Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 133

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

Friction-free fictions and the problem of techno-optimism.

The ashtray has landed, an uncharitable view of Thomas Kuhn.

Steven Pinker’s ideas about progress may be fatally flawed. These eight graphs argue why.

Is philosophy absurd? Only when you’re doing it right.

The friend effect: why the secret of health and happiness is surprisingly simple.

Does anyone have a right to sex? You would think this doesn’t need more than a one-word answer, and yet here is a long and fairly well argued one.

The easiest way to lucid dream, according to science.


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45 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 133

  1. labnut

    Perhaps you shouldn’t speak for all of the rest of us

    That is a good one-liner and an amusing rhetorical gesture, but it hardly counts as a reply. I am sure you have something worthwhile to say in reply to my comment. I would love to hear what you have to say.


  2. brodix

    Taking a little absurdist objectivity on human progress, didn’t biology evolve levels of complexity human consciousness can barely fathom, by hundreds of millions of years ago?

    Hey, we are getting very good at processing bits of information, but we have an economy based on issuing enormous floods of credits, with minimal regards for their basis, because everyone wants as much as possible. It does help to drive human ingenuity, but since the primary goal is to accumulate those credits, or at least not get washed away by them, the result of our technological inventiveness is to cater to basic desires and screw anything that gets in the way.

    Not to be the class curmudgeon, but I do think we can do better, though it seems like it has to crash, before anyone will climb out of the collective rut.


  3. SocraticGadfly

    Boston Review has a GREAT new dual book review of the new book on Kuhn and Morris paired with another on the history of quantum mechanics, “What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics,” which I am going to note first.

    Re that book, I’ve never before heard it presented that Einstein, not Bohr, won the Solvay debate. That said, I tilt toward Einsteinian realism on QM, as I’ve said here before. I also think Schrödinger read too much Hinduism before proposing his cat. The cat’s death/non-death is all classical mechanics a la Einstein. That said, I also reject the multiple worlds hypothesis. As for Bohm, Bell and nonlocality, I still wrestle with that.

    That book sounds like it’s well worth a read.


    On the new book on Kuhn and Morris, I quote:

    “What is the attraction of Kuhn’s account of science? It has its roots far back in time, with the biggest self-deluder of all, Immanuel Kant.

    The hand of Kant lies behind both Bohr and Kuhn. In his epic and epically incomprehensible masterpiece The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant pulled off the grandest intellectual hocus-pocus in scholarly history.”

    The review seems more sympathetic to Morris, or rather, definitely less sympathetic to Kuhn, than the LA Review piece that Massimo posted.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. brodix

    My first thought on the right to sex article was “death and taxes,” the second was, isn’t that why we have hands?

    It does though, in very explicit fashion, make a case for several points I keep making.

    Firstly, that reality and life is a bottom up dynamic and the top down framing devices we try to extract, are, not so much relativistic, in the sense of everyone having their own, but emergent and conditional, in the sense of being concepts that build up and break down, much like individual lives. And are fluid to boot. Each of us is composed of innumerable elements, all competing for attention and so is society. People band together in identities that give them support and strength, aka tribalism, but which are meaningless without the larger situation they contend with.

    Which leads to the second point, that our perceptions are not so much a function of the ideals we seemingly are focused on, but as tension and balance between competing elements, or opposites. Think for a moment, how patriarchy is re-enforced by monotheism. Yet if we thought instead in terms of a yin and yang duality, the relationship between the sexes would be more rationally appreciated.

    Then we would better understand how and why society naturally does develop sexual roles, without having to be absolutist about them. We might understand that every position doesn’t have to be taken to extremes, but that competing elements will arise as it does proceed, rather than insisting the slippery slope cannot be allowed, because it cannot be stopped.

    We might better learn to listen to those quiet voices in our heads, without necessarily having them dominate the conversation.


  5. Robin Herbert

    There is a lot of Bohr hating around at the moment. Incidentally Bohr was influenced by the Logical Positivist movement rather than Kant. There is a somewhat tenuous negative link to Kant as Mach said that he began on his tangent after reading Kant’s Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics.

    Presumably, since Kuhn was writing for the Encyclopedia of Unified Science he was also in this camp – which was pretty influential at the time.

    Maudlin is claiming that the Critique is incomprehensible and is also claiming to be able to comprehend it. Claiming to comprehend the incomprehensible?

    No, if he finds it incomprehensible then he should not try to tell us what Kant is saying he should just say “I don’t comprehend it”.

    Presumably he also failed to comprehend Bohr’s “The Atomic Theory”, because I have read it and can’t recall anything like the ideas that Maudlin attributes to him.


  6. Alan White

    Socratic, thanks so much fort the link to the Boston reviews. Unfortunately it doesn’t explain why it’s now thought by some that Einstein won the Solvay exchange–did he give a reply to Bohr’s protest that gravity would re-introduce uncertainty into Einstein’s thought experiment? I should go look at Pais’s account again in Subtle if the Lord. . .

    And the piece on Kuhn reflects an unnecessary stretch on his work: “Caught in our own little thought-worlds, deprived of access to objective truth (because there is no objective truth), we can do no better than miscommunicate, misunderstand, and ultimately resort to raw institutional power to resolve our disputes.” This quote stands in a further passage that relates, by his own words, Kuhn’s embrace of Kant. But although Kant thought we might never come to know the objective noumena–the object truth of things in themselves–Kant certainly didn’t reject objective truth. My sense is that Kuhn didn’t either. He just saw that knowing it with absolute certainty might never obtain, which I gather is Kant’s point as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Robin Herbert

    Einstein wrote to Schrodinger to congratulate him for the ‘cat’ paper and said that it was equivalent to his own dynamite thought experiment.

    Also, I think claims of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ the Solvay Conference are childish. Surely scientists have conferences like these to test ideas against each other, not to ‘win’.


  8. brodix

    Reading the Boston Review article, there is one paradigm running through it, but uncommented on. That of political and intellectual feedback loops, where particular arguments occupy spaces/niches in the landscape of opinion and attract positive reactions and grow(negative and they quickly vanish). These compete with other conceptual entities in the ecosystem and thrive, or not. Often the larger entities will then gravitate to opposing polarities. Sometimes as a balanced binary and sometimes as a center core, with satellites. Like a king and kingdom.

    Is this subjective? No. The underlaying dynamic is very real and prevalent throughout nature, even if the particular phenomena are diverse and throughout nature. It is just that when one tries to describe a particular entity, it is in terms of the particular network giving rise to this node, be it the fairy tales of parents that give rise to Santa Claus and unicorns, or the celestial activities coalescing into stars and planets. Consequently it seems “subjective” to its context, as opposed to emergent from it.

    As I keep pointing out, entities go from beginning to end, future to past, as processes move onto future generations of “paradigms,” shedding old. Past to future.


  9. Mark Shulgasser

    Socratic — thanks for that Tim Maudlin review. Starts off as useful exegesis and somehow ends up with a bitter apocalyptic rant. To continue to swallow that Kantian crap today makes you no more than a sap? Very strange and exciting.


  10. Robin Herbert

    Taken as a literal metaphysical claim “there is no objective truth” can’t, of course, be right because you would be either saying that it is not objectively true that there is no objective truth, or else the it was objectively true that there was no objective truth.

    However if we regard this as saying, in effect, there is no view from nowhere, then it becomes perfectly reasonable.


  11. SocraticGadfly

    Robin … perhaps “win-lose” is not the best descriptor. But, per the reviewer, I would argue that Solvay was presented that way from Bohr’s ‘complementary’ disciples and acolytes.


    Alan, I think as the reviewer says, the idea that non-classical fuzziness was in control not being so true is why …

    And, to be honest … I agree with him on Kant. And on what the review says about Morris’ feeling about Wittgenstein:

    For Morris, Wittgenstein so effectively undermined the philosophical ideals of truth and reason that he seriously pauses to consider which of the two did more damage to mankind.

    Agree or disagree, it’s not a mild statement.


  12. Robin Herbert


    On checking back I find he didn’t actually say ‘Moon’, but his remarks would apply to that.

    He linked a SciAm artlcle and said ” What the author labels “the current paradigm” is something that essentially no working physicist actually believes.”

    Someone points out that the ‘current paradigm’ being referred to is: “according to the current paradigm, the properties of an object should exist and have definite values even when the object is not being observed”.

    and asks:

    “I think this statement refers to macro objects. Don’t most physicists believe that?”

    And Sean Carroll replies:

    “No. Objects are described by wave functions, and have a probability distribution for what we might want to observe about them.”

    Liked by 1 person

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