Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Humanities/2011 April 4

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April 4[edit]

Death of Theodoric the Great[edit]

Our article on him says that he died in 526, in Ravenna, but does not state his cause of death. Is it known? Vultur (talk) 08:41, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

There's a lot of legends about him, but it seems the cause is not known for certain. The two main explanations given by ancient historians are either that he died of remorse after executing Boethius and other decent people, or he died of typhoid or dysentery or some similar intestinal disorder[1][2] but I can't find any particularly authoritative references. There's also Legends about Theodoric the Great which is one of the most confusing and poorly-referenced Wikipedia pages I've ever read, and discusses theories that the legends may be about someone else. --Colapeninsula (talk) 09:58, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
There are lots of people from that time period who were quite famous, but for whom the cause of death is not well known. If someone wasn't killed in battle or assassinated (both rather common enough hazards for someone of Theodoric's position), the cause of death wasn't often well known. Consider the death of Attila. According to contemporary accounts, he choked on his own blood as the result of overdrinking while partying (basically the same way that Bon Scott died), but there were other historians that claimed his wife killed him, and some more contemporary historiographers have claimed that all accounts of his death are suspect and likely written for political reasons, so there may be no reliable source to account for how he died. --Jayron32 12:23, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Our Legends about Theodoric the Great article says: "Theodoric the Great was an Arian Christian and despised by the Catholic Church for a persecution resulting in the deaths of Boethius, Symmachus, and Pope John I. Theodoric's death shortly after these killings was seen as divine retribution and in a church tradition dating at least from Gregory the Great's Dialogues, Pope John and Symmachus's souls were said to have dropped Theodoric's soul into Mount Etna, to suffer there until the end of days." . Alansplodge (talk) 16:10, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Me again. This site quoting Getica (The Origin and Deeds of the Goths), by Jordanes; "When he had reached old age and knew that he should soon depart this life, he called together the Gothic counts and chieftains of his race and appointed Athalaric as king." So either old age or the wrath of God seems to be the answer. Alansplodge (talk) 16:19, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
And no reason to say that they could not be one and the same. Googlemeister (talk) 18:19, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Although as divine retribution goes, it rather lacks drama. Maybe not one of God's better ones ;-) Alansplodge (talk) 19:35, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Conversely, some ancient figures died rather picturesque deaths, like Constans II, who was assassinated while bathing: the assassins bludgeoned him to death with his soap dish. Nyttend (talk) 22:12, 5 April 2011 (UTC)

Question on Wikipedia content[edit]

No offense, just a free discussion. I was browsing Wikipedia:Featured articles and found some interesting statistics:

So a conclusion can be drawn, which is very obvious, wikipedia has more coverage on individual films/songs and videos games (popular culture), than on science. The FAs on video games outnumber the FAs on medicine and chemistry combined. Any explanation? --Temporal back! (talk) 15:52, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

My own opinion would be that the areas listed would need expert contributors to bring them to FA status which we are possibly lacking in those departments. Mo ainm~Talk 15:56, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
All Wikipedia editors are volunteers. Most are quite young. Most people edit in areas that they are interested in (and know a bit about). More young people are interested in (and know a bit about) films, songs, video games (and individual earthquakes) than in medicine, chemistry, geology and geophysics. QED. Ghmyrtle (talk) 16:24, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
It depends on dumb luck, sometimes. You'll notice that there are a lot of good FAs on tropical cyclones. That's because there are a group of dedicated editors who work on those articles. If you find articles on minerology or chemical engineering or medicine or any other subject lacking, there is literally nobody to blame but yourself. Nothing at Wikipedia is done by anyone except lone individuals working on articles that interest them, and if you find that articles that interest you are of a poor quality, it is only because you did not fix them. You have no one to blame but yourself for Wikipedia's lack of quality. Shame on you! --Jayron32 16:39, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
FAs look for complete coverage of a topic, and as such it is easier to cover all the aspects of a particular hurricane, than, say predicting hurricanes. Grandiose (me, talk, contribs) 16:50, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Another possibility... being "Featured" can be a double edged sword... it can bring unwanted attention to an article, in the form of POV warring and vandalism. I have worked on at least two non-"pop culture" articles that could have been brought up at FAR and easily gained featured status, but the editors involved all agreed that doing so would cause more headaches than it is worth. We decided that it was better to have a really good article that remains under the radar and does not draw attention to itself. Blueboar (talk) 16:51, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Blueboar: Which two articles were they? A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 17:47, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
And of course not everyone that writes articles has either the time or feels the urge to take a say B-class article any further, particularly if they are some form of 'expert' and have a day job. Mikenorton (talk) 17:00, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Some of us just don't care what status an article they wrote has. I could not possibly care less what my two primary content contributions get rated; I'd rather have the right information as opposed to some ranking on a website- which after all, is what articles status is here. The Blade of the Northern Lights (話して下さい) 17:21, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
The obvious answer is that anybody can write about popular culture, while it takes quite a bit of education, and often some expertise, to write about science or mathematics. Keep in mind as well that the credit culture of, say, academia, is quite different than that of Wikipedia. Most of the academic experts I have met see no incentive to edit Wikipedia — it is literally a waste of time from their point of view. I don't see it the same way myself, but the culture of the university system is quite insular in this regard, and at every point one is encouraged to focus only on that which improves one's CV. And editing Wikipedia does not do that. --Mr.98 (talk) 17:26, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
On the other hand, being a principal author of a featured article on Wikipedia does give you some degree of "bragging rights" on myspace, twitter and the pop-culture web-forums. So editors who focus on pop-culture do have an incentive to spend time and energy gaining a "featured" status for their articles. Blueboar (talk) 17:40, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
The two major reasons have already been stated:
  • People in general are more interested in popular culture than science or math.
  • Anyone can write about pop culture but you need subject matter experts on science and math articles.
Here are a couple more:
  • POV disputes. Some topics are beset by editors who are more interested in making sure a certain POV is expressed than actually improving the article.
  • Online sources are more convenient to use, and you find lots of online sources for popular culture. Not so much for science and math, although that's changing I would think. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 18:02, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
These archived discussions link to Wikipedia:WikiProject Countering systemic bias.
Wavelength (talk) 18:22, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Another point to consider is that the criteria for reviewing and featuring a pop culture article are easier to meet. To be a featured article you have to cover the topic, the entire topic, with no notable omissions or weak areas, using engaging prose and professional-quality writing. It's a lot easier to cover encyclopedically the entire topic of a pop celebrity than it is to cover in an encyclopedic manner every important point of a war or a field of science. Though I would like to add that Wikipedia's area of concentration oftentimes does cover more serious topics than lists of pokemon. Areas that collect fans with encyclopedic levels of knowledge tend to produce the best wikipedia areas, and as a result our coverage of history, especially military history and most especially modern military history, is virtually unrivaled and oftentimes professional quality. Some of our editors in those fields could easily write books on notable battles. Same goes for some technology areas. HominidMachinae (talk) 20:28, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
OK, fair enough. Another question: out of the 3,603,291 articles present in Wikipedia, how many have more than 1000 words? Is there any statistics available? --Temporal back! (talk) 08:22, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
These statistics are rather out-of-date, and don't quite answer your question but, as of January 2010, only 45% of articles were larger than 2KB in size. That was gradually increasing, but I'm guessing that would only translate to around 200 to 400 words, once you've allowed for templates, images, categories, etc. Warofdreams talk 16:18, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
I did a small scale statistical analysis here. Shadowjams (talk) 02:08, 6 April 2011 (UTC)
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.

My dog[edit]

I love my dog, but how can i tell if he really loves me and is not just interested in food and walkies etc?--DartingFog (talk) 19:30, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

I think you first have to examine what "really loves you" actually means. There are essentially two views on animal emotions (including dogs). One is that all animals are essentially just robots going through programmed motions — Behaviorism. The other is that they have complex emotional lives that are quite similar to what humans have. The behaviorists clearly went too far, mistaking a methodological proclamation (don't anthropomorphize animals) for a descriptive statement about the world (animals don't have human emotions, brains, etc.). There is absolutely no reason to suspect that relatively advanced mammals don't have similar neural hardware, and that things like love/hate/etc. aren't quite "base" emotions when it comes to brains (as opposed to all of the extra stuff we get with that extra forebrain). On the other hand, assuming that animals experience things the same way that we do is clearly false; we aren't even sure that other humans experience everything the same way we do, emotionally.
I cast my lot with the "dogs probably do love you to some degree" camp. They seem to act as if they have an honest-to-god pack relationship with humans, which is good enough for me. --Mr.98 (talk) 19:53, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Great name, BTW DartingFog. In response you may want to read the article Emotion in animals. In short, this is a controversial topic among scientists, even those that study animal behavior in detail. One of the key problems with studying animal emotion is that animals cannot describe their inner thought processes (well most, some Apes and maybe even a bird or two can, but not dogs). In otherwords, we know humans feel love because they can communicate to us what they are feeling and can describe their own emotions and inner thoughts in ways that we can analyze and categorize. In humans this is called metacognition, the ability to think about one's own thinking. Dogs lack the apparatus to communicate at this level, so we don't know:
a) If dogs can love...
b) If dogs can love, then can they recognize love in themselves and others
c) If dogs can love, and recognize it, can they tell others about what they feel (as distinct from merely showing what they feel).
All three suppositions would have to be true before we could say definitively that dogs love. All we can say now is that dogs behave like they may experience love, but we cannot ask a dog "Do you know what love is? Have you experienced it before? Can you describe what love, in general feels like to you? Does what you feel now in Situation X, you feel love?" See, that requires both metacognition and a level of communication that dogs do not appear to be capable of. So, all we can say is they may exhibit behavior that we, as humans, sometimes interpret as love when we compare those behaviors to our own expectations, but we have no way to probe or study whether it is love, or whether we are merely projecting our own understanings onto the dog, even if the dog is doing something entirely differently. If it helps you to believe that what your dog does with you is "love", there is no harm in believing so. There's just no way, in a scientific manner, to say whether it is or it isn't. --Jayron32 20:03, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
They love in a doggy way? They bask contentedly in the knowledge that their owner is around and cares for them? Whatever your cat is interested in food, sleeping and late nights out, end of story. Itsmejudith (talk) 20:32, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Most mammals and birds (and a few lower animals) seem to have a need for companionship, for at least part of their life. This can take the form of pair bonding or "parental love" or just a feeling of membership in a pack. StuRat (talk) 22:03, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Dogs don't pair bond (males mate with any bitch in heat)... they are pack animals and bond with (love?) fellow pack members. Domesticated canines have learned to substitute humans for their pack. What is important is that you be the pack leader. Blueboar (talk) 22:42, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
This is another LC sock, who has posed variations on this trolling question in the recent past. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 06:24, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
I think many of us figured that apparently including some who posted. Nil Einne (talk) 06:47, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
Banned uses are not allowed to edit, nor should they be responded to. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 10:05, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
LC? Kittybrewster 09:17, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
A banned user named "Light current". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 09:19, 5 April 2011 (UTC)