WHERE HAVE ALL THE LOGICIANS GONE: A la recherche des logiciens perdus!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2018

When 7 plus 5 equaled 12:
Where have our logicians been?

You're asking a very good question! We've badly needed the help of logicians as our public discourse has steadily slid to its current dangerous place.

In the mid-1990s, we needed help untangling the semantic pseudo-discussion which passed, for almost two years, as the "Medicare debate" which was driving Newt Gingrich along.

Starting in March 1999, we needed help with the logic of paraphrase as mainstream journalists kept inventing strange, psychiatrically troubling misstatements by Candidate Gore. This bullshit went on for twenty straight months and sent George Bush to the White House.

Right now, at this very juncture, we could use the help of a J. L. Austin type (Sense and Sensibilia; How to Do Things With Words) concerning the logic of terms which (falsely) appear to be synonyms.

What does it mean when every misstatement is lustily turned into a lie? Among other things, it means we're trying to start tribal war, at a time when a person who seems to be mentally ill controls all the ultimate weapons.

(Beyond that, we're rejecting the wisdom of thousands of years of "crowdsourcing" among the many generation who created the verbal distinctions we now, in our lusty tribal pique, lustily throw away. But so it goes among our self-impressed kind—among us sub-rational animals.)

Where have the logicians been as this downward spiral has occurred? Could it be they've been working, not in the garden, but tragicomically deep in the weeds?

Could it be that they've been in the weeds? Because we love the passage so much, we're going to post it again today. It comes from "made man" science writer Jim Holt, explaining in The New Yorker (and also, this year, in a new book) what "the greatest logician since Aristotle" was worried about as of the 1930s:
HOLT (page 8): Gödel entered the University of Vienna in 1924. He had intended to study physics, but he was soon seduced by the beauties of mathematics, and especially by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind. This doctrine, which is called Platonism, because it descends from Plato’s theory of ideas, has always been popular among mathematicians. In the philosophical world of nineteen-twenties Vienna, however, it was considered distinctly old-fashioned. Among the many intellectual movements that flourished in the city’s rich café culture, one of the most prominent was the Vienna Circle, a group of thinkers united in their belief that philosophy must be cleansed of metaphysics and made over in the image of science. Under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru, the members of the Vienna Circle regarded mathematics as a game played with symbols, a more intricate version of chess. What made a proposition like “2 + 2 = 4” true, they held, was not that it correctly described some abstract world of numbers but that it could be derived in a logical system according to certain rules.
Less than a century ago, our greatest logician since Aristotle had been "seduced by the notion that abstractions like numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind."

For that reason, he was involved in a great debate with other major logicians. They were fighting about how we can know that 2 plus 2 equals 4.

The world was proceeding toward its second "great war." Our logicians were thus occupied.

Should it seem strange to think that our greatest logician had been seduced by such a strange idea, was locked in such an oddball debate? We'll explore that question as our essays proceed. But for today, we add an autobiographical note:

Long ago and far away, we confronted a version of this "philosophical question" as a mere college freshman.

It was the fall of 1965. Planning to major in philosophy, we took the introductory course—Phil 3, "Problems in philosophy."

Our professor was 26 years old; he may have looked a bit younger. Meanwhile, one of the "problems" we studied was this:
How can we know that 7 plus 5 equals 12?
We'll admit that this happened at Harvard. This may account for the harder arithmetic problem we were asked to review.

That said, this was our introduction to the types of "problems" which constitute the world of academic philosophy. Possibly owing to widespread ignorance, many students in the class seemed unhappy with this young professor, who, just to complete the record, seemed like the nicest guy in the world.

In the Harvard of that day, students were supposed to applaud at the end of every lecture. At the end of the semester's final lecture, students were supposed to deliver a standing ovation, as if to wonder what their worthless lives could have been like before they were lucky enough to take transformative course.

That didn't happen in this instance. As the lectures dragged along, the applause lessened from class to class. Eventually, it totally died.

Most strikingly, no one applauded even after the final lecture. We remember feeling bad for our very nice but extremely young professor. We remember thinking that we were watching this young man's career implode.

Students in that introductory class tended to think that we were pursuing fairly ridiculous "problems." Years later, we occasionally treated the problem of 7 plus 5 equaling 12 in the occasional comedy venue.

We would recall the anguish of our teaching assistant, Mr. [NAME WITHHELD], who truly seemed to be tortured by the question of 7 plus 5 adding up to 12.

Who are these "problems" problems for? we would wittily ask at such times. It all depends on the delivery, of course, but we still like that line.

Full disclosure! The career of that very pleasant, extremely young professor wasn't imploding that year. That good-natured fellow was the late Robert Nozick. Within a few years, he was the biggest thing in American philosophy, though we've never quite understood why.

Like several others, we decided we wouldn't major in philosophy after taking that course. We majored in History and Lit for one miserable year, then returned to the fold at the start of our junior year.

That spring, we took the undergraduate Wittgenstein class. The gentleman's name is mentioned in the passage from Holt which we've posted above. We'll briefly touch on the work of "the later Wittgenstein" before this week's foofaw is done.

That said, some questions remain:

Who was that problem a problem for? And why in the world was our greatest logician involved in "Platonist" thoughts about where numbers and circles reside? Why were others fighting with him about this? Does any of this make sense?

Our logicians have left us on our own. This has helped lead us to Trump.

Meanwhile, Professor Harari has said an odd thing about our warlike species. He has said this in his giant best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Harari has said that our "intolerant," possibly "genocidal" species runs on gossip and fiction. Is it possible that our greatest logicians have just never been all that sharp?

Tomorrow: Lord Russell's anecdote

Another passing tradition: At that time, students had to wear a coat and tie to eat in the college's dining halls. One day, we encountered a freshman debating the working-class Cambridge woman who checked students in for meals.

For his jacket, he wore a windbreaker. Beneath it, he was wearing a white t-shirt. A shoelace draped around his neck constituted his "tie."

The woman wasn't letting him in. "How do you know that isn't a tie?" he was officiously asking.

That working-class Cambridge woman was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife. That horrible kid had a lot to learn (as do we all). But which were the courses for that?

39 comments:

  1. Haven't we read this column before?

    ReplyDelete
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  2. One has to wonder why Somerby majored in philosophy, since it seemed to have been clear to him even in his college days that he found it ridiculous. He walked away, then returned to it!

    Philosophers study how we know 2+2=4, or 7+5=12. What did Somerby think philosophers studied, how to build auto engines? How to craft public health policy?

    But Somerby chose to major in this ‘fraudulent’ subject and to spend the rest of his life mocking it, without realizing how ill-suited he was to be a philosophy major in the first place.

    It was obviously not the subject for him. Meanwhile, for Wittgenstein, it was a passion, the only reason for living. To each his own.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, what a world. Expected to applaud after each lecture? Having to wear a jacket and tie just to eat?

    Of course, there are white collar jobs even today where men are expected to wear ties to work every day.

    Not sure why the kid in the story is so bad. He's just trying to eat and get around some stupid rule, whereas the woman is the oppressive authority enforcing said stupid rule, who probably has to answer to some other enforcer.

    Funny thing, I am about to put on a suit and tie for Kiwanis. During my first two terms as president I wore a tie (at least) to every meeting. In this, my third term in ten years, I am relaxing a little.

    Today, though, I have to set an example for our essay contest kids.

    Seven years ago, when I was last president, I was also head janitor. Sometimes, after Kiwanis, I would go do some of my janitor work (moving tables and chairs) while wearing a suit and tie.

    After all, I was head janitor. (actually I just wanted to get the room turn around so the caterer could put out his napkins and glasses for the next event, but I always thought it was funny for the janitor to be wearing a suit).

    Most of us "know" why 7 + 5 = 12 because "they told me so". We memorize that addition table and that multiplication table. We neither know nor care why it is true (most of us). Is learning the 'why' really worth the effort?

    In the great "evolution debate" it seems to me that many defenders "know" that evolution is true - by authority. The teacher said it, I believe it, that settles it. "It is backed up by tons of evidence" they will declare, but for most of them, that is just another statement that they fervently believe. When asked to name some of that evidence, they cannot do so.

    In the same way, my intro philosophy professor noted that her entire large class most could not prove the Pythagorean theorem, even though we believed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “Is learning the 'why' really worth the effort?”

      It is, if you have an interest in philosophical inquiry. If you don’t, then leave it to the philosophers. But why mock them?

      Delete
    2. Geometry doesn't need an axiomatic structure. We could work with circles, lines, rectangles, etc. simply by looking at them and measuring them. But the axiomatic structure allows more advanced results to be discovered.

      Similarly, with number theory. The axiomatic structure helped to finally find a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem.

      Delete
  4. “What does it mean when every misstatement is lustily turned into a lie? Among other things, it means we're trying to start tribal war, at a time when a person who seems to be mentally ill controls all the ultimate weapons.”

    Well, that is an odd way of looking at things.

    If the president is truly mentally ill, and so unstable that he would push the nuclear button because people keep calling him a liar, then where is the cabinet? Where has the Congress been? Hell, what about his own family? Do they not have a duty to act if this is true? Does Somerby **ever** pose this question to himself? Or will he continue to blame only the mainstream media, the liberals, and “professors” when the mushroom clouds appear?

    Of course, it has to be noted that Trump only “seems” mentally ill. And that word “seems” is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence, and in Somerby’s whole thesis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Seems to be mentally ill" translates into "behaves differently than I do." That's how narrow-minded people think.

      In Trump's case, his "different behavior" has been wildly successful. It's far from insane to follow a behavior pattern that works.

      Delete
    2. "Mentally ill" = 'doesn't belong to the lib-zombie cult'.

      From the mouth of a dembot, it's a compliment. Just like 'racist', 'misogynist', and 'homophobe'.

      Delete
    3. I love that filing multiple bankruptcies makes one "wildly successful" in the business world. No big surprise that stiffing labor is the way to "make it in America".

      Delete
    4. 12:36,
      Calling Right-wingers the racist, misogynist homophobes they are is the highest compliment you can give a Right-winger. Don't fall for the crocodile tears.

      Delete
    5. You got it, @8:50. Trump took advantage of the bankruptcy law. That may be ruthless, mean and heartless, but it's not dumb, it's not insane, and it's not illegal.

      Delete
    6. 11;19,
      Trump sure is a standard issue Reagan Republican, with the whole screw labor to make another nickel of profit front and center.
      BTW, how come you never push back on Mao when he tries to make believe your hero President, the Establishment elitist, is anti-Establishment?

      Delete
  5. What makes Jim Holt a “made man?” The fact that he’s a published writer?

    Holt’s book is a collection of dozens of relatively brief essays he has written over the years on scientists, mathematicians, etc. One buys the book partly, or perhaps mainly, because one is interested in Holt’s views, and what interests him, and what they mean to him. His essays are not, and should not be assumed to be, a 100% comprehensive explanation of the views of someone like Gödel, whose beliefs are ‘summarized/paraphrased’ by Holt in a handful of paragraphs.

    It is actually more instructive that Somerby has never once referred to a single word that Gödel wrote or said about his own beliefs or theorems.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Somerby should drop the “we” and just use “I” like a normal person, especially if he’s going to share personal anecdotes like this. A simple change in pronoun would force him to change the way he thinks and writes, most likely for the better. It would drop the pretense of editorial distance.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Beyond that, we're rejecting the wisdom of thousands of years of "crowdsourcing" among the many generation

    Hey, wait a minute, isn't that exactly what we've done in jettisoning the entirety of traditionalism in favor of the faith of egalitarianism?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am disappointed that TDH persists in this line. First, he makes the common mistake of assuming that somehow things were better in politics, journalism, threat of war, etc in the past. It's a naïve ahistorical viewpoint. (There are new things like more powerful weapons and that is surely significant), but as to the mendaciousness and cluelessness of politicians,the media, people in general - I don't think what we see now is brand new. You do have shrewd people who succeed or try to succeed in advancing their own interests. I also don't think that Trump will start a world war - but we'll have3 to wait and see. But the worst is TDH's absurd idea that "logicians", i.e Goedel and his interpreter Holt, no matter how conrta to common sense they may be, have anything to do with the shallow, mind numbing public discourse that we have now and we've had for centuries. Wisdom has always been rare, and utopia is not at hand. And philosophy is more than 'logicians'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "First, he makes the common mistake of assuming that somehow things were better in politics, journalism, threat of war, etc in the past. It's a naïve ahistorical viewpoint."

      This is right to the heart of his decades-long error. His entire project is based on mythologizing political history into some kind of innocuous game of badminton. Politics has always been a brutal highly tribalized business.

      Delete
  9. Bob, you GOTTA have a post on La Dowd's mash-note eulogy of HW. Killer line:

    "I come from a line of Irish maids who worked for the first families of America, the Mellons and the Gores, wealthy, aristocratic families like the Bushes"

    A tradition which she kept on, serving her "betters" on a much grander pay scale.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/02/opinion/george-hw-bush-maureen-dowd.html?fbclid=IwAR0U1haK4chXONcriZ966y3U2KirvQgDmyFnhDMRQUo4pRzMUW773jHWq9g

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, if he reads that, he might blow a gasket.

      "Poppy wasn’t perfect," purred the kitten. Mmm hmm, dat's da troof. Thanks for posting that, revolting as it was. It condenses the rightful bitterness Bob has towards the Times, and the MSM in general.

      Leroy

      Delete
  10. Liberals do not hew to the notion that Trump "seems to be mentally ill".

    Liberals view Trump as a clown, a greedy and narcissistic opportunist whose thoughts do not extend beyond servicing his own desire for pleasure. Trump is merely a Republican.

    Liberals do not view Trump as successful. He was a complete failure as a businessperson, running his poorly thought out schemes into the ground, and then being bailed out by his father, the government, the mafia, Russian oligarchs.

    Liberals think someone is successful if they are happy, healthy, engaged in caring relationships. Trump shows no signs of success as liberals define it.

    Liberals think the president should represent all citizens while fulfilling the duties indicated in the US Constitution. Trump sees the presidency as an opportunity for self enrichment; he is merely representing himself. As a Republican, Trump is hardly a success, losing the midterm elections in historic proportions. This troubles Trump not a whit. From his presidency, his greatest con, he will purloin the wealth and domination that was only illusory before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liberals do not view Trump as successful. He was a complete failure as a businessperson, running his poorly thought out schemes into the ground, and then being bailed out by his father, the government, the mafia, Russian oligarchs.

      Liberals are kidding themselves about Trump's success. Any one of the following list of achievements would represent great success:

      1. Increasing his inheritance by several billion dollars

      2. Creating and starring in a very, very long-running hit TV show.

      3. Becoming a best-selling author (whether ghost-written or not.)

      4. Becoming an internationally famous icon.

      5. Winning the Republican Presidential nomination, as an inexperienced outsider against some strong opponents.

      6. Getting elected President, despite the powerful opposition of most of the media.

      Delete
    2. Trump is a hero to Conservatives. His multiple bankruptcies make him a successful businessman to Conservatives everywhere. And his stiffing of contractors makes him an idol to Establishment Elite-loving Conservatives (but I repeat myself.)

      Other than your point that Matt Groenig would be the most qualified President in the history of the nation (thanks to his long-running program, The Simpsons), the rest of this is typical nonsense from a born liAR.

      Delete
    3. "1. Increasing his inheritance by several billion dollars"

      Can you imagine what kind of gullible fucking moron you'd have to be to think Trump has two dimes to rub together? Trump's parlayed a million dollar loan into hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, and this gullible idiot writes that Trump is "successful". Any moron that believes such idiocy should be taken for a ride by grifters. No wonder David is a Republican. He's too stupid not to be.

      Delete
    4. Hey, @9:04, I was responding to the comment, "Liberals do not view Trump as successful." Matt Groenig, might not be qualified to be President, but he would certainly be regarded as successful.

      @9:04 -- Here's an actual fact. A few months ago, someone illegally released Trump's 2005 tax return. It showed around $150 million of various types of income. There was some sort of offset of around $100 million (possibly real estate depreciation), so he paid tax on $49 million. That looks pretty successful financially to me.

      Delete
    5. 11:46,
      It was released by Trump, dipshit. And it was full of lies. Trump has less wealth than my 5-year old niece, who has no wealth, but isn't in millions of dollars in debt, like Trump.

      Delete
    6. 9:04,
      Relax. David is trolling you. No one is stupid enough to think Trump has any money. Conservative voters buy bullshit by the tonnage, but even they aren't THAT gullible.

      Delete
    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    8. "Becoming an internationally famous icon."

      Becoming the greatest national icon first, dear David. Since at least 1980s, as I remember.

      There's no question whatsoever that Donald The Spectacular is a True American Hero. Yes: True American Hero.

      The amplified hatred exhibited by Sorosian dembots here confirms one thing, and one thing only: their deeeeply anti-American nature...

      Discuss.

      Delete
    9. 2:00,
      Thanks for the sarcasm, but be careful. Some moron Right-winger might think you're being serious (despite Trump naming Mick Mulvaney to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau into the ground).

      Delete
    10. Allow me to laud President Trump, without David in Cal's lies.

      1. Ronald Reagan was a far worse President.

      The end.

      Delete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Bob: What does it mean when every misstatement is lustily turned into a lie? Among other things, it means we're trying to start tribal war...

    Yet that's exactly what Bob did with Rachel's slight misstatement about the Dems crushing margin of victory in the House election. He lustily chooses to call a trivial exaggeration a lie and writes a whole column about it. Total hypocrite!

    ReplyDelete
  13. “The House Democrats won the 2018 popular vote by 8.55%, the biggest margin for a minority party in a midterm election since record-keeping began.” --wiki

    Bob has waisted two full years of his life on the theory that pro-Dem media and Rachel's "clowning" was so offensive to “the others” that they would turn out in droves and crush the Dems in every election until the end of time. But the nationwide results show that the anti-Trump anti-Republican margin has expanded from 2.1% in 2016 to 8.5% of the electorate in 2018. Bob's theory about tribalism and Dem media discourse being harmful to Dems lies in soldering ruins. So he is now reduced to spouting pseudo-philosophy gibberish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a comedy. After weeks of blabbering about the 2018 elections, this lousy dembot "Gloucon X" still hasn't learned that the party of the incumbent president typically lose seats in a midterm election... In fact, the current (the greatest ever) administration is one of the very few that actually gained seats in one of the chambers...

      For you, proud zombie cult members, Ignorance Is Strength, dembot, eh?

      Delete
    2. The greatest number of seats lost, by the greatest Republican President ever. Setting the bar extremely low is the secret of Trump's success.

      Delete
    3. Demigod Barry in 2010 lost 63 seats in the house and 6 in the senate, dembot.

      Demigod Bubba, in 1994, 54 in the house and 10 in the senate.

      Should I classify your bullshit as one of the million dembot lies?

      Delete
    4. 12:50,
      So you're saying I'm qualified to work in the Cabinet of the current administration. Can you put in a word for me with President Fatass? I could use the grift.

      Delete
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