THE SOUL OF THE ELITE LOGICIAN: Aping the genius Wittgenstein's tics!


Vienna's greatest minds:
Yesterday, when we left off, we were ruminating about a bit of modern upper-end logic.

Granted, it was only a footnote. The footnote is found on the first page of Chapter 3 of W. D. Hart's 2010 book, The Evolution of Logic.

Hart's book is part of the "Evolution of Modern Philosophy" series published by the Cambridge University Press. His footnote, which we basically picked at random, goes exactly like this:
Perhaps more generally a quantifier is a second-level function whose value at an (n + 1)-ary first-level concept is an n-ary concept, unless n is zero, in which case its value is a truth value, an object. In that case, quantifiers would be second-level functions sometimes having first-level concepts as values and sometimes objects as values. When the value of a first-level concept at an object is truth, Frege says the object falls under the concept. Perhaps the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept. In that case, second-level concepts could also have arguments of different levels.
Not that there's anything wrong with it! But that may give you some idea of what modern elite "logic" looks like.

Meanwhile, how about the logic of everyday public discourse—the logic of paraphrase, let's say, or the bungled logic which lay behind the endlessly bungled mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich Medicare debate?

How about the logic (the semantics) of lies, false claims, errors, mistakes and misstatements? Such charges dominate the current debate. Has any logician ever stepped forward to address the logic of that?

Alas! When it comes to everyday logic, we the people (we the rubes) are pretty much left on our own. Rather, we're left to the mercies of the modern journalistic elite, who mainly like to talk about who may have had sex on one occasion with someone ten years in the past.

(In the end, it's what they care about.)

Our modern journalists enjoy discussing topics like earth tones and sex. They'll speculate, from morning to night, about who may end up in prison or jail, and of course for how long.

They'll quickly find ways to stop discussing the separation of kids at the border, or the deaths of children around the world in U.S.-linked wars. Much as Professor Harari has said, they seem to run on "fictions" and "gossip," and perhaps on little else.

That's the fuel on which our modern elite journalists run. By way of contrast, our elite logicians like discussing whether "the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept," and other topics like that.

Not that there's anything wrong with it! Unless you think that something's been wrong with our public discourse for at least the past three decades—something which won't be fixed by the entertaining, exciting dreams of the Milbanks, the Lemons and the Dowds, or even by the O'Donnells and the Maddows.

We take it as obvious that something is wrong with the world of our elite "journalists." But how about our elite "logicians?" What can we say about them?

What about our elite logicians? Despite the deference we tend to display toward authority figures of various kinds, is it possible that our greatest logicians since Aristotle have possibly never been "all that?"

Ignore their flight from public service! Is it possible that our elite logicians just haven't been especially insightful or sharp, even on their own terms? In the next two days, we'll chuckle at two suggestions to that effect, suggestions drawn from Rebecca Goldstein's 2005 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel.

Goldstein focuses on Kurt Godel, who she explicitly describes as "the greatest logician since Aristotle." Rather plainly, she draws a picture of a man who was mentally ill throughout his life, leading to a tragic death by self-starvation at the age of 71.

She also focused on Godel's array of weird ideas, weird ideas which isolated him within the Princeton community. When Jim Holt reviewed Goldstein's book for The New Yorker, he referred to other peculiar ideas, perhaps without realizing that he was doing so:
HOLT (2/28/05): 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.
Do numbers and circles actually "have a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind?" More to the point, does anyone have the slightest idea what such a claim might mean?

Meanwhile, how about the mysteries of 2 plus 2? Should the greatest minds in Vienna have spent their time arguing about how we can know that it adds up to 4?

We'll say the answer may be no. In Vienna, the argument raged. To appearances, it was still being taken seriously in Goldstein's well-reviewed book.

In that chunk from Holt's review, an interesting part of Goldstein's book makes a brief appearance. Along the way, Goldstein spends a good chunk of time discussing the "thinkers" of the Vienna Circle, and especially "Ludwig Wittgenstein, their reluctant guru."

Eventually, the later Wittgenstein would try to leave the work of these elite logicians in the dust. Goldstein describes an earlier version of this guru, and she describes the comical way the greatest "thinkers" of Vienna let themselves be drawn under the spell of his "almost mystical influence."

Tomorrow, we'll run through Goldstein's eye-rolling account of the way these greatest thinkers responded to the eccentric mannerisms of this reluctant guru. Though we don't agree with Goldstein's overall stance, we'll agree with her on one point:

Forget their concerns about 2 plus 2! Goldstein's comical portraits suggest the possibility that these lofty Viennese thinkers may not have been "all that," despite their high academic standing.

Tomorrow, we'll look on as Europe's greatest minds ape Wittgenstein's various tics. We'll even wonder if we ourselves saw a version of that as the teaching assistant in our first-year "Problems in Philosophy" class agonized at a third-story window over 7 plus 5 making 12.

Tomorrow will be the aping of tics. Then, on Friday, well touch on a point from Professor Hart's book, at least as the book is described by the Cambridge University Press:
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS: Examines the relations between logic and philosophy over the last 150 years. Logic underwent a major renaissance beginning in the nineteenth century. Cantor almost tamed the infinite, and Frege aimed to undercut Kant by reducing mathematics to logic. These achievements were threatened by the paradoxes, like Russell's. This ferment generated excellent philosophy (and mathematics) by excellent philosophers (and mathematicians) up to World War II...
During the evolution of logic, Cantor and Frege achieved great things. But their achievements were "threatened by the paradoxes, like Russell's." What in the world does the publisher mean by that?

How in the world were achievements in logic threatened by paradoxes? On Friday, we'll establish the field of play. Next week, we'look at Goldtsein's treatment of this embarrassing part of the modern history of upper-end, high detached elite "logic."

Goldstein seems to buy this history all the way down. Somewhere, Professor Harari is mordantly chuckling as we see a major way in which our greatest "great ape" minds have never been all that sharp.

Tomorrow: Aping the tics


  1. Dear Bob. Mathematical logic and colloquial "logic" (that you apparently believe could solve your zombie issues) are two completely different things.

    May I suggest you forget this "logic" nonsense and focus on a thing called "common sense"?

  2. Today Somerby demonstrates that he has never heard of the field of psycholinguistics. How sad that someone's education should be frozen at whatever was learned as an adolescent in college. Sad that someone should never go beyond the bounds of those first years, instead rereading the same books, never understanding them because he doesn't talk to anyone else about them, until he writes garbage like the stuff he posts today.

    There are any number of philosophers and psychologists and linguistics who have studied paraphrase and other aspects of semantics in everyday discourse. Somerby should read them instead of rehashing Frege or Godel or whoever else he chooses to denigrate.

    Even discussing Chomsky would be better than what Somerby does here.

  3. "Next week, we'look at Goldtsein's treatment of this embarrassing part of the modern history of upper-end, high detached elite "logic.""

    How can anything a high-end logician has written be more embarrassing that what Somerby writes out the depths of his ignorance?

    Tomorrow, as an everyday person with no training in medicine, I will explore brain surgery. Then on Friday, I will discuss rocket science, with no relevant education in that field either. And finally, I will discuss cosmetology, since I know nothing about that either, mocking the fine points of selecting hair dyes to match skin tone. Then maybe I'll mock those who know something about stand up, if I haven't gotten my point across by then. What exactly is Somerby's point with all? Perhaps he is trying to demonstrate that there are fields of knowledge that require training to understand? Hard to know since he never directly states any thesis other than liberals suck.

  4. So much, so repetitious, such utter preovccupation with snarking (commination) at various jourtnalists for alleged misdeeds going back more than ageneration. But not a word about the owners, the multimillionaires and billionaires, who have for more than a century been Hearstily distorting, depraving, and manipulating our whole public discourse to insure that their private interests, and only those, frame the "Overton Window." But go ahead. Whine about lackeys, leave Lords alone.

    1. "But not a word about the owners, the multimillionaires and billionaires"

      You should study political economy, anon. Or read Der fucking Kapital.

      The problem is not "multimillionaires and billionaires". The issue is systemic, anon.

  5. No doubt Bob is right that the media gives less coverage than it should to bad things done by the US. But, IMHO they give even less coverage to the great many good things done by the US. With Trump as President, it's even worse.

    1. @12:03 -- that's deceptive wording. I think you mean "using the death penalty to execute mentally retarded MURDERERS". I don't mean to say that policy is correct, but only that the description should be complete.

    2. it is not deceptive, the point is we should not execute the mentally handicapped regardless of whether they are murderers or not, "MURDERERS" is irrelevant, having said that, the phrase "death penalty" makes it clear what the circumstances are.
      what is deceptive is how you appear to be unaware of your own lack of integrity.

      such a nasty woman

    3. People with a mental age of six are executed as "murderers" because the mental age of six has nothing to do with the adult status of the "criminal" which can easily be as young as twelve. But let someone enter a sexual relationship with a sexually mature young man or woman with mental age of thirty, but by date of physical birth below whatever age some state legislature in its unparalleled wisdom has denominated "the age of consent," and the consequences range from, at the lightest, professional death, to permanent exile, all the way to life imprisonment. You doubt? Ever heard of James Levine? Ever heard of Roman Polanski?

    4. Is there a single dembot around here who is not a retard or weirdo perv?

    5. Despite "Mao"'s worst efforts, he fails to reach the polemical depths so brilliantly pioneered by his eponymous idol.

  6. “Ignore their flight from public service! Is it possible that our elite logicians just haven't been especially insightful or sharp, even on their own terms?”

    Then why would Somerby lament their flight from public service? If he is correct, then he shouldn’t even *want* their help. As a matter of fact, he should be glad that they are absent.

  7. If you read Ecclesiastes after reading the excerpted material here, the words of that Old Testament book would jump off the page.

    1. You should change the word “you” to “I” in your sentence. You don’t get to speak for others.

    2. I'll assume you are speaking for yourself, not every person in the world.

    3. Huh? There are some who find beauty and clarity in the Bible, some in the works of Georg Cantor or Kurt Gödel, and some both. You apparently find beauty in Ecclesiastes, but not in Hart. Good for you. Your opinion isn’t the only correct one.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. It’s apparent that I find beauty in the book of Ecclesiastes, and apparent that I think my opinion is the only correct one and that I speak for everyone.

      After that lecture on not making assumptions you need a logician or ten.

    6. What exactly are you saying then, Cecelia? There aren’t a lot of options. Either you like Ecclesiastes and dislike Hart and are speaking for yourself alone, or by using the word “you”, you are broadening that to an assumption that “you”, meaning what? Me? Everyone else? Just say “I” and your statement is fine. You are the one including others in your own opinion by using the word “you.”

    7. There’s another alternative. That my “you” is rhetorical, Just as those people who you referenced as holding my (assumed) views are rhetorical. Just as your statement that I don’t speak for others (when you admit I could be speaking for many others) is rhetorical.

      Disingenuous is no way to go thru life, kid.

    8. If you read Ecclesiastes at any point in time, regardless of the activity that preceded such reading, the words would appear unremarkable - unoriginal pablum.

      If you want the words of the bible to jump off the page, read Leviticus 25:44-46 and Exodus 21:2-6 and Exodus 21:7-11 and Exodus 21:20-21 and for lighter fare there is Ephesians 6:5 and 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and Luke 12:47-48. These are some of the parts of the bible that give instruction on dealing with your slaves.

      Fun times!

      I kid, there is nothing sincere within the text of the bible.

  8. Somerby doesn’t seem to be widely read in the works of “modern elite logicians”. So far, over the last year or so, he has described exactly two books, one by Rebecca Goldstein about Gödel, and another by Jim Holt containing an essay about Gödel. This hardly seems representative of the state of “modern elite logic.”

    His recent “discussion” of Hart’s book only adds one to that list, but it also groups unlike things together.
    Goldstein’s and Holt’s books are meant to appeal to a broader audience, whereas Hart’s book is principally targeted at an audience of trained philosophers/logicians.

    But aside from that, it is one thing to criticize Goldstein or Holt, but quite another to use their work, which is often a paraphrase of Gödel, as a backdoor way of attacking Gödel himself, which Somerby is, in fact, doing, without even having engaged with a single word of Gödel’s own work.

    Somerby apparently feels that the (human-created) field of logic has value, since he seems to feel it might help us “rubes” with our discourse. But then he proceeds to claim that most of our elite logicians aren’t and weren’t ever “all that.”

    The reader is left to wonder about this paradox in Somerby’s thinking. “Logicians” created the formal idea and system of logic, yet they aren’t really “all that.”

    And by the way, the notion that there is such a thing as “logic” would be labeled a “fiction” by Harari.

  9. “How about the logic (the semantics) of lies,...”

    Logic and semantics are two different fields. Perhaps Somerby needs to launch an attack on elite professors of semantics as well.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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