Current Essays

Proofing Ground On:2003-11-13 11:32:28

You know the more I loiter around in this sublunary sphere of ours the more I come to the conclusion that absolutely every single explanation, or even every supposedly simple straightforward description, of absolutely everything is flawed, wildly inaccurate and, frankly, not the real one.

That almost certainly goes for that statement I just made as well.

And for what I said just then too...

Hmmm.... but we can’t waste our precious few minutes here following that path into infinity.

What was it the Bard said? “Recursion is such sweet sorrow that I shall say that I shall say that I shall say that I sh...”


This really does apply to everything from the physics of string theory to the theory of the history of string to mere history or physics themselves. How come there seem to be several grillion different ultimate building blocks of matter? When the English came to Britain did they wipe out the poor Celts or were those notoriously shifty and wavering Celts merely astute politicians who knew what side to be on? Were the founding fathers of this country noble geniuses or vicious buggers who were a bit too ready with the old tar and feathers? The trouble is that the one obviously true thing about the universe is that it is MESSY. Messy, dirty disgusting Universe, you should be ashamed of yourself!! And because people are all pretty thick and insecure we all make nice simple explanations and theories and so on. And because the Universe is as it is there is always a bit left over for another theory. AND... the theories eventually start doing the Oroborous thing eating their own tails (or maybe more accurately they do the Kilkenney Cats thing and eat their own ... well everythings)

What set me thinking about thinking about thi... (tch!) Sorry! I was suffering from extreme inertia as well as recursion there!

Anyway what set me thinking about this was hearing the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule’---which (as I understand it) is an expression mostly used by people who don’t understand the phrase ‘the exception proves the rule’ when they aren’t quite sure what’s going on, but about which I have heard these three things:
The first (often said by people who think they understand language and are certain they know what’s going on) is that the phrase uses an older, largely moribund, meaning of the word “proof”, to whit “test” and they point to uses such as ‘the proof of the pudding’ or the British ‘proving flight’ for a test flight or again the expression, so beloved by alcoholics everywhere, ‘proof spirit’ (about which I have also heard a couple of explanations, but about which of course I’d never dream of digressing to discuss---even though one of the explanations does involve, in a rather dramatic way, gunpowder and the other a certain amount of agitation. Though disappointingly that last one only involves the agitation of liquids) Then the second thing I’ve heard about rule proving exceptions comes usually from the mouths or pens (or, in the spirit of modernity and accuracy we like to foster on this station, the keyboards) possessed by those of a legal bent and suggests that of course the damn word means proof in the normal, modern way and that therefore what the phrase really means is that if special permission has to be given for something, then the very fact of making that exception proves that there is a rule against whatever it was. To give you an example; if I tell my daughter Rowena that yes, tonight you can watch The Gilmore Girls on television (Yeh! Right! She wishes!!) then because I’m giving her specific permission for that time then it is safe to infer that there is a standing rule in our house that she does not get to watch rubbish. This is a fascinatingly involuted explanation and really socks it to those who think they understand language, but, finally, there’s the third thing that I’ve heard about these exception ruled proofs, as you’ve probably already guessed, it’s mostly what is said by most people most of the time and boils down to; whether frankly or no, “My dear I don’t give a damn”.

Now there’s a theory of everything!

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton

<-- Go Back

Home | Essays | Notes | Gallery | Miscellany | Contact

All contents including writing, cartooning, music, and photography unless otherwise specified are
copyright © 1965-2022 and Richard Howland-Bolton. All Rights Reserved.
All logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.
Web work* by
*as distinct from Wetwork