Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 137

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

Benjamin Libet and the denial of free will. Again.

Why we don’t read. More data.

The pseudoscience of college admission.

What kept me from killing myself (books).

When scientists use philosophical jargon without knowing what they are talking about. And when corrected they dig their heels in.

Is Gauguin’s unethical behavior toward his family and the subjects of his paintings somehow countered by the greatness of his art?

Could “it” happen here? Three analyses.

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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!

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

108 replies

  1. Massimo: OK. I think we’ve gone as far as we can go here. I’ll leave it at that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d like to relate some further observations on the role of sexual harassment in determining women’s choices. In my time in the private sector I worked with fairly substantial teams at a fairly senior level. Not just IT, but involving finance, sales, legal and other departments. Sexual harassment did occur, and I had to conduct more than one investigation. I never noticed any correlation between the number of sexual harassment cases and female participation. In fact one HR director told me she found that the more women in a department, the more harassment cases she’s expect. This sort of makes sense, you can’t harass women if there are no women. Likewise, I’m pretty certain that the Harvey Weinstein scandal has not put off an army of female actors that still want to make it in Hollywood.

    Maybe it’s time to give women some credit. Harassment is not news to them. Sadly, many probably have experienced it before even embarking on a career. Does that mean that they would instantly stop following their dreams? Do their passions and interests die the instant the come across a male lowlife? Perhaps their preferences are shaped by as complicated a mixture culture, psychology and individual contingency as the preferences of men? I am sure harassment is part of the story, but thinking of it as the single most important determinant of female participation rates strikes me as being a bit unfair to women.

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  3. Hi Logophilia,

    This forum is pretty open-minded and willing to discuss a variety of points of view. There are biases of course (as you’ll find anywhere) but my circumspection has more to do with (a) the general opprobrium in wider society faced by those who deviate from political correctness (e.g. James Damore being fired) and (b) not wanting to be seen as a typical white male invested in the status quo. It feels to me like I’m just trying to figure out the truth so this is how I want to be seen.

    Hi Dan, Robin

    DM: I don’t think this is a left/right issue at all. That is has become that is really unfortunate.

    DM, It’s not really a left/light issue.

    Hmm. Well, first I’ll note that it cannot logically be the case that it is not a left/right issue while also being the case that it has become a left/right issue (if X has become Y, X is necessarily Y). What I think Dan means is that it shouldn’t be a left/right issue but it de facto is a left/right issue, in that opinions on these subjects tend to correlate very closely with left/right politics. And that’s primarily what I mean when I talk about left/right on these topics.

    But that said, the right is associated with conservatism, and conservatism is interested in maintaining the status quo (or perhaps restoring the status quo ante), and having different roles for the sexes in society has been the status quo for most of human history. So I don’t see how this should be any less of a left/right issue than abortion, LGBTQ issues, or racial or economic inequality.

    NB: Please nobody interpret me to be saying that I’m that having different roles is good because that is the way it has been for most of human history — I don’t think this way at all and this is why I am not naturally inclined towards conservatism.

    Hi Robin,

    Men are doing poorly on a number of measures and this has to be addressed irrespective of politics.

    I’m not making any point related to this. Just curious why Massimo was so sure the cases of males in nursing and females in math/science philosophy were different.

    Hi Paul Braterman,

    if this is so, it will makethe difference for some people,but not many, since most people are near the mean for their groups.

    You would expect to see the difference in professions which are very focused on people (e.g. nursing) or very focused on things (e.g. engineering, math), because these are the professions which will attract people in the tails of the distribution.

    It is not up to the critics, left or right, of a suggested explanation to refute it, but for those who put it forward to give arguments in its favour.

    But it is an argument, not just a proposition. If the argument is wrong, I’d like to know where it fails.

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  4. Hi Massimo,

    My contention is that there is no evidence of men discriminated against in the nursin profession, while we have ample evidence of women being positively discouraged (as young girls) and then discriminated against (as adults) from going into STEM and similar fields

    OK, I have no major bone to pick with this. You seemed to be saying simply that we can entirely blame discrimination and socialisation for women not getting into STEM, allowing little to no role for difference in preferences. I don’t mean to deny that discrimination exists and is a problem and should be eliminated, so I’m not going to dispute any of your comments reinforcing this point.

    I’m really sorry you give credence to a hack like Jordan Peterson, but okay, let’s play:

    To be clear, I’m no fan of his. There is a lot he says that I don’t accept or even find particularly cogent. But certain of his arguments and positions do seem plausible to me, and the left often seems incoherent when attempting to refute these. I think these arguments should be taken seriously on their own terms rather than dismissed because they come from the mouth of Jordan Peterson.

    Sure, very likely the result of cultural forces early on in one’s life.

    That would certainly be convenient, wouldn’t it? We would all be very relieved if that were the case. My understanding from listening to the right-leaning commentators on this subject however is that as far as we can tell, these differences in preferences are at least in part biological. As has been mentioned, countries which are more liberal and egalitarian than the US do not in fact seem to end up with more male nurses or female programmers, as we would expect if it were the result of cultural forces early on in one’s life.

    A priori, a biological difference in preferences between the sexes seems very plausible to me. It is certainly far from uncommon in biology for different sexes to have different behaviour. I would very much like for it to be the case that there is no biological predispositions towards differences in preferences, because then I could be the woke liberal I am emotionally inclined to be, but I fear that as much as I want it, this view is simply mistaken.

    I don’t know for sure that it isn’t cultural, I admit. I would like to know very much. But my feeling is that the left requires it to be cultural for political reasons, and is not really open to the possibility that it is biological. And that is a problem. For evidence of this I need only point to your comments speculating without providing evidence or justification that these differences can “very likely” be entirely accounted for with cultural forces alone. Maybe, but maybe not.

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  5. Bunsen,

    I didn’t mention banter – “blokey” atmospheres aren’t necessarily ones where banter goes on. In a job I had not too long ago the manager decided that team meetings should be held in a nearby “gentleman’s club”. I and one other member said that we wouldn’t set foot in such a place, so it didn’t last, but it gives the idea of the sort of attitudes that prevailed.

    I am lucky now that I work in a place without that attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I worked in a secretarial college for a number of years and in other jobs, not being welcome among the men, I mostly hung out with the women so I know all about womens’ banter.

    As I said above, it is not the banter that is the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I never thrived in ‘banter’ type environments. I would be sitting among some guys throwing what sound like horrible insults at each other and then I try to join in in the same spirit and say something and the room goes quiet and everybody is looking at me and someone says “why would you say something like that?”.

    I once caused a major incident in a company I didn’t even work for because I suggested a ‘Secret Santa’ gift to a friend, in the spirit of the kind of risqué jokiness that was evident in these kind of events.

    The gift caused an enquiry by the HR team and suggestions of disciplinary procedures. Some of the other gifts seemed much worse than my suggestion, but apparently everybody just laughed at those

    I don’t even try to join in these things now.

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  8. Brodix,

    It seems to me that you’re conflating a thick metaphysical conception of time with physical time.

    Physical time doesn’t flow any which way, because it isn’t a substance that could do such a thing.
    It is the observation that different physical processes occur at different rates relative to one another, which is essentially the Aristotelian definition.
    From that one may arbitrarily choose one particular process, and measure all others in relation to that one, and that would be a clock. (Physical) time is simply what a clock measures. There’s nothing profound or metaphysically “thick” about it.
    One is further not obliged to use physical clock time, and increasingly it seems that theoretical physicists prefer to express their models without a universal parameter t. That’s the banal reality behind the unhelpful, sensationalist soundbite “time is an illusion”.
    There are of course still physical processes that proceed at different rates relative to one another, and these are deterministic or stochastic, not by presumption, but because that is (part of) what it means for something to be physical. What could be taken as presumptious is the claim that the physical is everything. In particular, I find that physicalist free will deniers have a serious problem accounting for physics as a human endeavour in the absence of volition.
    Special Relativity accounts for how different observers in different inertial frames must observe the same phenomena differently, and it does so rather well, with a very solid body of observational confirmation: this is simply how the world is. You yourself ‘observe’ this every time you use your GPS. If you wish, I suppose you could replace SR with some Neo-Lorentzian scheme, but I don’t know why anyone would. SR is an effective theory, as is General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory. But they are not fundamental theories; they are useful tools, not ultimate truth.
    Neither Newtonian Block Time nor Presentism has any traction given what we know to be the case. There is no universal preferred frame of reference, and in particular, the Cosmic Microwave Background is not such a frame.
    None of the above should invalidate your metaphysical project, if that’s what it is. But physical clock time is simply not what you seem to want it to be.

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  9. Bunsen

    Why do you think IT is more blokey than say Sales or Legal. I’ve found Sales to be quite typically full of ‘toxic masculinity’ and yet these departments always had more women in them than IT.

    If we are going to trade anecdotal evidence, then in my experience Sales is usually even more ‘blokey’ than IT and usually dominated by men.

    Legal is usually a lot less ‘blokey’ and payroll/accounts the least blokey and usually have more women.

    Again, that is just trading my anecdotes for yours.

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  10. Bunsen,

    I am sure harassment is part of the story, but thinking of it as the single most important determinant of female participation rates strikes me as being a bit unfair to women

    Agreed. But that is stil a factor. And discrimination. And cultural biases that begin early in life.

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  11. DM,

    But certain of his arguments and positions do seem plausible to me, and the left often seems incoherent when attempting to refute these

    I’ve spent more time than I care to acknowledge watching and reading Peterson. I’m baffled like anyone can see an actual argument into the sort of semi-coherent babble he produces, conveniently mixed with sufficient obfuscatory remarks to reach plausible deniability every time he is pressed on something.

    My understanding from listening to the right-leaning commentators on this subject however is that as far as we can tell, these differences in preferences are at least in part biological.

    You shouldn’t be listening to right-leaning commentators, it’s bad for your mental health. I’ve looked into this as a biologist, there is no reliable evidence of such. See, for instance: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Delusions-of-Gender/

    A priori, a biological difference in preferences between the sexes seems very plausible to me

    But biology is not an a priori science. Turns out the human brain is far too plastic for any such difference, if there is, to have measurable effects even early on in life.

    my feeling is that the left requires it to be cultural for political reasons

    This is the part that always baffles me: no. Even IF women (or blacks, or whatever) were biologically different, this would not justify any group-level discrimination in education, hiring, and so forth. None. It would simply mean that we would give everyone a fair treatment and people would sort themselves out.

    It is a mistake, made several times by Dan in this thread, to think that the only evidence for discrimination is differential numbers in different proefessions. If that were so we would have a very weak case indeed, but we have repeated evidence of systematic discrimination against both women and minorities.

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  12. Robin:

    Right. So blokey is a pretty meaningless term that can easily mean different things to different people. You are using as a proxy for ‘going to strip clubs’. Fine. Do you really believe that going to strip clubs is more endemic in IT than other professions, and that this explains the discrepancy in female participation rates? Because my experience of over two decades working in Fortune 500 companies around the UK and other countries completely contradicts that. The groups I’ve found to spend the most time and money in strip clubs are corporate lawyers and traders. And both groups have a greater percentage of women than IT. I suspect that the reason women tolerate this behaviour is because they come to a decision regarding what career path to take relatively early and pour a lot of resources into that choice. And I doubt that they make the choices in the naive belief that the men in these professions are some kind of noble exemplars.

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  13. brodix:

    Agreed. Ideological policing is always a form of signalling.

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  14. Bunsen,

    Do you really believe that going to strip clubs is more endemic in IT than other professions, and that this explains the discrepancy in female participation rates? Because my experience of over two decades working in Fortune 500 companies around the UK and other countries completely contradicts that.

    Right, but that’s because those are all examples of professions where women often encounter obstacles due to “toxic masculinity” (which is a thing, btw). I doubt they encounter similar environments in nursing, or psychology, for instance.

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  15. Massimo:

    It’s funny you mention Nursing. My friend who is a nurse recently had a hen night with her colleagues. Any guesses where they went? All they could talk about afterwards was how buff the guys were on stage.

    Anyway, I’m not sure exactly what you are responding to. My point is that there are professions with ‘toxic masculinity’ that do attract significant amounts of women. In particular, I’ve never found IT to be particularly bad in that respect compared to other professions, so that’s why I am skeptical that it can explain the extremely low female participation rate.

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  16. Bunsen,

    my point is that toxic masculinity discourages women from choosing certain professions, or encourages them to leave. And it should not happen.

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  17. Jesper,

    I guess it is a project I seem to focus on and possibly I confused the issue by posting that link, but my impression is that the physics community is invested in a block time version.

    Consider the oft made point that the direction/asymmetry only emerges with entropy. How would you see my point that as a measure of specific action, the direction of time is due to inertia? As in the earth turns one direction, not both.

    That the simultaneity of the present is dismissed by observation of events, rather than consideration of the energy which manifested them, which being radiated away, is how we observe them. Thus the past cannot physically exist, nor the future, as the energy has to proceed to form it, consequently there is only a physical state referenced as the present.

    Yes, Special Relativity is very effective math, but the notion of some “fabric of spacetime” doesn’t seem to be particularly “physical.”

    Since you do seem to have a very practical understanding of time, would you consider that, as an effect of action, aka rate of change, or frequency, time has more in common with temperature, than space?

    While I sense you don’t see much significance to my point, it is nice to get some feedback on it. Hopefully we can further the discussion in other posts and I might convince you that with issues like free will versus determinism, it does have some relevance.

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  18. Bunsen,

    “Agreed. Ideological policing is always a form of signalling.”

    And vice versa. Signalling is often ideological policing. Not simply expressing one’s own beliefs, but steering others, especially when, as you say, made with a sense of threat.

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