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

    Let me provide and example. It is often said that if you were, for example, to burn a dictionary then it would be in principle possible, if you could get information about every single part of the remains then you could reconstruct the dictionary.

    This has always bothered me because I know that if you have even a simple system of interacting particles you need exact information about them in order to go back and find previous positions.

    Any imprecision at all will quickly diverge and there will be a number of previous states that would be consistent with the present state.

    So in order to find previous states for any length of time then you would need to be able to have the details to any degree of precision.

    But we are told that there is a hard limit on the precision to which we can know this data. These two facts do not seem to jell. It seems to me that if there is a hard limit on the precision of the information we can have about a system then information will always be lost.

    But then I know that, Hawking radiation aside, information is considered not to be lost.

    So, yes, I am arguing about something I don’t understand. The very reason I ask that is precisely that I don’t understand. A conversation with a physicist on physics that was entirely limited to things we both understood would seem rather dull and pointless.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. brodix


    The article on the food supply does give some hints to the serious waste and inefficiencies built into our current system. How could they be addressed viably?

    We are not going to be able to enact some draconian top down population control that wouldn’t create enormous blowback and further destruction of the environment. Either we continue down the current path of social atomization and economic parasitism, eventually leading to real communal breakdown and the resulting pandemics, wars, famines, etc, which will also be extremely destructive of the environment, or we start building alternative paradigms. I’ve tried to put up various observations, as to how I see ways to look at things differently, but haven’t got much feedback on them.

    Do you have any ideas you would be willing to put up for criticism and debate?


  3. brodix


    You just need the right mathematical fairie dust to time travel back through wormholes in the fabric of spacetime to when that dictionary was whole.


  4. Robin Herbert

    Perhaps you should worry more about how much climate scientists understand about the art of rhetoric.

    They seem to think that when they choose to couch something in units like “Hiroshima bomb detonations per second” people are going to think “Wow – Hiroshima bomb detonations per second – that sounds big and scary”.

    What people actually think is “Wow – the fact that they decided to use some drama queen unit like ‘Hiroshima bomb detonations per second’ must mean that the actual amount is really trivial”.


  5. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, when you were thinking about the similarities between Greek moral philosophy and that of the Aztecs, did you stop to think, and have a thought something like …

    something like …

    something like …

    “Be still my heart”?

    What would you do without my bad puns, bad limericks and other skewed observations?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Robin Herbert

    Another is this, from Tegmark:

    The simplest and most popular cosmological model today predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about 10 to the 10^28 meters from here. This distance is so large that it is beyond astronomical, but that does not make your doppelgänger any less real. The estimate is derived from elementary probability and does not even assume speculative modern physics, merely that space is infinite (or at least sufficiently large) in size and almost uniformly filled with matter, as observations indicate

    Tegmark is claiming that this follows from accepted physics born out by observation, not from any speculative theory. As far as I know, no physicist has called BS on this.

    Well, OK, it does not bother me that I have a doppelganger 10 to the 10^28 meters from here.

    What bothers me is how close was my great grandfather’s doppelganger. Was his doppelganger also about 10 to the 10^28 meters from him? If so, was he guaranteed to have had my grandfather as a son?

    But as Tegmark himself observes:

    The life of this person has been identical to yours in every respect. But perhaps he or she now decides to put down this article without finishing it, while you read on.

    So if my great grandfather’s doppelganger was not guaranteed to have my grandfather then it is exceedingly unlikely that he would. So my grandfather’s doppelganger would have been some orders of magnitude further away from my great grandfather. Same goes for my grand father and father and so my doppelganger’s distance from me would be some unimaginably larger number. And if I start this from my great, great, great, great (and so on) grandfather…

    Alternatively my distant ancestors’ doppelgangers were really, really close.

    And the claim that a universe with four particles would have 2^4 possible arrangements of matter seems suspect, but then again I haven’t gone into that in detail.

    Ask a physicist that at a dinner party and the subject just seems to get changed quickly. Maybe none of that is interesting to most physicists.


  7. synred

    I’m not quite sure how identical Tegmark assumes his regions of space to be.–but it is a question of degree. As a regions properties are determined by real numbers of which there are an uncountable infinity, in no countable infinity of places will you find any that are exactly identical.

    However, there will be some that are damned close. If you keep looking you can find one that is as close as you care to specify to ours. I suspect the calculation underestimates how rare ‘you’s are, but can’t know for sure w/o more detail about the assumptions made. Tegmark may well assume that real numbers aren’t needed, but that is how we understand things to work currently.

    This doesn’t really change the argument a lot, but the other ‘you’ will not be quite you.

    For the sake of the argument I assume there are a finite number of real numbers needed to specify a ‘region’. If it’s an infinite number of real numbers, I’m not sure what that does — other than to make other ‘me’s and ‘you’s more unlikely, but I’m not sure how much more. Perhaps that’s cause for hope; well anyway cause for confusion.

    Unlike Nietzsche I would not regard Tegmark as a God for telling me of ‘eternal recurrence’ but rather a demon.

    Nietzsche didn’t know about Cantor’s infinities, but the same argument would apply to his ‘eternal recurrence’ — they would not be quite identical, but as close as you like if you wait long enough.

    I have two negative reviews of Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe on my little website. I do not succeed in shooting MUH down, but I dislike the idea a lot. DM is I think the only person who’s looked at them and doubtless disagrees.


  8. synred

    I’ve bought that book. I haven’t had a chance to read it, but hope she does a better job of debunking MUH, etc. than I did.


  9. Bunsen Burner


    ‘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?’

    What part of basic knowledge do you not understand? No one is saying you need to perform actual independent research. You should understand enough about the issue to talk sensibly on it and be able to counter some of the worst lies that exist about it. This I consider a minimum for an modern educated layperson. For an academic, I would even consider it a duty.

    ‘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’

    And that is very depressing.


  10. brodix


    I suppose you really haven’t given what I’ve been saying much thought, considering the extent to which I’ve been arguing against the entire western paradigm, from its ideals based philosophy, that gives us everything from God to Mammon, as focal points of desire, overlooking the inherent balance of nature, from electric to political polarities.
    That is the basis of our finance mediated, atomized culture, where enormous waste is generated to support the cocoons of those in the top percentiles of the political and economic hierarchy.
    If we better came to terms with the inherent circularity and feedback, such metastatic growths wouldn’t be as easily tolerated.


    Tegmark is reductio ad absurdum of the entire mathematical platonism built into the heart of modern physics.

    For instance, is geometry foundational to space and time, or is it merely a useful abstraction? To put it in context, are longitude, latitude and altitude foundational to the surface of this planet, or are they a useful mapping device?

    Spacetime is based on correlations between measures of distance and duration. Are measurements more elemental than what is measured? Is a unit of time more elemental than the action being measured? It is the assumption these units of duration reveal some underlaying dimension that is the premise of time as an eternal dimension, such that information is never lost, because all events remain on that temporal dimension.

    As I keep arguing, duration is the state of the present, as events coalesce and dissolve, going future to past. Time is an effect, like temperature. It is the only the narrative process of our minds which thinks of the physical state of the present, “moving” past to future. Much like we still see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Epicycles were very good math, as they modeled our experience, but poor physics, as much was not realized. Seeing math as foundational to physics puts the cart before the horse. It is reductionism of the broader reality. Abstractions.


Comments are closed.