The exploits of Charlemagne are fairly well documented and widely known. He was both the King of the Franks and the founding emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (technically, the Carolingian Empire). In this capacity, he is renowned for a wide variety of things usually associated with wisdom, such as diplomatic as well as military triumphs, a cultural renaissance, successful economic and administrative reforms and so on. There is a reason why he is called great. Importantly, he died in 814 A.D., well over a thousand years before anything that we would today recognize as Neuroscience.
Thus, it might come as a surprise that he also had a keen interest in mental phenomena. Some of his observations on this topic have been preserved through the ages; for instance:
There are several recent papers on this very issue, for instance this one; lo and behold, it seems to be true. It looks like Charlemagne scooped these authors by about 1200 years. Or did he?
It is not the only noteworthy quote. This one is pure gold:
I could easily spin a dense yarn about how this expression anticipated the results of literally decades worth of intensive research on perception, cognition and action. It would be a marvelous feast. I could discuss dorsal vs. ventral streams of processing, perception vs. action, perception for action vs. perception for cognition and a great many other “hot” topics of contemporary research in sensory and motor systems. The possibilities are almost endless and without reasonable bound.
In fact, I could write a whole book about this. The title would be obvious. Recent history suggests that editors eat this kind of stuff right up and that it would also sell quite well.
So why don’t I?
Because it would be wrong. Charlemagne was not a Neuroscientist. He was not even a scientist. Not even by a stretch. Not a chance. Not even close.
Asserting this would grossly misrepresent the character of science and what scientists do.
Pretty much everyone has intuitions about the workings of the world, including the workings of the mind. Sometimes, these intuitions even turn out to be largely on target.
But that is not what science is about. For the most part, science is about turning these hunches into testable hypotheses, trying to then test these hypotheses to the best of our abilities (this part is extremely hard) and then trying to systematize these systematic observations into a coherent framework of knowledge that is aimed at uncovering the principles behind the phenomena under study. In other words, we are not trying to describe the shadows per se, but we are trying to triangulate and infer the forms from a multitude of multidimensional (usually) shadows, as hard as that might be in practice.
It is not surprising that smart people are curious about a great many things and that their intuition is sometimes correct. In that sense, everyone is a physicist, neuroscientist, psychologist, chemist and so on. In other words, Spartacus was a neuroscientist. But that utterly trivializes science to a point that is entirely ridiculous. Modern science is nothing like that. It is precisely this moving beyond intuition that defines modern science. A very simple – and early – example is the dramatic difference between our naive intuitions about how objects fall and scientific descriptions how they actually fall.
It works the other way around, too. Some sciences – psychology in particular – have a very big PR problem in the sense that most of their findings seem to be perfectly obvious (or in line with our intuitions) after the fact. This is an illusion, as people are actually not able to predict the results of social psychology experiments better than chance, if forced to do so from common sense and before knowing the outcome. It is important to distinguish this from bad science (or non-science), where the conclusions are not derived from empirical data, but follow from the premises a priori (analytic, not synthetic judgments). In any case, the fact that some scientific results are consistent with our intuitive a priori notions misses the point completely. That is not what science is about at all.
It may be forgivable if a non-scientist does not understand these subtle yet fundamental things and makes embarrassing claims, but this person cannot then claim being a scientific expert at the same time. One can’t have it both ways. Really.
Doing so would just be wrong. barefoot
Knowingly doing something wrong would be disingenuous. slave
So I don’t and I won’t.