The Circle of Caveats

Hoi An - Japanese Covered Bridge

In the comments to my previous post, Brian Hayes pointed me to reporter Robert Neuworth’s ‘circle of caveats’, which deserves to be elevated to the front page:

“We must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth. Because, as they say, it is the exception that proves the rule. Of course, rules are made to be broken and so, in this case, we must make allowances. For the time being, all we can state with certainty is that, given this set of assumptions, all things will be equal. Context is everything. Thus, this is not the final word on the subject. And yet, because of the foregoing doubts, we must be doubly sure. So, in light of current developments and taking stock of all our cultural preconceptions, the conclusion is neither obvious nor buried. It is conditioned by the very factors that condition us all. Beneath all this lies the substratum of unreason, which itself provides the basis for all knowledge. And lest we make too much of this, we must avoid the temptation of turning to speculation, to specious imagining, as it were. We must steer clear of that pathway at all costs—or at least in most instances. In that eventuality, the two sides are further apart than ever. And yet they are closer and closer. Bridging that gap is our task here, and yet we must be careful: a bridge built on quicksand will sink in a snap. It is best to avoid such constructions. Considering the preceding, we must put aside all pretense. The answer lies in the dispassionate pursuit of the truth, wherever that takes us. We must not fail to mention that, generally and in specific, the road is long and hard. Suppositions must be avoided and, conversely and in equal proportion, we cannot avoid them. A house of cards will not sink in the sand but a slight wind will blow it down. The situation, then, is perilous. However, we must press on. Indeed, it is only through that propulsion, that forward seeking movement, that we will find, ultimately (or penultimately), in the worst or best possible case scenarios, that unmistakable aura of glacial impenetrability. Then, and only then, given the parameters outlined above, will there be enough data to suggest a course of action (and its equal and opposite reaction) leading us to a state of wide-eyed suspicion. To put it simply: on or about or perhaps with or above all. Needless to say, this does not always hold true. Sometimes, it is true, it is untrue, depending on circumstances and freak accidents and natural disasters and acts of God. Next to nothing is inessential. We arrive, then, at the central conundrum—-and we must be very careful with words here so as not to state more than we actually know. To recapitulate: given the current state of knowledge, taking into account our biases, and rolling with the punches, we can draw one almost inescapable conclusion from our diverse and disparate researches into our subject. To wit: we must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth.”

And delving further into Neuworth’s weblog, I found this poignant reflection on the passing of author David Markson. Worth your while.