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The role of belief in knowledge (APPLIED EPISTEMOLOGY)
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Mick Harper
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I assume anyone observing these exchanges would suppose I was being highly pedantic. And they would be right at the pub quiz level. But when it comes to, say, handing out government environmental grants to counties on the basis of the length of their coastline or calculating the direction of two countries' borders for the purpose of dividing their coastal waters, it matters. Lebanon and Israel have just agreed theirs under American pressure -- you can guess who got the lion's share, so maybe it is pedantic.
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Mick Harper
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Here is a tiny wisp of straw in the wind. This bloke I constantly lock horns with on medium.com (in usually quite a friendly way) posted this up

Animals Can Make Elements
According to the winner of an “Ig Nobel” prize, that is! https://medium.com/@johnwelford15/animals-can-make-elements-8eba363ba56b

The Ig Nobel prizes are awarded every year to scientists and others whose work is so bizarre or downright absurd that it deserves to be brought to public attention. The awards are made at Harvard University, and it is surprising just how many recipients actually turn up to be generally mocked for their efforts.

You've probably heard of this and, if you are like me, probably gave it no thought.

One such prize was awarded (in his absence) in 1993 to Louis Kervran, who had come up with the theory that living creatures could perform nuclear fission and fusion within their own bodies. This would explain, for example, how chickens produce the calcium needed to make eggshells — they combine atoms of potassium and hydrogen, apparently.

My fencing partner then went on to describe the theory (it involves atomic numbers and is quite beyond me and, I suspect, him) and concluded the piece in terms we can all understand

Louis Kervran was convinced that these processes are going on all the time, but “official” science had always made the mistake of looking for chemical processes in “dead” matter and not living organisms. If only they had looked at animals they would have seen these transformations taking place all the time. In his book “Biological Transformations”, Louis Kervran failed to explain exactly how this happens. According to him, it just does. An Ig Nobel prize was never more fully deserved!

I took up the cudgels:

This is typical of an academic reaction to something which challenges the academic mind set. It may be wrong, it may be poorly argued (though I bet it wasn't), it may even be mildly out to lunch, but it is not worthy of this kind of supercilious mockery. See here for another place where nuclear fusion/fission is going on unnoticed by the vacuous careerists of the Ivy League https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPWH9xh_Jy0

that last being the YouTube of SCUM theory. So far, routine. But then a surprising thing happened. The bloke himself clapped my riposte to his own post! Just my pointing it out was enough to make him realise it maybe 'was not fully deserved'. And in another couple of hours, ten others did too. And this in a very obscure corner of the Medium empire.

I doubt if any of them watched the YouTube but it does demonstrate that quite ordinary people are able to countenance that Harvard & Co are not necessarily the last word when it comes to deciding who shall be forever fruitcake. Something to build on.
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Mick Harper
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An instructive example of the difference between belief and knowledge was illustrated by a recent exchange I had on medium.com. It became increasingly obvious that our respective positions could easily have been reversed, i.e. me arguing his position and he mine. I'll put it here in its entirety since it ended with an unusual twist. I'll dispense with quote boxes for ease-of-reading

John Welford
St Govan’s Chapel is a tiny stone building (20 x 12 feet, 6.1 m × 3.7 m) perched in a ravine in the cliffs overlooking the sea at St Govan’s Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is believed to date from the 5th century. Nobody is quite sure who St Govan was. Some people believe that he was a disciple of St David, while others that he was a thief who became a convert. There are also theories that he was actually a woman who was the wife of a 5th century chief, and even that he was King Arthur’s knight Sir Gawain who spent the rest of his life as a hermit after Arthur’s death. [There was more in this vein.]

Mick Harper
The Govan chapel is about as fifth century as I am. [I had not in fact heard of it but felt safe enough from general principles.]

John Welford
The expression "dates from" can be used to cover a multitude of circumstances! For example, there are many churches and cathedrals that "date from" Anglo-Saxon times when all that can be said reliably to belong to that period are a few stones down in the crypt!

Mick Harper
No, John, 'dates from' means 'dates from'. The only thing that can reliably be said about churches that date from Anglo-Saxon times is that no churches date from Anglo-Saxon times.

John Welford
How about St Martin's Church, Wareham, Dorset, which I have visited? Most of the current building was put there in around 1030, and there have been later alterations. That seems to make it an Anglo-Saxon church in my book, dating from the 11th century.

Mick Harper
Without wishing to move the goalposts too far, eleventh century is more Danish and Anglo-Norman than Anglo-Saxon. Is Edward the Confessor and his Westminster Abbey 'Anglo-Saxon', other than technically? Something earlier would be required. (Not that I am accepting 1030 as the date for St Martin's, Wareham for one minute.)

[So far, so good. I am ahead on points though, I would imagine, John Welford thinks he is ahead on points. What the attendant medium.com audience thought is open to question but mostly, I would think, on his side.]
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Mick Harper
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John Welford
Err... anything prior to 1066 is - by definition - Anglo-Saxon! Why not accept the date? Is there something you know that historians of the period do not?

Mick Harper
I'll tell Canute you think he's Anglo-Saxon by definition. And yes, I know things that historians of the period do not know. It's all in Revisionist Historiography, remember? [I had previously offered to send him a review copy -- he is quite influential on medium.com -- but he had not taken me up on my offer.]

John Welford
Mick, You know perfectly well what I meant - I would not consider the armies of Emperor Claudius to be Anglo-Saxons either! (One might also point out that the people who built churches (etc) in England while Canute and his sons were in charge had not turned into Danes while they did so!)

Mick Harper
You've lost me, I'm afraid. My position is that there are no Anglo-Saxon churches. If you come across one, let me know and I'll change my position.

John Welford
I simply want to know what would count as an Anglo-Saxon church in your eyes? I grew up within cycling distance of St Martin's at Wareham - my father actually took a service there once (he was a Methodist local preacher at a time when the local Methodist church was being refurbished) - and I can tell you that there is not single person in East Dorset who does not accept that this is an Anglo-Saxon Church!

Mick Harper
I have family in Dorset, John, and while I am prepared to heed their advice on the growing and preparation of root vegetables, I am disinclined to overthrow decades of research into ecclesiastical history on their say-so.

John Welford
Mick, I still don't know what you are getting at - just when do you think the "Anglo -Saxon" churches were built, and what is your evidence?

Mick Harper
I don't know how many ways I have to spell it out, John. I do not believe there is such a thing as an Anglo-Saxon church. It's no use asking me for evidence of something that doesn't exist. Every time someone claims the existence of one, I inspect their evidence and find nothing. Did you not watch last week as Alice Roberts failed to find the Mercian queen's monastery at Cookham? It didn't stop her saying, "It must be there." No wonder she's the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Birmingham.

[You will note that if my position was the orthodox one, John would have believed it unhesitatingly. If I had been putting forward the orthodox case, he would have regarded it as crackpot. The 'evidence' allows for both possibilities. But then...]
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Mick Harper
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John Welford
So what do you think is the origin of St Martin's Church? Are you saying that its date is later than the one given in all the history books based on ancient records and architectural evidence?

And what about all the other well-attested examples? St Paul's at Jarrow? St Laurence's at Bradford-on-Avon (which has had no subsequent additions or rebuilding)? St Peter 's at Bradwell-on-Sea? What is most notable about these buildings is their very different style from later ones built under the Normans. These early features match well with examples in parts of Continental Europe from where the Anglo-Saxon settlers derived, bringing their traditions with them.

Mick Harper
John, I have written three books on or pertaining to these questions, I hardly feel able to answer them in this restrictive medium. (Ha!) First of all, there are no ancient records. All we have are are much later documents that purport to be copies of contemporary accounts. Second of all, there is no architectural evidence. Merely ‘things’ that are claimed to be of Anglo-Saxon origin.

It is preposterous to say they 'match examples from where the settlers derive' when we don’t know where that is. Even were we to make a guess, we certainly don’t know what their traditions were unless you can point to some Anglo-Saxon speakers who were building churches somewhere in Continental Europe before the eleventh century. Can you? Be honest, John, no more waffling.

John Welford
Mick, would you like to give me the details of these books?

Mick Harper
The History of Britain Revealed (Icon, Cambridge 2006), aka The Secret History of the English Language (Melville House, New York 2008), Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries (Urquhart Press, London 2020), and Revisionist Historiography (AEL, London, 2022). The Megalithic Empire (Nathan Carmody, London 2012) also has material that is relevant but not directly so. Don't give up the day job! [He is a retired librarian.]

John Welford
Mick, OK - I am more than happy to look at your evidence and make an unbiased assessment of it, hence I have ordered two of the items you mention. I'm not prepared to fork out 35 quid for the third one, though! My biased view is that your ideas are just plain crazy, but I always believe in giving opposing views a fair crack of the whip - even if I end up not changing my mind!
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Mick Harper
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The interesting thing from an AE perspective is how rare it is that people will go to the bother of, as it were, seeking out the source material. Of course we can be entirely confident that if John really does plough through (presumably) THOBR and Forgeries, it will not have the slightest effect on his thinking. Plenty of people have done so and confirmed in their own minds that the theories being advanced are crackpot.

Only people that are temperamentally disposed to anti-orthodoxism to begin with are impressed. Such is life.
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Grant



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I used to think it was about intelligence, but if you are intelligent the sensible strategy is to sign up to orthodoxy and use your brain to improve your position in life. The people who fought orthodoxy were awkward buggers who either:
- lived at a time when the orthodoxy hadn’t been established
- had a private income

Nowadays even the private income doesn’t help
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Mick Harper
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I agree with everything you say except

Nowadays you don't even need a private income
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