Guildenstern and epistemology

A propos of nothing in particular, this quote from Stoppard’s brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. After losing nearly a hundred coin tosses in a row to Rosencrantz, who bets Heads every time, Guildenstern suspects there’s something funky going on with reality—but should he rely on his own experience as a valid indication of anything?

Guildenstern: A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until—“My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
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2 Responses to Guildenstern and epistemology

  1. Karen Reid says:

    That’s one of my favourite quotes. Thanks!

  2. I think Hume would quibble.

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