David Thompson


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September 07, 2007



Aha! You found Charles and Ray's video just before I was about to recommend it to you. The top fifty documents we'll get to, not tonight, other than to note that I've got about thirty of the next fifty lined up, and suggestions are welcome.

There is a most interesting essay by Roy Baumeister at Denis Dutton's web site - http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm - entitled "Is There Anything Good About Men?" Fortunately, the unequivocal answer is yes.

Tumescent, that always brings a smile. Rheopectic slime is interesting enough, but I'd rather have a real live pet slime mold. Now what's this? Famous curves? Oy, I was just perusing same myself earlier this week. All that said, I'd like to make a particular contribution to your Friday Ephemra, this week, David.

-- Luciano Pavarotti is Dead --

There is one phrase that comes to mind when characterizing Mr. Pavarotti, and that phrase is "masculine joy". Luciano was, after all is said and done, (1) male, and (2) full of joy. Combined with the gift and practice of his voice and his appreciation of the beauty of music, this produced a notable result, since socio-traditionally, male's jobs are not to be joyful. Yet, I think it can be reasonably said, Mr. Pavarotti earned his place.

To begin, then, my opening bid is Mr. Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot. The toffee-nosed opera hoity-toity will point out that Mr. Pavarotti never performed this work in a proper opera production. Whoop de do, what do I care, this essay is about Luciano, not about opera.


(Don't forget, if your computer has the horsepower to pull it off, use the full-screen icon in the lower right of the video window to watch these videos.)

I have not been able to find a solo video of Mr. Pavarotti singing O Sole Mio, but, fortunately, one of my favourites is Mr. Domingo, Mr. Carreras, and Mr. Pavarotti performing The Three Tenors' version of this work. Again, this will get the opera utopianists' shorts in a knot, but the point is - pay attention - these four gentlemen (conductor Zubin Mehta counts) are, wait for it, having fun! Luciano makes at least two obvious mistakes, and hillariously overplays his hand (on purpose), to which Domingo and Carreras respond in kind, and all enjoy a hearty chuckle in each case. Why? Because they are so good at it that they can afford to laugh.


So it's partly about merit, but it's more than that. For one thing, as I've intimated, the Three Tenors are male. That's neuro-bio-physiological. For another thing, Mr. Domingo is technically a better tenor. But Mr. Pavarotti is the male ambassador of joy. All are well skilled, but they play different roles.

And, for sure, at least unlike Domingo and Carreras, Pavarotti didn't make the mistake of being clean-shaven. As I said above, Pavarotti was a canonical male who was also capable of living joy. And let us not forget that while Mr. Carreras stood on his toes to hit the big notes, and Mr. Domingo at least leaned forward, Mr. Pavarotti leaned back, if at all. Oh yeah? You try doing that, Mr. Big Shot.

Reaching into the history of Mr. Pavarotti's accomplishments, such as his now infamous performance of Tonio's aria "Ah! Mes amis" in Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment" at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1972, is currently difficult on this here Intarweb thingy, but I have found the following additional solo pieces, for your delectation, after weeding out the far too many available options that simply have really crappy sound. People who upload bad audio, other than in archival circumstances, should be shot for wasting our time. Anyway...

Luciano Pavarotti - La Donna E Mobile

Luciano Pavarotti - Celeste Aida

Luciano Pavarotti - Recondita Armonia

Luciano Pavarotti - Caruso

Luciano Pavarotti - Granada

Mr. Pavarotti was also known for his interdisciplinary work with other musicians outside the field of opera. Again, the toffee-nosed opera-utopianist hoity-toity aren't happy about this, but in this case they I have, I think, more ammunition on their side, since most of the artists were simply not of the calibre of being able to keep up with Luciano. Nevertheless, for Luciano it was about making music, not about being correct, and there are notable exceptions to the problems he faced thereto, such as this case of Luciano singing "Pourquoi Me Reveiller" with Ms. Grace Jones, who herself had notable singing and joyish skills:


And so, on that note, I'll close with a few of my favourite of Mr. Pavarotti's aphorisms:

* Learning music by reading about it is like making love by mail.

* One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

* The rivalry is with ourself. I try to be better than is possible. I fight against myself, not against the other.

Oh, and for the record, lest anyone think I'm attempting to diminish the role of females in our joint situation, here's Luciano and James Brown performing "It's a Man's World", where they pretty much demolish any such consideration:


As Mark Twain said:

"What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce".


That should just about cover it.


Thank heaven. I try, but I'm never sure.


RE: Map of Visible Universe. It looks just like a Perlin noise simulation.



There are options to zoom in for additional levels of detail, down to about ten light years or so. However, for obvious reasons, inconceivable dimensions are not shown. It’s very basic. :)


The reactions of Stanley Fish and other editors to being exposed suggest a strongly passive-aggressive approach to debate: There's the assertion, when caught dead-to-rights, that the other is lying (according to one editor, Sokal's *confession* was a fake); outrage at the other party not playing along with presumptively agreed-upon rules (Fish charged that Sokal pretended to be reliable); avoiding responsibility for one's own actions by accusing others of not acting with common grace (Sokal didn't "play by the rules" and had a "devious purpose"); the suggestion that one's chosen action was undertaken on behalf of the other (the chief editor suggested that Sokal's piece had been published out of generosity towards him); and projection of overcontrol onto authority figures (responding in the NY Times to the incident, two co-editors invoked "the scientific community's abuses of authority, it's priestly organization and lack of accountability to the public.")

Still on the topic of passive-aggression, in the "A Fear of Ideas" thread you mentioned, David, that Madeleine Bunting, when confronted with factual evidence that was not helpful to the credulity of her position, attacked those who brought it to light, and called the program "McCarthyite". That's a perfect example of the passive-aggressive attribute of projecting overcontrol onto authority figures as a way of presenting one's own response as being just. I think there's a case to be made that this sort of projection is the most consistently defining characteristic of Islamic apologists in the west, inasmuch as they consistently portray western civilization as the geopolitical equivalent of an authority-figure-to-end-all-authority figures.

Finally, your comment -- I'm cross-fertilizing threads here -- that "the line between 'It's all our fault' and 'It's all about me' sometimes seems awfully thin" hits the nail on the head, and in fact, that line sometimes disappears altogether. When Bunting, Milne, Masroor, Taqoob and others imply, in a sideways manner, that it's "our fault", they're not including themselves, but are gazing out, from the corporeal heap of suffering humanity upon which they elevate themselves, at the less-enlightened others who comprise western culture and institutions.



“…a strongly passive-aggressive approach to debate.”

Yes, being a whiny little bitch is rarely an endearing move, and it’s interesting how common themes and manoeuvres can emerge from different subjects. I was particularly tickled by the line about “the scientific community’s abuses of authority, its priestly organization and lack of accountability to the public.” This wouldn’t be an entirely unreasonable statement to make about Fish, Ross and many of their colleagues, not least in light of those events.


The universe SHOULD look like a Perlin noise simulation. i.e. similar variance at all scales.


As indeed it does, or appears to. See Charles and Ray Eames’ film, Powers of Ten:



I don't believe I'm saying this, but Fish has been backing off from his nonsense ever since he retired -- to great, heated debate on academic mailing lists. Just to be fair.


Rightwing Prof,

So I hear. The problem, for me at least, is that Fish has said so much that is so absurd, or simply wrong, and has said it so adamantly and so often, it’s hard to find any enthusiasm for searching out his retractions, or implied retractions, or anything else he may have to say.

When he dies, I suspect he’ll be remembered, less than fondly, for viewing poststructuralist theory and its loaded, self-validating offshoots as “triumphs” of the left and a source of “much of the intellectual energy in the liberal arts.” Or for his bizarre defence of explicitly anti-Semitic cartoons published continually across much of the Islamic world, on grounds that those involved “believe in their content” and “believe that Jews and Christians… are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.” And it’s difficult to reconcile his repeated denial of “pedagogical irresponsibility” and the propagation of “nonsense” in large areas of the humanities with his own behaviour, not least in the Sokal affair and his subsequent, incoherent, replies.


For Vitruvius, some more top documents.

Stephen Wolfram: A new kind of Science.
Scott Adams: Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook
Sir William Rowan Hamilton: Quaternion equation carved into the side of Broom Bridge (Royal Canal in Dublin)


Thanks, AC1. Hamilton's "Lectures in Quaternions", 1853, is now in the queue. I'm not so sure about Wolfram; I'll have to think about that. While I am planning to put in John Cleese's "Meetings Bloody Meetings", I do think that I'd put the "Dilbert Principle" in before "Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook". Yet I remain unconvinced of either of the latter qualify, much as I do love this video about me: http://youtube.com/watch?v=CmYDgncMhXw

Here are some of the other authors from whom I am currently considering documents for The Top 100 list: Abe Lincoln (for the Emancipation Proclamation), Adolf Fraenkel, Andre-Marie Ampere, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Augustus de Morgan, Benoit Clapeyron, Blaise Pascal, Carl Gauss, Charles Perrow, Dashiel Hammet, Edward Lorenz, Edwin Hubble, E. F. Codd, Ernst Zermelo, George Boole, Gottlob Frege, Gregor Mendel, Hermann Helmholtz, John Dalton, Joseph Fourier, Joseph Gay-Lussac (Charles' Law), Josiah Gibbs, Ludwig Boltzmann, Michael Farady, Milton Friedman, Monty Python, Niels Bohr, Pierre-Simon Marquis de Laplace, Pliney the Edler, Robert Boyle, Satyendra Nath Bose, Stephen Cook, Thoralf Skolem, William James, William Thomson (Baron Kelvin), and, of course, Count Lorenzo Romano Amedeo Carlo Avogadro di Quaregna e Cerreto.

By the way, the reason I started this list was because I was tired of all those so-called great-book lists that only covered fiction. Really. How boring. I mean, I've already got the Bible and Bugs Bunny on my list, and I'm considering Hammet; one would think that representative enough.

If anyone else is interested in providing suggestions, then for your quick reference, my current Top 50 Documents Ever is here: http://tinyurl.com/ozn46


One More




Vitruvius, can you explain why you don't like the Wolfram book? I feel it extends the work of two of your existing list, i.e. Mandelbrot and Turing.


It's not that I don't like the Wolfram book (I'm assuming you are referring to "A New Kind of Science") - I haven't even read it - I'm just not sure *yet* whether it belongs on a list like mine. At a minimum, I'm not sure if enough time has passed yet for it to be fairly judged by any sort of "Greatest Documents Ever" algorithm.

Also, I'd have to consider documents by other famous authors in the field of cellular automata, in case one of their documents was more seminal - Conway's "Life" comes to mind. For example, that's why I feel slightly silly that I put Benoit Mandelbrot in before I included Edward Lorenz - sorry about that.

There are also deep metaphysical questions like whether existence has a non-decomposable minimal "bit", or whether it's infinitely analogue, all the way down (I suspect the latter, on the grounds that existence doesn't do singularities, but I have no evidence per se). Of course, questions like that wouldn't put ANKS out of the running, indeed, depending on how it holds up those are the sorts of questions it could win by advancing our understanding of the correct answers thereto.

Anyway, I will, now that you have suggested so, consider ANKS; it's now on the list. Dirac and Boyle are definitely candidates, they're now on the list. I think I probably would have remembered them as I ran out the cross-link checking part of my valuation algorithm, but your suggestions save me some steps and provide some additional nodes I can now use to seed my searches. Thanks.

By the way, here's an interesting sub-problem to this exercise. Consider the case of James Watt. He made the Newcomen engine work good, and so changed history, but he didn't make any "documents". Socrates and Zeno also come to mind. Perhaps I'll just include an end-note.


In the penultimate paragraph above, I used the phrase "on the list" twice, when I should have said "in the queue for consideration". My plan is to run the queue up to about, say, 120, and then cull 20, and that will give me the next increment. Of course, the 20 on hold would be seed candidates for the next iteration in size.

Because, honestly, who can say they haven't had success with the line, "hey babe, would you like to come upstairs and see my list of the top 100 documents ever"?

Horace Dunn

Areopagitica, 1644


Thanks Horace, John Milton's Areopagitica scores very well by my algorithm, it's now in the queue.

I note that I had missed Johannes Kepler's "Astronomia Nova" (1609), and James Joule's "On the mechanical equivalent of heat" (1845). Ach laddie. That has now been corrected (in the queue).

Not only that, I just figured out that I can work James Watt in via Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot's "Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu" (Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, aka the Carnot cycle), 1824, which dove-tails with Ampere and Clapeyron. Ha ha!

I sense a danger though; I don't want my list to become a taxonomy of documents by people who now have physical units named after them, even though that's obviously a good place to start ;-) Further suggestions on the other side of the list, not the advancement of metaphysical knowledge through epistemological advancements provided by science, and then in practice, the benefits provided by engineering, rather, advancements in formal social moral and ethical accommodations made to the expression of the freedom of the human spirit, along the lines of the Magna Carta, Milton's Areopagitica, Mill's On Liberty (which certainly puts the Benthamite utilitarian engineers in their place, not that there are many of them), the founding documents of the United States of America, Mises, Hayek, &c, would be most appreciated.

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