What the occupiers believe in

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The most recent Scenes From a Multiverse:

Original mouseover title: "It is not wisdom but Authority that makes a law" – Thomas Hobbes. This is from "A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England", written 1666.

For some background on varieties of belief, see "What we believe in", 6/29/2011.

Update — the passage from Hobbes, in the original capitalization and with the long s restored, was

It is not Wiſdom, but Authority that makes a Law.

A screenshot from the EEBO page image of The art of rhetoric, with A discourse of the laws of England by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, Printed for William Crooke at the Green Dragon without Temple-Bar, 1681 (Reproduction of original in British Library):


  1. Trimegistus said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    The occupists need to be more uniformly white.

  2. Stan said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    Related: Tom Tomorrow's cartoon on what the protestors want ("Is that even English?").

  3. Eric said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    I can't speak firsthand to the NYC demonstrations, but perhaps you should come to Oakland before making ostensibly humorous comments about the makeup of the occupiers.

    But never mind; let's keep these comments linguistically germane (Pullum, where are you when we need you???)

  4. David said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    I can speak for the NYC demonstration, having spent some time down there in the last several days. Trimegistus, you don't know what you're talking about.

    [(myl) Perhaps he means that he would feel better about the demonstrations if the participants were more uniformly white. By noting the existence of this ambiguity, we can rescue his comment from the state of being merely another of his sullen and empirically challenged political gripes, and raise it to the level of being an interesting example sentence.]

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    Another possibility, as Eric suggested, is that Trimegistus is criticizing the protesters' make-up—they should be more uniformly white and less rouge. This would be what upsets the cosmetonauts.

  6. JMM said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. I believe there is some unifying universal force which I don't pretend to understand (I call it the transgalactic multidimensional spaghetti monster, but if you want to use a three letter word for it, that's cool). I believe the speed of light is 300,000,000m/s (rounded up just a bit; I can't keep track of too many digits.) I believe that St. Anselm's proof of the Spaghetti Monster's existence is a tautology, but that he was still OK. (And I believe his proof was as logical as Aquinas's, Russell's or Kierkegaard's) I belive that anchovies are healthy for you (unless you need to watch your sodium). I believe the atomic weight of plutonium is 244u (because Wolfram Alpha tells me so). I believe green is nicer than dark blue. When I was a kid, I believed in the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church (and declared that belief once or twice a month (we didn't mean the same thing by 'catholic' that some people mean, and didn't have to go every week.)).

    Each one of those is a very different kind of belief, but it's a problem I don't see being corrected any time soon. It's understandable that thoughtless people can't perceive this difference; it's also understandable that more thoughtful people prey on that failure to understand. understandable but very sad.

  7. JW Mason said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

    I was just at OWS this weekend. Everone I was with was struck by how much more diverse (i.e. non-white) it was than previous protests we had been to.

    On topic: any other old Chicago hipsters remember the John Huss Moderate Combo? Their song Whaliens had the lines, "I don't believe in unicorns/I do believe they have one horn./I do believe in Capricorns/I don't believe that once you're born/The stars have much if any role to play." Not quite the same joke, but related.

  8. David Eddyshaw said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

    I don't think St Anselm's "proof" is tautologous – it's actually wrong, though in a way that I believe (!) wasn't really apparent within the logical system he was using.

    Existence is not a predicate.

  9. Ø said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

    True story from the childhood of a childhood friend of mine.

    Worried Child: Mommy, what's Hell?

    Reassuring Mother: Oh, Frank, in our family we don't believe in Hell.

    Worried Child: Well, Abraham Lincoln didn't believe in slavery, but that didn't mean it didn't exist.

  10. Ben Zimmer said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

    Also on topic: In my latest Word Routes column over on the Visual Thesaurus, I talk about how occupy has been transformed into an intransitive verb and an attributive noun, among other things.

  11. Rod Johnson said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

    Ben, that's not jazz hands, that's twinkling.

  12. Axl said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

    To me the occupists here seem more uniformly lime-green, whereas the other aliens seem uniformly both forest-green and blue-grey.

  13. peterv said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 3:45 am

    JMM said (October 17, 2011 @ 6:15 pm).

    "I believe the sun will come up tomorrow."

    What an odd, unscientific belief! We've known for half a millenium that it is the earth which moves each day relative to the sun, and not the reverse.

  14. richard howland-bolton said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 6:23 am

    @ Pedantic peterv :-)

    But it's rather like the Correspondence principle, only for relativity*.
    In the simplified system of just the Earth and Sun (where we can ignore, for example, stars having to have velocities above c) the only reason to prefer heliocentric to geocentric is that it simplifies the maths. It is perfectly reasonable to say "the sun will come up tomorrow", and the only criticism I have is that it's now got that bloody song from Annie stuck in my mind (or if you prefer brain).
    *I think I've just made a big step towards a GUT!

  15. Rohan said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 6:28 am


    There is nothing unscientific about saying that the sun comes up every morning. In classical mechanics, there is nothing like absolute motion. All motion is relative, and to analyse situations or solve problems in classical mechanics, we can theoretically choose any arbitrary point as a reference, and then describe all motion with respect to it.

    It's evident that JMM took the earth as a reference point, and in that case, it is indeed true to say that the sun goes around the earth. Nothing abracadabra-ey here. If X moves with respect to Y, then Y moves with respect to X.

  16. Mar Rojo said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 6:33 am

    I believe my son will come up tomorrow. He's broke and the weekend is not so far away.

  17. richard howland-bolton said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Oh yes, and since this isn't the Basic Physics Log, I meant to add:
    It is so much easier to simply say "the sun will come up tomorrow" than "the diurnal rotation of the Earth will cause the Sun to apparently appear above that horizon as the terminator (not of course the one eponymously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the other one—the astronomical one) approches" or the like, since we only have so much time before it sets again.

  18. Faldone said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    To paraphase Firesign Theatre, "The sun isn't coming up, the horizon is moving down."

  19. Dan T. said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 9:52 am

    How is one supposed to parse "the Green Dragon without Temple-Bar"? Is it a bar that's named after a green dragon who lacks a temple (is that a body part or a place of worship), or is it referring to a green dragon who lacks a "temple-bar" (a place within a place of worship where alcoholic beverages are served)… or maybe the whole place is green, attached adjectivially to "Dragon without Temple-Bar"?

  20. Mark Etherton said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    @Dan T.

    Temple Bar was on the Strand, and marked the western edge of the City of London, towards Westminster. 'Without' is in the archaic sense of 'outside' and the Green Dragon was an inn (which no longer exists) in Devereux Court (which does, and which is still just off the Strandon the boundary between te Cities of London and Westminster).

  21. The Ridger said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    @Dan T: here "without" means "outside of". Temple Bar marked the border between the City of London on the road to Westminster.

  22. The Ridger said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    Although "without" is not so much "archaic" as regional.

  23. Robert Harris said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 11:20 am

    For JMM:

    It has been a few years since last I read the IUPAC Commision on Atomic Weights then most recent report. At that time they maintained that atomic weights are unit-free ratios. The use of u for atomic mass units is not correct with atomic weights. Atomic weights are generally not distinct measures of nuclear masses but rather averages of the relative atomic masses of the isotopes in the typical sample of an element.


  24. Dan Hemmens said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

    I don't think St Anselm's "proof" is tautologous – it's actually wrong, though in a way that I believe (!) wasn't really apparent within the logical system he was using.

    Existence is not a predicate.

    I'm not certain this is totally uncontroversial. Or to put it another way, as you point out, it is not true under all systems of logic.

    For neatness, I personally prefer Raymond Smullyan's response: St Anslem proves conclusively that *all* Gods exist, but fails to demonstrate that *at least one* God exists.

  25. etv13 said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    What's with those long s's, anyway? Was there any rhyme or reason governing when they used a long s and when they used a short one?

  26. John Swindle said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 12:06 am

    etv13 asked about the rule for long s and short s. In English and German the short s was used at the end of a word. The long s was used at the beginning of a word or in the middle of a word. As to belief, I believe that the Greeks still do something similar with their equivalent letter sigma.

  27. etv13 said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 4:05 am

    @ John Swindle: thanks for responding. I remember being in some building in Boston many years ago (the Old North Church? The Old South Church? some building, I vaguely recall, that the British used for stabling during the revolution) and trying to puzzle out whether the long s was used for buzzy s's, or hissy ones, or what, and being completely at a loss. I notice the Hobbes excerpt in the OP follows the rule as you stated it, except in the Latin phrase, when it uses what looks like a regular capital S. Of course, that's not English or German. In the best "no good deed goes unpunished" tradition — do you have any insight as to where the long S came from, or what its purpose was? Or, for that matter, why it died out?

  28. Rodger C said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    @etv13: To refine what's been said, the S-shaped S was the only capital one. Also, in English the short s was used as the second member of a double s. German, of course, now distinguishes phonemically between two short s's and long-short s, which has become a single symbol.

  29. Rodger C said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    To answer your second question, the long s originated in early medieval script from a tendency to verticalize S into a long downstroke, a 180-degree turn, and a shorter upstroke hooking off to the left. It was considered the "normal" s. The s-shaped s was a flourish at the end of words. Long s died out in the years around 1800; I'm not sure just why, but I suspect the industrial revolution and the revolutionary political period, etc., had people feeling that writing one (and only one) letter in two forms was irrational and "feudal."

  30. Dan T. said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    Maybe printers hastened the demise of the long "s" out of desire to have one fewer variety of movable type to deal with.

  31. Bathrobe said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 11:33 am

    one fewer variety… Do people really say 'one fewer variety'?

  32. Rod Johnson said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    I think Dan T.'s post counts as an existence proof.

  33. etv13 said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

    Rodger C: thanks.

  34. Xmun said,

    October 22, 2011 @ 1:48 am

    Rodger C's account states the general practice, but scribes were only human and it's not hard to find variations. I have in front of me a photograph of a page from an early 17th cent. manuscript in italic hand in which the words "Adspice", "ſuspendet", and "stirpe" are all so spelt, with round s where long s would normally be expected. (It's a passage from the Aeneid, Book 6, lines 855, 859, and 864.)

  35. Xmun said,

    October 22, 2011 @ 1:50 am

    *Now* I notice that the comments I'm referring to were written on the 19th. Oh well, better late than never, I guess.

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