Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 132

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

The scientific case for two spaces after a period. Turns out not to be convincing. At all.

Thinking (and philosophizing) through film and music.

Banning electronic devices in the classroom, some empirical evidence.

The complexities and perils of the academic debate about feminism and transgender rights.

New insights into Ancient Roman economy by way of Greenland’s ice core sampling.

The silencing of the lesbians?

Sam Harris and the myth of perfect rationality.

_____

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!

Advertisements


Categories: Plato's Suggestions

49 replies

  1. Well I have no objection to others doing the philosophy by art but it is not for me, it seems to steer clear of definite claims that you can sink your teeth into. Take this for example:

    Another focus of attention was the way in which the film suggested that the self is not a singular entity but “a cage in search of a bird”, a quote from Kafka which Sebastian borrowed as a lyric. It’s “the reverse of the idea of a spirit looking for a body”, as Sebastian put it. This fits my view of the self, which is very close to that of David Hume and indeed Buddhism. Sebastian’s film shows how much this venerable idea fits in with our current way of thinking about the self as being made up of memories and mental traits, a product of sever al different mental processes going on in different parts of the brain. These things add up to a self, they are not things which a pre-existing self has.

    Now this makes me think, well let me test that notion by seeing if I can observe Baggini’s memories and mental traits, just as I am observing my own. I can’t? Why not? Could it be that there is a ‘self’ that is me and a ‘self’ that is Baggini and maybe that is just what we mean by ‘self’?

    But I can’t do that because we are not playing that game, in order to do the same game I would have to put together some film and music to express my objection (if, indeed there can be objections in this game).

    But of course I have neither the talent nor resources to do that and if I did it would still just be a matter of opinion which idea was better.

    But if someone says ‘here is something I think is true and here are the reasons I think it is true’ I can test those reasons directly and if I see a problem with those reasons, state that directly.

    It seems a much more satisfactory, efficient and democratic way of doing it.

    Like

  2. wtc,
    I think irony may be a cure for tribalism.

    Be careful. Irony is a potent tool that should be used with care. It has its place when wielded with insightful humour in a receptive culture. It can also be wielded with blunt aggression and then it does no one any good.

    I think Robert Wright was spot on when he called for humility. Humility is the act of lowering our defences and opening ourselves to other people, acknowledging their value and the possibility that we may learn something important from them.

    Like

  3. Also, I would have thought that Buddhism was the religion that most dependent on a unitary self. If there is a cycle of rebirth then what, if not a self, is being reborn? What, if not as self, is suffering?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. wtc,
    I think irony may be a cure for tribalism.

    Further to your comment about tribalism, and to extend the theme of humility, CS Lewis once said of prayer “ It doesn’t change God. It changes me“. Note the vital change of emphasis. Changing the world, for example to be less tribal, starts with changing oneself. This requires humility to acknowledge that one needs to change and the humility to accept responsibility for oneself.

    Naturally this is not easy, and those poor benighted souls[!] among us who only possess the illusion of free will find it next to impossible to change themselves. They form a natural tribe, that of the automatons, and there really is nothing that can be done about the tribe of automatons, except to treat them with tolerant pity. Once again, we do this not to change them(which can’t be done), but to change ourselves.

    It is precisely because intellectual humility is so difficult that De Bono proposed the simple and practical procedure of donning the six thinking hats, and I proposed the six moral hats. When we behave ‘as if‘ other points of view might be valid we become open to the possibility of their validity.

    And that really is what free will is all about, to be open to possibility.

    Like

  5. “It boils down to Gödel’s incomplete(sic) theorem…”

    Uhm, no. Gödel’s proof of formal undecibality in formal systems does not apply to people, because people are not formal systems.
    And not incidentally, Gödel’s proof is also a proof that we are not formal systems, in that it only works as a proof by virtue of us understanding it.
    One could formalize Gödel’s procedure of course, in which case it takes the form of a function G operating on a formal system S, such that G(S) = p, where p is true in S and not deducible in S. And one could add that as an axiom in a new system S* – and gödelize that. Or

    Like

  6. (sorry)…or formalize the entire procedure – and gödelize that, and so on and so forth. But the proof stubbornly resides outside this towering pile of systems, in that pesky, messy realm of human understanding.
    Also not incidentally, it seems plausible that Gödel in his work was informed, or inspired, or biased, or prejudiced (pick one) by his Lutheran-Evangelical faith, and his belief in Mathematical Platonism. That is, not all bias is necessarily bad, and one does not have to share those particular convictions in order to enjoy the result.
    If you do wish to look for a root cause of bias in this particular neck of the woods, I’d suggest looking at computational complexity, keeping in mind the engineers’ maxim that good enough today beats perfect tomorrow.

    Like

  7. Robin,
    But if someone says ‘here is something I think is true and here are the reasons I think it is true’ I can test those reasons directly and if I see a problem with those reasons, state that directly. It seems a much more satisfactory, efficient and democratic way of doing it.

    Aesthetic experiences are not about truth and reducing them to truth statements robs them of their innate meaning. Aesthetic experiences cannot be adequately communicated by language alone.

    If we both have the same or similar aesthetic experiences we are enabled to say something useful to each other about them because your use of a label for some kind of aesthetic experience evokes my memories of similar aesthetic experiences.

    But if we have never had similar aesthetic experiences then your use of a label for a certain kind of experience has no meaning for me because it does not evoke the memory of an aesthetic experience in myself.

    I doubt that you think the world consists only of demonstrable, verifiable truth statements. Something really fundamental about us allows us to sense and value the three great transcendentals, the True, the Good and the Beautiful. The nature of this valuing is not about truth. It is an innate emotional/aesthetic reaction and it is the source of the way we feel about truth, as well as the good and the beautiful. It precedes them and is their root.

    Once this is understood it can be seen that our capacity for aesthetic experience is vital to who and what we are. Understanding this is an important goal for philosophy, unless you are a logical positivist, or perhaps an eliminative materialist.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robin,

    “”our current way of thinking about the self as being made up of memories and mental traits, a product of several different mental processes going on in different parts of the brain. These things add up to a self, they are not things which a pre-existing self has.”

    Now this makes me think, well let me test that notion by seeing if I can observe Baggini’s memories and mental traits, just as I am observing my own. I can’t? Why not? Could it be that there is a ‘self’ that is me and a ‘self’ that is Baggini and maybe that is just what we mean by ‘self’?”

    Where is that line between the self as the sum of personal experience and something more central?

    I would say that for me, though, whatever lens of emotion, perception, any combination thereof, etc, there still seems to be some singular sense emanating through them, like a light passing through different filters. I don’t seem to be schizophrenic, which would seem to be the logical effect, if it is the disparate experiences that give rise to this conscious state. Rationalization would seem to the be the method this essential self tries to tie the perceptions together, if it is bothering.

    On a somewhat extended and speculative note, I find this sense of sentience, that is my singular self, occasionally seeing through and/or reflecting off others mental filters and I see it in others, where it seems like one person is instinctively taking on the traits of a third person and when you get multiple people interacting, the strongest personality seems to have to dominate. Not necessarily the wisest. Acting seems to be a profession where this ability is exercised. Not to mention how it is used in politics.

    Because I am more of an observing, B type personality, I don’t have a strong sense of ego and so to prevent my space and self from becoming one more filter to the larger zeitgeist, I find I migrate to the edges and beyond of social situations and settle where I can balance my self with the crowd.

    While this isn’t likely something that could fit into scientific test norms, it does give a very good explanation for political interactions. Aka tribalism, of the most primal level.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dan Kaufman,

    Very nice essay on sex and gender indentities. I would like to know if you think that the evidence of biological influence on transgender indentity, change your conclusions in any way (let’s assume that this evidence is the best empirical information so far – which i actually think it is – but at least for the sake of the argument).

    In my view, your argument about the ontology of genders is convincing, as far as the cultural component is the only factor at play. But i presume that specific structural brain diferences, possivly associated with genetic and/or epigenetic factors makes things more blurry, making some indentity at least partially contingent on biological factors.

    Like

  10. labnut,

    Once this is understood it can be seen that our capacity for aesthetic experience is vital to who and what we are.

    But what if, on a set of aesthetic experiences, you come to understand that you are X and I, on being exposed to the same set of aesthetic experiences I come to understand that I am Y, how do we resolve this?

    Are we different things? Or is one of us mistaken? Or are both of us mistaken and a better understanding is that we are Z?

    On any aesthetic experience I understand that I am that which experiences something – a self.

    On a particular aesthetic experience Baggini comes to the opposite understanding – he sees it as support for the Lichtenberg/Nietzche/Mach idea that there is no “that which experiences”, only a set of experiences.

    Maybe if I listened to the piece I would come to the same understanding, but I doubt it.

    I can’t agree with Mach that the “I” and the “me” are mere matters of narrative convenience because I have tried to express the ‘inconvenient’ version without the “I” and the “me” and have come to the conclusion that the the “I” and the “me” or some corresponding terms are actually indispensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brodix

    I see it this way. I am at a football match, last few seconds of extra time and still nil all. At the time I watch a member of my team kick the winning goal someone next to me stands on my foot.

    It seems to me that I experience elation and pain in my foot at the same time. Some would say that I go beyond the evidence, that the most I can say is that there was an experience of elation and an experience of pain and I cannot conclude that there was something which experienced those sensations.

    But that won’t do because I have good evidence from the roar and the groans around me that there were many experiences of elation, of dismay happening at the same time and only secondary evidence of those experience. But there was primary evidence of one of those instances of elation and of the pain in a foot.

    So the only sensible interpretation is that there was not just the experience of pain, of elation, the memory of a football match, there was the experiencer, the self. And that I was surrounded by other selves, experiencing elation or dismay and many things besides.

    And if that is not what is meant by the ‘self’ then I would like to know what is.

    Like

  12. Robin, most varieties of Buddhism believe that only a life force, not a personal self, is reincarnated. That, IMO, makes Buddhism even stupider than Christianity.

    Like

  13. @Jesper Valgreen

    Gödel’s theorem doesn’t apply to people, indeed, but it does apply to their set of beliefs. Whatever your (philosophical) position is – consider that to be a set of propositions – within that set, you have your assumptions/hypotheses, which you take for granted. These are your unprovable truths. This applies to anyone who is a thinking being.

    Like

  14. Robin,

    You experience those moments and then go onto another experience and moment. As such, your consciousness goes from past to future, as these experiences go future to past.

    Yet you, as an individual consciousness and person, go from birth to death. From being in the future, before you were born, to being in the past, after you die. While the human species and life in general, keeps moving onto new generations and shedding old, thus past to future.

    As such, we are somewhere in the middle, between raw consciousness and experience. It is, ultimately, a feedback loop, as there is no physical past, or future, just this changing dynamic of what is. Consciousness is always and only present. What it is conscious of, is constantly coalescing and then dissolving into the next moment and form.

    As Emerson said; “We are but thickened light.”

    Our efforts to bottle it are futile wonderment.

    Like

  15. labnut: “Be careful. Irony is a potent tool that should be used with care. It has its place when wielded with insightful humour in a receptive culture. It can also be wielded with blunt aggression and then it does no one any good.”

    I proposed it as a cure for tribalism because it can only exist “when wielded with insightful humour in a receptive culture.” The negative example refers to sarcasm, which does no one any good, although it is the main conversational base for most sit-com shows.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Gödel’s theorem doesn’t apply to people, indeed, but it does apply to their set of beliefs. Whatever your (philosophical) position is – consider that to be a set of propositions – within that set, you have your assumptions/hypotheses, which you take for granted. These are your unprovable truths. This applies to anyone who is a thinking being.

    Gödel applies to systems with very specific mathematical properties, and I’d rather doubt that sets of beliefs have these properties.

    But OK, even if we assume that they have these properties, the assumptions that we take for granted are not the unprovable truths of Gödel. It’s never taken for granted in mathematics that a statement is true-but-unprovable in the Gödel sense. You have to prove it.

    Of course, everything in mathematics starts from assumptions taken for granted but not provable within the system. In mathematics these assumptions are commonly called axioms. But that’s nothing new, even Pascal knew it centuries before Gödel. And Gödel is explicitly not about these axioms.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. But formal systems are characterized by being free of context and free of contradiction. Neither people nor our beliefs are so constrained.

    Like

  18. @couvent2104

    How can you prove an unprovable truth??? Gödel is clear on that: any (math) system contains unprovable truths. And if you want to prove those, then you need to enlarge the system, which will contain unprovable truths to prove those in the original system that were unproved. That is inescapable. You will always end up with a system that contains unprovable truths.

    The only difference between myself and Gödel is that I’m applying this to any system of thoughts (non-mathematical)… Even to irrational thinking. No one can prove all of one’s beliefs. There are always going to be some you can’t prove, and yet you take them to be true. You can call this theorem: Palazzo’s extension of Gödel’s theorem.

    It’s my belief that people are rational, even when they give the appearance they are not. It’s just the assumptions are well hidden for the person in question – a case of self-delusion, for instance.

    Like

  19. If you only believe things that you can prove then you could prove all your beliefs.

    Any time after breakfast I only ever believe that there is no highest prime number and no smallest real number.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: