Not such a dunce after all

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English: John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – November ...

English: John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – November 8, 1308) was a theologian and philosopher. Some think that during his tenure at Oxford, the notion of what differentiates theology from philosophy and science began in earnest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading The Irrationals and I discover that the term “dunce” – as in stupid person – comes from Dunse, via Dunsman, and ultimately Duns Scotus, a 13th century scholastic from Duns in the Scottish borders.

His views annoyed the humanists (the humanists being of the view that humans needed to re-read the classics, the scholastics being content with the scholars’ existing interpretations) and hence his name became a term of abuse.

But Duns Scotus was actually quite perceptive in at least one way – he argued that the patterns of the celestial wanderers (i.e., the Sun, Moon and planets) could not repeat in a grand cycle because they were incommensurate – in other words some bodies moved at speeds that were irrational compared to others.

This is, in fact, the same point I made last September about the Spirograph tracing out \aleph_0 cusps for inner wheels with incommensurate radii – so I am just eight centuries behind him.