EXPLANATION: The Liar's Paradox and Kurt Godel!


Our discussion resumes tomorrow: Last week, a trip off-campus let us revisit a life-long favorite topic.

We revisited a favorite question. We pondered the various ways explanation can go (badly) wrong, even at the very highest academic levels.

During our trip, we revisited one of our favorite recent passages. We refer to the passage in which readers are told that, if you're driving your car on a highway, the trees along the side of the highway will "appear to be moving."

Historically, peculiar formulations of that type have led on to questions like these:

Is there such a thing as empty space?
Is there a difference between space and matter?
How many angels can dance...?

See yesterday morning's report.

As the later Wittgenstein tried to explain, with little success, such peculiar formulations have dogged the history of high-end academic philosophy. Tomorrow, we'll return to our favorite formulation of the current century—Professor Goldstein's formulation concerning "The Liar's Paradox" and its connection to the work of "the greatest logician since Aristotle."

These peculiar formulations are part of the natural history of our species. Tomorrow, we'll continue our discussion—our discussion of the way explanations can go very bad, and have always gone very bad, at the very highest levels of academic discourse.

(Were college freshmen right all along? We'll let others decide.)

We're postponing that discussion for one day due to last night's revelations concerning Donald J. Trump. Later today, we'll post the new numbers which have emerged about the number of documents taken—and we'll comment again on the branch of twentieth-century science our journalists refuse to discuss.

Explanation has always gone bad, even at the very highest levels of discourse. Borrowing from Wittgenstein, bad explanation at the highest levels is "as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing."

Wittgenstein was hopelessly jumbled too. Here on this leafy, student-free campus, we're working to straighten things out.

Later today: The number of documents taken

Tomorrow: Top paragraph of the current century

Friday: Where does the number 2 live?


  1. "...even at the very highest academic levels..."

    But, dear Bob, the very highest academic levels is, typically, precisely where the very dumbest of them can be found.

    Surely you know that, dear?

    1. Mississippi tried to gaslight global warming, like it was some common NY Times political reporter.

  2. "Explanation has always gone bad, even at the very highest levels of discourse. "

    This is a total lie.

  3. "Borrowing from Wittgenstein, bad explanation at the highest levels is "as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing."

    Wittgenstein was hopelessly jumbled too."

    Come on. If Wittgenstein was hopelessly jumbled, how can we believe his assertion that everyone else was jumbled?

    And if explanation is bad at the highest levels, what does our demonstrably working technology rest upon? Would a Tesla car run on its battery, would Kevin Drum's cancer treatment work, would any space ship have reached the moon?

    Somerby is talking gibberish in an attempt to discredit accumulated human knowledge, and failing miserably. His post today is a time waster, and he isn't even trying to make sense any more. He is melting down, just like the person this is meant to excuse and support, his orange-faced dear leader. And it isn't pretty when Somerby does it either.

    And he promises to once again count the number of classified documents, as if the sheer number of them had any relevance at all -- it doesn't. Taking even one, non-classified document in violation of law is sufficient to put Trump into legal jeopardy. The number of documents doesn't matter (as long as it is not zero). What matters is what was in those documents and what he did with them.

    Trump is in big trouble and pretending that the press is wrong because it doesn't have an accurate count of them is about as silly as anything Somerby has written here to date. It is as silly as saying that Wittgenstein was jumbled but despite that he has managed to discredit all of human knowledge, even at the highest academic levels.

    Phooey on this.

    1. Somerby wishes to argue that if Wittgenstein was jumbled and yet managed to discredit all other knowledge at the highest levels, then surely Somerby, who is as jumbled as Wittgenstein can discredit all current human knowledge.

      But really, this just shows that being jumbled has nothing to do with the reliability of human knowledge. That could be because math is the language of science, not words. It could also be because those writing are not jumbled at all, just Wittgenstein and his devotee, Somerby. And it could be that parsing language in the context-independent gotcha manner that Somerby uses has nothing to do with how people extract meaning (knowledge) from words.

      For some reason, Somerby never addresses the philosophers who subsequently addressed Wittgenstein's complaints. Yes, they do exist, but you won't hear about them here, and not from Somerby. Philosophy did not end with Wittgenstein, as Somerby claims it did.

  4. "Later today: The number of documents taken

    Tomorrow: Top paragraph of the current century

    Friday: Where does the number 2 live?"

    Don't hold your breath.

    Meanwhile, an FBI photo showing the top secret documents found in Trump's desk in his Mar a Lago office during their search, is now making the rounds on the internet.

    There is also news today that the White House requested a list of the top US spies, shortly after Trump met with Putin in Helsinki. And in other news Stephanie Grisham says that Trump would request classified documents that subsequently could not be found again. And that he traveled with highly classified documents on his trips to foreign countries, including enemy nations.

    This all adds up to a scary picture. Somerby doesn't do context or implication, and he won't (or cannot) combine isolated facts into a larger picture, but the rest of us can and this is looking scarier for our nation as new information is revealed (by authorities such as the DOJ, not conspiracy theorists).

    But Somerby wants to discuss Godel some more, even though he only repeats himself. The rest of the nation is dealing with a crisis and anticipating upcoming elections in which the party that has supported Trump is trying to claw its way back into power. We liberals (and Democrats) cannot let that happen. Sane bloggers are discussing the real world. Somerby is immersed in his fantasies about being the only guy on earth brilliant enough to recognize Wittgenstein's contribution to undermining all human knowledge.

    I can't wait until Friday when Somerby tries to convince us again that Godel was a fool, contrary to Einstein's opinion of the man.

    1. Somerby will be blaming the Mar-a- lago raid on Hunter Biden by mid-September.

  5. From The Hill:

    “Separate from a formal damage assessment, the IC [intelligence community] will also consider near-term risk mitigation measures. Do they need to undertake some sort of immediate damage control effort? For instance, if there was information in the documents that could identify a human source, do we need to pull the source? Do we need to exfiltrate them? Or do we just need to at least give them a warning so they can stand down on meeting with their handlers for a little while? Do we need to go cover our tracks?” Greer [a former CIA attorney] said.

    “And then the same thing with a surveillance platform. Do we need to consider taking it down so that an adversary can’t discover it?” he added."

    Aside from whatever exposure the documents have received, currently unknown, there is damage done to national security efforts simply by having to take these mitigation efforts. And that is on Trump and his enablers, right down to the MAGA idiots who voted for him.

    1. Those MAGA idiots (I.e.Republican voters) elected Trump because they love his bigotry. The treason against the United States of America is a bonus they’re willing to accept because the USA deserves it for enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  6. Number two resides in Bob’s rectum.

  7. Somerby is projecting his own freshman attitude onto other students with this remark, but did other college freshman even feel that way?

    "(Were college freshmen right all along? We'll let others decide.)"

    I keep wondering why Somerby persisted as a philosophy major when he plainly didn't consider the field worth studying?

    I worked for many years as a professor at a state university serving students from non-traditional backgrounds (immigrant, working class, first in their family to attend college). I find it offensive that a privileged student such as Somerby would throw away what is so important to more disadvantaged students. The students where I taught were very happy to be there (even though it wasn't Harvard), worked hard and took their classes seriously, and had goals and aspirations. In contrast, Somerby comes across as a huge asshole slipping along on his mother's largesse while seeking the path of least resistance through life, avoiding the hard work that might have made him successful.

    Now he is trying to tell us that other freshmen felt the same way -- they mostly don't. He wants to blame Harvard for his own failures, using Wittgenstein as his beard. To me, that proves he is still a jerk, and that is sad at a point in life where most people are taking stock of their years on earth, comparing what they did to their early goals and assessing what is left to be done. What does Somerby have to show for his time on this planet and what does this blog contribute to his sense of accomplishment? Not much, I would wager.

    Statistics is hard, Somerby says. Life is hard too. Not every gets the leg up that Somerby got and now disparages. A smarter, better man would be donating to his alma mater and helping along future generations. Somerby is trying to tear down the one instituton that has represented upward mobility in our society -- education. Because those beautiful black kids didn't admire his classroom schtick sufficiently to increase their NAEP scores? Or maybe because Somerby has become a true Baltimore bigot and a crotchety Trump supporter in his twilight years, because it is more fun than fighting for democracy and defending truth.