Notes on Introduction to the Humanities -- Hum A211

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 3

One main theory we looked at today was the Sapir Whorf hypothesis. If you check the web you will find lots of descriptions of this and even youtube videos about it or how it might be used to describe certain issues regarding it. (We watched a brief portion of one video today). The main concern is how language structures how we perceive the world and what this might mean regarding our ability to understand other cultures (either present day or past).


There was an interlude regarding the development of languages. Mentioned: the language trees

as well as a theory of why languages evolve the way they do because of the density of the air in the enviornment - and a fun question here is what characteristics of the enviornment today is having an effect on English - perhaps digital communications? Contrast the types of singers from before digital reproduction and singers we might listen to today.

An intriguing question - the quiz question - what is your favorite word? I am curious to see your responses to this one since it brings up the pleasure sounds give us. If it takes an understanding of the theory of life of a people in order for us to understand their art then we have to understand their language and the way they see their world.



“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” to Brian Greene intro to string theory –

conclude that this may certainly be how science – physics works – but it is also how theory works.


We don’t want our theories to make a mess of things, but to improve our understanding. Theories are tools and the tools should work better.


Following Quine’s 6 virtues of hypotheses -- this is mercilessly adapted from


Conservatism: Don’t deviate from your established evidence or beliefs unnecessarily.

Modesty: Don’t get carried away too much beyond the evidence you have to work with. 

Extrapolate carefully.

Simplicity: Don’t add things beyond what’s necessary to account for the evidence you are working with. 

Interpolate carefully.

 Generality: Don’t make hypotheses so specific that they only cover the evidence at hand. 

Avoid “ad hoc” hypotheses.


Testability is more a matter of how the hypothesis is treated by the person who holds the hypothesis.

·         Is the person willing to consider contrary evidence, or is potentially contrary evidence always explained away?

·         Article of Faith, rather than hypothesis.


·         Religion: Problem of Evil

·         Santa Claus brings us presents.

·         Horoscopes: “You can make progress if you deal with the right individuals.”  “Hidden assets can be doubled if you play your cards right.”

·         Psychics: If it didn’t happen, it’s because other factors intervened.

 Testability: Don’t be dogmatic.

Take contrary evidence seriously. 



·         Horoscopes:

·         “Love can be yours if you get out today.” 

·         “Observe and you will learn.” 

·         “Pleasure trips will promote romance.” 


Precision: Don’t be excessively vague.


A good hypothesis is one that does well in light of the six virtues of hypotheses. 


Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch works best here:

Following this I presented two movie selections to discuss the nature of Aristotle's conception of tragedy:

The first scene we watched was the scene from "The Two Towers" titled "The White Rider" and discussed the narrative aspect of the piece: resurrection. We then viewed the last scene from "The Passion" and contrasted this with the previous piece from "The Lord of the Rings". (In Truth Beauty and Goodness I often then refer a book as a result of the discussion by selecting James Dunn's book "Jesus Remembered" titled "Postmodernism" to focus on how the dialogue concerning the nature of truth in narratives has taken the linguistic (post-Wittgensteinian) turn. (The link above is to the Google Book page I read in class for TBG).

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers (Widescreen Edition)  
The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers (Widescreen Edition) by Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, and Orlando Bloom (DVD)
The Passion of the Christ (Widescreen Edition)  
The Passion of the Christ (Widescreen Edition) by James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Hristo Jivkov, and Francesco De Vito (DVD)


Next lecture 

This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.