A = B

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Anyone who is reading this post – indeed, anyone who can read at all – has some minimal exposure to mathematical ideas, even if that exposure goes no further than elementary arithmetic and not, as I am only half-jokingly known to say, actual mathematics. (Well, since I’ve mentioned it: the thing I’m known to say is, “that’s not mathematics, that’s arithmetic.” This is always in response to someone who has protested something along the lines, “I’m no good at mathematics; I can’t even balance my checkbook.” The humorous, yet legitimately educative nature of MY statement always strikes me as obvious, yet I am constantly amazed by the numbers of people who get lost in the elementary rhetoric of my statement.)A equals B

In any event, even such minimal exposure is typically enough to satisfy most people, even most mathematicians (I suspect), that they have a pretty good handle on what that equals sign (“=”) means as it is expressed in, say, the title of this little essay. Clearly I wouldn’t be writing about it if such an impression was even remotely true. For one thing, how do we read “A = B”? Does it say, “A equals B”, or does it say “A is B”, and is there a difference between those two? Spoiler: yes. Yes to both questions, depending on how crudely one is using one’s language, which makes the fact that “equals” does not equal “is” an especially problematic conflation of terms. “Is” tends to mean “identity” in such a context, which is tricky enough in its own right (I wrote an MA thesis on the subject). The reading of “=” as “equals” helps to emphasize a somewhat more functional approach to matters, though it is still more rigid and “substantive” than such formal notions as “equivalence” and “isomorphism.” topics I’ll likely blog about in the future because I can already hear the math-phobes screaming in horror. For now, I want to focus on the logical issues of “equals,” as a formal relation. Thus, the word “equality” may also find a use here, but that use should not be mistaken for the political, economic, cultural, &/or social senses of the term. (On the other hand, I do not preclude in advance that what I say here will have no bearing on those uses, either.) Obviously, the starting point for the primary discussion is with the work of Alfred North Whitehead. Continue reading

Pressure. Cooker.

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My limited, and very humble, cooking experiences have never involved a pressure cooker. However, I do understand a little about how they function and why they are used. For many dishes, it suffices to permit the steam generated by cooking to pass out of the cooking vessel, and permit the food to otherwise be finished by ordinary methods of heating. But some recipes require that the food be cooked in a more intense manner: the steam that might otherwise be released unused into the indifferent world are instead contained under pressure, and that pressure in turn forces that steam back into the food, to provide an especially deep, internal, and unremitting form of cooking. This is all just physics, lacking the resources and the motivation to attempt such recipes, I’ve no idea what the process or products actually look like. My motivation for mentioning it is quite different from culinary compositions.Pressure Cooker

Cooking is often used as a basis for metaphors for human psychology. For example, a person who is “fried” or “baked” is someone who is exploring better living through chemistry. “Scrambled” is great for eggs, but speaks to a chaotic and disorganized state of mind in a person. Steamed vegetables have a happy crunch, but a person who is steamed is likely to be poor company. So the effect on the person is often taken from the effect on the food, rather than our enjoyment of that effect. (Presumably, the vegetable derives no joy from being steamed.) But the usefulness of such metaphors is always limited, and sometimes just genuinely wrong. Such can be the case with pressure cooker images. Continue reading

The Sisyphean Dot

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The myth of Sisyphus and, in particular, Camus’ reading of that story, are obviously on my mind. Having mentioned the story in my last post, I want to say more about it here, only in the context of process metaphysics.

And cats.

Red Dit

Cats, you see, are either the worst or the best existentialist philosophers. The difficulty in answering this question is not because they are cats, but because of all the labored verbiage that goes into saying what existentialism is. Indeed, where I want to take this argument is in the direction of undermining that last phrase. Existentialists say that the world is absurd, but much of that claim turns on the use of that annoying little verb “is”. Sartre, for example, named his magnum opus Being and Nothingness, with the first half of that title emphasizing the root verb (“to be”) from which all forms of “is” emerge. If the focus of existentialist thought is directed upon “being” and forms of “is-ness,” then much of existentialism’s claims of absurdity stand or fall upon the priority given over to the word “is.” If so, then even asking the question, “what existentialism is” could well be a fundamental error that many existentialists themselves commit. So the direction of our discussion here is this: to gloss Camus’ famous essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” illustrate some salient points using cats, and segue finally into how the whole thing gets reimagined in a process metaphysics. Continue reading

The Myth of Technofix

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On a more or less regular basis, some wild-eyed enthusiast in a lab coat will get his name – and by my account, they’ve all been men, the reasons for which will become evident as we proceed – in the media by proposing some massively destructive campaign of crapping all over the global environment in order to “save” it from AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming). In order to make such a deliberately manufactured catastrophe sound respectable, it is given a fancified, multi-syllabic name: geoengineering. According to these well-paid (male) lab-coats, the way to make things better is to make them unimaginably – and, most terrifyingly – unpredictably, worse. One is reminded of the enthusiastic, lower-level Air Force PR officer who effused to the press how it was necessary to destroy some particular Vietnamese village in order to “save” it. These days this isn’t even recognized as ironic. One is also reminded of the nursery rhyme about the Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. But getting people to recognize an obvious analogy is almost as distressed a program as getting them to notice irony.Sisyphus

Now, everyone who isn’t intransigently stupid, viciously dishonest, or some combination of both, has long since recognized the reality of AGW. Gee golly willikers, it was cold in some places in North America this Winter. Well, given that we’re talking about less than 1.84% of the entire surface of the Earth, a person might feel justified in asking if there might just possibly be a difference between GLOBAL warming and “your backyard” warming? Or again, the fact that the destabilization of the winter jetstream that leads to the “polar vortex” is itself a consequence of global warming, as unparalleled warmth moves into the Arctic and pushes relatively cold air South, is not one of those arcane secrets that gets hidden away in books, so that the denialists will never find it. So, the question is: What do we do about it? Continue reading

Measure is The Measure of All Things

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The online journal Eidos, A Journal for the Philosophy of Culture has just published a focus issue (#4 (6)/2018) on the topic of “Philosophy and Technology,” in which yours truly has an item. The title of my contribution is the same as this blog post, and it, along with all the other articles, is free for the download. It is a “discussion paper”, which means it is permitted a bit more leeway when it comes to scholarly standards of argument and citation. At some 6,000 words it is a good 4+ times larger than my longest blog posts, but it is free and possibly even interesting; at the very least it is at the same general level of readability of my regular blog posts, so folk who are interested can download it HERE.Robot

The entire journal may be accessed from the Eidos link above, and is well worth checking out, both for this current issue (table of contents reproduced below) and for the back issues that can be accessed through the link to the archives. As mentioned, this issue is about philosophy and technology approached, as one might guess from the journal’s title, from the general position and environment of questions of culture. Some folks might be surprised at such a choice of philosophical topics, as technology might not seem on the surface to have much to do with “the true, the beautiful, and the good,” the supposedly “core” topics of philosophy. But a couple of sentences from Marcin Rychter’s opening editorial struck me as quite appropriate here:

A simple conclusion seems inevitable: we can neither understand ourselves nor our times without deeply thinking about technology. A stronger claim seems plausible: technology should be the main topic of contemporary philosophy of culture.

Continue reading

Now

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This is the follow up to my previous post. We are vexed, perplexed, by time. Augustine famously quipped regarding time something along the lines that, “As long as no one asks me, I know exactly what it is. As soon as someone asks me, I have no idea.” Myself, I remain struck by the rhetoric and poetry of a line from the first Star Trek: The Next Generation movie: “Time is the fire in which we all burn,” a sentiment which the film, in the person of Patrick Stewart’s “Jean Luc Picard,” ultimately rejects. Myself, I find both of these approaches unsatisfying, because they both treat time as a “thing” that “is.” Language seems to force this on us. But time is not an “object” lying there on the rug like something the cat dragged in; time is the cat that dragged that thing in in the first place, as well as the rug where it was deposited.Exif_JPEG_422

Backing off a bit from my (once again) colorful, and probably not very helpful, language, time is not a “thing” sitting there awaiting our observation and description; time is the context in which all objects present themselves to be possibly observed, described, or otherwise interacted with. Additionally, time is not a string of “point-like” (I often use the term “punctiform,” but this evidently has a medical usage that is NOT what I intend) infinitesimal moments on a string, like numbers on the real line. This latter is how modern physics deals with the subject of time, but this approach substitutes an abstract mathematization for the actual facts of experience, justified exclusively on the grounds that it makes our mathematics simpler. But reality does not pretzel itself to fit the simplicity of our theories, a fact which many people dazzled by mathematics seem to have lost sight of. Our only access to that reality is via our experience, and so our theories must bow to that experience and not the other way around. And time never comes in inexperienceable, infinitesimal points; it is the context through which nature flows, and always presents those contexts in stretches or “durations.” For my purposes, I am taking this fact as given; for a detailed argument about this “point” see chapter 3 of Whitehead’s The Concept of Nature. Continue reading

Meaningful Life

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It is easy to find meaning in life in general; any herd of halfwits with a few books of philosophy under their respective or collective belts can do as much. But is MY life in particular meaningful? That is a very different question. The short answer – which, as always, will require a lengthy explanation – is, “maybe not.” But that “maybe not” itself comes with an important qualifier: almost certainly not in the form you were expecting. Right there is the primer that starts the engine of existentialism sputtering in poorly tuned outrage; that, and my grossly mixed metaphors. Not to take too much credit, but the latter might be the more important factor …Dusk

Nevertheless, there are two terms in the foregoing that merit some initial attention because of the oft unattended distinctions they bring into play: the “general” and the “particular”. In the spectrum of reasons, these two modalities of qualification are fairly far apart. Yet a great deal of discussion around the vitally important topic of the meaning of life flounders precisely on problem of navigating between these two rocks – this Scylla and Charybdis, to abuse my metaphors even further – that aren’t even all that close together. Navigating between them ought to be as straight forward as understanding if one is in the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans. Yet I don’t recall ever seeing matters satisfactorily distinguished, which is (like as not) as much a sad commentary on my scholarship as anything. So prior to getting to matters of any real substance, I must spend a few words on the interface between logic and metaphysics, so as to highlight the overlap between metaphysics and facts. Continue reading

Whitehead’s Quantum of Explanation: Thinking with Auxier and Herstein

A review of Randy and my book, “The Quantum of Explanation,” from a fellow traveler in the process philosophy field:

Footnotes2Plato

“Our central idea is that concrete existence explains the abstract aspects of experience and not vice-versa.”
-Auxier and Herstein

“So long as necessity is taken to be the guarantor of rationality, the conception of rationality advocated will be as useless to science as it is to practical life.”
-Auxier and Herstein

Those looking for a proper review of their book should read George Lucas’ in NDPR. My thoughts are somewhat self-referential, as I am trying to sort through the intellectual earthquake unleashed within my mind as a result of reading this text.

Auxier and Herstein’s book has been on my radar for several years. I first read small sections of the unpublished manuscript in late 2016 as I was finishing my dissertation. The book was published last year…

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What’s In a Name?

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A great many persons who manifest what Altemeyer has called the “right wing authoritarian” type of mindset will also, often enough, display some rather strikingly childish, if not downright infantile, traits with respect to basic cognition. In particular, among this group one will find many persons who will insist that the contemporary GOP retains its status as “the party of Lincoln,” or that the Nazis were “really socialists” because the word “sozialismus” appears in their name. In both instances there is nothing more than a name in common between the one thing (Lincoln did belong to what was then called the Republican party) and the other (today’s GOP is absolutely tarred by Trump and his blatant fascism.) The laughable rubes who make this association – often enough loudly and in public, with utter self-assurance not to be impinged upon by any shred of logic, principles, evidence, or facts – might otherwise be dismissed as merely uneducable and pathetic, were it not at least one aspect of their behavior that is worthy of note: their use of names, as exemplified above, is magical. And not “magical” in the benevolent sense of “charming,” “truly special,” or “delightful,” but magical in the primitive and pernicious sense of actual magic – specifically, “name magic.”Wizard

There is a connection between magical thinking and fascism, one that has been recognized for some time now. Ernst Cassirer addressed this connection in his important work, The Myth of the State.i Published at the end of WWII (and shortly after Cassirer himself died), Cassirer applied his enormous insights regarding symbolism and modes of thought (his three volume The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms remains an unparalleled intellectual achievement) to the forms of mythological thinking that were such a driving force behind nationalism and fascism. (Cassirer was Jewish and an eye witness to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Seeing the writing on the wall, he was able to escape with wife, going first to Sweden, then England, and finally the United States, where he wrote Myth of the State while working at Columbia University.) As such, it is also a valuable source of insight into our own Trumpistas, and their unflagging devotion to “Dear Leader.” Continue reading

Objects and Relations

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Let’s get (a little) mathematical. If you’re still reading, good for you!

I spend a fair amount of time reading various logic texts. Most of that time, these days, is spent on texts that are shared with a “Creative Commons” license, and are thus freely downloadable. This is for two reasons: first, I am deeply offended by contemporary text book prices. For example, Hurley’s logic book (you can look that up on your own) is around $100.00 for the more recent editions. Not as bad as Calculus text books, but certainly extreme when one considers that the material presented can be had for free from other sources. So, despite the overwhelming improbability of it ever occurring, I can’t stop myself from thinking about the scam inherent in textbook pricing, and thinking how I, as a would-be teacher, might better serve my students w/o bankrupting them.Venn diagram

The second reason is that I just really like the subject, and want to keep my nose in the books on this subject at all times. Like playing the cello, if you stop practicing, you lose whatever mastery you may once have possessed. (The cello analogy is in reference to the great Pablo Casals and the possibly apocryphal response(s) he gave to why he always practiced so diligently.) Since I am otherwise utterly penurious, my choice of texts to “practice” with are limited to what I can download for free. With respect to topics within mathematics, including formal logic, the range of materials is actually enormous, and the quality exceptionally good. One of these books is the Open Logic Text by the Open Logic Group (“OL”), licensed under Creative Commons international attribution 4.0. (I believe I have fulfilled my legal obligations in the forgoing; full .PDF HERE.) I very much approve of this text, and almost anyone but me would never have even the slightest critique to offer regarding its exceptionally comprehensive coverage of the topic in a readily understandable fashion. But I do have one criticism, one that pretty much no one but a Whiteheadian would ever think to make. And that is about their too sanguine opening about the centrality of sets, and their uncritical acceptance of an intransigently object structured thinking. Continue reading