On Diax’s Rake
Awhiles back I read “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson. An interesting story. It starts exotic and fascinating, ends rather conventionally. The aliens from parallel worlds arrive in their bomb-powered Orion ship; the powers that be call forth Arde’s best mathematicians and physicists, who on that world happen to be “mathic avouts”; i.e. ascetic atheist monks. It’s the mathics and their history that fascinate.
Part of their credo is “Diax’s Rake”, a philosophical principle. Stephenson defines it thus:
Diax’s Rake. A pithy phrase, uttered by Diax on the steps of the Temple of Orithena when he was driving out the fortune-tellers with a gardener’s rake. Its general import is that one should never believe a thing only because one wishes that it were true. After this event, most Physiologers accepted the Rake and, in Diax’s terminology, thus became Theors. The remainder became known as Enthusiasts.
I love this story. The gardener’s rake is a wonderfully earthy touch. Diax comes across as a combination of Jesus, Diogenes and Euclid; but by Diax’s Rake itself, I cannot regard him as anything other than a fiction, despite Stephenson’s talk of parallel worlds. So Diax’s Rake argues against the existence of Diax. Nonetheless it remains a valid principle.
So an intellectually ascetic principle, warning against pleasant fictions, remains valid, even when dramatized by a pleasant fiction!