Plato’s weekend suggestions

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

Disabled people don’t wont to be inspiring, they want to be whole human beings.


The difficulties of doing serious research on animal mentation.

Elon Musk’s dangerous hype on Tesla’s not-so-self driving cars.

Why science fiction got the future (largely) wrong.

Deal with it: technical philosophy is inaccessible to the non-technical reader, just like, you know, science.

Future Sex: the strangeness of singledom today

Book collectors as cultural snobs criticized ever since Seneca.

It looks more and more like Paul Feyerabend should be appreciated anew.

The weird, weird world of academic twittering.

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80 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Hi Massimo,

    First, the way you define science wouldn’t be recognized by most practicing scientists, philosophers of science, historians of science, or sociologists of science.

    Agreed, but that’s why scientismists take care to explain what they mean by the word. (Feyerabend from the intro to AM: “… without a constant misuse of language there cannot be any … progress”. 🙂 ) And, once again, scientism combined with the usual, narrow sense of the word “science” is not espoused by anyone, it’s a strawman.

    Second, it makes no sense, because then the word science loses meaning, since it encompasses the same definition as “reason.”

    Well no, it’s a combination of reason and empiricism, in a Quinean-web-style interation. But, anyhow, the substance of the thesis is of the unity of the real world, and hence of the unity of knowledge, and hence of epistemology — rejecting the idea that epistemology is divided into distinct and incompatible domains where “other ways of knowing” apply and where the findings of science can be ignored.

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  2. Most science fiction I have come across tends to be predicated on things that have not occurred and so you can’t really say if the response to them was realistic or not. For example that global warming has reached a point where food supply for the world is endangered, or a devastating nuclear war has occurred, or intelligent aliens from other planets have made contact with peaceful intent or otherwise. Or maybe that we have colonised different planets or that there are a number of species of humans now or that the protagonist is constantly and puzzlingly being pushed into new realities. Off hand, I can’t think of many science fiction stories that could be evaluated as predictive of the future.

    For an example of what a science fiction writer in the 1960’s actually thought the future would be like, here is Isaac Asimov’s Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014 which is pretty good in parts, a little off in others.

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  3. Well, a way off in others. He has ground effect flying cars and ones which have little contact with the road, whereas we have bigger heavier cars with more road contact than even in the 1960’s. He predicts self driving cars, and is just about correct about the development stage of robots. He has the population just about right, but seems to think that we will be taking serious steps to address it.

    And there is, of course, the eternal prediction that we will have enforced leisure.

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  4. As I have said before, if we define “science” so that even I am a scientist, then we will just have to come up with another word for what we currently call science. And science was a pretty good word for it.

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  5. Eric,

    Like I said, it’s just a thought.

    Coel,

    Lots of knowledge involves friction with other knowledge and that seems integral to knowledge.
    Distinction and judgement.

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  6. On the subject of being inspired by disabled people, I have never been inspired by disabled people in any way that related to their disabilities so I am on the right side of the guilt equation for a change.

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  7. Coel,

    Not sure why I keep bothering, since you have not moved a fraction of an inch on anything we have discussed for years. But I’m an eternal optimist, so here we go.

    Science is a social enterprise with a history. You dobnt’ get to ignore it and re-define it from scratch as whatever encompasses the use of reason and evidence — which would mean almost the totality of what human beings do, from plumbing and navigating the subway to particle physics.

    It is an arbitrary, historically and sociologically unfounded, ideological exercise. You are, of course, free to pursue it and defend it, but you are so demonstrably wrong on this that it isn’t even funny. And now it’s aperitivo time. Cheers!

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  8. Robin, words choices like “inspiring” notwithstanding, the author seems to match the “charismatic,” “warm,” “jovial,” humorous speaker when he indulges in histrionic language like this:

    “In that moment my personal characteristics, the people I love, the interests I pursue and the beliefs I hold became moot, and the fact that I have cerebral palsy and use crutches to walk became the entirety of who John Altmann is and what he is about.”

    What Altman could have said more charitably was that the speaker’s apparently good intentions embarrassed him and his friend by calling unwanted attention to their physical disabilities and left it at that. This first half of the piece cites one anecdote and one example. It is not well-written or well-argued. Indeed, some would sense irony in the overall impression he gives by calling attention to the very thing he complains about like the obvious fact that he picks a larger stage than his high school’s to engage in identity politics. We get caught up in the confusing terrain of “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t.”

    Granted the venue limits the extent of this particular exercise, but overall I wasn’t impressed with the piece or its attempt to transition from the personal response into a larger discussion about current socio-political policy regarding those who are physically or mentally disabled.

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  9. Just a few weeks ago Coel was railing that astrology is not science, now he agrees with Feyerabend that it is – and Massimo claims he hasn’t budged?

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  10. Hi Thomas,

    I did think that the paragraph you quoted from Altmann was a bit of an over reaction. I can’t see how being inspired by how someone overcomes a disability makes that disability the entirety of who they are, or nullifies anything else about them, even if he did mean literally that this applied just at that moment.

    Also, I can’t see how he is not doing just the same thing that he is criticising by calling Joel Michael Reynolds “the philosopher of disability”

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  11. Robin, “Also, I can’t see how he is not doing just the same thing that he is criticising by calling Joel Michael Reynolds ‘the philosopher of disability’ “.

    I must have contributed to some confusion here. I’m not familiar with Reynolds at all. So that has little to do with my evaluation. [though such statements as “the world is essentially disabled” seem rather silly without further elaboration]

    My point has to do with the Altman’s transition from the personal to:

    “This is just a symptom of a much larger problem. Society, on an institutional level, consistently opts for its own more profound types of segregation.”

    This is just loaded language, i.e., “society consistently opts for for its own more profound types of segregation.” [Is this really that surprising? society?]

    The OP is focused on how so-called “normals” exclude the disabled either by extolling their fortitude, as it were, or by kicking their crutches away and ridiculing them. All things considered equal, I’m on the side of the former and therefore don’t understand why he vents and expresses misplaced anger toward his classmates-whom he doesn’t seem to have a problem with other than the fact that they are not him–as opposed to the speaker who seems to have engaged in a misstep from the point of view of Altman. Better he take this matter up with the speaker, while admitting same would be unlikely considering their age differences and social protocol, neither of which has much to do with physical disability or how Altman wants other to perceive him per se.

    Let me assure you that I have no problem with Altman or the second half of his essay that is largely political in nature and in fact have first hand experience in this matter. I just don’t thing he’s written a good OP,

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  12. Hi Thomas,

    “So that has little to do with my evaluation.:

    To be fair, your original response to me didn’t have much to do with my point.

    I was only saying that, since I never found disabled people inspiring in the first place I am obviously not part of whatever problem he identifying.

    Hence no need for me to go onto too deep an analysis of his point.

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  13. michael,

    Just a few weeks ago Coel was railing that astrology is not science, now he agrees with Feyerabend that it is – and Massimo claims he hasn’t budged?

    You seem to have missed the parts in my comments where I talked about quality control. And I don’t necessarily agree with Feyerabend on anything except where I’ve stated that I agree with him.

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  14. Hi Massimo,

    Science is a social enterprise with a history. You dobnt’ get to ignore it and re-define it from scratch …

    I largely agree with you, and in most every-day contexts I would use the normal usage of “science”, just as everyone does. I would only talk about the broader conception in the context of epistemology and “the scientific method(s)”.

    It makes no sense to me to suppose that, if we study the recent history of ourselves, then we are doing an “arts/humanities” activity (= “history”), but if we go back to before a certain time — say 11am on some day in 9306 BCE — then we make a saltationist leap and are now doing “science” (“archeology” and before that “paleontology” etc).

    Hopefully that makes no sense to anyone else either. In which case we’re agreed that what we have is a seamless and gradual transition, where the landscape might look different, but the same basic rules of evidence apply. We do not have clearly distinct and incompatible domains where “other ways of knowing” apply and science stops working.

    Indeed, from previous discussions we both agree on that. We see the epistemological landscape as a continent, with different weather and scenery in different locations, but it is not an island archipelago where radically different basic rules apply.

    Feyerabend is saying something similar, that “science” cannot be confined to a narrow “method”, and that is strays much wider, dealing with whatever it likes and using whatever methods work. [That’s the central message of Against Method, and he warns against the hegemony of any narrowly conceived method.]

    From there, note that the terminology was largely decided by the opponents of scientism. They’re the ones who have labeled a unified view of the epistemological landscape as “scientism”. We scientismists have largely just adopted their terminology.

    And I note that there is actually very little difference between us here. You prefer a Latin version of a Latin word, namely “scientia”, to express this concept, whereas I tend to use the anglicised version of the very same word, namely “science”. If “scientia” became generally recognised with this meaning then I’d happily adopt it also. Meanwhile, you greatly exaggerate the differences between us (and my stubbornness!) if the only difference is the choice of word: “scientia” versus “science”.

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  15. Coel,

    Would it be safe to say your broad definition of science is the accumulation of knowledge?

    The conceptual problem here is that knowledge is inherently a function of distillation, consolidation, etc. Signal from the noise. Now while the assumption is that at some level all noise is signal, the process ALWAYS involves accumulating some and throwing some out. Distillation.
    We could use everything from galaxies to building cars as analogies, in that the more structured and conceptually or actual dense the product/mass becomes, the more energy/waste/noise is discarded in the process. Even to the point of one black hole being more efficient than two and shedding enormous amounts of energy when they combine.
    The problem is that this excess doesn’t just magically disappear, but feeds back into the process in many different, non-linear ways. For instance, consider the various social and economic models over the course of history and how when the core of authority draws too tight and exclusive, either the excluded eventually become too large and rebellious for the social order to hold, or various factions within the core further consolidate in opposing directions.
    So yes, knowledge is a necessary and integral part of human civilization and the deeper reality from which it emerges, but it is still part of a process within a larger dynamic.

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  16. “We may conclude that there exists no scientific argument against using or reviving non-scientific views that have been tested and found wanting, but there do exist (plausible, but never conclusive) arguments in favor of a plurality of ideas, unscientific nonsense and refuted bits of scientific knowledge included.” (Notes on Relativism, Farewell to Reason, p.36)

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  17. Quality control? Looks more like subjectivity. As in “I don’t know how to define science, but I know it when I see it.” And you claim we don’t need philosophers to help define science…

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  18. As in “I don’t know how to define science, but I know it when I see it.”

    No, I do know how to define “science”: seeking knowledge about how the world works, with adequate quality control. If one then wants to add a restriction to various subject areas to make the definition more traditional, then ok.

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