Gulliver’s Travels

by: Jonathan Swift

Knowledge

Quotes Knowledge
He put this engine to our ears, which made an incessant noise like that of a watermill. And we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly), that he seldom did any thing without consulting it.

Experts from the court of Lilliput report to the emperor on the objects they have found on the giant Gulliver. One object, Gulliver’s pocket watch, confounds the experts. The experts’ conclusion—that the watch must be a god because Gulliver consults the object about everything—reveals Swift’s satirical comment on the rising importance of timekeeping in his own society. The pocket watch, a relatively new and quite expensive form of technology in the early 1700s, represented high fashion and wealth.

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics, wherein they must be allowed to excel. But the last of these is wholly applied to what may be useful in life, to the improvement of agriculture and all mechanical arts; so that among us it would be little esteemed. And as to ideas, entities, abstractions and transcendentals, I could never drive the least conception into their heads.

Gulliver describes the state of learning in Brobdingnag, a country inhabited by giants. The tiny Gulliver becomes the favorite toy of the queen and a favorite companion of the king as well. Through Gulliver’s long discussions with the king, Brobdingnag emerges as a well-ordered kingdom ruled by humanity, common sense, morality, and reason.

In another apartment I was highly pleased with a projector, who had found a device of plowing the ground with hogs, to save the charges of plows, cattle, and labour. The method is this: in an acre of ground you bury, at six inches distance, and eight deep, a quantity of acorns, dates, chestnuts, and other mast or vegetables whereof these animals are fondest; then you drive six hundred or more of them into the field, where in a few days they will root up the whole ground in search of their food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their dung. It is true upon experiment they found the charge and trouble very great, and they had little or no crop.

Gulliver visits an academy in Balnibarbi, a land ruled from Laputa, a floating island of abstract thinkers. Abstract thinking overtakes the culture resulting in an absence of common sense. The reader sees what Gulliver, always the gullible tourist, does not see: Humans have to dig up the field before the hogs can plough it. Gulliver explains other ridiculous experiments in the Balnibarbi academies, which satirize useless scientific advancements.