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. Sherlock


    Ps. There is probably too much a hint of dualism in the way I put that last point. It is not so much that i am conscious of the table as that the table (or the meaning of the table or the experience of the table) is now an integral part of my consciousness.


  2. davidlduffy

    Click to access naive.pdf

    Dennett’s part of Bennett, Dennett, Hacker and Searle “Neuroscience and Philosophy”, the followup to Bennett & Hacker

    “Far from it being a mistake to attribute hemi-semi-demi-proto-quasi-pseudo intentionality to the mereological parts of persons, it is precisely the enabling move that lets us see how on earth to get whole wonderful persons out of brute mechanical parts…
    In conclusion, what I am telling my colleagues in the neurosciences is that there is no case to answer here. [Bennett and Hacker] claim that just about everybody in cognitive neuroscience is committing a rather simple conceptual howler. I say dismiss all the charges…Their ‘correct’ accounts of commissurotomy and blindsight consist of bland restatements of the presenting phenomena…Explanation has to stop somewhere, as Wittgenstein said, but not here.”


  3. Bunsen Burner


    My interests are less about which Philosopher is over or under rated, just with the arguments presented in the texts. I am certainly no Dennett fanboy, however the criticisms he makes of Hacker et al are the same concerns I had reading the book. Hacker may have made some good points in the book but anyone familiar with the history of these debates could see that he does misrepresent a number of pints of view, including Dennetts’.


  4. Daniel Kaufman

    David L. Duffy:

    You don’t get persons out of mechanical parts. That’s not the kind of thing persons are. That indeed, is the mistake. A category error of the most basic kind. “Person” is a moral/legal concept and more, not one that can be built out of parts like a machine. And yes, vast swathes of so-called “cognitive science” are making precisely that basic category error. It’s OK. They’re in good company. Descartes — a far greater genius than all of them combined — made a basic category error too, as Ryle showed.


  5. Bunsen Burner

    Dan: ‘You are not suggesting that there is only one view to have on this, I hope.’

    Not in the least. Hence the link to Dennett’s criticism to show people there is more than one view possible of Hacker’s work.

    This current debate reminds me a lot of Dreyfus vs Minsky debates in AI.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. synred

    “You don’t get persons out of mechanical parts. ”

    Really? If not parts whats? Which is not to say parts alone explain everything (e.g.,thermodynamics).

    Any even single sells have lots of parts…

    I think a soliton is a better metaphor for life than a machine, quite likely inadequate too.


  7. wtc48

    I didn’t have a chance to read anything this weekend except the essay on evil, and have a feeling I’m up against the closing of comments. I completely agree that evil things are often done by ordinary people, and would go beyond that and say that things that appear commendable at the time are often defined as evil retroactively. Genocide is one of them: we don’t think of the near-extermination of the indigenous Americans as evil, because we learned about it in school as an aspect of our ancestor’s glorious settlement of the two continents. The early books of the Bible, especially Exodus and Joshua through I and II Kings, deal with the bloody takeover of the promised land and the extermination of the inhabitants, who are delivered into the hand of the children of Israel by the one true God. The founding of Israel during the postwar period was generally regarded as a blessing for the human race at the time. I was 12 then, and a few years later I was shocked to realize the similarity between this and the taking of North America from the Indians.

    Point of view is everything, where evil is concerned. We are fascinated by crime news in the newspapers, because we hope to find instances of true and unquestionable evil, but somehow, the more we know about a case, the more we see that the worst deeds are done by people not so different from ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. wtc48

    saphsin: “I don’t like the term evil either. All people have the capability to behave in ways that causes tremendous harm to others, whether out of malice or unintentionally, and it’s nothing deeper than normal human psychology.”

    I have a sense that the animal in us is eternally at war with the culture we have created. The evil comes, not from acting like animals (as these, lacking our blurred motivations, are never evil), but from the schism between the primal part of our nature and the learned overlay of our culture. I’m sure there’s a better way of saying this, and I hope to have time to find it, but as I said above, I’m expecting the comments to close down.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. synred

    Genocide is one of them: we don’t think of the near-extermination of the indigenous Americans as evil, because we learned about it in school as an aspect of our ancestor’s glorious settlement of the two continents

    Even by our own laws (Treaty of Laramie) the Sioux et al. own the land they’re being kicked off once again) not to mention the Black Hills and all the gold hauled away.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. wtc48

    As a philosophical novice, I have unquestionably attained one of the classical stereotypes of the philosopher: having one’s head in the clouds and being unaware of everyday reality. I actually thought today was Sunday, hence my concern about the comments shutting down, as it’s close to bedtime on the east coast!


  11. SocraticGadfly

    Dan, on Wittgenstein, it’s too bad his like isn’t alive today, with the advances we’ve had in the last half-century in analysis of non-verbal communication. It would be interesting to see if he thought we played — either consciously or unconsciously — some sort of linguistic games with non-verbal communication.


  12. brodix


    What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken. We just get better at taking this to extremes, by seeking every benefit, without regard for the consequences.

    Possibly if we understood this as an elemental fact, we could ameliorate the blowback. Much like accepting getting old is part of life. Without the ups and downs, it would just be a flatline.

    Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. synred

    Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.

    How can you know? It’s not like it’s possible to try out both options. Novelist can make it come out so…but it’s not like we have a choice in such matters…and things end badly in either case.


  14. Daniel Kaufman

    Socratic: I thought Kripke had at least the native potential to be our generation’s Wittgenstein, but beside doing some genuinely brilliant — and unusually accessible — work, that never really materialized. And everyone else has been too prone to fall into the grip of theories which limit their capacity to see across all the disciplines, in the way Wittgenstein did. In that sense, he isn’t a 20th century philosopher at all, but someone of the caliber of a Kant or Hegel, minus the temptation to systems-building.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. brodix


    With only one of the options would we be here to discuss it.

    To rephrase it; It’s better to have lived and died, than to have never lived at all.

    Keep in mind, the terms good and bad are only relevant to being conscious, so it’s bit of a tautology.


  16. Coel

    Hi Dan,

    You don’t get persons out of mechanical parts. That’s not the kind of thing persons are. That indeed, is the mistake. A category error of the most basic kind. “Person” is a moral/legal concept and more, not one that can be built out of parts like a machine. And yes, vast swathes of so-called “cognitive science” are making precisely that basic category error.

    It’s also possible that cognitive science is using a somewhat different concept of “person” than you are, and that all such concepts are aspects of what humans mean by “person”.


  17. brodix


    It’s not natural to look at good and bad objectively, because often someone is getting hurt. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but either way it creates emotional responses that mitigate against examining many topics and situations deeply.

    Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin. As energy is conserved, creating new forms requires erasing old ones.

    The problem is everyone wants to be both winners and good guys, but they are often not synonymous.

    Meanwhile, the alternative; No losers, therefore no winners, because we are all in this together, doesn’t work very well in practice, as it throws a wet blanket over many efforts to achieve. So we grow out these social structures to keep as many people happy, as much of the time as possible and plaster over the cracks, until the internal stresses become greater than the glue holding it together.

    That’s why we need to become a little more evolved in our basic assumptions. Such as understanding there will always be organic social energies, aka social liberalism and economic neoliberalism, along with many admixtures of group dynamics, pushing against the cultural and civil structures giving society order and continuity, aka, conservatism. Neither side can be taken to extremes, or too much energy over order is anarchy, while too much order is totalitarian.

    So growth is a cycle of expansion and consolidation. Given humanity has been expanding in numbers, geography, technical abilities, resource consumption, etc, since essentially the dawn of history, we do appear to be getting close to the edge of a cliff. What further step could we take, that is not simply off the cliff?

    I have been arguing that it would be deeply conceptual, in understanding the cyclical dynamic.

    Now obviously to do this would require creating some sort of uproar, that could be heard over the likes of Charles Blow’s conservative dis-compassion article on the reading list, of hyperventilating from the left, to match the hyperventilating from the right.

    The one stick of dynamite I see to do that, would be a debate, in the scientific and philosophic communities, over whether we are looking at and modeling time backward, much as we long assumed the sun was the one moving. Then taking it to understanding the circularity of thermodynamics as more foundational than time, to understanding reality. From there, to defining finance and money as the circulation system and medium of the world community, not just abstract commodification. Which would start to bring the capitalist paradigm to heel, conceptually, as it hits the wall logistically.

    Of course, trying to develop this premise in a philosophy forum reminds me of the old line; “No sex please, we are British.” As in “No controversy please, we are philosophers.”


  18. synred

    Whatever their philosophical flaws neurosciencetist would not call a corporation person. If nothing else they would be hard to fit in an fMRI machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Daniel Kaufman

    Coel: I am happy for cognitive science to talk about shermsons all they want. 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.


  20. brodix


    Here is an interesting post at naked capitalism;, Which describes economic systems in terms of organic circulation;

    “Circulation represents the lifeblood of all flow-systems, be they economies, ecosystems, or living organisms. In living organisms, poor circulation of blood causes necrosis that can kill. In the biosphere, poor circulation of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. strangles life and would cause every living system, from bacteria to the biosphere, to collapse. Similarly, poor circulation of money, goods, resources, and services leads to economic necrosis – the dying off of large swaths of economic tissue that ultimately undermines the health of the economy as a whole.”

    How it is used to create negative feedback loops and concentrate wealth;

    “All of these processes help the already rich concentrate more, and circulate less. In flow terms, therefore, gross inequality indicates a system that has: 1) too much concentration and too little circulation; and 2) an imbalance of wealth and power that is likely to create ever more extraction, concentration, unaccountability, and abuse. This process accelerates until the underlying human network becomes exhausted and/or the ongoing necrosis reaches a point of collapse. When this point is reached, the society will have three choices: learn, regress, or collapse.”

    Though it doesn’t connect the dots and point out that the circulation mechanism is the very definition of a public function. Especially when responsibility for maintaining the value of the currency is made public. Witness the bank bailouts in 09.


  21. Daniel Kaufman

    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 would argue that “mind” also is such a concept. “Brain” and “nervous system” are concepts belonging to what Sellars called “the Scientific Image.” Now, Sellars believed that philosophy’s primary job was to make some sense of how the two images relate to each other, and I don’t disagree with him that this is one of its tasks, if perhaps, not its primary one. I also think philosophy’s task is to elucidate and map the dimensions of the Manifest Image itself. And I disagree with Sellars that the Scientific Image is primary, though it is, of course, essential. What counts as “primary” I would argue, depends on what one is talking about and more importantly, for what reason one is talking about it.

    If you need a refresher on Sellars, here is the landmark paper on the two “Images”

    Click to access SellarsPhilSciImage.pdf

    And the Stanford entry is quite good:


  22. Daniel Kaufman

    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. Interestingly, of the two, it is Tallis who argues the latter point and who also happens to be the one with the scientific credentials, having been both a practicing physician and clinical neuroscientist.

    The whole thing is worth watching, but Tallis’s neat and razor sharp dismantlement of the scientistic point of view begins at 11:04.


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