First of all, I must apologize because my previous post, ""Truth" in
Mathematics and History", appeared twice in different versions. This was
because I receive HUNGARY in digest form on HIX and sent my reply to Mr.
Caragiu by that circutious route. I received a reply from some listserv
in the U.K., telling me that my message was undeliverable though (as I saw
later) it did appear. I took the event of the glitch as a warning from the
'spirits' that my message needed revision, so I tried again. What can I
say? I am cognitively challenged ( :-( ) and this is the postmodern world
of the net. :-).
>Tibor Benke > writes:
>>>Is the truth of the statement "2+2=4"
>>>dependent of the inner disposition of the
>>>person who ennounces it ?
>>A pruported professor of mathematics should have, it seems to me, a
>>somewhat more sophisticated view of the meaning of "truth" and the crite
>I am sorry that my connection with Orwell disturbed Professor Benke
>in such a way that he rushed with a quick introduction in philosophy, just
>for my sake. At least, my activity on bit.listserv.hungary was not
>without any intellectual profit ; I am happy for receiving this valuable
>information on Kant, Vienna Circle, Popper, or whoever wants to join :-)
Here too, an apology is, perhaps, in order. First off, according to my
age (50) I should be a professor, but my academic achievements extend only
to a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology. What can I say? It's not bad
for a cognitively challenged person, eh? ('Eh' is one of those
Canadianisms I picked up in the last 27 years I spent in the land of the
Salish - the people the part of this country I live in belonged to a couple
My rather disturbed tone, was not caused by reference to Orwell. I respect
Orwell's distopian musings. I especially think how the little wars around
the world today seem to resemble the ones Winston Smith saw on his
telescreen. I ask myself, were Burundi and Bosnia arranged by the powers
that be in a manner similar to the way Orwell described?
My problem was not objection to Orwell; his refusal to understand that
"truth" is a problematic concept was not suprising, coming from a
progressive British intellectual after having witnessed the horrors of
Stalin's and Hitler's versions of Utopia. Nevertheless, he missed the
point, in this respect, for the trouble was not that a scandal equal to
the one the Pythegoreans tried to supress (with respect to irrational
numbers) existed with respect to the concept of "truth" in general, but
that even after this discovery, people continued to enforce their own
versions of 'truth' by violence. My problem, rather, is similar to the
one Yeshua ben Yosef must have had when he rebuked the Pharasees and
Scribes for straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. They should have
known better. Either they didn't understand the Law, though they claimed
to be experts, or they were lieing out of self interest. Because a part of
me is resentful that I am not a professor, I often have the tendency to
lecture someone who seems to ignore well established, but not popularly
accepted, principles that their claim to expert status implies they
>If I remember well, I started this thread by posting a series of
>facts described in a book of an historian, Seton-Watson.
>By reading any unbiased :-) biography of Seton-Watson,
>one will see that his passion for _facts_ is indeed acknowledged.
>The most natural question which pops up is : "Did the facts
>related by Seton-Watson really happen ?" Of course, one might come up
>with a lot of `reasons' for these, but, after all, the road towards
>Hell is paved with the best intentions, isn't it, and the truble
>is that the same type of approach could be followed by the adverse
IMHO, In history there are no facts in themselves. (See below.) What is
more, there is always plenty of blame to go around.
>Please note that even if the facts related by Seton-Watson
>_did_ happen (as I think it _is_ the case), I would
>_by no means_ take these as an argument against the present-day
>Hungarians and their wishes, most of which I consider legitimate,
>or, equally, as an argument for the present-day Romanian
>nationalists (best friends of hungarian nationalists, you know,
>more than one might think)
I do not doubt you.
>I just wanted to suggest that the _only_ sane form of dialogue
>is that accompanied by _facts_. Yet another personal view: in order to solve a
>problem you have first to _sate it_. This are own narrow opinions,
>which might coincide or not with that of the Circle at Vienna.
Readig further, I see the problem about the understanding of the concept of
"truth" is, perhaps understandeable. It is rooted in the presently
problematic position in our western conception of knowledge and its
hiearchy. The list, : [Vienna Circle, Popper, Weber, Mannheim] was
similar in structure to: [1,3,7,11,...n]. Just as the later is
recognizeable as a list of a progression of primes, the former was meant
to indicate a progression from the narrow view of the Vieanna Circle,
through the slightly broader view of Popper and the progressively broader
views represented by various social scientists; each term in the series
showing the concept of 'truth' to be more polysemic. The average
mathematician or "hard" scientist, in order to practice her/his profession
more easily, divorces her/his knowlege from the 'common sense' of daily
life. Because they can ignore obscure philosophical problems, (one need
not worry about quantum mechanics when calculating the path of a projectile
or riding a bicycle), they take it for granted that such obscure problems
are even less revelant to people who deal in the 'soft' sciences. This
view is bolstered by a generalized contempt for the soft sciences. While
as a graduate student in Anthropology, I must read Popper and Lakatos and
Von Neumann, mathematicians and scientists are exempt from reading Boas,
Mauss, or Levi-Strauss, or even Durkheim, Marx and Weber. It turns out,
however, that the problem with the concept of 'truth' and the status of the
notion of 'historical fact' is a greater obstacle in the social sciences
then any challenges the physical sciences need to contend with. While in
the physical sciences, anomalous phenomena appear only at the extreeme
margins, when one views social life in any detail, the margins are
encountered immediately, because our social life depends on what we are in
the habit of paying attention to. The phrase :"reality is socially
constructed", though it is even harder to conceive then quantum effects,
is nevertheless, at least as well corroborated - talk to a cognitive
scientist or have a look at the work of Gregory Bateson. A complicating
factor is that many social scientist have not faced these issues yet: I
have exchanged messages with a historian who belittled the philosophy of
history as a topic of little revelance and interest; imagine a physicist
who felt that way about mathematics. :-[
One illustration of the problem, can be seen, when we consider the
possibility of History, as a systematisation, (Bracketing for the moment
'science' because of its positivist connotations) in light of the function
of atrocity stories. The past consists of an uncountable infinite set of
events. By the time you receive this missive, all the events which went
into finally displaying it before your eyes, will be in the past, and
however you might try to list the members of the set of events that
resulted in the event of you reading or not, I will always be able to add
another event. What is more, even if you restrict the set under
consideration, to, say, a specific segment of time, I will still be able to
add one more event no matter how many you list to begin with. This is
because what constitutes an 'event' cannot be defined other than
arbitrarily. Historians must select out of this uncountable infinite set
of events which constitute the past _as such_, those events which are
important enough to be 'historical', the departure of Columbus to sail to
China but not the departure of Pedro to go fishing, or the events in the
various persecutions that various versions of Christianity meeted out to
one another but not the punishment of Brother Xeno by St. Benedict. (You
should see the Hutterites' "Book of Martyrs"). But this is but the
beginning of sorrows. Historians accept the burden in the way
statisticians accept rounding or sampling error - the better ones keep
track of the rate, but in the newspapers the results of statistics disolve
into 'fact'. Besides the neccesity of selecting facts as historical or
not, there are two other problems. The first is, that events in a history
can never be considered in themselves _as such_ but must be considered in
terms of their *meaning*. This is both because events without meaning are
not really delimitable as events, and because the stream of cause and
effect in the flow of history is interrupted by interpretations. People
act not as automatons, but in response to their interpretation of other's
actions. To make sense of history we must understand both the meanings of
the historical actors and our own meanings. Was the persecution of the
Unionates an example of religious and not ethnic violence? It was probably
both, but it is the historian that must decide on the importance of each
aspect. With this we enter the swampy terrain of semantics and
hermeneutics. There are volumes by the thousand published about this
annually, but it should be sufficient to consider the difference in the
interpretation afforded to the deeds of Columbus by the members of the
Vatican and the American Indian Movement respectively. Or consider,
speaking of the matters we were talking about, when Kossuth made his
disparaging remarks about and to the Wallachs: the slavery of Africans was
a legal institution in the U.S. and even President Lincoln considered black
people "too primitive" to integrate into American society and mused about
resettling them in Liberia. In the 1870's Louis Real led a rebellion of
Metis People (French speaking partly Native American People) in what is now
Manitoba) and the British shot most of them and hung Real for treason, and
all they wanted was to keep the land they were living on and the right to
continue living in French. The second problem is the nature of
documentation. History as written, from its beginning from circa 2,000
B.C. to our own day, has always functioned socially as a means of
justifying the social action of the social group the writer represents and
thus, in principle, can never be objective - people are not objects. The
best one can do is consider as many narratives in as many contexts as
possible, take account of one's own biases, and proceed with caution.
>In some happy cases, the `problem' managed
>to be stated, after a `difficult birth' :-)
>Someone, for example, stated that the Romanian books never,
>or almost never (?), refer to Janos Bolyai as one of
>the founders of non-euclidean geometry, along with Lobacevski
>and Gauss. Good! I mean, it is a statement which can be
>verified pretty reasonable.
Gee thanx. You need to read some W.E.DuBois and Malcolm X!
"Love me, I'm a Liberal". Sh'eez!
>If this is exact, he might get a point, supposing
>I receive a _detailed statistics_ which reveals that there
>is indeed a misconduct (by personal experience - being educated in
>a pure romanian environment - I know that this is simply not true!).
>I haven't received this yet, that person just `rushed back home
>to search for the facts requested' :-) (although I believe it would be
>much better to have them _before_ launching an accusation).
>I just want to understand _for myself_, the nature of the
>hungarian unease. So far, after almost two weeks of discussions,
>the _only_ statement which I could reasonably verify coming from the
>most radical critic of Seton-Watson, contained a mistake, which
>might be unpardonable for an historian. In a few words I am sick
>of unsubstantiated claims. Full stop.
My opinion of statistical methods when used in the social sciences is that
the problems in the epistemology of history are dwarfed by the problems
with statistics when applied to social problems. I have a friend who is
doing a Ph..D. thesis on how statistics were invented in the process of
colonizing Ireland and how the indeces that are used are neccessarily
biased. But if you are into statistics, I'd like to know the proportion of
Transylvanian Wallachs that are fluent in Hungarian versus the proportion
of Hungarians that are fluent in Roumanian. And I would like to know why
Roumania is afraid of bilingual signs, or Hungarians educated in Hungarian.
Though, as my name indicates, I am of Transylvanian Hungarian descent,
possibly of Hungarianised Saxon descent (Though if so, this was at the
time of the Ottoman Empire, when the title which goes with the Laborfalvi
name was earned), I've lived in North America since 1957, when I was 11
and I've never been East of Miskolc. I am Canadian now but I came here by
way of the U.S. . The historical events that formed my perspective are:
the Hungarian Rebellion of '56, the American Civil Rights Movement, The
Vietnam War (I was actively against it - I am still considered a _persona
non grata_ by the U.S. government), The October Crisis in Quebec, and
now, the environmental movement. Unfortunately, my knowledge of events in
Transylvania is admittedly hazy. But however nasty Hungarians may have
been to Wallachs or Roumanians were to Szekelys, they were not as nasty as
Americans were to Africans or all Europeans were to Native Americans or the
English were to the other inhabitants of the British Isles. The small
nations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had no problem with using their
language once the Empire broke down, can the Irish or Scotts say the same?
Since Einstein, we know that everything is relative, but history is doubly
I am deeply ashamed of any harm my forbears my have done to yours. I mean
this with all my heart. I am really sorry, and I apologize.
But I cannot speak for the people who are across the sea. I would have to
interview people in the communities under consideration before I could even
try to answer what motivates the people involved, why they insist that
their children should be educated in their mother tongue. My three
children only speak English well (their mother being American), French
poorly, and Hungarian hardly or not at all, and I feel the distance, but
the distance might not be caused by the language situation, it could well
be the converse. (Lately, they are expressing interest in learning
Hungarian, and though the youngest is 19, perhaps it's not too late). BUT
THAT IS NOT THE POINT. I can only allude by way of comparison to what is
happening here where I live. Now that the salmon which never failed to
return to these shores, have suddenly become scarce, some people are
wondering aloud whether the shamans, who claimed to insure their return,
knew something the oceanographers of the department of fisheries have yet
to learn. When you needlesly damage local knowledge, the loss is
literally, INCALCULABLE. Instead of supressing languages, we need to
revive the ones we can save before they disappear.
>I would like to tell a Zen anecdote, which might illustrate a little bit
>my `extra-mathematical' concept of truth (in math that's simple one has
>and semantics, joined by a nice theory, model theory) in which
>the novice passes successively by three stages:
>1. In the beggining the mountains were mountains and nothing more.
>2. After some more advancement, the mountains ceased to be mountains.
>3. Becoming a Zen master, he sees again the mountains and nothing more.
Ah! A Koan. I love Koans! But they too - no, - especially, must be taken
in context. Koans are a device used by Zen masters to aid students in
meditation. Each student with sufficient preparation is assigned a Koan
upon which he (rarely she) must meditate every day for hours. Occasionaly,
the master evaluates the seeker in a private interview by listening to a
response to the koan. In this case I don't think Mountain=Mountain would
do. In other words, the story's end (your third point) is not the lesson,
but a paradox posed to the student: "what is enlightenment if the mountain
is again a mountain?" , "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
(On Zen, see: Christmas Humphreys, _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_, Allen Watts,
_Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen_ , or D.T. Suzuki [any number of books -I
don't recall the titles]).
Another one, similar to yours:
"Before enlightenment (satori) you chop wood and carry water, after
enlightenment (satori) you chop wood and carry water."
But I have one you might want to ponder the next time you sit Za-Zen:
Why did Bodhidharma go to China? (Given, that the cause of pain is desire,
and that Bodhidharma was enlightened and thus, free of desire)
>I mean, I hope sooner or later we will understand each other, and, avoiding
>unnecessary divagations, we will see the world as it is.
Yes! Me too.
>Equally true that sometimes, w.r.t. Romanians, the Hungarians, in the 20-th
>century acted like, say... here you might better enter the century.
>Ip, Traznea, say something. One should note that Romania at
>that time was not in war with Hungary. Also, the _fact_ that
>17 Orthodox and Uniate churches were rased to the ground, kids of
>one year old killed without mercy, all these _cannot_ be weakened
>by philosophical divagations related to `the Circle at Vienna'.
>Facts are facts. This, however, does not weaken
>my belief that the Hungarians _have_ the right to exist - as
>Hungarians - in the countries in which they constitute minorities.
>They can learn in school that they came from Sumer, or from the Moon, whatever
>>The trouble is that the Roumanian state seems to act like a nineteenth centur
>>european state on the eve of the twenty-first century.
>Personally, I cannot agree or disagree
>with what is being `seemed' by
>somebody. Note that I might be myself at odds
>with some aspects of the Romanian state.
>>It is unfortunate
>>that the Hungarians are not much wiser.
>But they _are_ wiser, isn't it.
>This scores in a wise way, anyway.
I am too old and sick to keep score.
If I were one of the Hungarians of Transylvania, I would demand a right to
a full education for my children in my native language, and if refused I'd
appeal to my compatriots abroad to help finance a private system of
education, and withhold the portion of my taxes which finance the public
schools at the risk of prison, if neccessary. But I would avoid
provocative language or anything that might endanger my credibility. And I
would understand that Roumanians might have just grievences from the past,
and vocally apologise. But I have a full belly, and no one came to my
wedding with axes, so it's easy for me to talk.
Good fortune to you,