Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It turns out that there are more things in heaven and earth

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
                         --  Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

This is (usually mis-) quoted very often by pseudo-scientists and the religious equally often.  They seem to think that it makes a point but as so often they haven't really thought it through.  Let's examine it.
  1. The phrase isn't a general one about philosophy (which is reasonably taken to include science).  It's about a specific instance.  The skeptical Horatio has encountered a ghost.  He finds it "wondrous strange" to encounter a ghost, as well he might, him being a skeptic.  Hamlet points out that it's not all that strange because look, here we are, actually looking at a ghost - look, there it is, over there.  As I read it, Hamlet is saying that what he and Horatio learned as boys didn't prepare them to expect ghosts.  Hamlet had nevertheless already accepted the reality of the ghost and when Horatio barges into Hamlet's conversation with it and finds the whole thing a bit odd, Hamlet says that it's not as strange as all that because we've just seen it happen.  This is rather different from the religious and pseduoscience claim that shakespeare was saying...well....what?  Let's examine that.
  2. This was a line in a PLAY.  Why would anyone pick on this bit of dialog as opposed to any other?  What spurious authority about science could anyone glean from quoting Shakespeare?
Ah, let's leave it at that. I had several other points but this is surely enough to make the religious and pseudoscientific question why they use this phrase.  Isn't it?  Well....isn't it?   

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