Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 67

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

Why do so many millennials believe in horoscopes? (Complete with lame ending from the likely millennial author).

Ineffable facts, deep ignorance, and the sub-algebra hypothesis: Part 1.

Ineffable facts, deep ignorance, and the sub-algebra hypothesis: Part 2.

Philosophy shows that most atrocities are committed by normal people — not evil ones (see also this).

Unraveling love stories (depressing, but needed to whip you into reaction).

The exercise paradox: going to the gym is good for you, but not for losing weight.

The priming studies in “Thinking Fast and Slow” are not very replicable (& how a good scientist reacts to criticism).

The death of compassion (and the myth of compassionate conservatism).


136 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 67

  1. On a less interesting note, the “exercise paradox” piece strikes me as obviously too categorical in the other direction. Of course, exercise has an effect on one’s weight. There is a reason, after all, while serious athletes, who maintain a regular, ongoing, intense physical regimen, can eat pretty much what they like without weight gain. It is also true, of course, that in and of itself, with no alteration in a bad diet, normal exercise will not result in significant weight loss. But there is also a further dimension to all of this: aside from morbid obesity, it’s not clear just how much of a health problem being normally — i.e. somewhat — overweight is, in a person with a regular and rigorous exercise program.


  2. Hi Dan,

    Coel: More seriously, perhaps this is a good place for us to reach some mutual clarity. “Person” is a concept belonging to what Sellars called “the Manifest Image.”

    I’m happy to seek mutual clarity. Indeed it’s long been clear to me that scientists and philosophers often think in different ways, conceptualise things differently and also use words differently, and the result is often miscommunication (and mutual frustration).

    Having just Googled it, I find that the word “person” has been in the language since Middle English (c. 1150 to c. 1470) and the OED’s primary definition is simply: “A human being regarded as an individual”. It gives a range of usages including things such as “this vehicle is authorized to carry twenty persons” (where the salient aspects would be the physical ones including the size and weight of the people).

    Thus it seems that the word “person” is a common-language one rather than being a technical term from a particular field — though particular fields, such as in legal contexts, might then have assigned technical meanings to it within that context.

    As a non-philosopher, I am vaguely aware of the concept of “Manifest Image” versus “Scientific Image”, though would not do a good job of describing it without looking it up, and I would presume that these concepts have specific and developed technical meanings in philosophy.

    But, having been in science and university science departments my whole life, I have never encountered this conceptual distinction (“Manifest Image” versus “Scientific Image”) in a scientific context. It is not one that scientists in general use or are even aware of, it’s not how they think.

    So, turning to cognitive science and how they conceptualise a “person”. Now, I’m far less familiar with cognitive scientists than I am with physicists, but I’d take a guess that most of them do not conceptualise a “person” in terms of the “Manifest Image” versus “Scientific Image” distinction, and instead, to them, the physical aspects of a human being and the hardware brain are just as much a part of their concept of “person” as other aspects.

    I would thus suggest that neither philosophers nor cognitive scientists are wrong in how they conceptualise “person”, they simply have very different concepts covering different things, even though they may use the same word for it.

    What philosophy is talking about are persons. Our friends, neighbors, relatives, countrymen, and the like. The individuals who have legal rights and moral responsibilities, who write poetry and letters to the editor and books on exoplanets. Those people.

    Yes, those people are indeed the ones that cognitive scientists are also talking about! But all such people have physical aspects and are made up of physical stuff, including bones and blood and nerves and brain matter and many other physical parts (at least all of my friends and relatives seem to be!).


  3. It is not true that athletes who maintain a regular intense exercise can pretty much eat whatever they want.

    I am just a competitive recreational runner, but I run an average 70 miles a week pretty much year-round excepting recovery from marathons and the taper period before the races. I have to be careful with my diet just to maintain my weight which is more heavier ideal for marathon racing. Interestingly when I used to run 40 miles a week the situation was the same.

    During periods of increasing my mileage i did lose some weight on the same diet, but it seems once the body adjusts to the new regimen, a new set point is established. If I go a few weeks at 40 miles and eat the same diet I used to on those same miles I will unquestionably gain weight now. I am 54, and not an elite athlete. It does become harder to maintain weight just due to the aging process alone, but I am convinced there is an adaptive response to the increase in activity that plays an important role.

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  4. Hi Dan,

    Here is an excellent debate between James Ladyman and Raymond Tallis as to whether science or arts/humanities is the most crucial to understanding human nature.

    It seems to me that Tallis completely strawmans what he calls the “scientistic” conception. He starts with a couple of sensible quotes from Weinberg and E.O. Wilson, and then says that they imply all sorts of things that they don’t imply. Anyhow, I’ve not been that impressed by Tallis since his 2012 book: “Neuromania, Darwinitis …”.


  5. Coel: Can’t agree with you at all. I have been nothing but impressed by Tallis, an actual working scientist and physician who can see right through the shallow, one-dimensional view of things that scientism represents. Far from being “strawmanish” his criticisms in the dialogue are spot-on, and the central characteristics of human life that he identifies, about which scientific investigation is not only impossible but decidedly not-on-point, are absolutely right.

    I suspect you and I are never going to see eye-to-eye on these issues, whether we are civil with one another or not. We just have completely different conceptions of the purpose of inquiry and of what constitutes understanding. This is not something that either of us can be “right” about. But it does severely limit just how productive communication between us on these subjects can be.


  6. “Is it possible to reconcile these two images? Could manifest objects reduce to systems of imperceptible scientific objects? Are manifest objects ultimately real, scientific objects merely abstract constructions valuable for the prediction and control of manifest objects? Or are manifest objects appearances to human minds of a reality constituted by systems of imperceptible particles? Sellars opts for the third alternative. The manifest image is, in his view, a phenomenal realm à la Kant, but science, at its Peircean ideal conclusion, reveals things as they are in themselves. Despite what Sellars calls “the primacy of the scientific image”(PSIM, in SPR: 32; in ISR: 400), he ultimately argues for a “synoptic vision” in which the descriptive and explanatory resources of the scientific image are united with the “language of community and individual intentions,” which “provide[s] the ambience of principles and standards (above all, those which make meaningful discourse and rationality itself possible) within which we live our own individual lives” (PSIM, in SPR: 40; in ISR: 408).”

    Wouldn’t the manifest image be a distillation of the individual, as object, from its context?

    Yet, to use the old architectural aphorism; “Form follows function,” wouldn’t understanding the person as object mean delving the relationships which lead to that form? The network giving rise to the node, rather than the lower order “scientistic” atomism Sellars seems to be referring to? Yes, science has provided a very complex map, but there still seems to be the assumption that objects are foundational and this leads to the search for their “center.” Some ever more reductionistic distillation of a core entity, usually assumed to be “physical,” but which consequently keeps referring back out to that larger context for inspiration and guidance. The “field.”

    For all the complex argumentation, there still seems that basic dichotomy between western object oriented, versus eastern context oriented world views at play.


  7. “You don’t get persons out of mechanical parts…a category error of the most basic kind”. Au contraire, it is a not so simple empirical question that some people think will be answered somewhere about 2030, though I would not include Tallis in that group. Where else would persons come from if not from systems of “mechanical” parts that interact with each other and the environment?

    I think the scientific materialist (and to some extent the “common sense naturalist”) assumption that there is something out there that one is pointing at leads to tension with formal concept analysis. I have a model (a concept) of something in the world, which I know is likely wrong in some aspects. When I carry out tests of that model by acting causally on the world, I am simultaneously testing that model, but also acting on the object, testing its properties. I think this is the point that Dennett is trying to make elsewhere in his response, that the relationship between a concept and reality can be informal and loose, but the concept can still do useful work scientifically, and criticizing its qualities misses the point.

    To take one example, moving to a different but not unrelated use of the term “model” in science, mice with experimentally induced Alzheimer’s disease cannot exhibit a loss of vocabulary with disease progression. So from the point of view of the lived experience of humans with dementia, as a model they are a category error. Nevertheless, scientists regularly analogize that the neural substrates underlying the fuller intentionality of humans are sufficiently similar to those of mice that we can try out therapies etc (with varying success!).

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  8. What is more elemental to the human mind, than the hard, definable object, like a rock, that we can hold in our hands?
    Would there be some elemental bias that we should think the most elemental basis of reality is very small such objects, bouncing into one another?
    Yet when we do reduce anything, aspects of the original are being shed. Even a rock loses its structure, when we break it apart. Manufacturing products creates waste. Black holes combining radiate waves of energy.
    We ignore what is discarded, because it is incidental to our goals, but is it incidental to the larger process?
    Can we isolate anything, without losing anything? Stated clearly, the idea seems ludicrous.
    So the center is the focal point of a process that cycles/balances between distribution and consolidation.
    It would be as meaningless without the entire process, as would a period, without a sentence preceding it.


  9. The bottom line: essentially all of the stuff that makes you, you, and Bill, Bill, is being constantly turned over so that over a period of weeks you are in a strictly material sense a totally different _person_.

    Pross, Addy. What is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 402-403). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

    Another example of an absurd use of ‘person’ from what so far appears to me a rather absurd book with a hyped up thesis.

    Maybe Dan should write a review. It’s getting good refused, but seems conceptually confused to me.


  10. Morning Dan,

    Tallis … can see right through the shallow, one-dimensional view of things that scientism represents.

    The “scientism” that Tallis rejects is one that sees human feelings and values as “tertiary”, “marginal”, unimportant and irrelevant. But that is not the “scientism” that anyone holds and defends — and he gave no quotes of anyone actually espousing those ideas, which is why it is a strawman.

    Scientism, rather, is about naturalising human feelings and values and the first-person perspective in order to see them as part of the natural and material world, which they indeed are. I thought that Ladyman gave the more sensible account. Tallis’s talk would have been worth giving had anyone been trying to defend the stance that he was attacking.


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