Plato’s weekend suggestions

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

We often hear neo-liberals defending the implementation of so-called globalization policies on the basis of the miraculous improvement in people’s income they have allegedly brought over the last 20 or so years. A new study tells a slightly more nuanced story…

A new friendship always brings with it the prospect of serious and unpredictable change, and there is no guarantee that the change it brings will take the form of moral improvement.

Camus was no existentialist. And later in life, no particular friend of Sartre (and vice versa).

Muslim protesters in Thatcher-era Bradford were not always able to incinerate copies of The Satanic Verses, because (as the novelist Ray Bradbury had told us) the temperature at which books burn is Fahrenheit 451. The human body burns at Fahrenheit 1,500.

Does the philosophical profession have a bias against women? Here is a different point of view.

Does terrorism work? It’s complicated, argues a new book reviewed in the Guardian. “Perhaps most depressing are the testimonies of those who kill, maim and destroy to feel a twisted sense of celebrity or power. One Republican boasts there was no shortage of women “prepared to give more than the time of day” to terrorists. A second talks of “great comradeship”. A third simply says: “I felt important.””

The incredible power that simple silence has on our brain.

A philosophical analysis of the Trump-Clinton contrast, with Trump on the side of Nazi sympathizer Carl Schmitt and Clinton more akin to the dissenting Hannah Arendt.

The Schopenhauer dilemma and midlife crises. The trick is to reorient your priorities from telic to atelic activities…

The timelessness of H.L. Mencken, critic, journalist.

However much we would like it to be otherwise, it’s easier to change language than to change thought.

Neither theism nor atheism: G* might exist, and it likely doesn’t give a crap about you.

126 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Robin Herbert

    A God that could create the Universe would have the ability to understand all the maths involved in the workings of the universe. Even we damn dirty apes are nearly there. You could go several orders of magnitude more complex than us and still have something that was vastly simpler than the Universe.

    What else would be needed? The ability to process information maybe. That is already contained in the concept of “mind”


  2. Robin Herbert

    Richard Dawkins rather sensibly makes it explicit that he is not trying to tick off every kind of God or god. He is addressing the proposition that there is an intelligence which created the universe. His definition is still a little wide as it could be construed to include things like the simulation hypothesis, which I don’t think he intended.


  3. synred

    Suppose we were to just assume that there was some meaningful way of applying probability to the “origin of all things”, the fundamental principle of reality (unlikely as this seems) – the next premise that this “good and strong” argument depends upon is that a mind capable of devising the laws of physics would be more complex than the Universe.

    I, e.g., have written a program to simulates evolution that I don’t completely understand and which has done things that surprise me. I certainly ‘designed’ the program, but did not predict all the things it does.

    Now, I hope that my mind is more complex than FINCHES, but quite simple algorithms can do amazingly complicated things.

    Of course, this idea of an intelligent designer is not what ‘intelligent design advocates’ have in mind. It doesn’t fit the all powerful, all knowing, and good to boot, God of Xanity.

    If the ToE fits on a t-shirt you wouldn’t have to understand what it could do understand how it works and how to solve it, but you might need one hell of a big computer to actually do it.

    If there are many possible solutions as in string theory, the gods could have great fun betting on which set of parameters would result in intelligent creatures evolving who might figure out the ToE, solve it on a computer and bet on which …

    Turtles all the way down!



  4. Robin Herbert

    Here is a third problem:

    Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth! God may not have a brain made of neurones, or a CPU made of silicon, but if he has the powers attributed to him he must have something far more elaborately and non-randomly constructed than the largest brain or the largest computer we know.

    Now the assumption that more bandwidth=more complexity suggests that he hasn’t really thought about what he means by complexity. Basically the “ability to do a vast number of things at once” is his entire support for the idea that a God would have to be more complex than a Universe. That needs to be rethought.


  5. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    Any way I come at it, a mind capable of devising the laws of physics, while having to be reasonably complex, would be vastly simpler than the Universe.

    Really? Are you serious? Let’s start from the idea that by “complexity” we mean the amount of information needed to specify a recipe for something that qualifies as the entity in question. A recipe for the universe could be pretty simple, you could likely write it down on a few sheets of paper. (Though of course, our knowledge of physics is still pretty incomplete, but that’s how it looks to be now.)

    A mind that can intelligently contemplate and design such a universe is — by everything we know — vastly, vastly more complex. And there are vast parts of God’s job description (omniscience, omnipotence, listening to and processing a billion prayers simultaneously, etc) that we’d have little clue how to do.

    [By the way, if you’re going to come up with a recipe for a brain, you need to specify not only the DNA (or equivalent), but also the programme for training the brain and all the information in that programme. Afterall, a fertilised egg alone won’t get you a functioning brain, it needs a vast amount of interaction with an environment to train it.]

    Would a mind capable of devising the laws of physics be more or less complex than one of the multiverse candidates?

    A multiverse model is also pretty simple. Just take the above model for a single universe and add “… and more of the same extending to infinity”. So, I’d say the mind would be more complex by many, many orders of magnitude.

    Would we then consider the question of whether a multiverse is more or less complex than a universe, …

    A multiverse is less complex if you specify “… and strew fundamental constants at random” rather than listing their values. If you do the latter then it has the same degree of complexity as a single-universe model.

    But then the multiverse really is a red herring here. The argument works just fine with a single-universe model.


  6. brodix

    Why do we equate intelligence with God?

    In case anyone has noticed, the premise of a philosopher king doesn’t really work. Complexity and authority are not that compatible.

    Pope John Paul 2 described this deity the most succinctly as an all-knowing absolute, but the contradictions in that are enormous. For one thing, an absolute state would lack any distinction or division, being pure and universal. So it would be elemental, say the vacuum sans fluctuation.

    Knowledge, on the other hand, is neither stable, nor purely objective. It is the emergent residue of a process of feedback with the environment and so not only requires a point of view, frame and/or context, but being a product of process, is constantly subject to change. Not that the high priests of knowledge will willingly agree to this, as it brings their authority into question, but simply look at that computer in front of you and understand no one person knows everything about it and it is in constant flux, as is.

    So the basic premise is a very unrealistic idealization of our own sense of being.

    Yet there is still that mystery of sentience, wrapped up in biology and it does rise up and complexify from a basic, possibly absolute state. To assume there must be some even higher state of complexity, looking down and pulling all the strings, really is a misjudgment of the nature and instability, of complexity.

    We might be extensions of some elemental core, but to project some further, idealized extension, as the source, has it backward.


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