MATHEMATICIANS GONE WILD: Livio's magical mystery tour!

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2019

Things that go bump in the night:
Was man [sic] ever "the rational animal" is any essential way?

This morning, right in his opening paragraph, Paul Krugman helps answer that question. Don't let your children read this:
KRUGMAN (3/22/19): We’re now in the silly season of the Democratic primary—a season that, I worry, may last all the way to the nomination. There are many honorable exceptions, but an awful lot of reporting seems to be third order—not about the candidates, let alone their policy proposals, but about pundits’ views about voters’ views of candidates’ electability. It’s a discussion in which essentially nobody has any idea what he or she is talking about.
So it goes as the rational animals pretend to cover another White House campaign. And while we're at it, make no mistake:

Many of these "rational animals" went to "the finest schools." It doesn't much seem to have helped!

In truth, Krugman is being too kind. It's hard for us to understand how anyone can still be watching "cable news," a profit-seeking corporate enterprise which now centers, with numbing repetition, on The Chase And Nothing Else.

No one is more obsessive in this regard than Rachel Maddow. Maddow is Our Own Rhodes Scholar and a Stanford/Oxford grad. That said, she continues to center on one entertainment product—Manafort Pictured In Chains.

Public schools don't exist on this program; neither does America's struggle with health care. In fairness, though, the Green New Deal has finally been mentioned.

The plan was designed to save the world; it was released on February 7. Maddow finally mentioned it at the start of Tuesday evening's program, during the throw from Chris Hayes. This is what was said:
HAYES (3/19/19): The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW: Chris, I am super-excited about your Green New Deal town hall thing. That's awesome.

HAYES: I am too. You know what? Here's a great detail. It's in the Bronx. It's in the hospital I was born in, which is in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district.

MADDOW: That is going to be amazing. That is the last Friday in March, that's Friday, the 29th. Awesome.

HAYES: Yes, Friday next.

MADDOW: I have to find out about these things watching TV!

HAYES: That's how you get it.

MADDOW: Jeez, you know, I work down the hall. You could—

HAYES: Well, you're welcome to come if you want, although you've got to a show to do. All right.

MADDOW: Yes. Thanks. Well done! And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

We've got a lot to get to tonight. You can always tell that when my desk is piled up like this before we even gotten started talking about anything.
Maddow told us that her desk was piled up. "I I I I I I I," the analysts quickly said.

At any rate, Rachel Maddow, Our Own Rhodes Scholar, had finally mentioned the Green New Deal! As it turns out, she "has to find out about these things from watching TV!"

In fairness, Maddow probably meant that she'd just found out that Hayes would be holding a town hall program. That said, if Maddow's viewers want to find out about the environment (or about any significant part of their world), they'll have to go somewhere else, to some other TV show, perhaps to a show which originates in some Platonic realm.

What you see in that exchange with Hayes is Maddow's most extended discussion of the Green New Deal since the program was unveiled on February 7. That said, what did she quickly "get to" after speaking with Hayes? In accord with the laws of Pandering Tribal Entertainment, she quickly "got to" this:
MADDOW (continuing directly): But we're going to start tonight with something that arrived in today's news as a surprise.

About a week and a half ago, the Washington Post filed a motion with the federal court in Washington, D.C. that was handling the criminal case of the president's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort...
As always, she turned to Manafort In Chains. Why that would come as some sort of "surprise" is anybody's guess!

Despite this amazingly useless diet, the Maddow Show remains the cable program most heavily watched by us pseudo-liberals. For ourselves, we persistently marvel at the idea that anyone could still be watching this ridiculous program by choice.

In that opening paragraph, Krugman describes the fatuous way our White House campaigns typically get covered. In the case of Maddow, children being born today are going to drown in future years because corporate multimillionaire "rational animals" conduct themselves as she does.

So it goes as our theoretically brightest "rational animals" agree to destroy the earth. Elsewhere, our highest ranking intellectuals—our astrophysicists, mathematical physicists, philosophers and mathematicians—continue to stage their endless pseudo-debate about where "you can find" the number 3, about where such "mathematical objects" "reside."

Where do the numbers 3, 4 and 5 reside? According to Professor Livio, Professor Penrose believes that they resides in "the Platonic world of mathematical forms, which to Penrose has an actual reality"—an "actual reality comparable to that of the physical world."

Newton's laws "reside" there too—or so says Livio, though only while reporting what Penrose, "a renowned Oxford mathematical physicist," allegedly thinks.

In fairness, this is Livio's account of what Penrose thinks; at no point does Livio quote Penrose speaking in his own words. That said, Livio presents this peculiar set of ideas in a fully respectful way, as if the ideas he ascribes to Penrose might seem to make some sort of sense.

It isn't until page 37 that Livio tips his hand. We're going to guess that Professor Livio isn't a "devout Platonist," the term he ascribes to Penrose.

Indeed, we'll guess that Livio, like Professor Goldstein before him, isn't a Platonist at all! We say that because, on that page, he writes this:
LIVIO (page 37): Platonism has become one of the leading dogmas when it comes to the foundations of mathematics.

But does the Platonic world of mathematics really exist? And if it does, where exactly is it? And what are these "objectively true" statements that inhabit this world? Or are the mathematicians who adhere to Platonism simply simply expressing the same type of romantic belief that has been attributed to the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo? According to legend, Michelangelo believed that his magnificent sculptures already existed inside the blocks of marble and that his role was merely to uncover them.
"Where exactly is this world?" Livio skeptically asks. But uh-oh! On its face, his question doesn't exactly seem to make sense, since he has earlier said that the Platonic world of mathematical forms "exists outside space and time."

Whatever! We have to say we're inclined to count Livio among the group to whom we've affixed the moniker, "mathematicians [and others] gone wild." We say that because we've read the first two pages of his book, in which he travels to a dream state which almost certainly has Michelangelo shaking his head.

Like others in his high academic class, Livio has invented a "fairyland" (page 9) by the end of his own fourth paragraph. We'll examine what he says in two steps.

As you can see at this NPR link, Livio starts his book with an explanation of its eye-catching title:
LIVIO (page 1): A few years ago, I was giving a talk at Cornell University. One of my PowerPoint slides read: "Is God a mathematician?" As soon as that slide appeared, I heard a student in the front row gasp: "Oh God, I hope not!"

My rhetorical question was neither a philosophical attempt to define God for my audience nor a shrewd scheme to intimidate the math phobics. Rather, I was simply presenting a mystery with which some of the most original minds have struggled for centuries—the apparent omnipresence and omnipotent powers of mathematics. These are the type of characteristics one normally associates only with a deity. As the British physicist James Jeans (1877-1946) once put it: "The universe appears to have been designed by a pure mathematician." Mathematics appears to be almost too effective in describing and explaining not only the cosmos at large, but even some of the most chaotic of human enterprises.
Please note: before the professor has completed his first page, he is attributing "omnipotent powers" to mathematics—"the type of characteristics one normally associates only with a deity."

Already, Livio is flirting with a highly peculiar "romantic belief" all his own! In part, he gets there by way of a logical error—through his conflation of the terms "describing and explaining" in this particular context.

Can mathematics "describe" the cosmos at large? In many ways, yes, it can.

A few pages later, Livio describes the way Newton was able to formulate "unbelievably accurate mathematical laws of nature" based on a set of observations—observations of the moon and of a falling apple. Those "laws of nature" can be said to describe the way physical bodies act across the cosmos at large.

Newton's laws can be said to describe major parts of the way the cosmos works. But do they "explain" the way physical bodies act? Not exactly, no—and when an astrophysicist blows past this fact, he may soon be indulging himself in things that make us go hmmm:
LIVIO (continuing directly): Whether physicists are attempting to formulate theories of the universe, stock market analysts are scratching their heads to predict the next market crash, neurobiologists are constructing models of brain function, or military intelligence statisticians are trying to optimize resource allocation, they are all using mathematics. Furthermore, even though they may be applying formalisms developed in different branches of mathematics, they are still referring to the same global, coherent mathematics. What is it that gives mathematics such incredible powers? Or, as Einstein once wondered: "How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience [the emphasis is mine], fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?"

This sense of utter bewilderment is not new. Some of the philosophers in ancient Greece, Pythagoras and Plato in particular, were already in awe of the apparent ability of mathematics to shape and guide the universe, while existing, as it seemed, above the powers of humans to alter, direct, or influence it.
By paragraph 4, Livio seems to be saying that mathematics is somehow "shaping and guiding" the universe. Mathematics is no longer being used to provide a description of the way physical bodies move. It's now somehow said to be guiding the moon, and falling apples, in the way they move.

It now seems to exhibit "the type of characteristics one normally associates only with a deity."

In just four paragraphs, while still on page 2, mathematics has been turned into something resembling a god. It's no longer describing the universe. It how has the power to guide it!

This is foolish, incompetent work. It's also the product of our highest-order rational animals—and a great deal follows from that.

This is what happens when mathematicians and physicists leave their areas of expertise and head down to the corner bar for a couple of cool ones. Given the way we humans are, silly "things which make us go hmmm" are the inevitable product.

We debate where the number 3 resides; along the way, we decide that mathematics is "guiding the universe!" This is the apparently endless product of mathematicians, and humans, gone wild.

You'll note that Livio tells us, right in paragraph 1, that he'll be discussing the work of "some of the most original minds" of the past few centuries. We humans have always flattered ourselves in such ways. This helps explain how we came to think of ourselves as "rational animals" to begin with.

In the middle part of the last century, a logician tried to put a stop to this manifest foolishness. According to Professor Horwich, "professional philosophers" in the academy have chosen to throw him away.

Livio's book is a record of primitive thought—primitive thought as conducted by our highest-ranking intellectuals. The fact that nonsense like this can seem deep and wise helps explain the past thirty-five years, in which professional journalists have run wild in the way Krugman describes, with almost none of our vaunted intellectuals stepping forward to offer critiques, objections or correctives.

Our journalists clown as Krugman describes. Our foremost thinkers continue to wonder where the number 3 "can be found."

The clowning and the manifest nonsense have become increasingly general. Are we supposed to be surprised to see climate change threatening the world, to see Donald J. Trump where he is?

Coming: Horwich on Wittgenstein


  1. Clearly, the one who can prove that she hates Donald J Trump and Paul Manafort most should get the nomination.

    "It's in the hospital I was born in, which is in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district."

    Lucky bastard, he's been touched by an angel.

    "Are we supposed to be surprised to see climate change threatening the world, to see Donald J. Trump where he is?"

    The more factories get relocated from third world countries with no environmental protection back to the US, the cleaner the global environment. Thus, The World is saved, no thanks to the abovementioned clowns, including you, Bob...

  2. Livio examines the thinking of various mathematicians:

    “ are we merely discovering mathematical verities?... is mathematics nothing but a human invention?...
    As I will show abundantly in this book, even modern-day mathematicians, cognitive scientists, and philosophers don’t agree on the answers.”

    Hence, the he frames the title of his book as a question.

    This hardly seems to place him in the category of “mathematicians gone wild.”

    1. The above quotes appear on page 9 of the Google free preview of the book.

  3. “at no point does Livio quote Penrose speaking in his own words.”

    So now, Somerby decides to just flat out lie.

    On page 3 of Livio’s book, Livio quotes Penrose:

    “no doubt there are not really three worlds, but one, the true nature of which we do not even glimpse at present.”

    Don’t believe me?

    1. Maybe he meant at no point does Livio quote Penrose speaking in his own words about the world of mathematical forms being an "actual reality", a notion Livio ascribes to Penrose.

      Just because the quote you cite contradicts Livio's assertion and that is what Somerby was writing about - Livio's unattributed claim Penrose views the world of mathematical forms being an "actual reality".

      Or maybe he's just an ass.

      Or maybe ... ;)

  4. “By paragraph 4, Livio seems to be saying that mathematics is somehow "shaping and guiding" the universe. Mathematics is no longer being used to provide a description of the way physical bodies move. It's now somehow said to be guiding the moon, and falling apples, in the way they move.”

    Is Somerby really this incapable of understanding what he is reading?

    *Livio* isn’t making these assertions; he is ascribing those beliefs to Pythagoras and Plato.

    Livio is analyzing the various mathematical beliefs, including Platonism and skeptics of Platonism, throughout history.

    Unless Somerby is mentally deficient, one really has to wonder what motive he has for so badly misrepresenting a book like this.

  5. If climate change is such a crisis, agree to defund Planned Parenthood, agree to deport illegals and build a wall to make a deal for regulations related to climate.

    This will not happen which proves the leftists are engaged in another form of the unhinged hype and outrage they are known for and nothing more.

    1. This is known as giving into blackmail: "Let us hurt poor women, put children in cages, and waste money on a wall or we'll let the planet die." This is generally considered a bad idea, but we also know it won't work. Last year Democrats agreed to waste $25B on the wall if Trump would agree to permanently legalize the so-called Dreamers. He initially agreed and then reneged.

      "unhinged hype and outrage" -- remember that every rightwing accusation is a confession.

    2. Offer to pay for the wall and defund Big Abortion and see what happens. They won't because climate is just another phony outrage leftists indulge in because they're nuts. "We're going to let the planet die because we won't give in to blackmail and we refuse to let you put kids in cages like Obama did" sounds stupid although come to think of it also sounds Democrat.

    3. It saddens me to see someone as intelligent as deadrat repeating a mere slogan that the wall is a waste. This characterization is not based on any sort of honest review of the evidence pro and con. Yet, that slogan is widely believed only because it's widely repeated.

    4. We already know what happens when Democrats offer to pay for the wall in return for support for other issues: Trump reneges.

      "phony outrage", "they're nuts" -- every right wing accusation is a confession.

      By the way, Obama never put kids in cages. During the Obama administration, those few kids separated from immigrant parents were believed to be at risk. Obama never instituted a policy of separating families as a deterrent; Obama's DHS used family detention centers and supervised monitoring.

      "sounds stupid" -- Every right wing accusation is a confession.

    5. *** Public Service Announcement ***

      David in Cal is a moral and intellectual idiot. You may safely ignore anything he has to say.

      Today DAinCA has a sad over what he thinks is just a slogan. A slogan that represents the thinking of just about everybody with any sense, from John Kelly to the GAO.

      But please don't blame DAinCA for his failure to understand this. Idiots aren't capable of research and understanding.

    6. "the unhinged hype and outrage"

      Yeah, evidently.

      But let's not forget: accompanied by rabid foaming at the mouth.

    7. Another sad comment from mm. Yes, on any controversial issue, one can find someone on the side you prefer.

      BTW the GAO was not as clearly anti-wall as implied by by deadrat. "GAO argues that DHS MAY end up paying way more than anticipated, POTENTIALLY wasting billions without anything to show for it. CBP also did not follow required DHS planning and acquisition protocols."

      Also, John Kelley's complaint was about the nature of the wall, not whether there should be one. The New York Times reported, "He went on: “The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it....

      Mr. Kelly has clashed with Mr. Trump over the nature of the wall before..."

      But, setting these quibbles aside, finding two parties who disagree with the need for a wall is not a serious investigation of the wall's virtues and flaws.

    8. Number one way to minimize climate changing emissions is to stop having babies. Why the hell would you advocate for eliminating abortions?

    9. Someone give Mao a fresh towel to cry into, please.
      Thanks in advance.

    10. "This characterization is not based on any sort of honest review of the evidence pro and con."

      Umm, David, as it's been highlighted numerous times by Bob, their zombie cult is not interested in a rational discussion.

      High priests of their cult say Wall Is Sin, and that's all the 'evidence' they need.

      See here, for example:
      Pelosi calls Trump’s wall plan ‘an immorality’.

      So, now they rage and rave and get all hysterical over it.

      Incidentally, tomorrow their high priests might very well declare that Wall Is Virtue, and then zombies will turn around without skipping a beat.

      It's a zombie cult, what did you expect? It's fun to watch.

  6. I greatly enjoyed watching this last night.

    Mario Livio Public Lecture: Brilliant Blunders

    This is a brilliant yet lovely humble man. I can't imagine what TDH is going on about.

    1. Thanks for the link mm. What a charming lecturer!

    2. Yes, I had never seen him give a talk before. It was such a wonderful surprise, a truly sublime experience for me. I thank TDH for giving me the impulse to go looking.

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  8. mm, you come across as almost beatific. Heh heh. Whatever. Sure, nice guy. But if I wanted to hear a lecture on evolutionary principles, I wouldn’t look to a mathematician to describe them. I'd rather listen to a not-so-nice guy who really knows what he's talking about.



    1. I am very familiar with Dawkins and have read many of his books. Brilliant. I am a fan but you're right, not a nice guy.

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