Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

A short interview with Margaret Boden, published at the ever better Oxford University Press blog, on the topics of the Singularity, emotions, and computer consciousness. One of the few sane commentaries on the issue, I think.

And speaking of crazy ideas, you might have heard that Silicon Valley former wunderkind Elon Musk has (predictably) endorsed philosopher’s Nick Bostrom’s notion that we very, very likely live inside a computer simulation. Julian Baggini, interesting as always, brings a different perspective to the issue, asking exactly why are people fascinated by this sort of scifi stuff?

On a very different topic, Lisa Feldman Barrett tells us over at the New York Times that if we are in despair that’s actually good for us. The article actually is about the interesting notion of “emotional granularity.”

An in-depth book review about moral aims at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews on a collection of essays by feminist philosopher Cheshire Calhoun. The book apparently is “a robust and provocative approach to ethical theory,” and at the least the review, by Kathryn J. Norlock, of Trent University, is worth checking out.

Pornosophy: what is the problem with hedonism? Francis Levy tells us all about it, beginning: “the problem within hedonism is that it’s so self serving.” No kidding.

 

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144 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Hi “cousin”:

    I don’t regard possibilities as being platonic. It’s possible I’ll go out to the kitchen and eat something I shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean that possibility exist in somewhere in a platonic world. It’s just the subjunctive |:-o)

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  2. brodix,

    To be honest, I have no idea what you’re proposing, but you’re haphazardly mixing mathematical and physical metaphors, and drawing dubious conclusions.

    It makes no sense to speak of a zero-dimensional apple, because an apple is a physical object with dimensional attributes (height, surface area, volume, so on). You might as well speak of invisible pink unicorns.

    But it makes perfect sense to talk of points as zero-dimensional. In fact, points can’t be anything but zero-dimensional, because if they weren’t, then by definition they would be a different geometric object. A one-dimensional point is a contradiction in terms, because if we have an extension along one dimension, we have a line. Similarly for two dimensions, which would give us circles and other two-dimensional objects, and so on for higher dimensions.

    Anyway, this is ridiculous. If you have found a contradiction buried so deep in Euclidean geometry, you should be publishing it in a mathematics journal and raking in the awards that would be coming your way.

    But I don’t think this is very likely. Rather, it seems to me that it would do you a world of good pick up an elementary calculus book and study the theory of limits, continuous functions, and the real numbers. Then you would get some idea of how a line of finite length can be thought of as a set of infinitely many points with no gaps between them.

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  3. Bjorn,

    Yes, relating the physical to the abstract does make it complicated, but no, this isn’t buried deep in the heart of Euclidian geometry. It is right there on the surface.

    So I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible; Do you agree that any multiple of zero is zero? If so, then why is it a problem to accept that a “geometric object” with zero dimensions cannot actually exist, but as an idealization, is more conceptually neat than having to specify some minute dimensionality?

    Basically it is a tradeoff. Either reduce all extraneous dimensions to zero, or retain some minute amount of extension, in order not to negate its spatial/temporal existence? Since it is abstraction, it would be more efficient to do away with the extraneous, than retain them for other conceptual reasons.

    The problem is when what has been edited out is ignored. For instance;

    “Then you would get some idea of how a line of finite length can be thought of as a set of infinitely many points with no gaps between them.”

    How is this so? If each of these points is zero dimension, why is infinity multiplied by zero anything other than zero? If you have infinite nothing, you still have nothing.

    You have completely ignored what you edited out. For one thing, if they have no extension in space, i.e. zero dimension, then infinite numbers of them still have no extension in space. Now they are points, so if you simply have infinite numbers of them and they are all not at the same location, then they would be randomly scattered in space and constitute volume, or if scattered about a plane, then area. It is only when you scatter them along a single dimension, would they approximate a line. Yet it is you who specify the line, not the points, since they have no projection.

    This is where mathematical platonism falls apart. The patterns are abstracted from the larger reality and then it is assumed they are foundational to this reality, not abstracted from it.

    The map is not foundational to the territory. The map is abstracted from the territory.

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  4. brodix,
    Ok, final reply.

    “So I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible; Do you agree that any multiple of zero is zero? If so, then why is it a problem to accept that a “geometric object” with zero dimensions cannot actually exist, but as an idealization, is more conceptually neat than having to specify some minute dimensionality?”

    What does “actually” exist mean? If you mean physically, then maybe zero-dimensional objects don’t exist (but I’m not sure). If you mean mathematically, I strongly disagree, for the reasons previously outlined.

    And just to highlight how you play fast and loose with the distinction between the physical and the mathematical, I’ll quote this next bit:

    “Basically it is a tradeoff. Either reduce all extraneous dimensions to zero, or retain some minute amount of extension, in order not to negate its spatial/temporal existence?”

    ‘Spatial/temporal’ is you invoking physics, where the ontological status of infinities and singularities is controversial, as far as I know as a complete amateur. But it’s not mathematics, as I’ve also said many times now.

    “[in regards to lines consisting of infinite points] How is this so? If each of these points is zero dimension, why is infinity multiplied by zero anything other than zero? If you have infinite nothing, you still have nothing.”

    Well, let’s put aside the disagreement with mainstream mathematics first…

    This is going to be quick and informal, because I can’t go through the theory of limits, continuous functions, ordered and dense sets, etc., and how they go together in constructing the real numbers in a blog comment (and I’d probably get it wrong, too!). As I said, any elementary calculus textbook will cover these subjects.

    Anyway, quickly and very sloppily:

    Search for Cantor’s diagonal argument for a proof why the rational numbers (fractions) are countable, but the real numbers are not. This means that even if we neatly mark every fraction along a line, we will still have gaps. These gaps are then filled with irrational numbers which together with the rational numbers give the complete real number line. An intuition (but only an intuition) would be to regard the irrationals as filling up the line by infinitesimals

    A more rigorous way is to use nested intervals to prove the intermediate value theorem, which shows that if a function f(x) is continuous on the interval [a,b], then it will assume all real values between f(a) and f(b).

    Given a linear function with a finite range, we get a line of finite length consisting of an infinity of points (since the function can assume all those values, and they are all on the line).

    The next paragraph is false where it is clear what you’re talking about (as previously argued) and nonsensical everywhere else

    Finally, talk of mathematical Platonism is entirely irrelevant. All of what I’ve written is consistent with other metaphysical frameworks, which have other ideas about the ontology of mathematics.

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  5. Oh, I know mine is probably a minority POV, but it’s not a solo one even with professionals. Somewhat related? In ‘The Skeptical Tradition,’ there’s a full chapter on Wittgenstein and Fideism.

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  6. OK, so we need a word for “all the great thinkers were idiots who couldn’t possibly have thought of the thing I just thought of so its not even worth my time checking’

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  7. But, on the other hand we don’t really need a word for “No thinker, great or otherwise, ever came up with a necessary and sufficient definition for a square and at least two great thinkers pointed out good reasons why there could not be such a thing”, because I can just say it.

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  8. I have some answers for someone who had some questions.

    “Suppose you discovered that you were part of a simulation that began 27 seconds ago. Would that still make no difference to you?”

    I would think it was totally freaky. But then what? Just stop my life? Stop experiencing what I am experiencing? I expect nothing would change. I would think about how freaky it is for a while and then get back to my life.

    “It would mean that your childhood never happened, that those people who you thought you knew but now are dead, never existed at all.”

    It would mean all of that just finding out that it’s a simulation. It would mean that neither I nor anyone I ever knew is real. Just a simulation. But then what? Stop experiencing? How I feel about it would be completely up to the simulation wouldn’t it?

    “For me it would mean that my parents never existed.”

    No it would mean they existed in the same sense you exist. As a simulation.

    “I imagine it would make quite a lot of difference to me if I discovered my parents did not exist.”

    It would mean you too do not exist. So what would change? Your mood? Future plans?

    “Or what if you found that only some actors in the simulation were actually conscious, that most were just like figures in a dream with no internal lives of their own.”

    You seem to be saying that some things in a simulation are real and other things are not? None of it is real. It’s all fake. Now what? Change everything about your life? Change anything?

    “I find it more curious that there are people who are not just a little fascinated by the idea.”

    I’m completely fascinated by it. So much so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and come to the realization it would change nothing. You say it would change so much for you. Like what? Mood? Actions? What?

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  9. “It would mean that your childhood never happened, that those people who you thought you knew but now are dead, never existed at all.”

    A topic suitable to your dorm room after a few too many underage beers.

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  10. So, you guys managed to square the circle yet? 😉

    Brodix,

    Warning: your posts have veered again toward the sort of rambling that will eventually prompt a suspension. I need to keep the level of the discussion above a certain threshold for new visitors to come back, and if someone reads your “context” related objections to mathematical abstractions he’s likely going to think “WTF?”

    Eric, something similar, of course, goes for you and your personal philosophical theories, as we have discussed in the past.

    Generally speaking, these conversations are supposed to be at the least loosely about the topics proposed in the posts, not about advancing one’s own personal idiosyncratic agenda. I know, this is in itself advancing an agenda, mine. But it is my blog, after all…

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  11. Hi garth,

    “No it would mean they existed in the same sense you exist. As a simulation.”

    No, my parents died more than 27 seconds ago. If the simulation started 27 seconds ago, as I said, they would not have existed, full stop.

    “You seem to be saying that some things in a simulation are real and other things are not?”,

    No, you didn’t read properly. I said that some people in the simulation are conscious and some not. They are like figures that you dream.

    If it turned out that my kids had no conscious experience, that they were just like figures in a dream then I would feel radically different about them. I would feel towards them as I do to figures in a dream when I know I am dreaming.

    ” You say it would change so much for you. Like what? Mood? Actions? What?”

    Just about everything. If I found out that others had no conscious experience, not pain, no joy etc, then it would be utterly irrational to care about the pain or joy they did not have, it would be like worrying about hurting a teddy bear.

    Are you really saying that you would continue to care about people’s pain or joy even if you found out they experienced no pain or joy?

    Would you really think they same way about people who never existed as you do about people who do?

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  12. Hi synred,

    “A topic suitable to your dorm room after a few too many underage beers.”

    But it does happen to be the topic linked in the main article and I was responding to a point made in the article and by one of the posters here, so I am not sure why that was directed at my comment.

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  13. Massimo,

    Ok, I’ll drop it, but I don’t see what this has anything to do with any number other than zero.

    Bjorn,

    “This means that even if we neatly mark every fraction along a line, we will still have gaps. These gaps are then filled with irrational numbers which together with the rational numbers give the complete real number line. An intuition (but only an intuition) would be to regard the irrationals as filling up the line by infinitesimals

    A more rigorous way is to use nested intervals to prove the intermediate value theorem, which shows that if a function f(x) is continuous on the interval [a,b], then it will assume all real values between f(a) and f(b).”

    My intuition is still that zero means zero. Nada. Nothing.

    Sorry to disrupt.

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  14. Here is Baggini’s claim that I am referring to

    It’s not as though it would actually change anything about daily life if it were true. Your joys, heartaches, pleasures and pains feel the way they feel, whether they’re experienced in silicon or carbon.

    He might be right if the simulation was of everyone and over a long enough period, but simulations are generally not of everything. As I said if it was only a simulation starting from last Thursday then some people we think we have known and loved would never have existed at all.

    If the simulation only included the outward appearance of the ones we love but not their minds so that they had no first person experience, would Baggini still say that made no difference?

    I am not sure why it is serious philosopher stuff worthy of the MSM when Baggini says that but juvenile dorm talk when I ask if it would apply to any kind of simulation.

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  15. Massimo,

    I am certainly here to help you advance your agenda, which I believe is to promote philosophical exploration in general. I suppose I did get off topic to epistemology above, though shouldn’t the person who asked me the questions which took me there, share some of the blame for this? Of course it was my provocative ideas which led him to ask me those questions, but surely philosophy can stand a person who has provocative ideas.

    Regardless, thanks for making your concerns known — I do not want to upset you or your agenda. Furthermore perhaps it’s good that I’ll be taking a break from the next discussion, given that I’m not a fan of “ought” considerations.

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  16. On emotional granularity,

    I think it’s a biological fact and our perception of it’s degree of granularity is tempered by socio-cultural-development (and biology in general and our language in particular), and I also think that in a general sense animals are more used to sensing it and making direct use of it.

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  17. “You ought to not to eat so many sweets to keep health”

    A non-ethical sense of “ought”, right?

    You out not to rob banks, if you don’t want to go to hell”

    A moral “ought” or not?

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  18. Hi Robin

    “If I found out that others had no conscious experience, not pain, no joy etc, then it would be utterly irrational to care about the pain or joy they did not have, it would be like worrying about hurting a teddy bear.”

    And so tell me what you would do next time you saw them. Or would you never see them again to avoid the awkward confrontation. Or would you do exactly what the simulation decides you were going to do because you are just a simulation?

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  19. Or would you do exactly what the simulation decides you were going to do because you are just a simulation?

    If you are a simulation, the simulation is having you find out you’re a simulation. How could you be sure? May the gods are just messing with you by making you think you’re a simulation, causing you to ignore your friends and relations while they enjoy the schadenfreude of not being a sucker you. Then again maybe the gods are a simulation, so you’re a simulation too, within the simulation of the gods.

    And who is simulating the gods who think they have created you?

    Turtles all the way down!

    Come on guys, this is just silly <:_)

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  20. On problems of trying to speak generally about a complex issue using loose terms,

    # On emotional granularity, I think it’s a biological fact and our perception of it’s degree of granularity is tempered by socio-cultural-development (and biology in general and our language in particular), and I also think that in a general sense animals are more used to sensing it and making direct use of it. #

    I was assuming *our* kind of language has a particular attenuating effect on our perception of level of granularity. Not sure now, it could be by degree, but maybe culture has as much, or more, effect than the mechanics of our language (and they interact). And biology seems more intertwined in this than I may have implied; and I’m not sure about the term emotion, or at least I’m not comfortable with it here.

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