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

e-life is distracting, but rarely as pathologically as described in this article (which, of course, I read online).

The complex economics, and morals, of pornography, especially in the age of the internet.

Long but very good summary of the current status of the neuroscience of “free will” (i.e., human decision making).

The philosophy of non existent objects. (See also here.)

A defense of biological Platonism (response coming soon…).

Do we live in a post-ironic age? And is that a good thing?

Mr. Spock as multi-cultural icon.

The problem with science writing and the middle ground between science worshiping and science denialism.

Battle of the vegetarian philosophers: Tatjana Višak vs. Peter Singer.

Seven movies that teach us key philosophical lessons.

Hitler, the drug addict, and the horrors of Nazi drug culture.

Apparently, at the top of the list of people who need not be competent to keep their job are economists.

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Hi Socratic,

Well, not exactly. It’s more to argue that Platonism is often applied too narrowly by some, who imagine it concerns itself only with numbers or geometric shapes or theorems or whatever.

Platonism applies to anything that can be given a mathematical description, which means just about anything that can be precisely defined. This certainly includes gene sequences, but it also includes even literature and art if we regard them as sequences of characters or pixels, respectively.

For instance, if we define the set of possible images in terms of what can be represented relatively faithfully within a pixel grid of 2000×2000, with 24-bit color, then we can pretty easily calculate the number of possible images. It is not infinite, but it is very large. Every painting ever created is in that finite set. That set is a mathematical object, and so on Platonism it exists. But since it contains every possible image, then Platonism implies that even paintings (or at least the images they depict) exist necessarily and independently of painters. Painting can then be thought of as as much a task of discovery as mathematics. The same applies to literature and music and pretty much any field of human creativity.

This seems crazy, even crazier than Platonism applied to ordinary mathematical objects such as numbers and regular solids and so on. This is because many of the usual mathematical objects “push back”, in the sense that they have properties we are not free to change. We can’t, for instance, make 14 a prime number, no matter how hard we try. Whereas with an open-ended set such as that of paintings or works of literature or musical compositions, we seem more unconstrained to do what we like with them. But of course, on Platonism, we can no more change these images than we can the numbers — changing an image just means you have instantiated a different image. By analogy, you don’t make 14 a prime number by adding 3 to it. 17 is just a different number.

So even though it feels different psychologically and intuitively to talk about Platonism in the context of genetic sequences or works of art, Platonism applies anyway, for the reasons explained.

All this could be taken as a reason to reject Platonism, and if that is what you want to do then that’s perfectly fine. I’m just saying it is a mistake to think that Platonism only applies to the kinds of things you typically find in mathematical textbooks. If it applies to any mathematical object, then it applies to all mathematical objects, and that includes a whole lot of things not traditionally associated with mathematics in the minds of people.

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