The philosopher

[Traduction française à la fin]

Georgie, a.k.a. B. Hinde, a.k.a. Captain Stoke, a.k.a. A Butt, a.k.a. ye ole git.

Georgie, a.k.a. B. Hinde, a.k.a Simplex Munidishes, a.k.a. Captain Stoke, a.k.a. A Butt, a.k.a. ye ole git.

I’m a philosopher. I mean, that’s what I do. I would have said that’s my job if it weren’t for the very obvious answer I’d get from every aspiring comedian in the world…
— Do you call that a job?
Well, I do. There are those, we’re not short of them by any means, who won’t get the point, and will spare no effort in making it clear. It does get a little tiring at times. So it’s always a nice surprise when you discover a guenuine philosophical effort somewhere you weren’t expecting one at all.

I knew Skues was quite the smart guy, he’s got a splendid reputation, but the following passage fell well beyond expectations. We’re page 10 of The way of a Trout with a Fly. Skues is about to begin the discussion of one of the core topics of the whole book: understanding trout vision.

A preliminary cast

In a well-known Greek myth, Semele, one of Jove’s many mistresses, is presented as having persuaded her lover to reveal himself to her in his Olympian majesty, and as having been burned to a cinder in the conflagration; — the moral of this being that man is not intended to see things as they are, but only in such form and to such extent as is good for him. This is, I believe, in full accord with the views of modern science, which holds that man sees nothing absolutely as it is, but only relatively and as is necessary for the purposes of his being. Even so his perception of things seen is not the sole result of the image on the retina, but is a subjective effect produced upon the mind by the combination of the image and the results of experience gained through the sense of touch and possibly other senses connecting and co-ordinating the image thrown upon the retina. A baby, it is supposed, sees everything flat at first. He has to feel his way through his sense of touch to a sense of distance and perspective. Man’s eye therefore is not in the absolute sense a perfect organ, but only relatively perfect for the purposes of the needs and nature of man.
I do not think that, if this proposition be true of man, it can be any less true of fish, and, in considering the way of a trout with a fly, whether natural or artificial, it may be worth while to spend a little time in an endeavour to see what can be deduced from known facts about the nature and characteristics of the eyesight of the trout.
The nature and the needs of trout differ greatly from those of man, and it need not therefore surprise us if examination should lead us to the conclusion that his perception by eyesight differs materially from that of man. Indeed, I think it would be remarkable if, living in a different medium that is subject to certain optical laws from which the air is free, and having different needs and modes of being from man, the trout were to see things in all respects as man sees them — even after making all allowance for the correcting and co-ordinating effects of tactile experience.

In his foreword for The Essential G.E.M. Skues, Goddard wrote:

I still look on Skues with considerable awe as, with out doubt, the greatest thinking fly fisher ever to put pen to paper.

Well, I think he may very well be right.  Just for illustrative purposes, here’s a relatively faithful rendition of the tying described in the plates of Skues’s book. Thanks to Les amis moucheurs.

First method, p. 124:

Second method, p. 128:

To cover the awkward silence of the videos, here’s something nymphy and good: Végh Quartet, in Beethoven’s 7th. I think Skues had it in mind when he fished the Itchen.



In an effort to share Skues’ extraodinary wits, I will now translate the passage in French.

Un lancer préliminaire
Un mythe grec bien connu présente Semele, une des nombreuses maîtresses de Jupiter, ayant persuadé son amant de se montrer à elle dans sa splendeur Olympienne, et réduite en cendres dans l’incendie ; la morale de l’histoire étant que l’homme n’est pas fait pour voir les choses telles qu’elles sont, mais seulement sous la forme et dans la mesure qui sont bonnes pour lui. Cela est, je crois, en plein accord avec les vues de la science moderne, qui tient que l’homme ne voit jamais les choses telles qu’elles sont dans l’absolu, mais seulement de manière relative et pour autant que c’est nécessaire aux fins de son être. Même ainsi, sa perception des choses vues n’est pas le résultat de la seule image sur la rétine, mais elle est un effet subjectif produit dans l’esprit par la combinaison de l’image et des résultats de l’expérience acquise par le sens du toucher et possiblement des autres sens connectant et coordonnant l’image projetée sur la rétine. Un bébé, suppose-t-on, voit tout à plat au début. Il doit sentir son chemin par le toucher vers le sens de la distance et de la perspective. L’œil de l’homme, en conséquence, n’est pas au sens absolu un organe parfait, mais il est seulement parfait relativement aux fins des besoins et de la nature de l’homme.

Je ne pense pas que, si cette thèse est vraie de l’homme, elle puisse être moins vraie des poissons, et, dans nos considérations concernant la truite à la mouche, qu’elle soit naturelle ou artificielle, il peut être utile de consacrer un peu de temps dans le but de voir ce qu’on peut déduire des faits connus à propos de la nature et des caractéristiques de la vision des truites.

La nature et les besoins des truites diffèrent grandement de ceux des hommes, et cela ne devrait donc pas nous surprendre si l’examen nous menait à la conclusion que sa perception visuelle diffère considérablement de celle de l’homme. En effet, je pense qu’il serait remarquable que, vivant dans un milieu différent soumis à des lois optiques qui ne s’appliquent pas à l’air, et ayant des besoins et des manières d’être différentes de ceux des hommes, les truites voient les choses à tous égards comme un homme les voit — même après avoir pris en compte les effets correcteurs et coordonnants de l’expérience tactile.


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