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Prospero’s Precepts – Thinking About Thnking



Did Shakespeare really write Shakespeare? It’s a question that’s been analyzed many times – mainly by historians and literary critics. But Peter Sturrock, a professor of physics at Stanford, recently took “A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question.”

In his book, AKA Shakespeare, Sturrock uses probability, logic, Bayesian statistics, and good old-fashioned critical thinking to revisit the question. Sturrock argues that the real author of the Shakespearean plays could have been one of three different people. He uses a scientific, rationalist method and fashions a conversation between multiple observers, each with his own perspective.

For Shakespeare buffs, this is catnip. But even if you’re not caught up in the intrigues of the Elizabethan era, Sturrock provides a fascinating look at how to think about complex and fractured issues.

Sturrock also collects and organizes 11 key insights into critical thinking that he calls Prospero’s Precepts. These form the intellectual foundation for his inquiry into the authorship question. For me, the list itself is catnip, and worth the entire cost of the book. Here are the Precepts. I hope you enjoy them.

All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)

Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)

Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)

A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)

The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)

To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)

Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

By the way, I first discovered Sturrock’s book and the Precepts on Maria Popova’s excellent website, Brainpickings.

One Response to Prospero’s Precepts – Thinking About Thnking

  • mmm . . . yummy catnip, this. Thanks for the turn-on to Prospero’s Precepts — and for promoting the most excellent Maria and Brain Pickings!

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