Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 136

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

Another psychological classic bites the dust: the marshmallow study doesn’t say what you think it says.

Sometimes you just have to know when to quit.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, the meaning of life.

The illiberal philosophers and our fractured politics.

The pseudoscience of things (not) to put into your vagina.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a fraud. And even more adventures in the ongoing replication crisis in psychology.

Neuronal activity sheds light on the origin of consciousness.


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!

50 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 136

  1. Philosopher Eric

    To me Julian Baggini’s “What, you again?” opening to the question of life’s meaning, was a rhetorical ploy from which to provide his own thoughts on the matter. Anyone who knows him should also know that he isn’t looking for some kind of resolution here. He’s happy that today we think about questions that were pondered thousands of years ago, and like me he hopes that this will be the case thousands of years from now. Thus a “Not meaning again?!” interpretation should actually go more like “Yes of course meaning again!”.

    Unfortunately however philosophy today has also become somewhat of a bastard. Not only is it practiced in the pure humanistic form of these eternal questions, but also in a way that mimics science. Experimental philosophy is only the most blatant source of this impurity. Well let’s try to get things more pure (and thus I think potentially diminish worries about “scientism”). I believe that philosophy needs to either break itself into both humanistic and non-humanistic varieties, or permit a new field to explore these topics in a way that does indeed seek resolution.

    So how would a non-humanistic field of specialists approach “What is the meaning of life?” Well first I think it would get rid of the “life” condition here, since I presume existence to be meaningless for much of life. Then life that does “matter”, I think it works like this:

    Apparently it’s possible for a “computer” that is not conscious, to produce punishing and rewarding sensations from which to drive the function of a conscious variety. This punishment/ reward is what I consider to provide meaning, value, purpose, and so on to existence. With such a generally accepted understanding from a respectable community, I believe that value could begin to be studied beyond rightness and wrongness (morality), and so foster understandings in the vein of science. Without a respectable community with its own generally accepted understandings, our soft sciences should be prevented from hardening.


  2. brodix

    Presumably Nietzsche never stopped and smelled the flowers.

    The essay does a very good job of bridging that political chasm which seems to be opening in society.

    Given the degree to which the presumably objective, literary part of society is proving every bit as close minded and herded by emotional dog whistling, as their working class inferiors, there doesn’t seem much hope, beyond a serious reset.

    Though, to make the point for the nth time, I do see the political conflict as an effect of an economic draining of wealth out of the larger community and leaving feelings raw and exposed. Yet anyone with any sort of effective platform was to cater to the interests controlling the larger media, so Capitalism remains the ringmaster and everyone else puts on their act for attention.


    Thanks for the recommend, though time is stretched already.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, I know we’ve discussed Libet, and interpretation thereof, before. I know I didn’t convince you of my stance before, and I also know you didn’t convince me of your stance, either! In general, over the past few years’ discussion, I think we’ve discovered we’re not totally different on issues of volition …. but I don’t think we’re 95 percent parallel, either.


  4. Alan White

    Reading Dangerously and Things Not to Put in Your Vagina have a curiously simple overlap. Most often nonsense, whether social or news media-derived, is tied to monetary incentives for the purveyor, whether it is Facebook, CNN’s paid clicks, of course all of Fox News, or a good percentage of the page print in my two dailies. When there is a lacuna of reasoned discourse–as there has been for most all of recorded history–guess what fills in the power blank? Money, money money (fill in your consciousness of music).

    I should write a book, Ecce Nummum, with chapters, Why Am I So Broke? Why Am I So Stupid? Why Do I Write Such Bad Posts? Each with just one word answers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Robin Herbert

    What I imagine is happening with the binocular rivalry is that when it becomes impossible to combine the data from each eye into a coherent 3D image, one eye becomes dominant and then every so often it will try in the background to resychronise the images and if this is still impossible, make the other eye dominant for a while (there might be information from that eye vital to survival). So that would account for the 1 to 2 second gap between a burst of activity and the change of the dominant eye.


  6. brodix


    I know it is too metaphysical for the more measurement minded, but I still think there is some use to the idea of individuals as emergent features of a more essential sentience. Having spent a lot of time around herd animals, the basic connectivity is hard to ignore.
    With people, it seems to me, our ability to communicate verbally and break ideas and emotions down to components and reconstruct them in multitudes of fashions is both enlightening and blinding. Sort of how the sun blinds us to the stars.
    Consequently we construct views, based on beliefs and other modeling, that diverges from the underlying reality, until something breaks.
    So rather than trying to reconcile the wide variety of political and social constructions, there might be some consideration for stepping back from the fray and seeking the biological underpinnings of our internal and external systems and how they interact and overlap.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Philosopher Eric

    I consider the vast reproducibility crisis in our mental and behavioral sciences (as detailed by two articles here) to be a side effect of the structural problem that I mentioned above.

    Consider the progression of physics. In its early days it didn’t need generally agreed upon principles of epistemology. All it needed was effective symbolic reduction for its experimental results. For three or four centuries it has succeeded at this amazingly well, but now that the practical stuff seems pretty square, continuing on with gratuitous “physics for fun” has institutionally gotten “lost in the math” (per Sabine Hossenfelder’s new book). The field of philosophy cannot offer it direction, though the field which I propose, could.

    Conversely psychology never had anything like the run of symbolic representation success that physics has. Why? Could it be that in order for something to study itself effectively, it must also have effective principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and value from which to work? So sure, psychology can attempt to clean up its current act, though this mess may be symptomatic of a more basic issue. Perhaps things keep falling down in psychology, because it has not yet been properly founded. Thus if psychologists were to dig deeper, and so enter the domain of sciences’ father, the field might finally develop a solid platform from which to build enduring understandings of our nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. wtc48

    iwwveeper: “If someone is ill-liberal, does that mean they are conservative? If not, why isn’t there an equivalent ‘ill-conservative’?”

    Indeed, these terms have become meaningless. I’ve taken to urging that people think of “liberal” and “conservative” in their (presumably) original sense, as adjectives. A person of conservative disposition may on occasion behave quite liberally without the least contradiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. wtc48

    Eric: ” I believe that philosophy needs to either break itself into both humanistic and non-humanistic varieties, or permit a new field to explore these topics in a way that does indeed seek resolution.”

    I don’t quarrel with the idea of maintaining a distinction between traditional culture-based philosophy and the more objective approach to study, but I have reservations about the term “humanistic” for the former. The book I cited above, “The Comedy of Survival,” uses “humanism” in a very different sense from the usual, as the exclusive derivation of all value from human culture, which Meeker saw as a danger, not only to the Earth, but to our future as a species. This bothered me at first (the book was published in 1974), because I had a very positive sense of humanism, as the intellectual movement of the Renaissance era that freed us from centuries dominated by religious dogma. More recently, I have come to see it in a narrower sense, as the opposite or counterpart to “animalism” (, which corresponds pretty well to the way Meeker uses it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Philosopher Eric

    Yes wtc, I’ll concede that the term “humanistic” is about as ripe as they come for generic misinterpretation. But I am pleased that you seem to have gotten my meaning anyway. I’ll certainly consider using a separate term if you come up with any suggestions. Regardless you’ve now given me an excuse to pitch my first principle of epistemology (which I believe could straighten out many problems in academia, that is if it were generally accepted by a respectable group of epistemologists).

    There are no true definitions, but rather only more and less useful ones in the context of a given argument. Thus it becomes a listener’s obligation to accept a speaker’s definitions in the attempt to understand.

    Not only do people today argue past each other through separate definitions (and even given the contributions of Ludwig Wittgenstein), but I think erroneously search for what consciousness and so on “truly are”. So I’d like to help.

    (I also don’t like the sound of “humanism”.)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. davidlduffy
    is one of the key articles cited in the Watts et al “marshmallow” replication paper. Moffitt et al exclude social class effects in two ways – via regression, and by using familial matching, so the children compared have exactly the same social situation.

    One possible explanation is explored using the same Dunedin study
    The Genetics of Success: How SNPs Associated with Educational Attainment Relate to Life-Course Development

    “Children with higher polygenic scores [genotypes predicting higher educational attainment] tended to show better self-control skills across their first decade of life (r=0.10, p=0.001).”

    Can also be via the effects of ADHD – this is associated with lower adult earnings etc.


  12. brodix


    I does seem quantifying, defining, distilling, dissecting, measuring, etc seems to leave us with lots of information, but real questions how it all fits together.


    When you think about it, liberal and conservative are simply a binary concept. One expanding and the other consolidating. Sort of like how spring and fall, or youth and age relate to one another. Almost like there is some connection, without which either would be meaningless. Isn’t it interesting that people are so into all the details, but somehow in all this knowledge, can’t seem to put it together into a larger pattern. Curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. iwwveeper

    Brodix writes, “Presumably Nietzsche never stopped and smelled the flowers.” Contrast the Weekly Standard’s article with this from the TLS:

    “If there is no God who deems each human to be of equal worth or possessed with an immortal soul beloved by God, then why think we all deserve equal moral consideration? And what if, as Nietzsche argues, a morality of equality – and altruism and pity for suffering – were, in fact, an obstacle to human excellence? What if being a “moral” person makes it impossible to be Beethoven? Nietzsche’s conclusion is clear: if moral equality is an obstacle to human excellence, then so much the worse for moral equality. This is the less familiar and often shockingly anti-egalitarian Nietzsche.” (Brian Leiter)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Philosopher Eric

    I does seem quantifying, defining, distilling, dissecting, measuring, etc seems to leave us with lots of information, but real questions how it all fits together.

    Actually Brodix, what scientists do actually is to fit information together. They reduce our data about reality (evidence) into symbolic representations that are humanly comprehensible. It’s when they can’t provide consistent models by means of their data (which seems frequent in soft science), that greater temptation exists for embellishment to occur. So that seems consistent with the scenario that we’re now discussing.


  15. Robin Herbert

    I think it is absurd to suppose that the minimisation of suffering is opposition to excellence, but if it were then so much the worse for excellence because, let’s face it, we the mediocre have the numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. brodix


    That would seem to be a good example of why treating ideals as absolutes leads one off the edge.
    As I was attempting to imply in my prior comment, what seems to be is a cycling, or fluctuation between polarities.
    Such as between the social expansion of liberalism and the civil and cultural consolidation of conservativism.
    As it is, both sides seem to think they can get along fine without the other, if they can just push hard and far enough.


  17. ejwinner

    The comment thread has forgotten vaginas. I actually think this an interesting, perhaps important article.

    In his Autobiography, Lenny Bruce remarks that, as a child, he would overhear his aunts discussing the ‘best way to keep a man:’ “Put alum in your pussy.”

    Since alum seems to tighten the skin, it would seem to tighten a woman’s vagina as well But this is probably not the case per the best gynecological knowledge. Further, assuming that it did work, would this really so enhance the man’s sexual experience as to “keep” him as a partner?

    The leaps of reasoning are interesting, and amusing. When folk ‘science’ becomes pseudo-science, always look to the motivation. It seems always to have to do with simplification of sometimes difficult issues.


  18. brodix


    What they do is fit the pieces together as components and see reality as a mechanism, insisting there is no essential continuum.
    Yet even when the measurements are most precise, as with quantum mechanics, the underlying effect is for it to spread out to infinity. “Spooky action a distance.”
    Maybe if we looked at it as the waves, fields, societies, mediums in general as evidence of a larger totality and not assume the objects, particles, strings, individuals, components, etc are foundational, we might better understand how the tensions between opposites work together.
    Nature and nurture.


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