Plato’s weekend suggestions, episode 59

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

‪The physics of past, present and future.

‪A strange article on science, post-truth, Thomas Kuhn, George Orwell, evolution and creationism…

Time management is ruining your life, seriously.

‪The future of the left: from detached irony to renewed seriousness?

A largely unelightening analogy between democracy and chess (soccer would have been better).

57 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions, episode 59

  1. SocraticGadfly

    Re the chess piece, the national security state in the US has been stealing power for more than half a century. Well, just about a full century if one goes back to Woodrow Wilson. This author has been where? Beyond the issue of the analogy being good or not, which it probably isn’t …

    Indeed, the time management piece is great. The philosophical background, etc.

    And, the Kuhn piece? Meh.


  2. Daniel Kaufman

    Irony piece is great too. I am an early Gen Xer — born in 1968 — so my dislike of the hipster brand of irony is even more pronounced than that of the author, but her cool and precise description of just what is so unappealing about it — as well as where it comes from — is really excellent. The “nothing new or interesting to offer” point is particularly spot-on. A piece I will cite in the future, when this topic comes up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liam Uber

    Re: Science has always been a bit ‘post-truth’

    A strange article indeed. While there are some useful, generally accurate observations, the specifics of what is been talking about is largely lacking. Still, almost everything nowadays is reduced to trying to understand the ‘shocking’ political upheavals that are spreading around the globe.

    “In this perpetually airbrushed version of history, the public never sees the U-turns, switches of allegiance and errors of judgement that might cause them to question the state’s progressive narrative.”

    What is generally not much talked about in intellectual circles, is the Orwellian nature of the Obama administration and the Clinton political machine. For these political virtuosos, the meaning of words is of little consequence: “It all depends on what is is”, a video caused the attack on the embassy, nothing was marked classified, the people are too stupid to understand the healthcare law, etc

    Not only is history airbrushed, but the present is also too contaminated with post-truthiness for it to make any sense to anyone. And so, since we cannot understand history, we are obliged to repeat it.


  4. Pingback: Plato’s weekend suggestions, episode 59 — Footnotes to Plato | My little simple thought

  5. Massimo Post author

    Liam et al.,

    Consider that the author of the article on science and post-truth is Steve Fuller, notorious sympathizer of the ID “think” tank Discovery Institute…

    Liked by 3 people

  6. michaelfugate

    Fuller has also claimed that science would never have taken off were evolution and not creation the standard paradigm. Humans need to aspire to be like gods in order to learn about the universe – evolution, he says, is a science killer. Truth doesn’t matter, its the narrative that does.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. synred

    “It follows from quantum mechanics that although cats have states in which they seem to be both alive and dead, we will never see a cat in such a state”

    It seems to take Schrodinger’s cat seriously. It was a joke. Cat’s are not quantum states as they are constantly interacting with the environment whether they’re dead or alive or dying. A cat that is alive is interacting by definition. And a dead one is rotting. (Schrodinger’s Cat an the Law — as rejected by Asimov’s Sci Fi <|;>(

    Doris was right.


  8. milesmutka

    Schrödinger’s cat is not only dead, it has mutated into a (dead) horse that popular articles just wont stop flogging. This article was written by a mathematician, apparently?

    To me the most amazing thing about QM is not entanglement or superposition, but the non-local nature of its statistics: each new event, say a radioactive decay, anywhere, anytime in the Universe, will fit into one probability distribution, which is mathematically simple, and scale-free (all divisions have the same kind of distribution as the whole).

    The time management book (which I admit I have not read) has the important word “habits” in its title, which I think explains best why some people are more “efficient” than others. Other than that, the article once again proves that quantitative goals in life rarely improve the quality of life.


  9. astrodreamer

    “Facts about the past and present are either true or false.” Facts are by definition true; if proven false they are no longer facts. The article goes downhill from there. Schrodinger’s cat is neither alive not dead, it is imaginary. This sly, one might say tendentious, slipping between real and imagined is the bane of popular physics writing. It is the equivalent of the magician’s sleight-of-hand. A remark like “it follows from quantum mechanics itself that although cats have states in which they seem to be both alive and dead . . ‘ is simply unture — there are no cats here. It would be nice if quantum physics could explain some pre-existing difficulties rather than generate non-existent ones. Does quantum physics actually answer any questions a non-physicist might have about time?
    “I was used to thinking that there is something awaiting me in the future, even if I cannot know what it is, and even if there is no law of nature that determines what it is. Whatever will be will be,
    indeed.” Was this author ever really that stupid? Or does he just assume that lay readers are?


  10. Victor Panzica (@VicP1)

    Unless we are talking about a boulder being balanced on the head of a pin on top of a mountain that gets effected by a quantum perturbation of an air molecule, causing it to roll off the mountain and trigger an earthquake that cause a sectarian war because the leaders believe the earthquake was a sign from God….. Earthquakes are effected by the earth’s gravitational force which greatly removes the quantum effects for earthquakes, storms, locusts and most of the biblical plagues.

    Of course if the fundamental level were perfectly predictable we should find God and his son plus the twelve Apostles, but any good Catholic Theologian will tell you that occurs at a different level of the human reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. marc levesque

    Massimo – I enjoyed the physics of past, present, and future piece “Future Tension”. At first it seemed very superficial, but by the end I was rereading almost every paragraph to be sure I was following him. I’m looking forward to the expanded version when it’s published.

    Synred – I think he uses the cat example both as Schrodinger did and as you did in your comment:

    “In the external context (the God’s-eye view, or the ‘view from nowhere’) we step outside our own particular situation and talk about the whole universe. In the internal context (the view from now, here), we make statements as physical objects inside the universe.”

    Liked by 2 people

  12. wtc48

    Explanations of quantum theory generally increase my level of mystification, but one thing they seem to imply is some kind of absolute lower limit to the scale of the universe. For some reason I find this reassuring, that we are not part of some endless series of mega- and mini-universes, as in one of my favorite SF stories, Henry Hasse’s “He Who Shrank.”

    On the Millennial’s total immersion in irony, it seems to me that the root of generational stereotypes is the human urge to imitate attitudes that we find attractive, mostly because they are cool. A sample from the entertainment world from the first half of my life (b. 1936) could include: Fred Astaire (b. 1899), Frank Sinatra (b. 1915), Marlon Brando (b. 1924), and Bob Dylan (b. 1941). These all demonstrated attitudes that were cool, but none of them were essentially ironic. I can’t comment on models of coolness that would serve for those born 50 years later than I, but perhaps the sheer volume of icons like this made available by digital technology has led to loss of faith in this form of personality enhancement, resulting in ironic detachment.


  13. brodix

    I read the Future Tension article, since I keep arguing time isn’t the narrative from past to future we experience, but the process by which future becomes past, due to all that activity that exists as the present and it very much seems to support my point. The input is only computed by the occurrence. Probabilities collapse to actualities.
    The one point I would argue is there is no objective, “God’s eye view.” For one thing, reality is not finite, so how can everything be known at once? Also the very concept of knowledge is subjective. What is signal, without the receiver? Static. Actually without the receiver, it’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. Knowledge is bottom up, not top down.

    Long day at work.


  14. brodix

    The article on post truth science did seem to have a political undertone that it couldn’t quite bring to the surface, given the degree of overt corruption among the current political lions, along with the wave of debt carrying it that is cresting, for which The Guardian is a mouthpiece.

    Though I seem to be seeing the issue of time everywhere. What is more conventional, than narrative, on which history, civilization and thus academia are based.

    “a set of conventions by which knowledge builds in an orderly fashion to complete a certain world-view established by a founding figure – say, Newton or Darwin. Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.

    As in 1984, the lions normally dictate the historical narrative. But on the cutting room floor lies the activities of the other set of elites, the foxes. In today’s politics of science, they are known by a variety of names, ranging from ‘mavericks’ to ‘social constructivists’ to ‘pseudoscientists’.”

    What could be more against convention than arguing the narrative progression of time is an effect, like temperature, not the most fundamental fact of reality? Our little linear lives are just not that central.


  15. brodix

    I did read about the first three lines of the article on time management, before realizing it would be a wise management of my time not to read it.

    Knowledge is information. Wisdom is editing.


  16. brodix

    The article on millennial irony needs a little more distance. Much of life is about folding back on itself, lives, generations, brains, guts. The things we connect together might seem superfluous, but life is about making connections, more than some destination.


  17. brodix

    The analogy between democracy and chess wasn’t particularly enlightening. For one thing, the rules of society do evolve and there is a process of trial and error. This goes back to the article on scientific revolutions. Remember politics is the basis of the concept of revolution. The lions and the foxes play by different rules. One top down, the other bottom up. Civic and cultural order pushes down, while social, organic energy pushes up and out.
    Obviously any article comparing class to democracy is on the side of the lions.


  18. Robin Herbert

    No one ever uses Schrödinger’s cat for the purpose that Schrödinger introduced it.

    It wasn’t a joke it was making a point, the same point that Einstein was making with his dynamite thought experiment, which wasn’t a joke either.

    But I suppose ‘Einstein’s Dynamite’ didn’t have the same ring so ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ it was

    Come to think of it, it might gave been ‘Everett’s Experimenters’ which was making much the same point.


  19. wtc48

    I had to look up Fuller to understand his ID involvement. I can’t believe anyone apparently involved professionally with the philosophy of science would be defending equal time in schools for ID. Why not require equal time for all creation myths?

    My partially Mormon upbringing reminds me that the LDS incorporated an intelligent design well over a century ago, with their tenet that humanity is in the process of evolving into gods.


  20. ejwinner

    The democracy as chess essay wasn’t very interesting. I keep telling people that I think we’ve entered a post-democracy era. I don’t know what that means. I do think we’ll be using the same old ‘democracy’ rhetoric for some time to come; but it sounds awfully hollow now….

    Actually any essay on current politics loses my interest quickly. To say I’m depressed by the election results is putting it mildly. I don’t know this country any more; I don’t know what country I’m living on.

    The time management essay was interesting, but I’ve known most of this since I was a senior in high school; it was obvious even then that we were wasting our time by counting time, and that most people mis=read leisure time as wasted time. ‘Stop and smell the roses’ – what for? unless horticulture is a real interest in life, who cares about the roses?

    Are sciences historical by the very nature of their activity? What’s surprising is how long this has been denied.

    The most interesting piece for me was the discussion on probability theory and future predictability. The fact is, as we enter a probabilistic universe, the future becomes less, not more, predictable, and this is causing people problems – in both science and politics.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. SocraticGadfly

    Brodix, sounds like you landed back on your employment feet quickly enough. I just got “newspaperized” earlier this afternoon. “In the long run, we’re just all objectified bits for capitalism.”


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