Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 90

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

Nobody ever wrote a best selling novel about Raphael, and yet…

Don’t believe in God? Try UFOs instead.

Monopoly was actually invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism.

Take a cold shower, it’s a really good idea (but ignore what the author says about Stoicism, he’s got it wrong, as usual).

What cultural taste for chili peppers tells us about the evolution of social norms.

Umberto Eco and the 14 defining characteristics of fascism. See how many you can spot in the current Republican leader.

Want to be happy? Buy whatever makes you save time.

The problem of meaningless academic language.

Parenthood not recommended.


Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Thanks!

85 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 90

  1. synred

    I once wrote for a paper in high school, that if there was nothing, including now rules or laws, then there’s no reason something could come to be. I did not know about QM at the time.

    Silly I know.


  2. SocraticGadfly

    OK, let’s mix it up more on another piece.

    The chiles (sic! if you grew up in New Mexico, not Texas) piece is interesting. The study of cultural evolution is, yes, generally new. But dietary issues, at least moral ones, and debate about them, certainly is not, though non-moral dietary issues and scientific discussion may be newer.

    Specific to the article, before the “Columbian Revolution,” Thais didn’t have chiles. So, “heat” had to come from the spices in curries and similar.

    Second, the value of spices as antimicrobials is generally overrated. Humans used them to mask decaying food flavors first and foremost, while perhaps believing they also had preservative powers. Salt (not normally considered a spice) whether alone or in conjunction with smoking, brining or fermenting, is the only reliable food preservative from antiquity.

    Third, for many earlier cooking techniques, while they were transmitted culturally, and not of course by biological evolution, nonetheless, the culture was Homo sapiens as a species, not individual cultures. Leavening of bread, whether by yeasts or soda, is one obvious example, Production of alcoholic beverages is another.

    Also, things like Icelandic and Norwegian fermented shark meat (hakarl, which in the bygone past had the fermentation aided by urine), the semi-fermentation that occurs with blubber (muktuk) of Inuit and other things, partially undercut the claim that hot climates eat spicy food.

    Technically, these foods may not be “spicy,” but they’re DEFINITELY not bland. The high, very high, pungency of hakarl is known to gourmands the world round.

    At the other end of the geographic scale, the relatively bland diet of many sub-Saharan Africans, with lots of millet and yams, does the same.

    Beyond the dubious assertions of individual food levels of this piece, I’m also dubious on individual cultures’ food foci as conductive to cultural evolution, at least if cultural evolution, unlike biological evolution, is meant to entail the idea of progress.


  3. wtc48

    Peter Turchin: “Let’s step back for a moment. The expansion of human brain size during the last two millions of years and the expansion of hippocampus in London cab drivers are, of course, very different processes. One is a slow evolutionary change of a particular group of organisms, the other is a fast developmental response in one particular organism (well, not so fast—it takes four years to acquire the Knowledge). ”

    Not to mention that the first example is heritable and the second is not, a distinction that seems to be often blurred in accounts of cultural evolution.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wtc48

    On the flourishing of neo-opaquism in contemporaneous academic literary phenomena (etc., etc.):

    I often think that an occasional concrete example would be helpful. I become discouraged when confronted by page after page of abstract terms defined in other abstract terms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Schlafly

    I agree with Coel that much of the disagreement on this blog comes from simply misinterpreting each other’s intent.

    I wasn’t taking sides on Trump here, except to note that calling someone fascist, deplorable, “disorganized mentally”, racist, like Hitler, bigoted, etc. are just meaningless epithets that are only used in the lack of a genuine argument. I am not being original here. Godwin’s Law says something similar. It is common to call someone Hitler while bailing out of a losing argument.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. SocraticGadfly

    Schlafly, Godwin’s Law, like reference to Hume’s “is ≠ ought,” can also be used as a deliberate conversation stopper. And, that is itself another tool for

    (B)ailing out of a losing argument.

    “If the shoe fits” may be a cliché, to take another angle, but clichés, like generalizations, are still sometimes, to semi-often, true.

    Would you have advised the Socialist Party Deutschland, circa fall 1933, to not call Adolf Hitler “Adolf Hitler”?

    As for disorganized mentally? Trump’s own Tweetstreem is empirical evidence to that statement. So, no, not a meaningless epithet. That said, given the generally science free stance of much of modern American conservativism, if you really do want to ignore empirical evidence, it wouldn’t surprise me.


  7. SocraticGadfly

    On the arts piece, Raphael as an artist never floated my boat as much as either Michelangelo or Leonard. Or the century later El Greco, for that matter. And, I think that all of them have novelistically compelling lives.


  8. SocraticGadfly

    It should also be noted, re facile attempts to claim that someone else is engaging in Godwin’s Law, that Massimo, and other commenters here, have not used the word “Hitler.” A simple, empirical use of the Command-F key to search comments here will demonstrate that.

    It should also be noted that not all fascists were genocidal or quasi-genocidal. Franco and Juan Peron, both widely considered to be fascists, come immediately to mind.

    That said, I’m still not sure in my own mind that Trump is a fascist.

    Is Steve Bannon, though? Yes, I am convinced of that.


  9. saphsin

    Robin Herbert

    I don’t know the motives of the ones mentioned, whether it’s because they had zero interest or if they just gave up answering the question. Maybe someone else around here has an idea.


    With regards to the article on chili peppers, I still don’t understand how the author jumped to the conclusion that the reason why chili peppers became widely used in their culture because it was naturally selected for better health. Is there evidence that appears in those books that I’m missing that the author wasn’t clear about or is this jumping to conclusions?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. wtc48

    Socratic: “That said, I’m still not sure in my own mind that Trump is a fascist.

    Is Steve Bannon, though? Yes, I am convinced of that.”

    So is Bannon, evidently: cf. Joshua Green, “Inside the Secret”, Vanity Fair, July 15, 2017.


  11. Robin Herbert

    If the vast majority of philosophers did not mention this matter in their writing then I think the reasonable conclusion is that this matter did not interest them.

    Maybe it wasn’t their area. Maybe it was because they thoughr they couldn’t improve on what Aristotle said on the subject and since even a modern day physicist can’t conceptually improve on what he said on this particular subject then perhaps they were right to leave it alone.


  12. Robin Herbert

    But it boils down to the fact that Parminedes principle, that “from nothing, something cannot come” is still perfectly sound, because if nothingness is an incoherent concept then that is all the more reason it can’t be the source of anything.

    So when someone claims that the Universe created itself from nothing then, by “Universe” they can’t mean “everything that there is”.

    Every “Universe,from nothing” claim simply translates to “Universe from something”


  13. Robin Herbert

    Hi synred

    “I once wrote for a paper in high school, that if there was nothing, including now rules or laws, then there’s no reason something could come to be. I did not know about QM at the time.

    Silly I know.”

    Not sure how serious you are being, but this is the part I don’t understand. If there are no rules or laws then there can be no mathematics to describe that situation.

    So we start with a blank line. I follow so far.

    Then you have a non blank line with some mathematics.

    How was the non blank line derived from the blank line?


  14. Alessio Persichetti

    Deleuze is actually capable of writing in perfectly readable prose. His secondary literature scholarship on Nietzsche & Spinoza are written just fine actually and are recommended. It’s his own primary work that reads like complete gibberish.

    Thank you for your answer! As I specified, «not always»: I followed university courses with excellent professors formed into the continental tradition, in particular from phenomenology, marxism and german Idealism. However, most part of the lessons were spent in interpreting thoughts owing to a bad prose, rather than discussing theoretically those ideas, like analytic philosophy teaching.

    Nevertheless in Italy (where I raised and studied), Spain and France, a bit — but far less — in Germany, there is still this identification between obscure writing and meaningful philosophy, opposed to some mysterious “menance” to a true human understanding of man and his history, caused by empirical sciences; at least in italian academia, it is connected with scientific illiteracy widespread in our country, even among what are called “intellectual elites” — but fortunately the tendency is slowly changing. To sum up, the reason why I have chosen to continue my postgrad studies in UK.


  15. synred

    “You could step into the same river twice if walked down stream” –Helen Heraclitus

    From the Metaphysics lecture by Severn Darden (Second City)


  16. synred

    I see a lot of dispute about Krauss title, but nothing about his thesis that that universes can arise just form the existence of quantum fields, even if there are no excitations. I’ve never understood even this (experimentalist). When I learned of virtual particles they were mere calculational devices in a perturbation expansion.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. wtc48

    “Socratic:’ “That said, I’m still not sure in my own mind that Trump is a fascist.

    Is Steve Bannon, though? Yes, I am convinced of that.”’

    So is Bannon, evidently: cf. Joshua Green, “Inside the Secret”, Vanity Fair, July 15, 2017.

    That Green article follows the trail of fascism from the traditionalism of Guenon to its recent flowering in various current nationalistic movements: Brexit, Le Pen, Palin & the Tea Party. Between these and Bannon/Trump, there’s a curious inconsistency between the push for weakening the central government and the simultaneous shift to a more authoritarian system.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thomas Jones

    Thanks, wtc48. That was an interesting read, especially since at first I confused the author “Green” with the psychologist Joshua “Greene.” 🙂

    Reading the excerpt in Vanity Fair along with, say, Wikipedia’s entry on “traditional conservatism” and Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism” from 1945 can be bewildering.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. brodix

    The premise of any particular authoritarian system depends greatly on its context, as in the forces both feeding into the central civil structure and those pulling against it.

    For instance, Putin has what has to be history’s most ideal situation to be an authoritarian. An enormous, powerful outside power that is definitely menacing the nation, yet likely far too distracted by its own multitude of issues to actually act on this intimidation. Along with a homogeneous population with a long history of outside threats, as well as the resources and territory to not only survive, but thrive in isolation.

    Meanwhile Trump is in the exact opposite position. A buffoonish character and reputation, who lucked into the leadership through the evident corruption and self absorption of the actual ruling profession and class. One which is consequently doing everything in its power to undermine him, likely to the further detriment of the institutional structure. Not to mention a country with very diverse allegiances, mostly tied together by an economic momentum that is now mostly coalescing to the financial, technological and media elite.

    It’s likely Trump’s most lasting institutional achievement, other than the corrosion of the institution that is as much a reaction to him, will be the Republican success at pushing through more judgeships, at all levels, than any other president in recent history. This likely has little to do with Trump though, other than his signing of the papers.


  20. synred

    W.R.T, Krauss book.

    Well I plunked down the money and bought the Kindle version of ‘A Universe from Nothing’. I agree the title is hype, but it does predate the book:

    >The direct genesis of this book hearkens back to October of 2009, when I delivered a lecture in Los Angeles with the same title.

    Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

    This would indicates that the title was not changed solely to hype the book like the infamous ‘God Particle’

    He also seems to me to explain what he means by ‘nothing’ in both the original preface and the paperback. Indeed, it is not nothing, but then nothing is.

    I’ve only got through the prefaces so far, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to follow the thesis of the book well enough to form a ‘judgement’ about that.



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