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February 8, 1965

HOW MANY ANGELS ON THE POINT OF A PIN?

JAMA. 1965;191(6):493-494. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03080060067016

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Abstract

The query, "How many angels can dance on the point of a pin?" has often served to cut short an argument or end a discussion. It implies that your opponent is indulging in mere quibbling and meaningless distinctions, arguing over that which has no intrinsic importance, spending time on futile logic-chopping.

Futility, however, is a relative matter. What is futile in one context may have great significance in another. The historian tries to make sure that the efforts of a past generation appear in a meaningful context today. The number of angels who could dance upon the point of a pin was a very real problem within the appropriate context. In an earlier era thinkers became passionately involved over certain metaphysical problems which today no longer seem acute. Or at least, not to scientists.

Is the world fundamentally dualistic? Are matter and mind, matter and spirit, unequivocally two or basically

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