Notes on Certainty

Certitude is not the test of certainty.

Oliver Wendell Holmes



Notes on Certainty

Dr. Freedman, who has written books on the science and history of clinical trials, says he is reminded of a story about a pioneer in the medical application of statistics, Pierre-Charles-Alexandre Louis.

In the 1830s, Dr. Louis studied the effect of bloodletting, or bleeding—the standard treatment of the time—on pneumonia.

“The data showed that bleeding didn’t work,” Dr. Freedman said. But, he said, “Dr. Louis rejected this as terrifying and absurd.”

So, he made a recommendation: bleed earlier and bleed harder.

Gina Kolata


Notes on Certainty

In the New Introductory Lectures Freud contrasts the different ways we would react to someone who speculates (against all good evidence) that the interior of the earth is filled with water saturated with carbonic acid and to someone who tells us that it is filled with marmalade.

Richard Wollheim


Notes on Certainty

As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it. I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others.

Bertand Russell


Kerstin zu Pan


British humour

“What ho!” I said.

“What ho!” said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

P.G. Wodehouse


British humour

Alan Bennett: I’m going to ask you just a few questions about the train robbery, if I may.

Peter Cook: Well, I’d like to like to make one thing quite clear at the very outset. When you speak of a train robbery, this involved no loss of train. It was merely the contents of the train that were pilfered. We haven’t lost a train since 1943, I believe it was–the year of the great snows; we mislaid a small one. They’re very hard to lose, you see. Trains are great bulky things as opposed, for example, to small jewels–a tiny pearl, for example, might nestle in the navel of a lady and disappear for years, whereas a train with its huge size and the steam pouring out is altogether a different kettle of fish.

Alan Bennett: I think you’ve made that point rather well.

Peter Cook: Thank you very much.

Alan Bennett: Who do you think may have perpetrated this awful crime?

Peter Cook: We believe this to be the work of thieves, and I’ll tell you why. The whole pattern is extremely reminiscent of past robberies where we have found thieves to be involved. The tell-tale loss of property–that’s one of the signs we look for.

Alan Bennett: So you feel that thieves are responsible?

Peter Cook: Good heavens, no. I feel thieves are totally irresponsible. Ghastly people who go around snatching your money.

Alan Bennett: I appreciate that, sir.

Peter Cook: You may appreciate that but most people don’t. If you like having your money snatched good luck to you. You must be rather a queer fish, in my view.

Alan Bennett: Who do you think is behind the criminals?

Peter Cook: We are, considerably. Many days, indeed months and years behind them. But we are however using the wonderful detection system known as the “Identikit.” Are you familiar with the Identikit?

Alan Bennett: Isn't that where you piece together the face of the criminal?

Peter Cook: Not entirely, no. We’re only able to piece together the appearance of the face of the criminal. We can’t actually piece together the face itself. I wish we could, of course, because once you’ve captured the criminal face, the other criminal parts aren’t hard to find. The criminal body is situated directly below the criminal face, joined of course by the criminal neck.



Jewish humor

Freud could not order blintzes. He was ashamed to say the word. He’d go into an appetizer store and say, “Let me have some of those crepes with cheese in the middle.” And the grocer would say, “Do you mean blintzes, Herr Professor?” And Freud would turn all red and run out through the streets of Vienna, his cape flying. Furious, he founded psychoanalysis and made sure it wouldn’t work.

Woody Allen


The Writing Process

Letterman: Tell us a little about your book, A Crackup at the Race Riots.

(Harmony Korine starts laughing)

Letterman: This, by the way, is why they invented child-proof caps. Right here.

(Korine sits back)

Korine: It’s my first novel. I wanted to write a–

Letterman: Are you a novelist?

Korine: Yeah. (nodding)

Letterman: You’re a filmmaker, I guess it doesn’t make any difference, you’re just a creative entity.

Korine: I just work a lot and (shrugs) I wanted to write the great American novel. Or a novel. I just wanted it to be American.

April 3, 1998



The Writing Process

That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.