Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsOur regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Einstein has recently been proven right (once again) about his physics. But was he too hasty about his metaphysics?

The social sciences have an ethics problem: they have so far failed to develop a satisfactory theory of ethical life.

The demarcation problem: literature vs erotica edition.

Not a particularly good article, but the point about the “naturalness” of atheism, historically speaking, is interesting.

You Could Look It Up: a history of reference works from the code of Hammurabi to Wikipedia.

How (not) to pick an argument. Unless you really want to piss someone off.

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. Which happens to be an increasingly big problem for scientific publication ethics.

122 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. SocraticGadfly

    Per Dennett, since Massimo brought him up, I’m more and more convinced that, at least in book-length form, in the past 20-or-so years, he’s had zero ideas that were significant (vs. minor), independent (vs. derived), or correct (vs. incorrect).

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  2. SocraticGadfly

    And, wandering further off topic (I blame Massimo, since his bringing up Dennett, per the above post, made me think of first Gilbert Ryle, then of Daniel Wegner, which then led to general philosophizing while out powerwalking):

    Both here and at Dan K’s site, there’s been previous discussion about “white lies.” I believe calling them that, regardless of whether or not one includes breaking of trust as part of a definition of lies or “real lies,” misses the whole signifying of questions that are crafted in expectation of a while lie response.

    I’m in the middle of reading a book called “Nonsense,” which deals with responses to ambiguity. (Among other things, while not explicitly referencing the Five-Factor personality assessments, it certainly made me think of that.)

    Anyway, a big issue in ambiguity is cognitive dissonance, as articulated by Leon Festinger. Students of his, in response to feedback to him, later eventually incorporated issues of ego depletion and ego reinforcement into cognitive dissonance when it relates to views of self.

    And, the light bulb came on!

    Surely, questions like “does this dress make me look fat” aren’t requests for truth and certainly not within a correspondence theory of truth. Rather, they are quasi-rhetorical (but not fully so, because they are addressed to others in expectation of a real response, even if a directed response), are attempts to reduce cognitive dissonance and reinforce ego.

    And so, we should look at them that way, and remove them from the context of discussion about lying in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brodix

    Coel,

    Your scientism is showing. Only the initiated are allowed to ask questions and only in approved form.

    Possibly your antennae only pick up the specific signals you are trained to receive.

    It’s not as though various other people here are as completely unable to make sense of anything I say.

    My mental impression is of you with your fingers in your ears, going; “nyehnyehnyehIcan’thearyouIcan’thearyounyehnyeh…”

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  4. brodix

    Socratic,

    ” Students of his, in response to feedback to him, later eventually incorporated issues of ego depletion and ego reinforcement into cognitive dissonance when it relates to views of self.”

    “questions like “does this dress make me look fat” aren’t requests for truth and certainly not within a correspondence theory of truth. Rather, they are quasi-rhetorical (but not fully so, because they are addressed to others in expectation of a real response, even if a directed response), are attempts to reduce cognitive dissonance and reinforce ego.”

    As in rational, versus rationalizing? The cognitive dissonance as a function of stringing together information to support one’s point of view as much deeper than ego as pride, but ego as sense of self. Creating and defending our sense of being.

    So it only reduces cognitive dissonance to an acceptable level.

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  5. Robin Herbert

    Hi Massimo,

    By the way, I just heard from a reputable source that Dan Dennett is finishing up a book where he will argue that human culture has initiated a process of “de-Darwinization” of human evolution (his term). We’ll see what he has to say about it…

    Surely it is already obvious that human cultural progress does not have a genetic basis. Harmonies which sound beautiful in one era would have been regarded as ugly cacaphonies, or in some cases downright evil, just one hundred years earlier. The information for this progression was obviously not stored in the genes.

    But maybe he will be saying something more than this.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. brodix

    Coel,

    Safe to say, you are not the first to call me a crackpot and I certainly have to accept the designation, given I’ve gone against various of the holy of holies, from the “fabric of spacetime” as the physical basis of GR, to rejecting Big Bang theory as a patchwork of misconceptions.

    Consequently I do have thick skin.

    I suspect by about another thirty years, time will tell who is closer to a realistic description of reality. Somehow I don’t see all future generations of theorists chasing the multiverse. Revolutions do happen.

    Not that I’ll be around to see it.

    Cheers.

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  7. brodix

    Robin,

    “Harmonies which sound beautiful in one era would have been regarded as ugly cacaphonies, or in some cases downright evil, just one hundred years earlier.”

    Possibly if we thought in terms of pendulums swinging one way, then the other, rather than straight line progression of building on the prior, this process might make some sense.

    Then again, sometimes succeeding generations follow in the previous footsteps and sometimes they go directly opposite.

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  8. Philosopher Eric

    Regarding Dennett’s “de-Darwinization through modern culture,” is there anyone out there who believes that over the last few century rise of human power, evolution for life on earth hasn’t changed quite radically? Of course evolution has changed (and not just for us).

    The real question is whether or not he’ll just write another technical wasted of our time, or say something of substance. For example, he theoretically could get into human selective breeding issues that we’re likely to encounter soon enough. “So Mr an Mrs Smith, you can either have a child that’s just as ugly, fat, disease prone, and stupid as you happen to be, or one such as this fine specimens here. In fact, each of you happen to be so pathetic, that our government has decided to pay you to not procreate through your own genetic material.”

    No, I’m thinking that Dennett won’t be rocking any boats whatsoever, and yet even we here will contemplate whatever he presents. He is one of the “four horsemen,” after all, as well as the guy who “explained consciousness.” 🙂

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  9. Robin Herbert

    Here is the link I tried to post earlier,

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

    Yes, physicists are suggesting that life is a very efficient way of dissipating energy and that matter will self organise into these forms.

    My only joking addition was the idea of morality being a very efficient way for life to dissipate energy and that physicists would start to tell us that if we start with a random clump of atoms and shine light on it for long enough we should not be surprised at finding something acting morally.

    It is only a joke for now, I expect to read very soon of a paper in physics that suggests cooperative strategies can be shown to be more effective at dissipating energy.

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  10. Robin Herbert

    Here is a link I tried to post earlier,

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

    Yes, physicists are suggesting that life is a very efficient way of dissipating energy and that matter will self organise into these forms.

    My only joking addition was the idea of morality being a very efficient way for life to dissipate energy and that physicists would start to tell us that if we start with a random clump of atoms and shine light on it for long enough we should not be surprised at finding something acting morally.

    It is only a joke for now, I expect to read very soon of a paper in physics that suggests cooperative strategies can be shown to be more effective at dissipating energy.

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  11. brodix

    Coel,

    Given you unable to extract any information from anything I say, it does seem a somewhat futile effort togo into detail as to way it makes sense to me. I give it a go though.

    “space cannot expand relative to light, and that generations of physicists have simply “forgotten” that if space expanded then light would have to speed up to compensate. And accordingly you reject general relativity and cosmology.”

    No. What I said is that according to General Relativity, the speed of light remains constant to the frame it is in. So in a frame moving at some percentage of the speed of light, both the measure of distance and the speed of light will shrink, consequently the clock rate of that light crossing that space will remain the same.

    On the other hand, redshift is presumably due to light taking longer to cross the distance between galaxies, so it does not remain constant. It it were to do so, then it would have to speed up, as the distance increases, but that would mean there would be no redshift.

    As it is, the speed of light is constant to the vacuum, So if it takes light longer to cross this distance between galaxies, then the vacuum through which light travels at a constant is being compared to the distance between galaxies.

    It would seem that the vacuum is being used as the denominator, which makes it the units space is being denominated in. Otherwise, if the distance between galaxies is being used, then the question would as to why the light is taking longer to cross and that would make it a tired light issue.

    Having made this point before and you failed to make any sense of it, I suppose this also is wasted. Now if you actually could comprehend what I’m saying sufficiently to tell me where my logic is wrong, I would have to evaluate the situation and go with what makes sense.

    As for gravity waves, where have I argued against them? Two enormous vortices spun into one and released a huge wave of energy, but is that “gravity?” Isn’t gravity what pulls things together? The essence of mass. So if two such strong gravitational objects collide and release energy, then isn’t that Energy, aka E=mc2?

    That it travels at light speed would seem to mean that it is just a particular frequency of light. If you set off an atomic explosion in the vicinity, wouldn’t the pulse from that also be recorded? Mass is composed of atomic structure, so why is is surprising for it to be compressed when a strong pulse of energy passes through it?

    That it ripples out through space sufficiently to disrupt the distance between a light source and receiver doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Haven’t they had to isolate this device from other, much closer sources of energy, earthquakes etc. I admit I didn’t follow it that closely, because I just didn’t find anything particularly surprising about it.

    “Note that physicists only think they are along the right lines if they have experimental corroboration demonstrating that. Getting this stuff right without continually checking theories against reality is simply too hard.”

    Gosh, maybe you should have a talk with the string theory crowd!

    Oh, wait, you are a big proponent of multiverses and the logical basis for that is the overwhelming evidence this universe is a unit that popped into existence 13.8 billion years ago and if it happened once, it must have happened before. Maybe we can build a wormhole to other universes and bring back evidence.

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  12. Robin Herbert

    Here’s a link I tried to post earlier,

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

    Yes, physicists are suggesting that life is a very efficient way of dissipating energy and that matter will self organise into these forms.

    My only joking addition was the idea of morality being a very efficient way for life to dissipate energy and that physicists would start to tell us that if we start with a random clump of atoms and shine light on it for long enough we should not be surprised at finding something acting morally.

    It is only a joke for now, I expect to read very soon of a paper in physics that suggests cooperative strategies can be shown to be more effective at dissipating energy.

    Like

  13. SocraticGadfly

    Supposedly, Dennett’s been floating this “de-Darwinization” idea for a couple of years. Let’s remove his spin and labeling from it, and say that he apparently is going to write some sort of book about cultural evolution, one that I’ll bet five bucks he runs through his filter of hetereophenomenology, with an intuition pump here and there, and a dabble or two of greedy reductionism while again claiming that he’s not a greedy reductionist himself. Sound about right, Massimo?

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  14. Robin Herbert

    Trouble posting lately, trying another account. Here is a link I tried to post earlier:

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

    Yes, physicists are suggesting that life is a very efficient way of dissipating energy and that matter will self organise into these forms.

    My only joking addition was the idea of morality being a very efficient way for life to dissipate energy and that physicists would start to tell us that if we start with a random clump of atoms and shine light on it for long enough we should not be surprised at finding something acting morally.

    It is only a joke for now, I expect to read very soon of a paper in physics that suggests cooperative strategies can be shown to be more effective at dissipating energy.

    Like

  15. Massimo Post author

    Coel, brodix,

    I think the two of you should cool it off.

    Brodix, you are not getting through, so why don’t you take a pause and focus on other topics?

    Coel, I deleted two of your posts because they contained explicitly uncivil language. As I hope you know, I value your contributions here, but do that one more time and you will be temporarily banned from the site.

    Thanks to both for your understanding.

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  16. brodix

    Massimo,

    Sorry. I agree with Coel that I fall in the crackpot category and take pride in it. Considering some of the outlandish ideas theoretical physics is currently batting around, mine are really not that outrageous, just outside acceptable bounds. In other eras, I would be a heretic.

    So thank you for putting up with me and certainly no seriously hard feelings for Coel. I am stepping on his territory and can understand why he doesn’t like it.

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  17. Robin Herbert

    I gather from Dennett’s Tedx talk on the De-Darwinization thing, that it heavily involves memes, for which he says he has lost no enthusiasm.

    That does not fill me with confidence.

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  18. SocraticGadfly

    And, apparently, Dennett’s Edge interviewees, by not questioning him on the reality of memes, are themselves behind the cultural evolution curve. (That’s the latest proof that Edge is overrated, I guess.)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Massimo Post author

    Yes, boys, the processor of “de-Darwinization” envisioned by Dennett apparently relies on memetics. Very disappointing. Apparently the new book is an attempt to pull together a number of strings from several of his previous ones, including Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained. I’ll reserve final judgment until the book comes out, but I’m not holding my breath for new insights.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, per the Edge interview, and per what he said about evolution in general, not necessarily biological Darwinism, being the universal acid, in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” I’m with you.

    As for the other book? Wags know it should be called “Dan Dennett’s Idea of Consciousness Explained.”

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  21. ejwinner

    The most disappointing thing about Dennett’s Edge talk is that it is a good example of how to use a lot of words to say nothing much. (And supposedly from someone critical of post-modernism.) I mean, there are passages where the line of thought gets so lost, I lose track of what he’s trying to say:

    ” And so what you see is that, instead of thinking of human culture the way the people in the traditional social sciences and in the humanities want to see it” – beyond the qualifications that follow, one expects an ‘on the contrary, we should see the matter thus,’ or some other such rebuttal, but we wait for it in vain.

    I think the problem may be that Dennett seems to have bumped into the fact that human behavior is widely varied and appears irrational, and even occasionally random (from a scientistic perspective), and he’s trying hard to find a philosophic justification for a scientistic reduction of behavior into a ‘post-Darwinian’ explanation that somehow salvages Dawkins’ deterministic reading of genetics (reinscribed as ‘memetics’) as the driving force of (human) evolution.

    Well, that’s a waste of time. Dan, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong – get over it and move on.

    (PS: Followed a link to Dennett’s response to Wieseltier’s response to Pinker. One doesn’t have to agree with all of Wieseltier’s argument to recognize that Dennett is engaging in selective (mis)reading. I wasn’t aware of how committed to scientism Dennett is, or how out of touch he is with the arguments and counter-arguments concerning the issue.)

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Philosopher Eric

    Thanks for the link Robin. (It might click better here: http://edge.org/panel/daniel-c-dennett-the-de-darwinizing-of-cultural-change-headcon-13-part-x).

    I find it amazing that this luminary figure, this respected cognitive scientist, can go on about synapses, as well as termite colonies, as well as the apps that we program our children with, while saying virtually nothing tangible. Perhaps his discussions remain extra offensive to me, given that I believe that I understand a great deal about the nature of consciousness, but hear very little explanation from him. If you were to put him on stage in the wild west selling snake oil, wouldn’t his melodic voice and demeanor earn him a good living?

    I suspect that most here are also anti Dennett, but doesn’t the fact that he has become such a prominent figure in the science of cognition, suggest that there must be something horribly wrong with the field itself?

    I’ll again state that we must finally take our explorations *amoral*. If we begin from the fundamentals of conscious existence, or address what’s ultimately good/bad for anything which can experience good/bad, then we should finally be able to work our way up to the modern human dynamics which we seem to find so concerning. Without the fundamentals from which to build, our psychologists and so on will surely continue to fail.

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  23. ejwinner

    Socratic,

    “Surely, questions like “does this dress make me look fat” aren’t requests for truth and certainly not within a correspondence theory of truth. Rather, they are quasi-rhetorical (but not fully so, because they are addressed to others in expectation of a real response, even if a directed response), are attempts to reduce cognitive dissonance and reinforce ego.”

    Exactly. But that doesn’t mean we should “remove them from the context of discussion about lying in general,” because no lie succeeds unless the audience has motives for believing it. I suggest your example is the paradigm, and not the exception.

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  24. labnut

    Brodix,
    I have a lot of sympathy for you, but, as events have shown, you sometimes try the patience of other participants. I want to suggest that is because you hold a worldview that is substantially out of sync with the worldview of most people. Now that is OK because we need diversity and we don’t need the arrogance of thinking there is only one true view(tm). Homogeneity of opinion is seldom a good thing. Your worldview is important to you(I sympathise) and you want to discuss it at every opportunity but that is what creates the problem. It is not appropriate to repeatedly push your worldview, especially when it is hardly related to the discussion at all.

    The remedy is the following, and I suggest it in a spirit of goodwill with a sincere desire to help. You should, as far as possible, confine your comments to the original post. Read the post carefully and make sure you understand its arguments. Now read it again. Three readings is recommended. Do some background reading to augment your understanding. This will stimulate thought on your part. You may agree, disagree or wish to amplify on the theme of the post. But here’s the thing, you must confine yourself to the subject of the post and not use it as an opportunity to import your own philosophy. See also Daniel Rapoport[*]

    The best way to do this is to quote the author’s words, “like so“, and confine your comment strictly to what the author said. But be careful to concentrate on the main theme of the post and leave peripheral matters alone. Secondly, avoid commenting on other people’s comments. It is diversionary and a disservice to the author of the post. Thirdly, direct your questions only at the author of the post but make them strictly relevant to the subject, asking for clarification. This is not a tutorial forum and you are expected to have enough curiosity and initiative to find answers for yourself. Fourthly, let go and make no more than two comments about the same thing. Fifth, your comment must show understanding of the post and engage with its arguments. See Daniel Rapoport[*].

    I always enjoy the commentary of Dan-K, Robin and EJ. You should use them as a model. Some people will perceptively observe that I need to follow my own advice. Yes, guilty, and I’m trying to do better.

    Only tangentially related, I recommend two good, recent essays on The Electric Agora, Excessive Reason by Dan-K(http://bit.ly/1oS5DRW) and What Ails Our Discourse by David Ottlinger(http://bit.ly/1QG5kQ1).

    Brodix, I hope you find my advice useful.

    [*] Here are Daniel Rapoport’s famous guidelines:

    How to compose a successful critical commentary:
    1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
    2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
    3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
    4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

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  25. brodix

    Science is trial and error. If you were to ban error, wouldn’t that make it a religion?

    Per Dennett, sometimes you just have to let it play out. As the old saying goes, progress happens one funeral at a time.

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