Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 140

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

The philosophy of romantic comedy.

Academics present their research on emojis.

Aztec moral philosophy: not as different from Greek virtue ethics as this article suggests.

The Two Cultures fallacy: a brief history of the ever shifting divide between the sciences and the humanities.

Changing the concept of “woman” will cause unintended harms.

Generation wealth: how the modern world fell in love with money.

Monty Python accused of being too white. Terry Gilliam responds by declaring himself a BLT, black lesbian in transition… (Bonus link: watch Monty Python’s Loretta sketch from Life of Brian!)

Who really holds the power in our food chain?

Memo to those seeking to live forever. It’s complicated.

The evils (or lack thereof) of cultural appropriation.


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!

103 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 140

  1. Robin Herbert


    Lovely language, but still gobbled-gook. A chair is ‘simultaneously whole’ until it destroyed.

    In which case it has ‘terms’ and ‘succession’ and as such does not fit the definition.

    Actually it is very unlovely language but it seems to be an honest stab at describing what he mean for something to be non temporal. Aquinas says that as temporal beings we have to come at this idea via the idea of our perception of time.

    Mostly the Scholastics are accused of naively thinking that linear time and space must be fundamental aspects of reality.

    But they did realise that perceived space and time were material entities and it seems to me like a decent stab at describing what it means for something to be beyond time, for someone in the 13th century.

    Modern theoretical physicists tie themselves in much worse verbal knots trying to express concepts like ‘before the beginning of time’ without clarifying the difference between temporal and ontological precedence.

    At one point Sean Carroll seems to be describing the situation where time is not flowing at the early stages of the development of the universe but is flowing at a later stage. It sounds like gobbledygook (how does it reach the stage when time starts passing if no time passed?)

    Presumably it isn’t gobbledygook, but then again how would I know?

    Indeed there is a good deal of similarity between the things theoretical physicists say and the things the Scholastics said.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. synred


    I know. When one of my theology teachers at Santa Clara said the Baltimore Catechism was heresy, I knew they’d been lying all along. Of course at that point I was already suspicious.

    In some ways the supreme ‘bean’ makes more sense…


  3. SocraticGadfly

    As a preacher’s kid (they don’t legitimately have such things on the Catholic side), yeah, sadly, I know about the untruth factor. At the same time, that’s another reason I don’t have a lot of truck for Gnu Atheists who make deconversion sound so easy.


  4. Robin Herbert

    There are religious people and groups who I suspect are lying, but in general, no, I don’t think that religious people are lying, not everyone who is wrong about something is lying.


  5. synred

    Same problem with ‘God’ – whether existing forever in time or out why start now as nothing has changed?

    For Carroll I’d guess it’s random quantum events, but events imply time too…

    It beats me…


  6. brodix

    With biology the distinction between entities and process doesn’t seem that clear, especially since we have been schooled to be culturally atomistic, so a more clarifying example would be a factory.
    The product goes start to finish, beginning to end, just as we go birth to death. The production line, the process, goes the other direction, consuming material and expelling product. Essentially onto the next, shedding the old. Just as with life, the species, as process, moves on to the next generation, shedding the old. Or we, as process, create new cells and shed old.
    With the factory though, the motivating factor isn’t entirely the end product, but the energy generated and radiated out, in the form of wages and profits.
    While with fauna, the material we consume and process, aka food, is entirely about the energy generated, not the end product.
    Our minds are also constantly consuming information as material, presumably to construct ideas and models of our world, though often what emerge are rationalizations generated by the process, rather than the clear and distinct truths we seek, because the process is means, while the objectives are ends and we get what the process gives us, not what we think we want.


  7. Ralph Nussbaumer

    Based upon the comments it seems that everyone assumes that eternal life would be dull or boring. There is certainly no proof of that and I would disagree. The world will be a very different place in a few hundred years(assuming civilization doesn’t destroy itself.) Also, we will all be very different people in a few hundred years. Everything would be different and there would be new challenges so I don’t see getting bored. To the contrary, it would be very interesting to see how things evolve and what the world will be like.


  8. Robin Herbert

    Same problem with God whether existing forever in time or out why start now as nothing has changed?

    Not a problem outside of time. No such thing as “now” 🙂


  9. Robin Herbert

    Bunsen Burner

    This is not reciprocated however.

    I do recall the comment “moronic philosophers” from one prominent physicist. There does appear to be a deal of contempt for philosophy among some sections of the science community.

    I have no experience of the British academic community, but I can’t see any evidence of any sort of contempt in general from the humanities towards science.

    It is difficult for any layman to discuss science beyond a certain level and very often scientists, especially physicists are unwilling to try to discuss it with laymen.


  10. Bunsen Burner

    One thing no one seems to consider with eternal life is the effect of rare events on them. If you live long enough pretty much every rare unpleasant event will occur to you multiple times. Everything from fires and car accidents thought to economic depressions and wars. How much horror can anyone stand before going insane? It always seemed to me that the endpoint of an immortal would be either a paranoid, risk-averse hermit, or a PTSD-riven maniac.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Robin Herbert

    As I said, if someone offered me a pill that could guarantee me indefinite life with good health then I would take it.

    If it wasn’t working for me, for whatever reason, I would just kill myself.

    It is an awful thing to want to kill yourself in this brief life we have, but if life was indefinite then I imagine suicide would just be the act of deciding that we have lived long enough.


  12. Bunsen Burner


    ‘.. but I can’t see any evidence of any sort of contempt in general from the humanities towards science..

    It’s there. And very much class based.

    ‘It is difficult for any layman to discuss science beyond a certain level ..’

    I was hardly talking about quantum mechanics. Any educated academic in this day and age should at the very least understand the basics of climate change.

    ‘especially physicists are unwilling to try to discuss it with laymen.’

    Something completely contradicted by the vast number of public lectures put on by the likes of the Royal Society, London School of Economics, Gresham College, and so on.


  13. Massimo Post author

    There is another thing that is strangely missing from discussions of immortality or radical life extension: the social and environmental issues.

    For one thing, immortals will still want to have kids. There is already seven billion of us on a finite planet with dwindling resorces. You do the math. And no, there is no reasonable escape elsewhere.

    Second, who do you think would have access to the new technology, and how would they use it? For one scenario, check the excellent scifi series Altered Carbon.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Robin Herbert

    Bunsen Burner

    Something completely contradicted by the vast number of public lectures put on by the likes of the Royal Society, London School of Economics, Gresham College, and so on.

    Lecturing is not discussing.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. wtc48

    EJ: “For centuries, the professionally trained experts in theology were expected to be trusted by the untrained believers without question. ”

    This is an interesting parallel to the modern “two cultures” standoff. Medieval theologians communicated with each other in Latin, which was also the language of the church liturgy and (before vernacular translations) of the Bible, the chief document of Christianity. The uneducated had little opportunity to argue with the clergy, and were regarded as heretics if they tried.

    Nowadays, I think the scientists have a much easier time understanding the humanists (if they so desire) than the other other way around, because of the technical nature in most scientific literature (not to mention paywalls). Perhaps this is partly the result of deficiencies in pre-college education, as professional scientists are not often found teaching in public schools. I wonder if studying calculus in the 3rd grade would have made me as comfortable with physics as I am with Shakespeare.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. brodix

    Having been on a number of death bed watches over the years, it seems to me the idea of immortality is another of those scifi/comic book super powers, like superman’s strength, or spiderman’s wall climbing, that totally ignores so much of what defines our existence and reality.
    The emotional and physical ups and downs, not always congruent, that make finitude both curse and blessing, not always incongruent.
    As I keep trying to argue, when we begin to understand life and reality as more a tension and balance, than simply a projection of desires, hopes and fears, we will better understand and appreciate what we do have. Then learn to expand on life as it is, not ignore it for wishful thinking.


  17. Robin Herbert

    The fact that one academic didn’t know that C02 was involved in climate change is neither here nor there.

    I have a rough understanding of the physics of climate change, but what if I didn’t? What if I didn’t even know that C02 was involved?

    I would be in no better or worse place to evaluate the science.

    I vote for the party who will do something about climate change, not because of my knowledge of the science but because I defer to the scientists in the field.

    So not knowing much about science or even not caring to learn about science does not imply any contempt for science.


  18. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, I am totally with you there. One of the short stories in the Dennett / Hofstadter collection “The Mind’s I” already raised the class-based angle to life extension back in the 1980s. As income inequality in most the developed world has only gotten worse since then, I believe that’s absolutely correct.

    Ditto on the environmental wreckage. Of course, the tech-neolibs/libertarians would be preaching “salvific technologism” for all of this.

    And, to get back to another issue, that’s often part of what’s preached in food supply.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. brodix


    Science is not monolithic. I certainly agree the climate is changing, both from reading and personal experience, but then I also know, from personal experience, that when the grain farmers around my area went to “no till farming,” aka spraying off with herbicides, all the pigeons and pheasant, undoubtfully along with lots of less populous birds, promptly vanished, thanks to “science.”

    The problem is that “authority” is naturally monolithic, as well as strongly motivated by inertia, but people naturally cluster to it. Occasionally people do need to apply logic to the propositions they are given, but all to often their own investment in the culture blinds them to the directions it takes and they are expected to follow.

    Suppose we apply the Serenity Prayer to climate change. What we cannot change is that fact that in the anthropocine, we are changing our lived space, the biosphere of this planet. What we can change are the motivations propelling the rate of this change far beyond our environment’s ability to recycle our wastes, i.e. the desire abstract and liquify all possible value out of every conceivable source, in order to siphon it into our financial institutions, to “save” for our future.

    What we lack is the wisdom to understand the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. couvent2104

    Whoa, I didn’t re-read what I wrote. Apologies.

    That’s not my (anecdotal) experience.

    What I wanted to say was “That’s not my experience (but of course my experience is anecdotal …)”

    I was reacting to Massimo’s

    But my sense is that you are the exception, not the norm, in the hard sciences.

    My sense is that these physicists and mathematicians weren’t exceptions, although I wouldn’t suggest they were the norm. Their interest in culture certainly went beyond what is commonly called “consuming culture” (try to read those romans licencieux!), although, I repeat, they were aware that they were amateurs compared with professional academics. But again, this was in the late 1970s and in the 1980s – I don’t know the current situation.

    Anyhow, around 2000 I got a degree in cultural studies(°) and I talked to quite a few academics in the humanities. There was nothing comparable among them re. the sciences. One thing every well-rounded individual should know, I think, is that physicists have this incredibly successful theory, called quantum mechanics, but that after almost 100 years they still can’t agree how to get the world that we experience out of it!

    This is such an amazing thing that everybody should know it.

    But mentioning QM to these academics in the humanities was enough to make them look for the exit. There are so many amazing things in science, like the paradoxical fact that you can construct the continuum from the entirely discrete, that I couldn’t imagine there were people who weren’t interested in these things – even if it was on the level of the amateur-consumer of mathematics. But, yes there were plenty of them in the humanities.

    (°) Something rather different from “Cultural Studies” in the US.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. brodix

    “Supermarkets believe, probably correctly, that if they treated suppliers more fairly and as a result could not guarantee consistent stock levels, their customers would not sympathetically understand but would quickly shop elsewhere.”

    “The harsh truth is then that we get the food system we deserve because at the end of the day we prefer having choice and cheap prices at the point of purchase to the alternative of fewer options but fairer pay for all, good animal husbandry and an agricultural sector that maintains the soil for future generations rather than chasing higher short-term yields.”

    The article on power in the food industry offers up another example of how a basic philosophic appreciation for tension and balance between competing elements is foundational to our reality, would lead to better outcomes, then just catering to which of our desires seems most productive.


  22. Bunsen Burner

    ‘Lecturing is not discussing.’

    Where is your evidence that scientists do not like to discuss science with laypeople? I’ve never met that type. My old colleagues were happy to talk people’s ears off about their research. The venues I described are not just about lecturing, there are panel discussions, and also after talk social activities, where members of the public get to chat with the scientists. Even in my day, the amount of educational outreach my university’s science departments did was substantial and diverse. I myself sometimes gave talks at everything from schools to working men’s clubs.

    Are you sure you’re not just complaining that scientists don’t like discussing science with you? Because they way you argue, especially on topics you don’t know anything about, I can understand why.


  23. Bunsen Burner


    ‘I have a rough understanding of the physics of climate change, but what if I didn’t? What if I didn’t even know that C02 was involved?’

    The you would be extremely ignorant. An educated person lacking such basic understanding of something so important should feel shame.


  24. wtc48

    On cross-cultural discussion, we should distinguish between discussion and shop-talk. My field (at least academically) was music, and musical shop-talk is almost completely incomprehensible to non-musicians, even though music is firmly among the humanities.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Robin Herbert

    Bunsen Burner

    The you would be extremely ignorant. An educated person lacking such basic understanding of something so important should feel shame.


    Is there some stone tablet I should know about that says that I need to know certain things?

    Would it help in any way? Would it help me to evaluate the scientific claims? Should I be running the models through my own computer? Should I be checking if the curve fitting methods are valid?

    Even with the knowledge I have I can’t evaluate the scientific claims, I have to trust the scientists.

    Most of the people who consider themselves well informed on the subject know only that it has something to do with CO2, sunlight and heat being trapped. They have seen a couple of graphs showing a rising trend. I bet most of them have not checked what the axes say or have little or know knowledge about how the data is collected.

    So your professor knows about 4 things less than most people who consider themselves experts. He is really in no worse a position to decide about the matter than they are.


  26. SocraticGadfly

    Let’s say we get to 10 million people, average life span 90, most of the “developing” world approaching the “developed” world enough to double energy use, triple meat consumption and other things.

    Right there, that’s going to drive 1/3 of mammalian and fish species extinct, as I see it. Most other wild mammals will be in fragmentary lands in the wild or else in zoos. None will live in semi-full habitats in the wild. The Dutch can terrafarm and give us test-tube meat all they want. It’s still going to be a massive land crunch and massive energy crunch. (Lab meat, already, and in quantities well below commercial, consumes large amounts of electricity.)


  27. Robin Herbert

    Bunsen Burner

    Are you sure you’re not just complaining that scientists don’t like discussing science with you? Because they way you argue, especially on topics you don’t know anything about, I can understand why.

    As far as I know, I have never pretended greater knowledge than I have. Indeed I have always been upfront that my knowledge of science is sketchy. My 15 year old son knows more about physics than I do.

    Nevertheless I will be happy for you to provide the examples of me arguing on topics that I don’t know anything about.

    But you only make my point. If I am to discuss science then I am discussing something that I don’t know as much about as scientists. And here are you saying that scientists will not discuss science with people who don’t know much about science, then that is most people. So it follows from what you say that scientists will be reluctant to discuss science with people who are not scientists.


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