Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 126

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

Is meditating on death like putting on a fur coat in summer? (spoiler alert: no)

The History and Psychology of the Orgy.

The language of strategic planning (doesn’t make it any more meaningful of an exercise…).

The only thing you ever really need to read about (and, as bonus, by!) Jordan Peterson.

Particle physicists begin to invent reasons to build the next larger particle collider.

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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!

154 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 126

  1. brodix

    Labnut,

    “In every new generation we see this drama being played out as the young embrace the chaos of licentious self determination and the older generations contain and direct this chaos into purposive order.”

    What you are saying amounts to a bottom up theology, where it is that inner sense of being that drives us, which is then directed, informed and educated by the forces it encounters.

    The basic problem of monotheism is it asserts a spiritual absolute would be that top down order, or ideal. Yet the absolute would be the essence, the element from which all else derives. So a spiritual absolute would be that essence of being, from which we are born, rather than an ideal of knowledge and wisdom guiding it.
    Obviously over billions of generations life does build up structures that work and are repeated, so when we do look for direction, there is a functional commonality, yet what drives it is not chaos, but energy and feedback. Chaos is just that quest for order and structure not being fulfilled by what it does find, so it keeps pushing the boundaries.

    Sometime those boundaries are walls and obstacles that do occupy and fulfill our sense of focus, but often it is the vastness and infinities in which our efforts are only dissolved and dispelled. Which then makes us seek to coalesce around some form or order, but necessarily ones which don’t satisfy all our needs and desires. Leading to conflicts over whose points of reference are better.

    The intellectual conflict is that our nervous system evolved to process that information and feedback, while the gut processes the energy to propel life. Elemental life is little more than a gut, with rudimentary sensory functions. For all life, temperature is a primary sense, while for mobile organisms, sequence is a close runner-up. Thus our sense of time as foundational.

    Naturally the two most powerful concepts are God and Mammon. The symbolic authority figure and the symbolic food and energy. What we need to step back from is that inherent tendency to focus, where the abstractions and distillations become more real than the sources of these inputs, but that goes against our most primal nature of focus and conceptual reductionism, that drives society in the first place, but only results in running in circles, seeking that ultimate point of focus, be it God, more money than God, or a theory of everything.

    The reality is a cycle, between youth radiating out and age consolidating in.

    Even galaxies are radiation expanding and mass gravitating.

    Saphsin,

    We seek to fulfill our desires and that requires objects of desire. What is necessary is not to become so focused on the particulars, we loose perspective.

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  2. brodix

    “And while I certainly agree that military spending, especially in the US, ought to be the primary target of deep cuts, it is still the case that a new collider would cost a lot of money, which could be used elsewhere. So a positive case, not based on handwaving, has to be made.”

    Maybe some overall strategy of finding why the money and effort flows the way it does, would be a primary step toward redirecting it to more long term socially valuable uses.

    Such as how the financial system presumes to save notational value, by loaning it to the government, without real concern that this wealth is put to actual investment and not just flooded out to whatever beneficiary has the most legislative leverage.

    It might help to start this process by first focusing on the financial circulation system as a public utility and how it could be consciously best designed, not simply metastasize under the radar of policy considerations.

    It took thousands of years for the social central nervous system of executive and regulatory government to evolve through tribal leaders, to monarchs, to public utility. The value circulation mechanism obviously has more evolving to do, as well.

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  3. leonids

    Reading Peterson lament that men cannot “control crazy women” because becoming physical “in discourse with women” is “forbidden,” whereas it’s not forbidden with men, I have to wonder: Does he really think assault and battery laws are so lax in Toronto he can physically threaten and beat up men with impunity?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. labnut

    Massimo,
    To me it tells that a good chunk of the population is easily swindled by a clear charlatan.

    Strong words. Lets be clear about our terms:
    A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick or deception in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception. Synonyms for “charlatan” include “shyster”, “quack”, or “faker”.” (Wikipedia)

    Are you seriously suggesting this person is deliberately practising some deception, that he is ‘swindling’ people. Now that is a very strong claim indeed to make about another tenured academic. Have you evidence of his deliberate deception? Can you describe his deliberate swindle? Clearly you disagree strongly with his viewpoints but to express that disagreement by accusing him of deliberate deception(and a swindle) is taking disagreement to a whole new level which is more visceral than thoughtful.

    When I consider that many other thoughtful people take his views seriously, even if they do not necessarily agree, your reaction is unmerited.

    But, leaving aside the nature of your reaction, my question still stands. Why should a good chunk of the population relate to his words? And why should another part of the population react in such a visceral way, as you have just done?

    Labelling him as a charlatan and a swindler just does not do justice to the question. I understand that commentary fatigue is setting in so I will accept that as your explanation. I have seen any number of testy professorial responses to pesky students, which in time becomes habitual, and there is possibly an element of that in your reply. That’s OK, we all have moments like that 🙂 Which is why we have a weekend, to restore our sense of equanimity. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I will drink a toast to you with a glass of good red wine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. labnut

    I am sure this will amuse you. Our parish priest gave me the task of developing a blog for him. I took him to your blog as an example of a good well run blog. He rather liked it!! I’m sure priestly approval will not do your secular standing any good but you may defend yourself by pointing out that he refused to give you a nihil obstat 🙂

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  6. Bunsen Burner

    Paul Braterman:

    ‘Synred, I was not aware that particle physics, of the kind studied by high-energy colliders, had been instrumental in the development of superconducting magnets. Can you enlarge?’

    Call me synred, if it helps 🙂 There is material at CERN, and also at a number of European universities that discuss this history. You have to appreciate that most of the hardware that needed to build the LHC didn’t exist when it first started. CERN required the gathering of not only scientists, but business men and engineers from many industries to work out how to build everything. Magnets, materials, optics, electronics, you name it, had to be build to specification that industry at the time wasn’t capable of. Scientists worked with engineers at industrial sites to help improve and optimise industrial processes, that later were used to produce all manner of technological items. This diffuse effort really was a form of technical stimulation to the economies of many European nations. Take a trip sometime to CERN or Fermilab, the people there can tell you a lot of fascinating history.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bunsen Burner

    Paul Braterman:

    ‘We may also have reached a point of diminishing returns with fundamental physics’

    This is a fascinating point that I haven’t heard before. Can you elaborate? What is the metric you are using. If it’s purely economic then as I’ve stated before you need to look at lot more than the upfront cost. If it’s about new discoveries, then you can probably say that about most academic research. How many new discoveries do you think are coming out philosophy these days? Anyway, there are literally thousands of questions we need answered about the Standard Model. Yes, they are very technical and you will probably never understand them. But if that’s an issue, do I have the right to complain about the diminishing returns of humanities departments, full of stuff that sounds like gibberish to me?

    J. S. Bell, a very famous physicist, was once asked for a similar justification. His answer was that we have to decide what kind of society we wish to live in. One that promotes knowledge and understanding, and puts value on a search for answers. Or … ?

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  8. brodix

    labnut,

    There is a clear cross cultural conflict between liberal and conservative elements in ANY society. At least those encompassing both youth, age and their precedents.

    Doesn’t that suggest some underlaying dynamic that might be worth exploring, to help clarify how some try to bridge this gap, select a side, or otherwise pass judgements?

    “Some of the animus is accounted for by the infantilisation of society that rejects the disciplines of the will and intellect while paying lip service to it.”

    How much is this infantilization of society being driven by forces, technological, political, environmental, etc, that are simply breaking down old orders, forms and assumptions? We are not going to be able to put that genie back in the bottle, so how do we ride the wave? At some point, the medium does become the message and we have to wait and see what forms it coalesces into, so we might want to guide this process and the best start is to first understand it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Paul Braterman

    Bunsen Burner: Einstein and Bohr cost the rest of us their salaries plus overhead, Rutherford’s laboratory used little more than glassblowing, sealing wax and scintillation counters, and the standard model including quantum chromodynamics was in place by 1975. Since then, we have had the discovery of all the particles predicted, which is certainly a major achievement, but as far as I know no surprises. Now the suggestion is that we spend more than ever, which may or may not help us choose between a range of existing models, or may perhaps tell us that all these models are inadequate.

    I don’t know enough to say anything sensible about the claim that the money spent on the LHC was justified as an investment in terms of the spin-offs you mention. Nor do I know enough to say how relevant this is going forward, since I do not know of any great engineering novelties in what is now contemplated. Are there any?

    Your final argument may be paraphrased as “If you value knowledge, give us the money.” But the issue is, how is the available money best spent, given that, as is bound to be the case as long as science is healthy, credible research proposals vastly exceed the available budget? I remember that when the supercollider in Texas was cancelled, some American physicists I knew were relieved. It was going, I was told, to cost the equivalent of a million dollars for every physics professor in the US. And I remember how NASA’s exobiology budget (from which I was funded at the time) was squeezed in order to fund the Space Station.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. labnut

    Brodix,
    How much is this infantilization of society … are simply breaking down old orders, forms and assumptions?

    Infantilisation of society is simply the interruption of the normal maturation process, preventing its completion.
    What interrupts it? Normally it is a state that appears more desirable than the implications of continuing maturation.

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  11. Massimo Post author

    labnut,

    “Are you seriously suggesting this person is deliberately practising some deception, that he is ‘swindling’ people”

    No, I don’t know whether Peterson is engaging in fraud. But my dictionary (Merriam-Webster) gives a second, broader definition:

    “one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability”

    In which case Peterson fits nicely.

    “When I consider that many other thoughtful people take his views seriously, even if they do not necessarily agree, your reaction is unmerited.”

    I don’t judge on the basis of how many people do this or that, regardless of whether such people are thoughtful or not. I judge on the basis of my own understanding of the matter. And my understanding is that Peterson delivers a mix of the following:

    true but rather trivial statements + confused / obfuscatory statements + clearly dangerous ideological statements

    “Labelling him as a charlatan and a swindler just does not do justice to the question. I understand that commentary fatigue is setting in so I will accept that as your explanation”

    Thank you, but I did not advance that explanation. I think my response does justice to the question. Obviously you disagree. So goes the world, we have both made our arguments.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Massimo Post author

    Bunsen,

    “we have to decide what kind of society we wish to live in. One that promotes knowledge and understanding, and puts value on a search for answers. Or … ?”

    Interesting way to put it. First off, it’s clearly a false dichotomy. Second, as Paul said, it depends on what sort of knowledge, justified how, and how costly.

    But if you insist in a dichotomy, then: “… or one in which people don’t live in poverty, have access to health care, and are well educated, so they can make up their minds about whether to fund the next collider or not.”

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  13. Zerk (@ZerkTheMighty)

    Regarding Peterson and charlatanism,

    For what it’s worth, I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto when Peterson was still quite an obscure figure. During my studies I attended a number of psychology/cogsci conferences organized by student groups where he was an invited speaker, and I recall him being an interesting character, even then.

    I didn’t get the impression that he was insincere, but there did seem something that was ‘off’ about him, and that I found hard to place, initially. He seemed to vacillate between commentating on ‘big ideas’ in a coherent, if not necessarily profound, way, and going of on tangents where he seemed, frankly, to have a shaky understanding of the facts or ideas he was referring to, and whose relevance to his main point was not at all apparent.

    I think the article Massimo linked to, while quite negative in tone, does a good job of distilling what it was I found about him so odd: he does (or did, I admit to not having read him recently) tend to communicate in a way that is ambiguous, but scattered with enough intellectual references and allusions to more established ideas such that what he is saying comes of as perhaps more substantive than it really is; but there is enough there that one is left with, as the article puts it, a kind of intellectual rorschach test.

    I guess my point is that he’s been doing this all along, and I don’t feel he’s trying to fool anyone. If anything I think he’s in over his head, and if he’s fooled anyone, it’s himself, and he’s just taking plenty of others along for the ride.

    Amusingly enough, he reminds me of some of my, admittedly sparse, encounters with postmodernism. I’m left with the same feeling that there is a point buried amidst all of the verbiage that would be interesting to consider, if they weren’t overreaching and were more cautious in their claims.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. labnut

    Massimo, do you remember that you called Peterson a swindler as you amplified on him being a charlatan? From your use of the term ‘swindler’ it is amply clear that you intended the first meaning of the term so I am afraid your attempt to soften your claims just does not hold water.

    I don’t judge on the basis of how many people do this or that

    You claimed that a large chunk of the population were taken in by Peterson, so you do seem to judge on that basis. Moreover, if thoughtful, well informed people attach value to his views you should re-evaluate your claim about being ‘taken in’, especially since you quite explicitly called him a swindler. The term being ‘taken in’ implies a certain level of gullibility and, on the other hand, a deliberate attempt at deception.

    Let me return to my challenge. Can you explain the details of his scheme whereby he swindled people?

    Thank you, but I did not advance that explanation

    No, but I was generously offering you a path out of your unsustainable claims.

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  15. Massimo Post author

    Labnut,

    “From your use of the term ‘swindler’ it is amply clear that you intended the first meaning of the term so I am afraid your attempt to soften your claims just does not hold water.”

    I did not soften it, I qualified it. The use of the word dwindle was, I agree, inappropriate. I don’t think Peterson is consciously trying to take advantage of people. But he remains a charlatan in the second sense of the MW definition.

    “You claimed that a large chunk of the population were taken in by Peterson, so you do seem to judge on that basis”

    Very clearly not. On that basis I judge that he is dangerous. That is logically independent from whether he is a crackpot (the more correct term here) or not.

    “The term being ‘taken in’ implies a certain level of gullibility and, on the other hand, a deliberate attempt at deception”

    I think you are willfully exaggerating my position, but let me state it more carefully: I think Peterson’s ideas are the mix I mentioned above. If some thoughtful people are convinced by them that is no reason, in itself, to reconsider my (thoughtful) opinion. No one gets it right all the time, regardless of how thoughtful they are.

    “Can you explain the details of his scheme whereby he swindled people?”

    I did, multiple times. So did the article linked above, in detail. How any thoughtful person could read that article and still think there is value in Peterson is beyond me. But stranger things happen at sea, you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Bunsen Burner

    Paul Braterman:

    ‘Your final argument may be paraphrased as “If you value knowledge, give us the money.” ‘

    I suppose I am. Though I also tried to explain the various economic and educational benefits. I guess if you only want to concentrate on the sunk cost then there’s not much else I can say.

    ‘But the issue is, how is the available money best spent, given that, as is bound to be the case as long as science is healthy, credible research proposals vastly exceed the available budget?”

    The problem is that the available budget is a function of how much society values academic research. And lets remember that the US is a very wealthy society with a collider costing about as much as the Pentagon loses in it’s couches each year. Even this number can be reduced by making it a multinational project. And again I would class international collaboration in our current world as an extra intangible benefit.

    Personally I think that by trying to constrain academic research you will contribute to a climate of defunding, that will see smaller and smaller projects getting cancelled too. Eventually leading to a diminishment of the overall budget and ending up with less money and less research opportunities.

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  17. labnut

    Massimo,

    So did the article linked above, in detail. How any thoughtful person could read that article and still think there is value in Peterson is beyond me.

    It is not beyond me because I read other articles and I read his book. I see value in searching for a 360 degree view. I see value in going back to the source material. I see value in considering the opinions of both his detractors and his admirers. You, on the other hand, seem to be content with a most selective reading. Dan-K offered up another thoughtful article and you simply ignored it. I offered up Bishop Barron’s careful opinion and likewise you ignored it.

    But stranger things happen at sea, you know.

    and this blog.

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  18. Zachary Caudill

    Peterson talks tough all the time, and sympathizers turn their head away, but when he gets some tough talk in return (and really, how many of the posted articles reach Peterson’s peak level of invective?), he’s been done a great disservice and all of us should really shift the conversation away from the substance of these criticisms to a general lamentation of their perceived tone and the dismal tide of history. I don’t buy it. I’d rather hear fewer paeans to free speech from his sympathizers and more serious attempts to put it into practice and genuinely engage his critics. We’re all tough guys right? Lobstermen attuned to the mysteries. We can take it on the chin. We’re all non-tribalist tribalists, and we don’t mind a bloody nose. To that end:

    View at Medium.com

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  19. labnut

    But anyway, in my part of the world it is past bed time so I will wish you a good night, thank you for a stimulating debate and look forward to your Tuesday essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Paul Braterman

    Bunsen Burner, we have both had our say. I will make just one more comment; it happens (and should happen) every day that research proposals are turned down because they are judged good but not good enough. I don’t see why big physics should be exempt.

    Your point about international collaboration is a good one; but then there are plenty of international collaborations that are not budgeted in billions. In a UK context, one of the many damaging consequences of Brexit is to place a question mark over these.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Michael Fugate

    Given that “classical liberals” were racist, misogynist, white males, Peterson fits the bill. Likely homophobes too.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Massimo Post author

    Labnut,

    You simply cannot possibly know what I did or did not read. I had read the article Dan’s posted before he posyed it. I obviously didnt think i had anything to say about it (or about tons of other negative articles about Peterson).

    I’m glad you feel good about your open mindedness, and feel free to consider me close minded. Just remember Sagan’s warning: when your mind is too open, there is a fmdanger your brain falls off.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Bunsen Burner

    Paul Braterman:

    ‘ I don’t see why big physics should be exempt.’

    Sure. I am not pleading for a special exception here. I was just trying to contribute various perspectives to the discussion to illustrate that there is a lot more here to think about than just lost billions. I’d be a liar if I said you didn’t make me rethink some of my own points as well.

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  24. brodix

    labnut,

    “Infantilisation of society is simply the interruption of the normal maturation process, preventing its completion.
    What interrupts it? Normally it is a state that appears more desirable than the implications of continuing maturation.”

    I certainly agree there is much to interrupt the maturation of society. For instance, in my view, maturity entails a great deal of fiscal responsibility and that has certainly been cast aside. Is this the fault of those growing up in this society, or those profiting from catering to base desires, rather than providing responsible leadership?

    As I keep arguing, understanding the dynamics at work would be more effective at finding solutions, than bemoaning the effects.

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  25. wtc48

    Zerk: ” if he’s fooled anyone, it’s himself, and he’s just taking plenty of others along for the ride.”

    A man for our times, obviously (and not just Peterson, alas).

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Robin Herbert

    Bunsen Burner,

    Come on… I accept your post as the gentle ribbing it is, but are you really going to be a meanie and refuse to give Berners-Lee his due?

    Certainly I am happy to give Johnny-come-latelies like Berner-Lee their share of the due.

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  27. wtc48

    Orgies are more commonly talked about than encountered, to be sure. Presumably humans were once subject to estrus, like other mammals (probably not as simple as all that, to biologists), and the orgy might be a spinoff related to its replacement in human culture by the fashion industry.

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