Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 101

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

Half the universe’s missing baryonic matter has just been found.

The difference between good vegans and bad vegans: honesty about science.

When did language evolve, exactly?

Archeologists decipher tablet that helps to unravel the mystery of civilization’s collapse at the end of the Bronze Age.

E.O. Wilson gets it wrong again. Because of scientism, of course.

More fundamental disagreements among fundamental physicists

Research on the genetics of skin color differences deals yet another blow to the idea that races are real.

A new way to look at emotions, and why Darwin was wrong about them.


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!

78 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 101

  1. SocraticGadfly

    No, language did not start 2 million years ago!

    Interesting, and seems quite plausible, on Luvians as Sea People.

    Ed Wilson, and scientism? I’m shocked!

    Very interesting on the context basis of emotional interpretation.


  2. synred

    Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which observers in some universes see the electron go through the left slit, while those in other universes see it go through the right slit — which is fine, if you’re comfortable with an infinite array of unseen universes.

    This is not a correct description of many worlds. In many worlds he electron still goes through both slits if which slit it goes through is not ‘observed’ — if this were not so, no interference pattern would be seen.

    If a detector is put in at least one slit then the world will split into two where the electron went ‘left’ in one and ‘right’ in the other. There will be no interference in either of those worlds.

    Many worlds does not solve the problem of the electron going through both slits. It does solve the problem of the electron appearing particle like at only one place on the screen — the world splits into many — one for every possible place the electron could hit the screen That is many worlds, not just two.


  3. synred

    Many worlds seems absurd to me. In some of them my right index finger just got stuck when it tunneled into the j key. Let me know if you’re in one of those worlds.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Bunsen Burner

    I remember being absolutely fascinated by the mystery of the Sea Peoples as a kid. I’ve travelled to numerous archaeological sites around the Mediterranean with the conceit of getting some insight into their nature. Hopefully the mystery is now solved.

    Does anyone know why the Luwian’s would have gone on such an extensive period of raiding?


  5. wtc48

    A couple of personal observations that tend to confirm the “granular” theory of emotions presented here:

    Those under the influence of LSD commonly experience a rapid sequence of emotional states that change too fast to be interpreted as reactions to actual experience: e.g. from joy to fear and then to disgust, etc., all within a few minutes while sitting still in a relatively stable environment.
    In pursuit of my hobby of running ultramarathons (events beyond the 26.2 marathon distance, sometimes lasting as much as 60 hours), I have experienced a wide range of emotions stimulated by various degrees of stress and fatigue, in which the relation to any external factor is generally quite arbitrary, dispensing the illusion that I always understand the source of my feelings.


  6. Bunsen Burner

    I wonder if the whole attachment to race is some form of selection bias. People seem to be very good at finding average characteristics, but no so good at estimating variation. We notice straight away if someone conforms to these average characteristics, but we don’t register the much larger number of people of a particular ethnicity who lie outside these averages.

    I know that when travelling I often made mistakes in assuming locals were tourists, or that tourists were locals, due to the large amount of variability I found. I suspect it also explains why people can be so stubborn about the nature of race. They have developed a very strong intuition about a racial stereotype based on average characteristics, but have not idea about the variation of these characteristics.

    (The Cline book looks interesting, will definitely need to read it.)


  7. Massimo Post author


    Yes, I’m sure the sort of bias you refer to is part of the issue. But I suspect a natural tendency toward xenophobia is also partly responsible for our stubborn clinging to the idea of races.


  8. Bunsen Burner

    Maybe it’s my poverty of imagination, but I find it very hard to conceive of any group of beings that can cook, create rafts, and do all the other stuff attributed to H. Erectus, and not have an adequately sophisticated language. This behaviour required long term planning, the ability to form abstractions, engage in non trivial social cooperation. I wonder if the focus on recursion is something of a red herring. What really matters is their capacity for symbolic thought. The evidence suggest to me that at the very least the neural architecture for human language was in place long before we started to use it in all the complex ways that we take for granted today.


  9. synred

    Many worlds seems absurd to me

    In addition there are many of the many worlds are not needed. E.g., when a photo-tube detects a what stage of the tube the photon converts in is a QM event. There would be a another worlds for each stage at last. Worlds that would not differ much.

    At each interaction of the shower produced by a photon hit a Photo-tube there all multiple interactions splitting into ever more worlds. Many worlds advocates tend to just talk about 2.

    It’s not clear to me if it’s even a countable (alheph0) infinity. How close to two worlds have to be to count as one?

    When a photon hit’s a molecule of Silver-Bromide (AgBr) how many worlds are formed?


  10. Bunsen Burner

    I’ve never been a fan of Bohm’s ideas on quantum mechanics. Basically because of the difficulty in generalising the approach to quantum field theory. However, I though I would share with people some stunning experimental videos created by Couder et al, which gave a real shot in the arm to the pilot wave idea, and ushered in lots of new work on hydrodynamic analogues of quantum mechanics.


  11. couvent2104

    The pilot-wave article seems to say that de Broglie-Bohm is, for a particular experiment, compatible with what I’ll call – slightly paradoxically – classical QM, also known as “shut up and calculate”. The ESSW paper suggested that dB-B might have some theoretical difficulties there, but in the end it worked fine.
    That’s nice and can be seen as support for dB-B. On the other hand, it would have been even nicer if dB-B predicted an observed phenomenon that classical QM can’t predict or describe. I don’t think that happened here – they certainly would have mentioned it explicitly (it would the greatest scientific discovery since the discovery of QM).
    So the question remains: what about dB-B? It explains the weirdness of QM by introducing things like pilot-waves that are weird too, something it has in common with many worlds. I don’t know if that’s a major step forward if dB-B is merely compatible with classical QM and doesn’t predict something new.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. wtc48

    On the origins of language: Everett’s thesis is put forward here as a possible falsification of Chomsky’s identification of recursion as the source of the language faculty. It doesn’t seem like the discovery of a single non-recursive language should totally outweigh the presence of recursiveness in virtually all known languages.

    The really amazing thing (to me, at least) about languages is that there are so many of them, and so far no one has identified an ur-language of any kind that could be a source of all the others, and yet (as far as I know), they all seem to be mutually translatable. I’m trying to make my way through the Philosophical Investigations, and these things seem not unrelated to Wittgenstein’s concept of language as the defining (and limiting) factor in human thought and culture, and that somehow recursion may be to human culture as the speed of light is to physics. Food for thought, anyway.


  13. valariansteel

    Re: the article about archaeologists deciphering Luwian inscription . . .

    This article immediately didn’t sit well with me. [I studied (1980-87) NW Semitic Philology at the U of Chicago, Dept. of NE Languages & Civilizations -– I never got an academic job, see article about “independent scholars” from last week’s readings . . . :^) . . .] And since Luwian was outside of my concentration, I consulted with a long-time friend, John Huehnergard, who taught Comparative Semitic at Harvard for over two decades, and retired last year, having finishing up establishing a Semitic languages program at UT Austin. Note the following points:

    “. . . only a handful of scholars worldwide, can read its ancient Luwian language.”
    Huehnergard estimates that there are at least a hundred scholars in the world who can read Luwian. The language was fairly completely deciphered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and most Hittitologists study and read it. Huehnergard last studied Luwian before he left Harvard, most recently with Cal Watkins. Dr. Watkins was an Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Classics at Harvard (he passed in 2013).

    “Dr. Fred Woudhuizen, . . . thought to be only 20 in the world who can read Luwian . . .”
    Huehnergard, who is quiet reserved, said he stopped reading when he got to the name Woudhuizen. This individual’s views contradict the scholarly consensus in the field of Hittite studies. Many of his decipherments and interpretations would never pass peer review.
    “. . . Luwians from western Asia Minor contributed . . . to so-called Sea Peoples.”
    Uh, no. The Luwians were not numbered among the Sea Peoples. We actually know about the Sea Peoples from their mention in Egyptians texts. You can find a summary list of the nine different “Sea Peoples” in Wikipedia:
    The Luwians are not mentioned here because they have never been identified as Sea Peoples.

    The one group that you may be most familiar with are the Peleset (Hebrew: peleshet), who have been plausibly identified with the Philistines of the Hebrew Bible (the people are referred to by the Hebrew masculine plural form pelishtim).


  14. brodix

    The article on E.O. Wilson offers an interesting juxtaposition between science and the arts;

    “That earlier book was deeply informed about what makes creatures do what they do, from genes to societies; it displayed a sensitivity to the arts rare in scientific circles. And yet the argument was oddly redolent of scientism, with its implication that only a scientific grounding enables us to comprehend the arts. This attitude persists in The Origins of Creativity. “Until a better picture can be drawn of prehistory, and by that means the evolutionary steps that led to present-day human nature can be clarified,” Wilson writes, “the humanities will remain rootless.””

    The conflict is that science seeks to distill knowledge from circumstance, while art looks for meaning, as in what is compelling. Basically the old conflict between the head and the heart.

    I would argue this goes to the dichotomy of energy and information, in that while information is binding and structured, energy is constantly bursting at the seams of what is. Such as that while the energy is what drives a wave onward and upward, the information content is the amplitude, the point where this energy peaks and recedes. At which point, the energy is going onto the next form/wave.

    So while scientists are looking for all the pieces and parts, assuming some total structure can ultimately be defined, the artists are constantly looking for new avenues of perception and feeling. A bit like the line from the Leonard Cohen song; “The cracks in everything are what let the light in.”

    Which goes to the point that consciousness acts like an energy, going from prior to succeeding thoughts, as these mental impressions coalesce and dissolve. Science is obviously concerned with the thoughts, while art looks to compel the consciousness.


  15. synred

    I must say, I’ve always had similar problems with many-worlds countability. And where, exactly, is the Hilbert space that contains them all?

    Hilbert space is here.

    Physics is chock-a-block with abstract spaces, like isospin space, etc. In what sense they exist, I don’t know, but they do predict stuff.

    . Isospin space follows from the similarity of protons and neutrons and other particles with charged and neutral versions.. It as the same symmetries as angular momentum in ordinary space. This symmetry predicts all kind of things mostly about the probabilities of particle interacting or decaying into each other.

    Besides the ugliness of many worlds and the thought of all that suffering when we tunnel into our chairs or key boards, it doesn’t seem to predict the Born rule that the probability of something happening (like a photon hitting a screen in particular place) is given by the absolute value of the wave function there squared.

    Not that Born rule is predicted by Copenhagen-like interpretations either (it works to give the right answers), but it doesn’t follow naturally from counting worlds in many worlds.

    E.g., in measuring a two state system that has amplitude (wave function) for being in + state of 1/sqrt(3) and sqrt(2/3) for the – state, you find in that it will measure + 1/3 the time and find – 2/3 of the time. But in many worlds there is a split into 2 worlds and plain counting would give 1/2 and 1/2 for that wave function or any wave function.

    There are a lot of attempts to derive the Born rule for many worlds (esp. by Oxford philosophers of a mathematical bent), but most (maybe all) assume it, but disguise that in a lot of mathematics. I get this from Zeh, who is a many worlds advocate, but admits to just putting in the Born rule.

    I don’t find these derivations convincing. Sean Carroll and a collaborator [a] recently published an attempt, but I can see where they slip the assumption in there. Sean’s attempt is rather clearer than most.

    i can’t see the point of many worlds, if you can’t count them.If world counting worked there should be very few worlds where your fingers tunnel into the keyboard, but as far as I can tell, it would happen every time you hit a key.

    Anyway many worlders are not going to agree. To me they ignore this problem and it rather spoils their argument that it is all just cranking out the Schrodinger equation.I think many worlds makes these incorrect predictions and is not only falsifiable but has been falsified.

    Too long …hoping the typos are not overwhelming…



  16. wtc48

    Brodix: “The conflict is that science seeks to distill knowledge from circumstance, while art looks for meaning, as in what is compelling. Basically the old conflict between the head and the heart.”

    Art is falling in love. Science is an arranged marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Alan White

    How can I not comment on Massimo’s PHI (post) 101??

    The physics piece puts a new spin on the phrase “correlation is not causation” with respect to Bohmian mechanics. The universe apparently correlates quantum properties by non-locality without allowing causation between such non-local subatomic entangled particles that violates special relativity. I have to wonder if we’re dealing with context-specific laws that apply at distinct levels of spatiotemporal reality. Not that that claim is especially meaningful BTW except to try and capture extremes of empirically-founded truth that are barely logically compatible.


  18. SocraticGadfly

    Valerian, I didn’t have more time to look at the piece, or refresh my Luvian history, until I posted that first Wiki link. After that, I did. And, at least in some degree of support with you and the traditional theory is that Luvians lived in southEAST not southWEST Asia Minor, for the most part.


    Otherwise, very right on the Philistines. Elements of their language, society and more have all been connected with the Minoan-Mycenaean world.


  19. SocraticGadfly

    To continue, the location where the slab was found is 500 miles or more away from the Luwian homeland, which is near the Tarsus of New Testament Saul/Paul.

    So, with the time to check further, and prodded by Valerian … it doesn’t seem to click after all. I withdraw my “plausible” of this morning, while wondering if I were thinking of the Lycians or something instead.


  20. synred

    If two astronomical source were two far apart and there was a correlation between them, that would be fairly radical. However, it could in be done, but only by having a common source signal both of them to turn on or a shared plain made in a past meeting agreeing to both turn on at the same time.

    So the saying correlation is no causation is a bit over done. Even if one event does not cause the other it indicates a common source.

    Say a new candy bar becomes all the rage in to distant downs. It could be kids in one town heard how good it was from kids in the other. There would be a delay.

    On the other hand maybe nestle ran ads promoting in both towns.

    A statistically significant correlation calls for investigation, not just being dismissed with correlation is not causation.


  21. synred

    The physics piece puts a new spin on the phrase “correlation is not causation”

    I forget what it’s called or how it’s supposed to work, but I recall (vaguely) a QM interpretation that involves a sort of ‘conspiracy’ in which the wave function collapse is decide in advance and some how or other propagated to the final result.

    I didn’t seem very plausible.

    Sort a like some signals from a common source to the detectors in an experiment telling them what they should do,. Like shining a flash light on the moon can produce a seemingly superluminial spot of moving across the surface can be used to correlate events that a too far apart to influence each other.

    Maybe somebody could turn this into an argument for a flash light wheeling GOD </;_)


  22. Nanocyborgasm

    The article on language evolution makes the issue more controversial than it is. Homo erectus has been theorized to have spoken as long ago as 1984, when the skulls were examined for impressions of Broca’s area, a region of the cerebral cortex responsible for speech.
    On the Bronze Age collapse article: those damn Luwians!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Nanocyborgasm

    Climactic changes have been theorized to have caused all sorts of historical shifts. Warming in the early Middle Ages allowed Vikings to raid and colonize distant lands that they were later locked out of. Climate shift allowed Mongols to ride over treeless plains all the way into Europe. Climate shift may have forced, in successive ways, Proto-Indo-Europeans to migrate out of the Pontic-Caspian region into Persia, India, and Western Europe.


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