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View Full Version : Hoax Belief: a Shakespearean Case Study



Silas
2002-Apr-28, 11:21 PM
I had always scoffed at the Shakespearean hoax theory, that the plays had been written by someone other than the Bard of Stratford.

Then, I had the opportunity to read "Alias Shakespeare" by Joseph Sobran.

I did not enter into this book with an open mind. I was already heavily prejudiced *against* Sobran, because of his political writings, with which I violently disagreed. I considered him, frankly, a boor and a slob.

His book, supporting the notion that the plays were actually written by the Earl of Oxford, was well constructed, calm, rational, filled with intelligent observations, and overall persuasive. He took care to address all the standard objections to the theory, and he never lost sight of the fact that the theory is highly controversial.

By the time I finished it, I was a dedicated Oxfordian.

Since then, I have never read anything that specifically rebutted the points Sobran made. I've read many articles that reject the Oxfordian theory as hogwash...but I've never seen a point-by-point rebuttal. I've never been given *intelligent cause* to reconsider what I was persuaded to accept.

There is wisdom here.

1) If one person says, "two plus two is five, and here are the ten best reasons why," it is *not* enough for orthodoxy to say, "That is too stupid even to be discussed."

2) It is possible for an articulate and educated writer to put together a strong argument supporting almost any notion, no matter how absurd.

3) It is possible for a good writer to overcome even a strong prejudice against his position, so long as he writes persuasively enough.

4) Events 350 years in the past are as open to debate as events 30 years in the past...or even events 30 days in the past.

5) Style is no longer a give-away. It used to be that you could spot a crank or a crackpot by their stylistic "tells." Their comparing themselves to Galileo alone was, in times past, an absolute condemnation. Today, sophisticated cranks have mastered the art of constructing a logically persuasive case.

6) I am still an Oxfordian, even though I do not want to be. I yearn to read an argument that is as persuasive as Sobran's, that will re-establish my original prejudices. I am susceptible to such persuasion, and illogically so. I am aware of what I *want* to believe, and that is a source of deep concern to me.

I wonder how many Moon Hoax Believers are in the same unfortunate position that I am in...

(I wonder if Oxford wrote the plays...)

Silas

JayUtah
2002-Apr-29, 12:34 AM
I'd rather not weigh in on the Shakespeare issue. I don't know enough about the arguments. But as to your other points:

If one person says, "two plus two is five, and here are the ten best reasons why," it is *not* enough for orthodoxy to say, "That is too stupid even to be discussed."

Yes, it is. In this case the details of the argument are irrelevant because the conclusion is known to be false. A point-by-point rebuttal of the argument might be interesting, but is not necessary.

Ralph Rene says he has a proof that pi is exactly equal to 3.1516. I know empirically that his conclusion is wrong. Do I need to take his proof at face value and refute it? A refutation of an argument is intended to test the conclusion that the argument supports. If the conclusion fails for other reasons, the refutation is irrelevant.

Not every argument is so cut and dried, but a lot of people still categorically reject moon hoax theories. To them it doesn't matter how the hoax might have been done, or for what reason. For them it wasn't done, so arguing about how it wasn't done is fruitless.

Even though I wouldn't need to refute Rene's pi proof in order to reject its conclusion, going through with the refutation might be fun. People might learn something about math that way.

Similarly, refuting the moon hoax theories isn't so much a requirement for continued belief in Apollo as it is an interesting way to learn about space travel, photography, geology, and related topics.

Realistically there should be some middle ground between taking every argument at face value, and suffering fools gladly.

It is possible for an articulate and educated writer to put together a strong argument supporting almost any notion, no matter how absurd.

Enter David Percy. He is well-groomed, wears a suit and tie, and smiles pleasantly at the camera. He calmly gives his argument in a soft, appealing voice. Of course the content of his argument is bull exhaust, but his fans don't care.

The increased sophistication of the crackpots is, in general, a good thing. It's wrong to accept someone's argument just because he's charming, but it's just as wrong to reject one because its proponent doesn't present himself well.

Events 350 years in the past are as open to debate as events 30 years in the past...or even events 30 days in the past.

Or even more so. The longer a historical event festers, the more imagination can be brought to bear. And the fewer direct witnesses are around to keep things honest.

Their comparing themselves to Galileo alone was, in times past, an absolute condemnation.

Interesting analogy. Galileo wasn't really the first to propose heliocentrism. He was just the first to get it published widely without being killed. Just a few years prior, Giordano Bruno published his exposition of heliocentrism which was substantially equivalent to Galileo's. But of course Bruno wasn't as articulate and charming as Galileo, so he was burned at the stake. Galileo's smoother presentation (and his political connections) kept him alive.

Today, sophisticated cranks have mastered the art of constructing a logically persuasive case.

Ah, but logic and persuasion are different things. Logic is about drawing reliable conclusions. Persuasion is about getting people to do what you want them to do. The principles are different, and in some cases contradictory.

David Percy can persuade people, as can Bill Kaysing and others. They're very good at doing that. But they haven't demonstrated that their conclusions have any logical merit. They can't be shown to be reliable.

I wonder how many Moon Hoax Believers are in the same unfortunate position that I am in...

My experience is that moon hoax believers are far happier believing in the moon hoax theory. They love conspiracy in all its flavors. None of them has given any credible impression of being convinced against his will.

Silas
2002-Apr-29, 01:37 AM
On 2002-04-28 20:34, JayUtah wrote:
I'd rather not weigh in on the Shakespeare issue. I don't know enough about the arguments. But as to your other points:

If one person says, "two plus two is five, and here are the ten best reasons why," it is *not* enough for orthodoxy to say, "That is too stupid even to be discussed."

Yes, it is. In this case the details of the argument are irrelevant because the conclusion is known to be false. A point-by-point rebuttal of the argument might be interesting, but is not necessary.



I fear that you're wrong. I fear that those of us of good faith *must* rebut even the most absurd claims, patiently and honestly. It's a godalmighty waste of time, but if we don't, then someone like Velikovsky gets his toehold.



Ralph Rene says he has a proof that pi is exactly equal to 3.1516. I know empirically that his conclusion is wrong. Do I need to take his proof at face value and refute it?


Well, to begin with, I'd love to see his so-called proof... I think I could demolish it without too much difficulty... And I'm also all but certain that others have already done so...

Again, this may be more "political" than scientific, but consider the lurkers who might stumble across such debates...



Even though I wouldn't need to refute Rene's pi proof in order to reject its conclusion, going through with the refutation might be fun. People might learn something about math that way.


Exactly! Plus, if someone (anyone!) doesn't rebut the argument, some poor observer might consider it true by default.



Similarly, refuting the moon hoax theories isn't so much a requirement for continued belief in Apollo as it is an interesting way to learn about space travel, photography, geology, and related topics.


That's for sure! I've learned a heck of a lot more about heat transfer in satellites because of this debate than I might ever have otherwise!



Realistically there should be some middle ground between taking every argument at face value, and suffering fools gladly.


Wholehearted agreement. I don't feel particularly slovenly in rejecting the "hollow earth" fantasy. It's too foolish to be bothered with. But...if someone came alone here with a serious and earnest hollow earth claim...is it sufficient to say, "You're a fool," or should we take the extra time to say, "Your theory fails thus-and-so test of materials science?"

One subtle subtext here: there are people who knowingly promulgate hoaxes...and there are people who, in all innocence and intellectual honesty, promulgate error. It is a difficult task to scorn and scold the former, while reassuring and educating the latter. That, I feel, is one of the greatest challenges of a discussion board like this one.

Silas

JayUtah
2002-Apr-29, 03:20 AM
I fear that you're wrong. I fear that those of us of good faith *must* rebut even the most absurd claims, patiently and honestly.

Okay, I think I see your point. For you it's a matter of politeness and civility, a sort of ethical obligation on the part of those who understand.

I was thinking it was a matter of intellectual necessity, that any assault on the established order needs to be defended. I don't think English literature will sink into the mire because of the various Shakespeare hypotheses. (American literature is already there, so no real harm done anyway.) I don't think the angry mobs with torches and pitchforks will storm NASA headquarters on the basis of moon hoax theories.

Besides, if you know much about me you'll realize I'm unfortunately just the type of person who will suffer fools gladly. Heavens, I even tried to talk sense into Piper/Seethruart. My character flaw is taking far too much at face value. I consider it a flaw because I waste my time formally addressing arguments no one believes anyway. It gets pedantic after a while, and paints me as a humorless drone. Nobody who knows me in real life considers me humorless.

Well, to begin with, I'd love to see his so-called proof.

Technically it's not his. Someone else came up with it. He just sells it on his web site. In other words, you don't get to see the proof until you send Ralph Rene six dollars.

Sometimes those non-proofs are useful to study. They show you pitfalls of reason that you might otherwise not notice. Since the conclusion is known to be false, you know the proof is wrong. Finding its flaw can be a fun exercise.

The point I was trying to make is that mathematics survives without having to explicitly deal with this non-proof.

Again, this may be more "political" than scientific, but consider the lurkers who might stumble across such debates...

Sometimes that's all I care about. Not to say I only care about appearances. I mean that lots of these debates end up going nowhere, or in circles. But just because the participants are stagnated doesn't mean the spectators aren't learning things. And sometimes how one behaves speaks more eloquently.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing against civility in debate. I'm just questioning which debates are most productively undertaken.

Plus, if someone (anyone!) doesn't rebut the (pi) argument, some poor observer might consider it true by default.

Well, then let his car wobble. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

I've learned a heck of a lot more about heat transfer in satellites because of this debate than I might ever have otherwise!

Of course. I wish "jrkeller" had been here for that debate. I happen to know his professional specialty is thermal design.

Now you understand the joy of learning. Learning in the abstract is boring. Learning as a prerequisite to solve a problem you care about is fun.

This is why I consulted on a program some of the Boise, Idaho, secondary schools built around the Fox program. They used the program to provide questions for students to answer. They did research. They solved equations. They constructed experiments. But more importantly, they learned that a slick television presentation can mask misrepresentations. Many of these students will face similarly slick, complex presentations in the future. And because of their personal involvement in investigating such presentations, they will say to themselves, "Hey, maybe this thing isn't all it seems."

there are people who knowingly promulgate hoaxes...and there are people who, in all innocence and intellectual honesty, promulgate error.

Good point. I've noticed the distinction too.

The Curtmudgeon
2002-Apr-30, 03:06 AM
On 2002-04-28 19:21, Silas wrote:
...I've read many articles that reject the Oxfordian theory as hogwash...but I've never seen a point-by-point rebuttal. I've never been given *intelligent cause* to reconsider what I was persuaded to accept.

Silas, I highly recommend Shakespeare in Fact (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0826409288/qid=1020135610/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-9321496-8749419). It specifically demolishes the Oxfordian case.

The (and the pro-Oxford arguments are mostly mere question-begging, anyway) Curtmudgeon

ToSeek
2002-Apr-30, 01:30 PM
This page (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/sobran.html) provides a critique of Sobran's book as well as links to other pages supporting Shakespeare as the author.

Silas
2002-Apr-30, 04:24 PM
On 2002-04-30 09:30, ToSeek wrote:
This page (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/sobran.html) provides a critique of Sobran's book as well as links to other pages supporting Shakespeare as the author.



Whew! Thank you! (I'll be spending the next few weeks in an agony of self-doubt . . . and loving it!)

Silas

JayUtah
2002-Apr-30, 04:45 PM
I would hesitate to call Kathman's writings a dismissal; he addresses the major points and does so with a reasonable lack of passion.

At various points he characterizes Sobran's statements as "fantasy" or "wishful thinking", and these might be interpreted as impolite dismissals. But sometimes clarity demands that you call a spade a spade. When I see affirmed consequents and circularity in David Percy's writing, I call them affirmed consequents and circularities and dismiss them. I trust the reader will know, or be able to find out, what "circular reasoning" is and thus understand why I don't address the flaw of the argument in tedious detail.

To those who have studied logic there is a certain frustration that comes with trying to explain logical analysis to people who have only a typical understanding of logic. On of the foremost rules of debate is, "You can't win an argument with an idiot." And it is so very true. Not to say that anyone who has not studied logical formally is an idiot. But the point behind the maxim is that one must understand logic to know when one has lost an argument. If you do not understand why your argument fails, you have no reason to reject it.

Most hoax believers have no idea what I'm talking about when I refer to an "affirmed consequent". Consequently they sprinkle them liberally throughout their arguments and don't understand why those seemingly solid arguments are rejected.

Circular reasoning is pernicious because it has all the trappings of unassailable solidity. But what it has instead is merely consistency. A system of propositions may be fully consistent, but if nothing "grounds" them to a true fact or premise, they are useless and prove nothing.

The classic circularity is this argument from fundamental Christianity:

"The Bible clearly says God exists."

"But how do you know the Bible is true and authoritative?"

"Why, because it comes from God."

"How do you know it comes from God."

"Because the Bible says so itself."

Consider one more appropriate to the moon hoax theory.

"Whistle-blowers created the anomalies deliberately so that we would eventually know the truth."

"How do you know these whistle-blowers actually existed?"

"Because how else can deliberate anomalies be introduced?"

Simplified, of course, but I hope the point is clear.

Circular reasoning has, if you wish to think of it this way, and "internal" perspective and and "external" perspective. Circular arguments make perfect sense to those already prediposed to believe them, those "inside" the argument. They already believe in the conclusion, so they see no problem using it as a premise which eventually lads back to the conclusion. And this, to them, is a valid proof.

Those of us on the "outside" of the argument need something to resolve the chicken-and-egg cycle. The atheist wants proof of the Bible's divinity that isn't merely self-referential. The skeptic wants proof either that the inconsistencies in lunar photography were deliberate and not merely accidents of nature, or proof of whistle-blowers that isn't backtracked from their supposed bread crumbs.

I have seen people hold to circular arguments with apoplectic frenzy, shouting invective and decrying the "brain-damaged" nature of those who refuse to accept them. While tempted to respond in kind, we must have patience. Circular logic indeed appears very unassailable from the interior perspective, and it is often very difficult to encourage people to "break" the circle by realizing that one of their "facts" is merely an axiom.

Wiley
2002-Apr-30, 08:50 PM
I think the "Shakespeare hoax" is in a completely different class than the "moon landing hoax". Compared to Shakespeare's contemporaries, we know very little about him. (The movie "Shakespeare in Love" could be accurate, we don't know.) Since so little is known about him, there is "reasonable" room to speculate. These speculations must withstand the rigors of scholarship, of course. I've not read Sobran's book, so I will not comment.

However, the Moon landing is different. Not only is there no evidence to suggest we did not go to the Moon, we can prove that it would have almost impossible, if not down-right impossible, to fake. The HB's must have a religious devotion to their cause because logic and facts have no influence over them.

The JFK conspiracy falls in the middle some place. Again no evidence to suggest Lee Harvey Oswald had an acomplice. But mistakes by the Warren Commission and an overzealous CIA, e.g. the Bay of Pigs, fuels speculation. (Just for the record, I believe LHO acted alone.)

Silas
2002-Apr-30, 09:56 PM
On 2002-04-30 16:50, Wiley wrote:
I think the "Shakespeare hoax" is in a completely different class than the "moon landing hoax". Compared to Shakespeare's contemporaries, we know very little about him. (The movie "Shakespeare in Love" could be accurate, we don't know.) Since so little is known about him, there is "reasonable" room to speculate. These speculations must withstand the rigors of scholarship, of course.


Very true, and a telling point...

I brought the subject up mostly as a psychological examination of the phenomenon of "hoax belief." I think the thing that startled me the most was that I had thought I would be immune, but I wasn't. I was persuaded by what appeared to be pure reason. (Actually, I'm still kinda on the Oxfordian side of the trenches, but I've got a LOT more reading to do...)

I think of skepticism, not as a closed door, but as a "screen door." Real information gets through it...but it keeps the flies and mice out...

Silas

JayUtah
2002-Apr-30, 10:50 PM
Sometimes it's best simply to suspend judgment.

While there is a definite distinction between the Shakespeare theories and the moon hoax, the difference in availability of information is not so important. True, we may not know much about Shakespeare. And there will be plenty of people willing to fill that void with speculation. But while the Apollo program has voluminous documentation, not many people seek it out. Having it available and actually using it are two different things.

Now in serious scholarship it makes all the difference in the world. Even Kathman must, at times, say, "You'll just have to decide what you want to believe, because there is no conclusive evidence." But the layman may be as underinformed about Apollo as he is about Shakespeare, only in this case because he doesn't know where the information is, he doesn't understand it, or he isn't motivated to look for it.

I know very little about medicine. That's not because medical information is lacking. There are reams of it. Heavens, there's a medical school less than two miles from my house with a spacious library. But I'm not very interested in medicine. And when I read it, I don't understand most of it.

This means I'm prey to any flim-flam argument that might capitalize on my ignorance. Somebody could tell me whatever he wanted about stem cells and I wouldn't know if he were telling the truth or spinning the biggest lie on the face of the earth.

Most people aren't photographers. Most people aren't rocket scientists. Most people aren't geologists. People who aren't those things generally don't want to be those things. And good for them. Division of labor is the key to technological progress. I'm glad someone out there is just as excited about stem cells as I am about thrust structures and DCT compression.

But it means that although information is readily available, it won't always be used. And that provides an opening for people who might want to misrepresent that information for fun and profit.

Nevertheless I am very glad that there is a wealth of easily available information on space travel and the Apollo program. It makes this hobby so much more fun and interesting.