks and nuns and priests managed to run a cover identity as a schoolmaster or schoolmistress. But districts with more zealous searchers out of such people often had no schools for fifty or a hundred years, and girls' education particularly suffered.

      But yeah, you're looking for books carrying exact statistics. And I don't really have any titles. Presumably you want books on medieval education....

      In the Renaissance in Catholic Europe, some school systems dumped Logic or made it an advanced subject, though they kept the classical learning otherwise. Scholasticism was out of fashion and so was Logic.


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