Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 83

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

Contra this article, this was one awful idea the ancient Greeks came up with. Let’s not follow it.

The science and fad of diets based on fasting.

Chiropractic: still a pseudoscience, after all these years.

Que será será, and other useful tautologies.

Most US colleges are bad at teaching critical thinking skills. I wonder if that bothers their administrators.

55 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 83

  1. SocraticGadfly

    On the civilization issue, Imperial Rome was a hybrid of sorts. Of course, the imperial/national level government was paid for by imposed taxes, but, in the “Greek” East, at least in the actually Greek parts, the civic/municipal functions were still expected to be paid in large part by rich citizens doing their leitourgia. And, when not ripping off their provinces, in the east, proconsuls were expected to do some of that, too.

    That said, yes, the article itself — by an author who salutes post-nation state civilization and bitcoin — is full of snooty elitism.


  2. valariansteel

    Hi synred.

    First, and foremost, I’m glad you no longer have your symptoms.

    Second, I worked for 2.5 years with an orthopedist — a “hand/arm” surgeon (I = physician assistant). Carpal tunnel syndrome (= CTS) is a well-understood syndrome, involving compression of the median nerve where it passes through the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel consists of bone on three sides, with a “transverse carpal ligament” across the top (roughly the volar side of the wrist).

    The symptoms of this syndrome are sometimes confused with other hand problems. Primarily, the symptoms are paresthesias — numbness and/or tingling in the distribution of the median nerve. The median nerve provides sensation to the thumb, index, ring, and the immediately adjacent side of the “ring” finger. Yes, pain is also a symptom (but pain in/at wrist is obviously non-specific, since it can be produced by other conditions as well).

    It is not always clear why one person gets it, and another doesn’t. But we saw it every week. We never sent anybody to physical therapy. (However, that protocol may have developed since I left that area of medicine–early 2000s). The three levels of treatment — gradually progressive — were 1) wrist splints (to enforce rest); 2) steroid shots (my doctor didn’t really care for them); and 3) surgery.

    Before surgery, EMG (= electromyelography) and NCS (= nerve conduction velocity studies) were ordered. If there was slowing of the electrical signal at the wrist (as indicated by NCS results), this means that the nerve is definitely compressed, and surgical intervention is warranted. If, in addition, EMG changes had occurred, this means that some damage has been done that may be permanent (meaning perhaps some permanent muscle atrophy, or non-resolution of paresthesias).

    What did the surgery consist of? A day surgery procedure, whereby the skin was incised (small incision on volar side of wrist), and the surgeon would delicately cut the transverse carpal ligament, which in effect “opened up” the carpal tunnel and relieved the pressure on the median nerve, allowing it to “heal”). It took about fifteen minutes per operation, and we never did both wrists at one time (e.g., no bathroom humor, just reality).

    The patient left with a hard splint (to prevent flexion at wrist), and a gradual resumption of normal activity over several weeks. The success: didn’t keep statistics, but simple, straightforward, and highly effective at providing relief.

    How would physical therapy help this? Does the therapist know how to “stretch” the transverse carpal ligament? (no, it’s not possible). But if there is an explanation in the published literature, and/or studies attesting to the efficacy of PT, I’m all ears.

    I don’t have the slightest idea how or why you got better. Perhaps you had a self-limiting set of symptoms, that spontaneously remitted at that moment. Perhaps another explanation (perhaps temporary inflammation or swelling of the carpal ligament that resolved; or symptoms were not from median nerve compression). Whatever the case may be, if anyone suspects they have CTS, go with science — medicine — I recommend consulting with an orthopedist for proper diagnosis and treatment. :^) . . .


  3. Robin Herbert

    There is a condition that gives symptoms very similar to CTS and this condition can be treated using physiotherapy. Don’t remember what it was called, I would gave to ask my doctor. I never found out what I actually had, but wrist splints did the trick.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SocraticGadfly

    In my case, as I noted, I had both radius and ulna fractured. Pinned the ulna and plated the radius; orthopedist actually used the word “shattered” more than once. Fortunately, my recovery has been at least as good as average expectations, but, I don’t think I have 0 percent impairment. Also, guys like this chiropractor, here in Texas? It’s his job/income at least as much as actual chiropractic. He says he travels all around the state doing these ratings.


  5. Philosopher Eric

    Cheers to the tautology article, as there are a couple of that I’m quite fond of. Regarding the first, I didn’t realize that it was a tautology until Synred unformed me of this a couple of weeks ago. (Thanks!) My observation was that there are no true definitions, to which he asked “What the hell is an ‘untrue definition’?” Yes that would make absolutely no sense! Nevertheless in practice we commonly debate what various terms “really mean”, as well as futilely talk past each other from separate definitions. I suspect that there is no greater general impediment to academic endeavors than this one (though in effect the softer the science, the more it seems displayed). But then how might improvements be made?

    Ludwig Wittgenstein seems to have developed his “ordinary language” condition as a way to help out. (Crash course philosophy video 26 found here: While the use of standard terminology should certainly help somewhat, I go further. Given that there are no true definitions (by definition), I believe that it must become generally understood that it’s the listeners obligation to accept the speaker’s definitions in the attempt to understand the speaker’s arguments. Here the question becomes, have useful definitions been developed in that specific context? Notice that beyond just addressing the miscommunication problem, this effectively liberates the theorist to build conceptions of time, consciousness, life and so on, in any manner at all that may be useful. Here the theorist gains a potentially powerful tool that is hindered today given our effectively rigid conception of definition. I call this my first principle of epistemology.

    The other tautology that I’m most fond of roughly concerns ethics. Of course David Hume wisely counseled that “is” properties cannot be used to derive “ought” properties. But I’m an extreme moral anti realist who thus considers this “ought” business to generally be a waste of time. So my tautology here is: “Is is all there is”. Note that by definition there are “is” properties to the welfare of something which possesses welfare. Thus I’d like us to theorize what constitutes the welfare of any given subject. It would be good to figure out the nature of good. 🙂


  6. Daniel Kaufman

    I believe that it must become generally understood that it’s the listeners obligation to accept the speaker’s definitions in the attempt to understand the speaker’s arguments.

    = = =

    If that’s the lesson you learned from Wittgenstein (it’s wrong), then I suggest that perhaps you shouldn’t be learning your philosophy from “Crash Course Philosophy.”

    Liked by 3 people

  7. wtc48

    Bunsen: “However, I find it hard to believe that the people involved in the various slave revolts and peasant uprisings didn’t have a different view of inequality to the dominant narrative.”

    When I said income equality seems to have been taken for granted during all civilized eras, I didn’t mean to imply that it was also found generally acceptable; quite the contrary, and our own era is no better than most. I don’t know where and when the problem has been best solved; perhaps in the US during the post-WW2 period. However, that was when I first became aware of it, at the end of a transcontinental train journey, passing the slums of (I think) the Bronx, which looked pretty devastated in 1946 and, I believe, still are.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Philosopher Eric

    If that’s the lesson you learned from Wittgenstein (it’s wrong)…

    We seem to have had a bit of a miscommunication. I was not attributing my first principle of epistemology to Wittgenstein, but rather to myself (hence the “my” part of it). But of course by mentioning the man’s name I did expect to get some sort of response from you eventually. I always appreciate our conversations! Apparently Massimo does as well, since he must have contacted you privately when he saw my comment come up. Such respect!

    Anyway if you’d like to address either of the theories that I’ve presented above, or perhaps Wittgenstein’s himself, I’d certainly enjoy your perspective!


  9. brodix

    Is there an ideal political and civic model? Are there facts of nature that will always lead to politically incorrect realities? It seems to me that on a very elemental level, a happy medium is also a flatline. There are going to be winners and losers as surely as there are ups and downs. As I pointed out previously, if everything was always hunky dory, we never would have evolved beyond the microbial stage. What doesn’t kill us does make us stronger and too much of a good thing tends to make us fat and happy.
    If we insist on a politics shorn of understanding unpleasant facts of life, are we not avoiding reality? How is that any different than, “Jesus died for your sins.” Living the fantasy has a long history.
    Obviously this isn’t an issue which can be dealt with on a political and social level, because everyone will naturally get defensive. No one wants to be on the wrong trolley line.
    On a philosophical level though, are there deeper issues which might put these factors in a different light? We have a political system which is obviously breaking down. Will we learn any lessons from it?


  10. Philosopher Eric

    (Actually now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have been notified that my comment came through until after Daniel’s comment did, so Massimo wouldn’t have notified him privately…)


  11. synred

    I am what I am

    I thought it was “I am who am” which would seem to have a different and more mysterious meaning. Something a long the lines of the foundation of existence, … highly mystical BS rather than mere tautology.

    King James Bible
    And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

    — God to Moses

    “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.”

    ― Popeye (Popeye song) (Robin Williams version)


  12. synred

    I was not formally diagnosed with carpal-tunnel. My wife was and she was sent to therapy by MD’s. Insurance paid for it.

    With me it could have been something else and one instance does not science make. Still it worked and did not take weeks to be effective. Might just be coincidence. If it’s placebo effect, I’ll take it. I think he knew a manipulation that worked at least on some conditions that at least resemble carpal-tunnel. That however is not a scientific opinion.

    My daughter went to a Chiropractor who thought he could diagnosis allergies by holding it a piece of broccoli over her hand and telling her it arm would rise up to it if she was allergic to it. She could hardly get out of the office before she broke out laughing.

    Of course many people are ‘allergic’ to broccoli, but I attribute that to cheese sauce insufficiency.


  13. synred

    guys like this chiropractor, here in Texas? It’s his job/income at least as much as actual chiropractic

    My wife was in a minor accident with a meter-made truck at Stanford. The police report blamed her, but the damage to our car was inconsistent with the police report. One of the meter maids (a guy actually) sued us. State Farm wanted to settle, but we told the lawyer we were assigned that the report was not accurate.

    Anyway they guy wanted to claim permanent impairment, but he could not find a doctor that would agree to that so he used a Chiropractor.

    The case went to mediation. At mediation he claimed he had not been in other accidents, but it was a lie. Margaret who obsessive reads news papers had found a clipping that showed he’d been in another minor accident a few weeks after his collision with her. Our lawyer pulled Margaret’s clipping out of his pocket during the mediation and blew the guy out of the water.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. valariansteel


    On Ex. 3:14, what is being rendered in English as “that” or “who” is the Hebrew relative pronoun — ‘asher — which can be variously translated according to context, but “who” — as you suggested — is more appropriate. It is definitely a tautology, two 1st common singular verbal forms of the same root (Hebrew HYH –to be(come) joined by the relative. You can’t see it in English, but it is probably a play on the name YHWH, probably pronounced “Yahweh” in ancient times (the translation “Jehovah” makes no sense whatsoever).

    Here is the critical phrase in Hebrew characters (with Masoretic vocalization): אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה‎. God’s name (without vowel points): יהוה (no intention of providing a Sunday school lesson this Sunday morning!)

    Good for your wife to nail the meter maid.


  15. valariansteel


    Regarding the second edition of Nonsense on Stilts, is this essentially a reprint, or have you updated? (And not to suggest it was out of date!)


  16. Massimo Post author


    It’s a substantial update, with three new chapters and other additional material. Still working on it, due to the Press in a couple of weeks…

    Liked by 2 people

  17. SocraticGadfly

    Valerian, that said, like most other puns in the J section of the Torah, it’s a bad one both in that it’s the more serious version of a “groaner” and it’s also almost certainly not true.

    One section of critical scholarship, with which I agree, says rather that it came from (using the English letters for the triconsonantal roots) the Old Midianite HWY, which means, “to storm / blow / thunder.”

    If one reads the Exodus travelogue in the book of Numbers, NOT the one in Exodus, one notes that “Mount Sinai” is placed in Midian and NOT in the Sinai Peninsula. One can also note the account that Moses had Jethro as his father-in-law, having fled to Midian after killing Pharoah’s assistant.

    In this case, behind the verbal root would be Yahweh as a Northwest Arab / Midianite version of Zeus, a mountain/storm god enthroned on an old volcano.

    Again, this is not a consensus view. In fact, it’s a minority view, but it’s not a fringe view.


  18. valariansteel


    Looking forward to your revised version of Nonsense on Stilts. Thanks alot.

    Socratic: I have heard of the tradition locating Mt. Sinai in Midian, etc., but you are much more familiar with that tradition that I. West Semitic onomastics was my speciality, but I spent most of my time on personal names, not deity names, so I’m not up on YHWH and its etymology. Methodologically, comparisons need to start with cognates and explanations in closely related languages first, and not going to more distant languages until the former have been exhausted. Arabic is not closely related to the Northwest Semitic family of languages (e.g., Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic, Transjordanian dialects), so I am immediately skeptical about invoking ancient Arabian languages (and I have some familarity with ESA = epigraphic South Arabian personal names). Be that as it may, I haven’t the foggiest idea about 1) the etymology of YHWH; or 2) where it came from (not necessarily a Hebrew origin). My suggestion would be to look at Amorite, an old west Semitic language which is only attested in personal names found in Akkadian texts!


  19. SocraticGadfly

    Valerian … Dallas friend of mine? Sounds like it, now! 🙂 That said, “Arabic” was geographic shorthand in my previous comment, and NOT a statement of linguistics. Midianite is believed to be NW Semitic, according to the majority of researchers I’ve read, probably related to the language of Semites in Sinai, though some try to relate it to Arabic. I first saw the “Midianite hypothesis” in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, which is why I noted this is not a fringe idea. (For those who are not biblical or related scholars, the TDOT is pretty close to a Holy Grail on Old Testament/Tanakh linguistics, at 10 volumes:

    The idea fits one other way as well. In Judges 2, in what may be the first reflection of actual history in the Tanakh, the tribe of Judah is recorded as making a separate invasion of Canaan, and from the south, not the Transjordan.


  20. synred

    If you’re on the left, what we have in the USA is a new kind of Maoism. Mostly seen on campus, and it’s an anti-free speech despotic movement that used to be about identity politics – that’s how it started – and the ideology of victimization, but it has really turned into something else now completely different.

    Mao? Seriously? That’s about as bad as Hitler comparisons. Did the campus left ever send thousand to ‘reeducation’ camps? Die they run over protesters with tanks?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. synred

    The only OUblog comment on tautologies piece:

    Traruh Synred 4TH JUNE 2017
    See Spot. See spot run. See Spot run in the house. See spot wet the rug. See Spot wet and wet.

    Out damn Spot, out!

    –Dick and Jane meet the bard


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