Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's your authority for that statement?

by Linda Theil
Wally Hurst talks about his presentation "What's Your Authority for that Statement?" at the Toronto Shakespeare authorship conference Oct. 17-20, 2013.
Wally Hurst is that rarest of creatures: a master of arts in Shakespeare authorship studies. He was awarded his degree from Brunel University, London, England in July this year. Also trained in the law, Hurst put his academic background to good purpose when he spoke on day-one at the Toronto Shakespeare authorship conference, October 17, 2013. Hurst's presentation was met with great enthusiasm by conference attendees; the title of his talk became something of a byword for the remainder of the conference. In fact, the question raised by Hurst's topic might serve as a motto for anti-Strats everywhere: "What's Your Authority for that Statement?" Hurst told his audience of authorship skeptics that they must develop a sense of skepticism about all research, including their own. In a video overview of his talk, linked above, Hurst said:
We have to recognize our own biases,  our own fallacies, in our everyday thinking -- both in others, which is easy; and in ourselves, which is not so easy. It is very, very difficult to recognize our own biases. We always resort to ad hominim attacks -- which means attacking the person rather than the ideas they hold. We are comfortable with our own beliefs; we think we are the rational and logical ones and everybody who opposes us is irrational and illogical. Those are just two of the fallacies -- the mistakes in everyday thinking, the cognitive biases -- that we hold.
He also proposed a method for thinking about evidence based on what he termed a "living theater proposition":
 . . . examining evidence the way an actor builds character by answering six specific questions; we ask who, what, where, when, why and how. . . . We ask those questions much like an actor asks those questions in building their own character. We can talk about how good the evidence is -- what its veracity is: is it good evidence, some evidence, or evidence not even worth talking about.
In his talk, Hurst recommended reading Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist by Michael Shermer. When asked about Shermer's famous derision for the Shakespeare authorship question (see Note below), Hurst said: 
He’s suffering from his own bias. Physician heal thyself! its very tough to do that. Its something we have to do ourselves. We are not part of a conspiracy therory. We’re a paradigm shift.
Wally Hurst is director of the Norris Theatre and a faculty member at Louisburg College, NC where he teaches courses in English, drama and political science. He and his wife Maria Hurst will lead a tour of London May 11-20, 2014 through the Office of Alumni Relations at Louisburg College. Hurst plans to make his "What's your Authority for that Statement" (see note below) presentation available soon on YouTube. He may be reached at whurst@louisburg.edu or at 919 497 3429.  Note on Michael Shermer: for more information on Shermer's view of the authorship as a conspiracy theory see "Skeptics take on the life and argued works of Shakespeare" by Michael Shermer, originally published as "Shakespeare Interrupted" in the July 31, 2009 edition of Scientific American. For Oberon commentary on the Shermer SA article see: "SciAm not so rational" "Tom Hunter comments on Shermer's SciAm essay" "Tom Hunter comments on Shahan/Shermer discussion on CHQR"

Note: "What's your Authority for that Statement?" video available on YouTube


3 comments:

hewardwilkinson said...

We need to clearly distinguish
1. TWO senses of 'sceptic', and, in turn,
2. TWO senses of 'conspiracy theory'. Let me clarify this carefully, starting with 2, and then clarifying 1. in that light. The matter has further complications but this is a start.

'Conspiracy theory A' is 'a theory adopted delusionally for paranoid or cultic motivations' - we could label this 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'. NOTE that, on this definition, it is possible to hold a rational theory AS a 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'.
'Conspiracy Theory B' is simply the hypothesis, - to be defended AND challenged on rational evidential grounds, - that there WAS indeed a conspiracy in a particular case. We might simply call this 'rational conspiracy theory'. As there was a successful conspiracy in 1944 to deceive Hitler into preparing for an attack at the Pas de Calais by fabricating a dummy army in East Anglia by means of fake radio signals, crypt signals dummy tanks and bivouacs from the air, and so on. Clearly there have been many real conspiracies, in this sense, and no doubt we a. do not know about them all, and b. mistake SOME of them for 'conspiracies in sense A', ones believed for cultic type reasons.

We can now define 'sceptic sense A' and 'sceptic sense B'.
'Sceptic sense A' is one who defines ALL conspiracy theory as 'cultic conspiracy theory' until, magically, it becomes 'rational conspiracy theory'. Because, since a sceptic in this sense defines what is a conspiracy theory a priori, a sceptic in sense A has no means of dealing with uncertainty as to WHETHER a theory is a conspiracy theory cultic sense or a rational conspiracy theory, or, if one prefers, theory that there was a conspiracy. (As with the case of Jefferson's relations with his slave which Keir Cutler quoted.)

A sceptic sense B is simply one who suspends judgement and continues discussion over any theory which is rationally defended.

There are MANY theorists today who are SCEPTICS in the sense of A PRIORI SCEPTICISM. Someone like Schermer makes a career out of this and we need to make the distinctions I have outlined before taking any of HIS definitions of 'conspiracy' at face value unexamined.

Paul Crowley said...

Heward Wilkinson said...

> We need to clearly distinguish 'Conspiracy theory A' is 'a theory adopted delusionally for paranoid or cultic motivations' - we could label this 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'.
> NOTE that, on this definition, it is possible to hold a rational theory AS a 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'.

Agreed. And if you go around dressed in a metallic costume, with an antenna on your head, most people won't take time to listen to your arguments -- no matter how rational they might in fact be. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many Oxfordians do behave in such a way -- or at least are not bothered about how they appear to others. Frankly I believe many of them have no interest in rationality; and their "Oxfordianism" is merely just another of their range of delusional or paranoid Conspiracy Theories.

They send shudders down my spine, and my reaction is similar to that of J, Thomas Looney to the crazed theories of his friend, Percy Allen. I want no more association with them than with the metallic man with his antenna. I would prefer the company of Michael Shermer or David Prosser.

Which takes us to the second proposition of the week -- that of Wally Hurst. It's all very well saying that you must look into the How, Where, Why and What of your own theory. But if you never seek to defend it in open forums, never allow anyone to ask you questions, or (if they somehow do) never make any attempt to answer those questions, hide behind the fire-walls in your own private website, and rely on 'arguments of the nature 'wouldn't it be interesting if . . " then you have a certain guarantee that you won't come anywhere near Wally's exacting standards. And if you're not already wearing an antenna, you might as well put it on now.

Paul Crowley said...

Heward Wilkinson said...

> We need to clearly distinguish 'Conspiracy theory A' is 'a theory adopted delusionally for paranoid or cultic motivations' - we could label this 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'.
> NOTE that, on this definition, it is possible to hold a rational theory AS a 'conspiracy theory - cultic sense'.

Agreed. And if you go around dressed in a metallic costume, with an antenna on your head, most people won't take time to listen to your arguments -- no matter how rational they might in fact be. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many Oxfordians do behave in such a way -- or at least are not bothered about how they appear to others. Frankly I believe many of them have no interest in rationality; and their "Oxfordianism" is merely just another of their range of delusional or paranoid Conspiracy Theories.

They send shudders down my spine, and my reaction is similar to that of J, Thomas Looney to the crazed theories of his friend, Percy Allen. I want no more association with them than with the metallic man with his antenna. I would prefer the company of Michael Shermer or David Prosser.

Which takes us to the second proposition of the week -- that of Wally Hurst. It's all very well saying that you must look into the How, Where, Why and What of your own theory. But if you never seek to defend it in open forums, never allow anyone to ask you questions, or (if they somehow do) never make any attempt to answer those questions, hide behind the fire-walls in your own private website, and rely on 'arguments of the nature 'wouldn't it be interesting if . . " then you have a certain guarantee that you won't come anywhere near Wally's exacting standards. And if you're not already wearing an antenna, you might as well put it on now.