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Chapter 5

"We May Assume"

In the Assuming trade three separate and independent cults are
transacting business. Two of these cults are known as the
Shakespearites and the Baconians, and I am the other one--the
Brontosaurian.

The Shakespearite knows that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's Works;
the Baconian knows that Francis Bacon wrote them; the Brontosaurian
doesn't really know which of them did it, but is quite composedly
and contentedly sure that Shakespeare DIDN'T, and strongly suspects
that Bacon DID. We all have to do a good deal of assuming, but I
am fairly certain that in every case I can call to mind the
Baconian assumers have come out ahead of the Shakespearites. Both
parties handle the same materials, but the Baconians seem to me to
get much more reasonable and rational and persuasive results out of
them than is the case with the Shakespearites. The Shakespearite
conducts his assuming upon a definite principle, an unchanging and
immutable law--which is: 2 and 8 and 7 and 14, added together,
make 165. I believe this to be an error. No matter, you cannot
get a habit-sodden Shakespearite to cipher-up his materials upon
any other basis. With the Baconian it is different. If you place
before him the above figures and set him to adding them up, he will
never in any case get more than 45 out of them, and in nine cases
out of ten he will get just the proper 31.

Let me try to illustrate the two systems in a simple and homely way
calculated to bring the idea within the grasp of the ignorant and
unintelligent. We will suppose a case: take a lap-bred, house-
fed, uneducated, inexperienced kitten; take a rugged old Tom that's
scarred from stem to rudder-post with the memorials of strenuous
experience, and is so cultured, so educated, so limitlessly erudite
that one may say of him "all cat-knowledge is his province"; also,
take a mouse. Lock the three up in a holeless, crackless, exitless
prison-cell. Wait half an hour, then open the cell, introduce a
Shakespearite and a Baconian, and let them cipher and assume. The
mouse is missing: the question to be decided is, where is it? You
can guess both verdicts beforehand. One verdict will say the
kitten contains the mouse; the other will as certainly say the
mouse is in the tomcat.

The Shakespearite will Reason like this--(that is not my word, it
is his). He will say the kitten MAY HAVE BEEN attending school
when nobody was noticing; therefore WE ARE WARRANTED IN ASSUMING
that it did so; also, it COULD HAVE BEEN training in a court-
clerk's office when no one was noticing; since that could have
happened, WE ARE JUSTIFIED IN ASSUMING that it did happen; it COULD
HAVE STUDIED CATOLOGY IN A GARRET when no one was noticing--
therefore it DID; it COULD HAVE attended cat-assizes on the shed-
roof nights, for recreation, when no one was noticing, and
harvested a knowledge of cat court-forms and cat lawyer-talk in
that way: it COULD have done it, therefore without a doubt it did;
it could have gone soldiering with a war-tribe when no one was
noticing, and learned soldier-wiles and soldier-ways, and what to
do with a mouse when opportunity offers; the plain inference,
therefore is, that that is what it DID. Since all these manifold
things COULD have occurred, we have EVERY RIGHT TO BELIEVE they did
occur. These patiently and painstakingly accumulated vast
acquirements and competences needed but one thing more--
opportunity--to convert themselves into triumphant action. The
opportunity came, we have the result; BEYOND SHADOW OF QUESTION the
mouse is in the kitten.

It is proper to remark that when we of the three cults plant a "WE
THINK WE MAY ASSUME," we expect it, under careful watering and
fertilizing and tending, to grow up into a strong and hardy and
weather-defying "THERE ISN'T A SHADOW OF A DOUBT" at last--and it
usually happens.

We know what the Baconian's verdict would be: "THERE IS NOT A RAG
OF EVIDENCE THAT THE KITTEN HAS HAD ANY TRAINING, ANY EDUCATION,
ANY EXPERIENCE QUALIFYING IT FOR THE PRESENT OCCASION, OR IS INDEED
EQUIPPED FOR ANY ACHIEVEMENT ABOVE LIFTING SUCH UNCLAIMED MILK AS
COMES ITS WAY; BUT THERE IS ABUNDANT EVIDENCE--UNASSAILABLE PROOF,
IN FACT--THAT THE OTHER ANIMAL IS EQUIPPED, TO THE LAST DETAIL,
WITH EVERY QUALIFICATION NECESSARY FOR THE EVENT. WITHOUT SHADOW
OF DOUBT THE TOMCAT CONTAINS THE MOUSE."

Mark Twain

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