Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 116

no iPhoneHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Do you really believe X? If so, take the Truth-Demon test. (Or, better yet, tell me how much money you are willing to bet on the truth of X.)

P.K. Dick, not Orwell or Huxley, predicted the world we live in.

More reasons to think the multiverse hypothesis isn’t good science. (see also my recent post here).

Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are as scary as shit.

Why so many Americans think Buddhism is “just” a philosophy.

An argument for not buying a cellphone. Which I read on, and tweeted about, from my iPhone.

The new “Cosmos” and the debate about the historical and scientific role of Giordano Bruno.


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!

134 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 116

  1. wtc48

    Philip Thrift: “I just can’t get past Philip K. Dick saying in 1980 ‘“they should have let the South secede.”’

    I’m not sure of the context, but that seems like one of those alternate history comments that has to be taken with the proverbial grain. I’m fond of one of those myself: “If the South had played their cards right, they would have abolished slavery around 1859.”


  2. wtc48

    Relative to the alt-right phenomenon, it occurred to me recently that the percentage of the population believing that Obama was a Muslim might be the same as the percentage of the electorate that voted for Trump, thinking that if this were the case I would move to some other country (where? is another matter). After crunching some numbers, (a) I found that it was only 63% — frightening, but not close enough to make me willing to leave my home country at 81.

    (a) These figures assume that the 29% of the population convinced of his Muslim faith in 2015 would carry over into the actual election turnout.


  3. Robin Herbert

    When I was a kid I had a super 8 camera, projector, editor, splicer and a device for putting a magnetic stripe down the side of the film. I had various cameras and a dark room in my basement.

    But I would have thought that I had gotten to heaven if someone had handed me the $150 device on which I am typing this.

    There are some problems with the technology, especially for kids, but to me they are amazing.

    I have never read so much as I have since I got my first smart phone. You hear people saying disapprovingly “they all had there eyes glued on their smartphones. If that were me I might be reading Dante, George Eliot or Dostoevsky. Or I might be reading some maths or science.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. brodix

    On the top down forms and bottom up processes, pretty much all politics is driven by economics.

    We are quite quick to cooperate, when it is beneficial and compete, when we think it’s to our advantage.

    Slavery was economics, not politics.

    Yet so often the attention is diverted, because the ones benefiting the most prefer the actual processes not be obvious.

    I think, when the history of this age is written, much of it will be about coming to terms with finance as a public utility, as the circulation system of the economy. Like much of the previous several hundred years was about coming to terms with government, the executive function, as a public utility.

    The fact is that pulling enormous value out of the system not only crashes the system, but leaves less capacity to store value in the first place. As my father put it; “You can’t starve a profit.”


  5. milesmutka

    Smartphones are not in themselves limiting what you can do with them. In fact, it is the vast amount of choice available, the whole of internet at your fingertips, that makes us beg for someone else to do the pruning and selecting for us. Most so-called brand loyalty is really just laziness, there are only so many conscious choices that a person can make in a day. This has very much to do with free will in the psychological sense: if you build good daily habits, you can rely on them without thinking.

    There are of course easy escapes in smartphones, and the most timewasting apps are usually also the most popular ones in the appstores. If you find your fingers automatically reaching for one of the timewasting icons too many times, you can try moving it to a different page, or inside a group so you need to navigate to it first. Uninstalling the timewasters is also an option.

    There are some real gems in the appstore if you want to track or enhance your daily habits in any way. I tracked all I ate using a free app for about six months, to get a baseline of my calorie consumption. Just navigate a selection database of ready items, change the amounts, and you track not just of the calories but everything in “nutrition facts”, from fibers to sodium on a daily basis. I only stopped tracking because I found myself limiting my choices by what was easy to navigate to in the app.

    I am actually glad that the article did not use the word addiction, since it is such a misleading label (I think it derives from ‘addictus’, or debt slave). There are no withdrawal symptoms in facebook “addiction”, at least not negative ones.


  6. saphsin

    Honestly, I suspect that in 3 or 4 decades, this fear of cell phone addiction would be looked back by future generations as paranoia. People said the same thing about magazines, rock music, cars, and other new fads that changed people’s lives. I think it takes awhile for society to adapt and root out the negatives influences.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. victor panzica

    Massimo, Very interesting articles. I think the American Civil War actually was a demarcation for the transformation of the U.S. from an agricultural nation to an industrial nation. Because of the warm climate, huge coastline extending from Virginia through the Mexico Gulf and control of the Mississippi gave the South a huge monopoly on everything from control of agricultural resources, marine resources, intercontinental transportation and access to Latin America. The Federal govt triumphed because of the higher industrial level of the North which allowed the creation of a superior mechanized war machine and transportation. Northern superiority and victory was inevitable, which is why Lincoln allowed to the war to grind on with such tragic cost including his own depression and his wife’s mental illness. Secession of the Southern Empire with all of its resources and strategic advantage was not an option.

    Just a mere four decades after the end of the war we had a country that had abolished slavery but imported huge waves of poor European immigrants who inhabited initially the Northern urban centers. Likewise a huge population of African Americans had left the farms of the South and inhabited those same cities. Although racial discrimination played a huge role, the poor European White was no different than the Mexican illegal who leaves it all behind for willful enslavement. Likewise the poor European came from a hierarchical world institutionalized by the Church and gov’ts of Europe so they were well adapted to the newly formed industrial hierarchies of America.

    The nastiness of the alt-right along with the nastiness of a Trump, Hollywood moguls etc. is reflective of the institutionalized male mind that finds origins in the days of “America’s Greatness”.

    The Civil War and the election of Lincoln, the first Republican President and birth of the party as the second major political party after the Democrats brought the former NY governorship reformer Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th Century and eventually FDR the New York Dem governor and reformer. Sadly the nastiness which we see in extremes in the alt-right is ingrained into a competitive society. Fortunately it gets expressed in more civil ways like politics.

    Oh well, time for the Super Bowl pre game shows.


  8. SocraticGadfly

    Oh, per Paul’s query about US (and enemy, ultimately) war dead and Cousin’s and others responses, as a percentage of population, we actually killed more North Koreans than North Vietnamese — as in an estimated 20 percent! Add in that both North AND South Korea had crossed each others’ borders in the two years before the war (the vast majority of Americans don’t know that) and other factors, and North Korea’s continued mistrust of, and enmity toward, the US may be seen in a different light.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. saphsin


    That’s a bit misleading because most of the Vietnam War was American aggression against South Vietnam (from the installation of Ngo Dinh Diem in violation of the Geneva Conventions and support for his brutal regime, to outright military invasion after North Vietnam tried to help the South Vietnamese Peasantry overthrow his rule), not against North Vietnam, which was mostly extended towards later in the war. With respect to American Violence during the Korean War, it was the North that suffered the most of American Napalm. Two different scenarios.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. brodix

    What would be an interesting discussion would be the underlaying motivation for the various US military adventures, since the end of WW2.
    The obvious and presumed one was fighting Communism, but withe the fall of the USSR, the arc of the War on Terror and now the effort to resurrect Russia as the enemy du jour, it would would seem evident Eisenhower’s warning about the (originally) Congressional, Military, Industrial Complex carries a lot of weight.
    I imagine the financial sector has had no small input either, given the importance of Federal debt to the financial system.
    This would seem to be the engine driving the process forward, with, it would seem, a bunch of adolescent minds at the steering wheel, deciding what unfortunate country/region is the next swamp to run through.
    As such, if the process is to stop, short of the ultimate war, it would be more a matter of finding a way to cut the engine, than grabbing the steering wheel.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. synred

    What would be an interesting discussion would be the underlaying motivation for the various US military adventures, since the end of WW2.

    It started long before that. Mexico (we took the parts we wanted), Spain, Philippines IArthur MacArthur slaughtered a lot),

    From the Halls of Montezuma
    To the shores of Tripoli

    Liked by 1 person

  12. SocraticGadfly

    More on how “neoliberal” is NOT a pejorative. Via Twitter, neoliberals use the word themselves, and “neoliberalism,” and other spinoff words. They just disagree that the concept behind the word has bad qualities. People like me say it does. If pointing out perceived bad qualities of a concept is pejorative, then there’s a hell of a lot of pejorativism in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. synred

    Con-servative Con Men managed to turn ‘liberal’ (with help for weasley Dukakis) into a bad word; turnabout is fair play.


  14. brodix

    Very true.
    Though they might fall in the category of normal colonial expansion, my sense is that after the Depression and WW2, it shifted into overdrive, as more of an economic necessity for the whole economy.
    Yet the current state of the country shows there is a great deal of room for investment within the country.
    It goes to my intuition that people are goal oriented and project linearly, consequently get stuck in ruts until things crash, but will eventually have to learn to process the cyclical feedback loops running through virtually everything, in order to evolve beyond this current bottom line financialization of everything.
    Suffice to say, it will take a serious wake-up/breakdown before people will question their current ruts and ideologies.


  15. synred

    Suffice to say, it will take a serious wake-up/breakdown before people will question their current ruts and ideologies

    With Trump, I’d say, we’re already there or at least teetering on brink…


  16. Massimo Post author


    I have trashed a number of comments that had pretty much nothing to do with any of the topics under discussion, where far too short (in one case a single word!), or had links to material that was, again, barely relevant.

    I love doing this, but please be respectful of my time and try to contribute substantially (though not with post-length comments!) to the discussion. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. brodix


    “Dystopias tend toward fantasies of absolute control, in which the system sees all, knows all, and controls all. And our world is indeed one of ubiquitous surveillance. Phones and household devices produce trails of data, like particles in a cloud chamber, indicating our wants and behaviors to companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. Yet the information thus produced is imperfect and classified by machine-learning algorithms that themselves make mistakes. The efforts of these businesses to manipulate our wants leads to further complexity. It is becoming ever harder for companies to distinguish the behavior which they want to analyze from their own and others’ manipulations.”

    It is natural to project linearly, but those feedback loops eventually have to be taken into account.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. synred

    becoming ever harder for companies to distinguish the behavior which they want to analyze from their own and others’ manipulations

    Our best hope is they drowned in their big data…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. brodix


    “Our best hope is they drowned in their big data…”

    Yeah, knowledge is in the information. Wisdom is in the editing. Hard to think outside the box, when you are a box.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Mark Shulgasser

    Funny that a four year old Bruno article should be brought up because Bruno happens to be on my play at the moment, having been asked to review an opera based on his legend called ‘Heresy’, by an Irish electronica composer, Roger Doyle. Since he’s associated with a bunch of renaissance astrologers I can’t help having more than passing familiarity, and have looked more closely since this opera assignment. He surely was not a scientist as he considered the math behind Copernicanism mere pedantry! He apparently believed, at least intermittently, that Copernicus had re-established the correct Ra worship of Egypt to which we were all destined to return, that he himself was the reincarnation of Thoth, etc. In addition to holding that the sun was one among the infinite stars and the earth revolved around it, he refused to budge on several obscure point of theology, preferring to be tortured for eight long years, then fried. (The electronica composer does a wonderful job with that.) That sort of masochistic martyrdom is clearly demented, not a wonderful example of scientific progress. A great deal more to be said about his behavior and his strange and voluminous writings of course. Yet to such as him is attributed ‘the greatest idea in the history of astronomy’. If we must still admire him I do so in the spirit of Emerson’s exhuberant remark:

    “If a man is inflamed and carried away by his thought, to that degree that he forgets the authors and the public, and heeds only this one dream, which holds him like an insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the arguments and histories and criticism. All the value which attaches to Pythagoras, Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardan, Kepler, Swedenborg, Schelling, Oken, or any other who introduces questionable facts into his cosmogony, as angels, devils, magic, astrology, palmistry, mesmerism, and so on, is the certificate we have of departure from routine, and that here is a new witness.” The Poet:

    Liked by 3 people

  21. SocraticGadfly

    The Buddhism article, of course, only talks about Buddhist secularism (per my use of the B-word as the adjectival modifer and not the controlling noun) in the West. It does not really cover actual Buddhism in the West. In the US, it’s of course primarily due to east and southeast Asian migration, but I believe Buddhism is drawing more and more multi-generational US natives to it as well.

    That said, I find both Buddhism and Hinduism’s ideas on karma and reincarnation more perplexing, nay, off-putting, both intellectually AND emotionally/psychologically, than I do Augustinian original sin, and I find Buddhism’s even worse.

    Both claim we’re reincarnated for mistakes in a past life that they can’t and won’t explain why we don’t all remember. (Sidebar — if not hell, it is purgatory at a minimum, which western adopters of Buddhist secularism, or at most, “lite” Buddhism, get wrong, too. I’m talking you, New Agers.) Buddhism is even worse, though, by claiming there is no personal self or personal soul that gets reincarnated, just a “life force,” yet still professes reincarnation and the karma to guide it.


    Sidebar — Buddhism was one of four “heresies’ to arise out of Brahmanism (Normal term for post-Vedic religion in India of the Axial age). Besides Buddhism, the other heterodox offshoots are Jainism, the Charvaka skeptics and the Ajivita “atomists,” to try to compare them to equivalent Western groups. The latter two largely died out, and Jainism hasn’t become common outside India, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. wtc48

    In the interest of fairness, I think we should recognize that some conservatives have made substantial contributions to the benefit of this nation. I can’t think of any at the moment, but feel free to add any names that come to mind (if time permits).


  23. synred

    In the interest of fairness

    There must be some one thing or some one, but I can’t think of any!

    Herbert Hoover did a good job in european relief after WWI. Does that count?


Comments are closed.