Original Source Research

“He who can go to the fountain
does not go to the water-jar.”

                                                           —Leonardo da Vinci

I have more respect for Leonardo than for any other curious human I’ve ever heard of. He may have been the most restless investigator of all. Kenneth Clark called him “the most relentlessly curious man in history.” He was also weird, surpassingly weird, in his interests, which were as wide and unexpected as the limits of imagination.

His notebooks were filled with observations, math equations, drawings of sawed-open skulls, of severed arteries, of water eddies, of explosions and flying machines, full also of to-do lists that chronicle his boundless curiosity. Walter Isaacson collected some samples from one day’s entry:

Measure Milan and its suburbs.
Get the master of arithmetic to show you
how to square a triangle.
Ask Giannino the Bombardier
about how the tower of Ferrara is walled.
Describe the tongue of a woodpecker.
Ask Benedetto Protinari by what means
they walk on ice in Flanders.
Get a master of hydraulics to tell you how to
repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner.
Go every Saturday to the hot bath where
you will see naked men.
Observe the goose’s foot; if it were always open
or always closed the creature would not be able
to make any kind of movement.
Draw Milan.
Get the measurement of the sun promised me by
Maestro Giovanni Francese, the Frenchman.”

What I hope you’ll notice and find inspiring is that Leonardo took nothing for granted, cultivated sources that would provide him the information he sought, and prized most of all his own observations or the direct testimony of other keen observers.

Leonardo Water
from Leonardo’s notebook

He went to the fountain,
not to the water-jar.

When Google leads you to a magazine article that says, “The study concluded that the earth is not actually getting warmer,” you’re drinking from the water-jar. You can either trust Coalminer Times, or you can be like Leonardo. Follow the lead back to the fountain. Find the study that did the testing and tracked the temperatures and drew the conclusions. See for yourself what conclusions they drew.

Are they the same conclusions Coalminer Times reported them to be? Who conducted the study? Who financed it? Was it someone interested in tracking the earth’s temperature? Or was it someone interested in promoting coal?

If the study turns out to be a collection of other people’s opinions, you’ve found the tank from which the jars were filled. Keep looking. The world is full of water tanks and water jars tainted with water from suspect sources. And very few fountains.

References

Isaacson, W. (2018). Leonardo Da Vinci. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

 

Riddles About Riddles

Just one last word before I go.

I wrote these jokes to make a point.

Version 1
—Knock knock.
—Who’s there?
—Death.
—Death who?
—Seriously?

Version 2
—Knock knock.
—Who’s there?
—Death.
Death who?
—Ultimately, it makes little difference in what form death arrives or by what name we call it. We all go one way or another and while there may be more dignity in some manners of demise, more time to prepare, or less suffering, the ultimate destination couldn’t be more similar: gone and gone and gone forever.

For me, they’re both funny (for you, maybe neither), but for different reasons. Version 1 is funny because it’s quick to point out a universal absurdity. Version 2 is funny because it gets the tone of a knock-knock joke so spectacularly wrong.

In Version 1 we laugh at ourselves for caring what kind of death is knocking. In Version 2 we laugh at the form the joke takes. I think that makes Version 2 a meta-joke, a joke about jokiness.

But that wasn’t my point.

My point was there is usually a way to say what you mean that is perfectly appropriate to your intentions, sometimes more than one, but always many, many, many, many, many ways to get the tone all wrong and spoil the effect you were going for, usually by falling for ready-made language or by overwriting what could be written simply.

My point is that when the chicken crosses the road “to get to the other side,” we laugh at the well-made joke. We laugh at how badly the joke gets it wrong when the chicken crosses the road “to find itself in sudden and much-valued possession of some other-sidedness.”

Which sort of jokes are you writing (Version 1 or Version 2)?

Which sort of jokes are these?:

—How many licensed electricians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
—Just one.

—How can you tell the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer?
—The taste.

Exercise for the Leave a Reply fields below:
Write a joke that gets the tone so wrong that it either dies on the spot or is funny precisely because it upends our expectations.

And if you can’t do that in the time available, just share a good (or amusingly bad) joke.

Course Evaluations, Please

Please help the Writing Arts Department determine my fitness for instruction by completing a brief evaluation of your experiences in this course.

Without identifying who, the administration has informed me that three students from this course so far have completed their evaluations. The rest have been emailed a reminder. You may take time in class today to complete the brief survey.

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Subject: Reminder for COMP 01.112.19 course evaluation
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Dear Student,

This is an automated message sent by David Hodges, your instructor for COMP 01.112.19 (or COMP 01.112.21), as a reminder to complete your course evaluation using Self-Service Banner.

1.   Go to http://www.rowan.edu/selfservice.
2.   Click “Access Banner Services – Secure Area – login Required”
3.   Enter User ID and PIN.
4.   Click “Personal Information.”
5.   Click “Answer a Survey.”
6.   Click on the student evaluation for your class.
8.   Complete the student evaluation.
9.   Click “Survey Complete” to submit your completed student evaluation.

Your instructor has not been informed of the recipients of this message; only that it has been sent to the students who have yet to complete the course evaluation.

Thank you.

Stephen Hawking Was Wrong.

I shared this post with you today in class before I found this perfect expression of why we can always say with confidence that “the scientist was wrong.”

The opening joke (attributed to Albert Einstein) tells the whole story.

How to Demand Your Readers’ Attention.

This is a post in progress.

https://counterintuitivefa18.com/2018/10/23/causal-3g/comment-page-1/#comment-3276

Grade Levels 2

Recently I wrote two sentences in preparing a post I never published called  “Counterintuitive Econundrums.” Reading them back, I realize they contain roughly the content value of a paragraph each. They’re not perfect sentences, but their advantages over the paragraphs they represent make them excellent models of writing that earns better grades.

An econundrum—combining the words “ecology” and “conundrum”—is a counterintuitive example of a supposed bit of “green” technology or practice that turns out to be less ecologically friendly than it seems.

Example 1

My favorite econundrums puncture the inflated claims of greenness too often made by commercial operations determined to sell us something they pretend has big environmental advantages.

This sentence packs a lot of material and delivers it in a steady stream that needs no punctuation. Commalessness is not a requirement of good writing, but sentences that charge resolutely toward their conclusion without deviating can gain a lot of momentum and arrive like a freight train. Let’s unpack the sentence into its component claims. Here’s the paragraph the sentence replaces:

Commercial operations are in business to sell us something. Because they know a large percentage of consumers are more likely to buy something that is kind to the environment than a similar but planet-killing product, they promote their products as green. Often they exaggerate the environmental friendliness of their products to trick us into making purchases that don’t really benefit the planet. Econondrums sometimes puncture the inflated claims of the companies that exaggerate their environmental benefits. Those are my favorite econonundrums.

Example 2

Electric cars make me furious, for example, because their manufacturers pretend exhaust pipe emissions are the only measure of a car’s environmental impact, conveniently ignoring the damage done to the planet to produce the electricity in the first place, a huge percentage of which is lost to transmission before it ever starts the car.

The sentence is a little long and might be better phrased, but as it stands it’s certainly not as clumsy at the version it represents, which takes way too much space to spell out the same claims:

Electric car manufacturers claim that their cars cause less environmental damage than cars that burn gasoline. They support that claim by measuring the amount of environmentally-damaging exhaust that gasoline engines emit when they’re driven. While they are correct in saying their cars don’t emit gasses, they are wrong to claim that exhaust gasses are the only way to measure environmental impact. The electricity required to power their cars is not environmentally clean because it can’t be produced in the first place without damaging the planet in some way; what’s more, a huge percentage of the electricity generated at power plants is lost in the miles of transmission wires from the plant to the charging station before it ever gets into the car. Therefore, claims that electric cars are cleaner than gasoline engine vehicles make me furious.

I invite you to respond here if this is helpful, or if you feel the need for additional samples, better models, or even revised versions of your own paragraphs before or after you’ve posted them. If I can model better writing for you, I’ll be happy to try.

Grammar Exercise –Wisemann101

If primary caretakers have a negative attitude toward their child, it increases the risk that their child will grow up hostile towards others. And it’s not just aggression toward others – that results from child abuse; a large amount of children raised by abusive parents also harm themselves. The reason for this negative behavior is because the children don’t learn appropriate techniques for handling lifes disappointments. If you aren’t raised with coping skills, you are much likely to act ‘inappropriately’ than if you have developed more reasonable approaches. The affect of poor parenting as reported by Dr. Geoffrey Dahmer in “The Bully Papers”, is that everyone gets the child they deserve.