Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 109

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

The world is relying far too much on a flawed psychological test to fight racism.

New species can take as little as two generations to form. I wonder what creationists have to say about this…

Epistemic vs ontic interpretations of quantum theory.

The Greeks were right again: two usefully different words for “freedom of speech.”

Make a fast million from bitcoin? No thanks, my soul is damaged enough as it is.


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. Also, keep ‘em short, this is a comments section, not your own blog. Thanks!

60 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 109

  1. synred

    than dollars, pounds, euros, etc.

    These are legal tender, bit coin is not

    Neither IRS nor the state of California are going to accept bit coin for your taxes, registration fees, or park admission. No fishing licenses…nor will the city of Mountain View take it for your garbage pickup, water supply, or property taxes (collected by the county). Traffic tickets will take real money… L’etat c’est moi


  2. Robin Herbert


    The relevant species concept here is the classical one based on reproductive isolation, which works well enough for most species of vertebrates, especially birds and mammals.

    But I thought the finches described here did interbreed.

    The definition of a species has traditionally included the inability to produce fully fertile progeny from interbreeding species, as is the case for the horse and the donkey, for example. However, in recent years it has become clear that some closely related species, which normally avoid breeding with each other, do indeed produce offspring that can pass genes to subsequent generations.

    So does the definition include partial reproductive isolation?

    It doesn’t seem so very surprising that a couple of generations can produce populations that don’t often interbreed.


  3. Robin Herbert


    }To clarify my point, I took it that Robin was sarcastically citing the article as reflecting creationist push-back since the Discovery Institute is generally considered a conservative think-tank.

    Yes. Conservative religious propaganda is quite clearly their purpose. But I think synred knew that already.

    His point, if I have understood correctly, is that their point doesn’t seem completely unreasonable in this case.

    Indeed in order to do bullshit well you have to adulterate the bullshit with non-bullshit and the DI are quite good at this.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. brodix


    “But there is no inflation, and government money has proved far more stable than its alternatives, either gold or Bitcoin.”

    When the price of a loaf of bread goes up, we think it makes us poorer, but when the cost of buying a share in the bread company goes up, those holding it feel richer. There is enormous inflation, but it has largely been confined to asset values, like housing. The value of the dollar goes down, relative to investments. It’s a big part of what makes the rich richer and the rest poorer.
    The final effect will be that rather than having investors take risks and lose money on occasion and keeping the markets rational, all risk has been taken on by the Fed making good on most losses and the market marches upward. The Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen Put, as it’s being referred to.
    When the next crash comes, they can’t lower interest rates very much more and the economic earthquake will make the last look like a tea party. Irresistible force meets immovable object.

    I guess I’m not going to get much feedback on the point about particles and fields, but I’m not a neurologist either and I can reasonably say consciousness goes from past to future thoughts, while thoughts go future to past, as a significant part of how the brain/mind works.

    A couple of decades ago, I was driving home one evening and the local pbs station was interviewing a neurologist from Hopkins, about the relationship of the brain and the mind, so I called in and actually got on.
    I made the observation that if you have two balls and they bounce into each other, it creates an event. While the balls, being physically real, continue onto future events, the event fades into the past. This then is the difference between the brain, which being physical, goes onto the future, while the mind is a record of the events fading into the past.
    His reply was , “Wow, that’s deep!” Then started on how physics has discovered that time and space are the same. At which point the host cut us off and went onto the next caller.


  5. Massimo Post author


    Interbreeding is a matter of degree, and there is genetic as well as ecological isolation. In this case it is actually very surprising that a strong degree of isolation — enough, as the article says, that the two populations would be classified as dist8nct species by a biologist who had just come to the island — has developed in such a short period of time.


  6. brodix


    Money is not a fiction, but a contract. The value of the asset is presumably backed by an obligation. US Federal Reserve notes are backed by the government debt bought to issue them.
    Which, if anyone pays attention, is a powerful reason for the government to take on as much debt as possible. Especially since the dollar functions as a global currency. The introduction of which was roughly simultaneous with offshoring much of our manufacturing base. Likely a causal relationship.
    So now we spend enormous borrowed value on a military that is a primary industrial and employment program, along with caring for many unemployed people. All the while creating trillions worth of government bonds, that are the foundation of”Capitalism!”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. brodix

    Though to be fair to cryptocurrencies, everything this side of neuron stars are bubbles. It’s just a matter of whether the forces holding them up are greater than those pulling them down.


  8. Anonymous

    “Money is a fiction” – no more so than the frequency codes used by a neuron. It is a “real” system property. Graeber’s thesis that debt preceded money points to its moral properties, which is to say technology required to run a culture. If I forget you did me a favour last week, I might regard your claim as fictional 😉


  9. synred

    Money was in the days of the Gold Standard an IOU from the government, though not an honest one.

    Now there’s not that pretense, but it is still ‘legal tender’ good for all debts private and public.


  10. SocraticGadfly

    Anon, I didn’t notice that Labnut had said that … and I’m not sure exactly what Harari said. Money’s real, but “fiat” money’s backing is … notional.

    As for the goldbugs? I’ve said it before. If they really wanted non-fiat money backed by something of utilitarian value and at a relatively high level, they would want to go on either the oil standard or the uranium standard. (Silicon Valley is real, but silicon itself is cheap.)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Vijay Lakshminarayanan


    Have you also seen Steven Weinberg’s “The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics” in Jan 19 article in NYRB? “[T]he problems of understanding measurement in the present form of quantum mechanics may be warning us that the theory needs modification.” [1]

    Of course, one must also always remember our mutual hero, David Hume, who pointed out that “[w]hile Newton seemed to draw off the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored her ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.” [2]

    [2] cited by Chomsky multiple times


  12. brodix

    Aboriginal societies are reciprocal, as it is much more efficient and cohesive to share resources, such as a kill, than store it.
    One of the earliest known examples of what amounted to money were the Assyrians using clay tablets as receipts for communally stored grain that were then traded around.
    The origin of the modern central bank is the Bank of England. It arose when Charles 1(?) owed the Rothschild’s a lot of gold and they offered to forgive it, if they could run his treasury. As gold merchants, the Rothschild’s had a system of receipts that was highly respected and easier and safer to move than actual gold.
    The advantage this conferred is that it isolated the supply of money from political whims, since the illusion of more wealth, i.e., inflation, is a political useful tool, but one with serious long term consequences, because it is nearly impossible to reverse.
    While Volcker is credited with bringing inflation under control in the late 70’s, early 80’s, his method of higher interest rates and thus raising the cost of borrowing money also reduced economic activity and thus the need for money. Not surprisingly inflation didn’t start to go away until 82, by which time Reaganomics pushed the federal deficit over 200 billion. Which was serious money in those days.
    Since a primary method for the Fed to raise interest rates is to sell some of the bonds they bought to issue the money, what is the effective difference between the Fed selling bonds to siphon off excess and the Treasury issuing new bonds?
    Now of course the government has to do something with that excess money they borrowed out of the system, that doesn’t compete with the resources of the economy and drive up inflation. The obvious method would be to spend it on things no right thinking investor would consider, in that they have no real return. Such as the military and welfare for people who are not working. Which opens up enormous industries, employment and markets outside of those with obviously productive functions, thus increasing the size of the economy.
    Unfortunately this is an end run around isolating the economic circulation system from political needs.
    A possible, though extremely theoretical, solution might be for the government to threaten to tax excess money out of the system, rather than borrow it. The hoped for result would be that people would understand money is not an effective method of storing wealth and that more communally organic methods might be a solution. Since most people save for the same general reasons, from childcare to retirement, investing in these as communal functions, rather than trying to save for them individually and empowering this monumental financial system, would return us to a more evolved form of that very reciprocity of the aboriginal economies.
    We just have to understand money is a bookkeeping entry, not a commodity.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. brodix

    An interesting use of the wave/particle relationship, with wave as bottom up process and particle as top down delineation;

    “So since Gutenberg, at least, our stories have had a dual nature. We’ve known them both as continuous waves of tellings and retellings, and as the far more manageable particles between the covers of books and magazines. The boundaries between those two states are troubled and getting more so, and they’re raising increasingly complex legal questions. But we need both kinds of stories, perhaps now more than ever.”


  14. synred

    Libertarians like bitcoin? Huh? It seems the opposite of the ‘gold’ standard.

    In Ithaca (NY) they have a hippy-dippy currency call ‘Ithaca Hours’. It supposed to equivalent to hours of labor. The labor theory of value, I guess.


  15. milesmutka

    The bias article mentions James Damore, as an example of conscious bias in the workplace. He was the guy who was fired for offering “helpful” suggestions for increasing gender parity at google. Have you Massimo by chance had a look at his arguments, the actual internal memo that got leaked? He apparently was a biology grad student.

    On the immaterial currency front, how about Disney shares? That’s what Rupert Murdock prefers to be paid in, apparently. Instead of mathematically proven cryptographic algorithms, trust in mickey-mouse money is mainly rooted in copyright laws and lawyers, preventing unauthorized people from creating counterfeit assets, like Winnie the Pooh fanfiction, or homemade Star Wars merchandise. The choice for backing fictional currency seems to be either armies of lawyers and political lobbying, or GPGPU mining. Seems wasteful either way, but the laws of mathematics require less human enforcement.


  16. synred

    I like the Weinberg article.

    I too find the idea that in some worlds my f…inger just tunneled into the ‘f’ key and I’m continuing to type in great pain with only 9 useable fingers (switching to hunt and peak from the touch typing I learned at Homestead high in the summer 63)

    More important is this:

    >this were not the case, to predict probabilities we would need to make some additional assumption about what happens when humans make measurements, and we would be back with the shortcomings of the instrumentalist approach. Several attempts following the realist approach have come close to deducing rules like the Born rule that we know work well experimentally, but I think without final success.

    I did some thinking about many worlds last winter and concluded that the Born rule can not be derived from it. In the case of a simple two state system, the natural result of counting is not the Born rule.

    Suppose the electron is in a state where the spin-up, spin-down do not with equal amplitudes. Non-the-less when measured, it can only split into two states, and simple counting gives you equal probability of ‘finding yourself’ in either.

    Many worlds has to impose the Born rule just as other interpretations do. To get things to work out, many worlds has to collapse many or keep them only some of the time or even perhaps create duplicates. E.g., if the ratio for + state and – state of an electron is such that Born predicts twice as many +’s as –‘s you could imagine 2 +’s are created for every – state when irreversible events occurs.

    I would prefer one world in which f-key penetration probability is cosmically small.


  17. brodix

    “silicon itself is cheap”

    Information that is not free=cryptocurrencies.

    Though there can be infinitely many cryptocurrencies.


  18. wtc48

    It seems important, in discussing the formation of species, that homo sapiens is the only existing member of our genus, hence the question of forming a new human species through interbreeding is irrelevant (i.e. academic or idle).

    Some creationists might see in this unique status a confirmation of their theory of a special creation. But it could also be seen as analogous to finding a single well-fed human on a desert island, representing the only survivor from a ship that went down with one hundred on board.


  19. SocraticGadfly

    Per my previous comment especially, but per my comments in general on cryptocurrencies, certain strains in Green and other leftist thought that like cryptocurrency really trouble me. Some of the same strains also like all versions of guaranteed basic income programs, including libertarian driven ones.

    That’s why I’m a skeptical leftist.


  20. synred

    Like donkey’s and horses you might be able to breed chimps and humans. Like horses and donkey’s the number chromosomes is different, so most hybrids would be infertile and thus not candidates for a new species, but the breeders could get ‘lucky’.

    Classifying apes and people as a different genus might be a matter of pride. The third chimpanzee?


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