Thursday, April 08, 2010
The Praise of FollyPosted by JT Jordan
One of the things I like about being a student is that I have access to a seemingly unlimited amount of classical texts, and every once in a while I'll stumble across a gem of a quote that really catches my attention. Very rarely, however, do I find the quote applicable to baseball. I was skimming through one of my course readers and found this quote from Desiderius Erasmus' The Praise of Folly:
(Scientists) feel that they are the only men with any wisdom, and all other men float about as shadows. How senilely they daydream, while they construct their countless worlds and shoot the distance to the sun, the moon, the stars, and spheres, as with a thumb and line. They postulate causes for lightning, winds, eclipses, and other inexplicable things, never hesitating for a moment, as if they had exclusive knowledge about the secrets of nature, designer of elements, or as if they visited us directly from the council of the gods. Yet all this time nature is heartily laughing at them and their conjectures. It is a sufficient argument just proving that they have good intelligence for nothing. They can never explain why they disagree with each other on every subject. In summation, knowing nothing in general they profess to know everything in particular. They are ignorant even to themselves, and at times they do not see the ditch or stone lying across their path, because many of them are daydreamers and are absent-minded. Yet they proclaim that they perceive ideas, universals, forms without matter, primary substances, quiddities, entities, and things so tenuous that I'm afraid that Lynceus could not see them himself. The common people are especially disdained when they bring out their triangles, quadrangles, circles, and mathematical figures of the like. They place one on top of the other and arrange them into a maze. Then they deploy some letters precisely, as if in a battle formation, and finally they reverse them. And all of this is done only to confuse those who are ignorant of their field. These scientists do not like those who predict the future from the stars, and promise even more fantastic miracles. And these fortunate men find people who believe them. (142-3)
The entire piece is satire, of course. In this passage, one could easily replace the word "scientist" with "saberist," and we would have a near perfect match with the anti-saberist crowd. Call me a nerd if you like, but I think it's pretty cool when something written in 1509 can still be applied just as well today.
JT Jordan is an avid Giants fan and runs a blog at Triples Alley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.