This is one of my favourite proverbs. I quite often find myself turning it over in my own mind as some particularly dense person fails yet again to see the bleedin’ obvious.

And yet I discover that it doesn’t appear to be a “standard” proverb, at least as revealed by 5 mins of not-very-exhaustive google searching. If you know better, tell me.

The meaning, of course, is that once a certain minimal level of literal or metaphorical illumination has been shed on a subject, increasing the level of illumination or quantity of explanation will not allow the foolish to understand any more. Very useful for the GW debate.

I know it from John Crowley’s masterpiece, The Deep. Perhaps Crowley invented it.

[Late exciting update: see, p 47, footnote 68: “Eigentlich Zeichen der Weisheit, des Durchblicks aber nur im Dunkel, vgl. Emblem aus Gabriel Rollenhagen, Nucleus emblematum, 1613, Nr. 95: „Caecus nil luce iuvatur“ – Dem Blinden helfen weder Fackeln noch sonstiges Licht, die törichte Eule sieht am hellen Tage nicht.; vgl. Henkel/Schöne, Emblemata, Stgt. 1967/1996, Sp. 896, vgl. Abb. 27a.” Its close I tell you! I’ve added the pic.

Oh dear. It turns out that this is the top google hit for “Caecus nil luce iuvatur” so I’d better provide my gloss for it. Caecus is blind; luce is light. Iuvatur is some conjugation of Iuvo, to help. Thus, “light doesn’t help the blind”.]

[Even later update: Arguing on fb, I was pointed at “the blind shall not see” as a “sematic equivalent”. That appears to be uncommon, too. About the only ref I can find is Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest (continued 2) from some people who don’t like atheists – Al Islam. However, that’s close in sense to “light doesn’t help the blind” I had above.]


  1. #1 mrcreosote

    Have been recently looking at some quotes from Francis Bacon. Favorite so far:

    “They are ill discoverers that think there is no land when they see nothing but sea.”

  2. #2 Carmen S

    Thanks for the explanation, though you have a natural talent for making the obvious seem complicated.

    As they say, “a fool at forty is a fool forever”.

  3. #3 NikFromNYC

    I get it finally!!! You are simply smarter than the rest of us. Much much much smarter. So actual points of debate are but thin gruel to you that feed upon real substance. Your beef jerky is unmentionably better than normal beef jerky.

    Hockey Sticks that rely on fraudulent statistics, meaning de-centered principle component analysis (or a single outlier tree)…such things only found out a decade later, two hours after the raw data was finally released, are REAL history. Thermometer records that go back more than a mere century, but actually go back two or even three centuries, that fail to show any AGW signal, are not relevant. But of *course* not. Your own disbarment from Wikipedia for being a nutcase makes you a hero. Yup. That 1934 was much hotter than 1998 in 1999 but is now colder in 2010, after-the-fact, is just normal science.

    AGW is like the O. J. SImpson case. He was most quite likely guilty. But prosecutor Stoat screwed up the case by using evidence that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Instead, he claimed that anybody who couldn’t see though his “joke” of INCLUDING BAD EVIDENCE, was a textbook “fool”. Yet he insisted on presenting his case as being INCONTROVERTIBLE, and set himself up as arbitrator of just *how* stupid his opposition was. Doing this prevented him from setting his own house in order, tragically.

    And one fine day, a slimy echo chamber chock full of self-appointed aristocratic philosopher kings failed to notice that Ted Kennedy arranged to introduce a SKEPTIC into the halls of government.

  4. #4 Your Fellow Skeptic

    “That 1934 was much hotter than 1998 in 1999 but is now colder in 2010, after-the-fact, is just normal science.”

    Please, quantify. How much warmer was 1934 than 1998 back in 1999? I’m your fellow skeptic, so this information is invaluable to me. Thanks!

  5. #5 Michael Tobis

    A nice proverb, for which #3 provides an excellent illustration.

  6. #6 dhogaza

    Hockey Sticks that rely on fraudulent statistics, meaning de-centered principle component analysis

    Why do fools post so ignorantly? Dude, using “plain” PCA yields the same hockey stick.

    Wegman didn’t try the exercise (or at least testified so to Congress). Why? Maybe because he knew it wouldn’t make a difference, and pointing that out would undercut his usefulness to Barton’s committee hearing?

  7. #7 jknapp

    I had heard the name and so I thought I would drop in and see what you had to say about climate change. I like to gather from advocates of all sides of an issue. The top of the page post is you calling everyone who disagrees with you a fool. I guess that tells me that there will be little if any information here, just adhominum attacks. I’ll look elsewhere for science, logic, and facts. Thanks for making it obvious.

  8. #8 Brian Schmidt

    The post seems mostly right. On the other hand, there are folks like Frank Lutz, Michael Gerson, Greg Easterbrook, John Tierney, and whatshisname at Reason that come around and admit some of the truth, 15 years or so after it was blindingly obvious (they still don’t want to do anything about it though). One percent better than nothing and no change, I guess.

    I wonder if losing AGW bets will change some of the losers’ minds more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

  9. #9 crf

    “The top of the page post is you calling everyone who disagrees with you a fool” — jknapp

    You don’t read. It doesn’t say that. The quote (of someone other than WMC) is a metaphorical lament that there exist foolish people who are immune from reason. (Who’d dispute that? And do you know what a proverb is?)

    “I guess that tells me that there will be little if any information here, just adhominum attacks”

    You don’t reason. Even if WMC did call everyone who disagrees with him a fool, it doesn’t follow that his blog would therefore contain “little if any information”, and mostly contain “adhominum attacks”. To determine whether there is any information, or that he mostly posts ad-hominem attacks, you have to convincingly study those problems. (For example, sampling his posts for their “information” and ad hominem fallacies, however you like to define it? Asking opinions of others?).

    Too bad for you. I think you are an idiot (zing: that’s an insult, and not an ad-hom) because you’ve shown can’t read, don’t know what a proverb is, and can’t reason.

  10. #10 Marco

    a “jknapp” has posted previously on WUWT. If he started there, I don’t think there is a way back to actual understanding…(yup, that WOULD be an ad hominem).

  11. #11 outeast

    Further to crf’s response to jknapp:

    WC’s a bretty blunt bugger at times, especially since getting out of climate sci professionally. There’s still plenty of content here, but Stoat’s not set up to be a resource or an outreach site like RC (not any more, anyway). It’s a personal blog, now, and WC’s personal voice – not a diplomatic mission. And in suffering fools ungladly WC is actually unusually non-partisan: read a bit and you’ll see him being at least as dismissive of people on the warming side of the debate (and especially of certain claims) as on the denialist side; it’s just the way he rolls.

    You don’t have to like it, but don’t commit the fallacy of dismissing what he has to say just because you don’t like the way he says it – and still more, don’t dismiss those who happen to share his opinions on the science because you don’t like WC’s personal attitude! That’s be… well, silly. WC is not climate science:)

    [Thanks for that, which I’d regard as pretty fair. Yes, I can’t match RC, and I fear the long slow drift (as I lose contact with professional climate science) is in progress. I’d have put up a comment on JA’s most recent post on ensembles otherwise. I got called a shill for the coal industry on wiki, recently :-) -W]

  12. #12 David B. Benson

    Jackrabbits. Its jackrabbits.

    And no where near enough coyotes.

  13. #13 Douglas Watts

    I’ve always been fond of this little sentence by Henry Thoreau in Walden:

    “Sometimes circumstantial evidence can be quite strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

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