Provocative Excerpt

From chapter 79 of Moby-Dick:
Physiognomy, like every other human science, is but a passing fable. If then, Sir William Jones, who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of the Sperm Whale's brow? I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can.


Wishydig said...

the only way this question/puzzle is interesting is if we accept that physiognomy, as a type of phrenology, is taught and learned formally.

if we understand it in more general and reasonable terms as an innately acquired ability to understand expressions, then whether or not one is a man of letters, and whether or not one is literate in numerous languages, are irrelevant and uninteresting variables.

Casey said...

Well, physiognomy was taught formally, as a science. Isn't that the point?

Still is!:


I'm most interested in the "like every other human science... a passing fable" part, as you probably guessed. But I guess I've reached one edge of the pendulum swing here. I can tell now that it sounds like I am just anti-science. But really I'm just anti-junk-science.

So we may continue arguing about those kinds of distinctions in the future...

Wishydig said...

well, the problem with science is that some people believe it's value lies in it's facts. in my opinion, it's value lies in it's assumption of development and it's constant pursuit of disproving beliefs, and supporting new beliefs, but never proving beliefs. proof is for math.

so from my point of view, it's not the 'science' that's a passing fable, it's the information derived by the science. maybe, rather, the systems assumed by the science. but that's actually the point of Science.

Wishydig said...

(and as far as it seems he's conflating the idea of physiognomy[phrenology] with physiognomy[communication]… *shrug*)

Casey said...

Yeah I think you're right... he probably meant what you said about the supposed "information." That's what passes.

(Interesting, tho': in this view, "science" itself is a kind of transcendental pursuit, not subject to change...?)

Wishydig said...

i can't believe how many times i wrote "it's" when i meant "its". well, i can believe i guess. and i don't really care.

but i think the constancy of scientific pursuit is an important point. the difference between science and religion, to my mind, is that we have agreed in scientific circles, that knowledge is within our reach. but we have to remember that agreeing to that is not the same as saying it's within our grasp.