Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please someone!

Slogging through another Marxist paper. Now I'm learning that I should be interested in "emancipatory nihilism."

Look, I don't think suicide is right. But if any of you readers would care to come by and shoot me now, I'm sure you would be forgiven.

Property Rights Absolutism: Missing a Sense of Tragedy

Elizabeth Corey reviews The Tragedy of Religious Freedom. She writes that the essence of the tragic understanding of politics "lies in recognizing fundamentally competing goods and the consequent realization that the conflict between them is permanent."

In contrast, Rothbard, Block, Hoppe, etc. attempt to achieve a "comic" theory of politics by pretending that there is only one political good: property rights. But that is a falsehood, and so their theories wind up in places that no sane person should go.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's as if Johnson Refuted Berkeley by Kicking at an Abstract Idea!

Bob Murphy "refutes" my post noting that the Cosmos writers blundered big-time in saying Newton invented the calculus in the Principia:

"So, I will give Tyson (and his writers) the benefit of the doubt on this one. From further investigations, it seems that Newton used the idea of a limit of shrinking geometric shapes, which one could plausibly say is, or is not, calculus."

I am flabbergasted. First of all, the claim on the table was, again, that Newton had invented the calculus in the Principia. Of course, he had invented it years earlier, and far from inventing it there, he didn't use it there. We can tell because there is no calculus in the Principia: what there are is the geometric ideas ("limit of shrinking geometric shapes") that were used to solve problems of derivation and integration before Newton and Leibniz invented the calculus. Of course, these ideas are the steps that led up to the calculus, and so they are quite "calculus-like." (In fact, in the more general sense of the term "calculus," "a method of calculation," they certainly are a calculus.) But these are not the ideas that Newton and Leibniz are given credit for inventing. And these geometrical ideas Newton used were not invented by him. The very fellow Bob cites to refute me writes, "On the other hand, some propositions of the Principia are framed in a geometric language which appears to be very easily translatable into calculus concepts."

"Translatable": now why would you have to translate the ideas in the Principia into calculus, I wonder? Because they are not expressed in the calculus. Of course, they are expressed in a calculus: but this is quibbling over words, as this was not what Newton invented about which it is said "Newton invented calculus."

It is as though we had the following sequence:

Tyson: Newton wrote the Principia in beautiful English.

Callahan: Oh boy: no, he wrote it in Latin.

Murphy: Ah, ah, let's give Tyson the benefit of the doubt: I found this paper that says Newton's ideas are "easily translatable" into English!

UPDATE: To clarify, Newton used techniques in the Principia, some of which may be called part of calculus, but which were not invented by him. What he (and Leibniz) had invented in the 1660s was not used in the Principia: "Newton (co-)invented calculus in the late 1660s, and he wrote Principia in the late 1680s. It would be natural to expect that Newton used the calculus in Principia. But it seems that he didn’t. Instead, Newton wrote Principia in the style of Euclid’s Elements, that is, using Classical Greek geometry."

Those techniques used are a calculus. So someone might say, "Well, Newton did use calculus in the Principia." The key point here is that he did not use the calculus that he had invented. So for Tyson to say he "invented" calculus in the Principia is absurd: what calculus he had invented was not used in the Principia. What calculus he used in the Principia he had not invented.

UPDATE II: Here is the most convincing case that Newton did not employ his new discoveries from the 1660s in the Principia:

"By the help of the new Analysis [i.e. algebraic calculus] Mr. Newton found out most of the Propositions in his Principia Philosophiae: but because the Ancients for making things certain admitted nothing into Geometry before it was demonstrated synthetically, he demonstrated the Propositions synthetically, that the System of the Heavens might be founded upon good Geometry. And this makes it now difficult for unskilful men to see the Analysis by which those Propositions were found out."

I think this is pretty decisive, because it is Newton himself explaining why he did not employ the new calculus in that work.

The timeline is roughly as follows:

In the 1660s, Newton is moving towards the development of analytical calculus. Newton seems to arrive at the fundamental theorem during this time.

In the 1670s, Leibniz begins working on calculus. He and Newton are aware of each others work at this time.

In 1684, Leibniz publishes his first display of his new techniques.

In 1687, Newton publishes the Principia. As he notes in the quote above, he did not employ his new analytical calculus in writing the book, but instead relied on a geometrical calculus.

In 1694, Newton finally begins publishing his work in analytical calculus.

Do My Scholarly Duties, or...

Perhaps I could spend the day hitting my head with a hammer?

Because I volunteered to chair a panel at an upcoming conference, and it is time to get cracking and read the five papers being presented. So I took a glance at the first of them. It is 44 pages long, and here is the last sentence:

"Solely intensively waged class struggle, intentionally aimed at achieving practical effects, stands a chance at decisively halting capitalist social reproduction."

Oh my. Forty pages of "class struggle" ahead of me. Thanks for the birthday present, f*&^ing Karl!

UPDATE: From bad to worse: it looks as though I am chairing a panel full of Marxist papers!

Bad choice in Google Translate?

I was exploring the roots of the Dutch word "verkenningen," which is fitting, since it means "exploration." It looked to me as though its parts were essentially "for" and "knowing": but was I right about this? I tried "kenning" and got "recognition." What about "ken"? And then I realized you can't check something like that easily in Google Translate. If Dutch has a word "ken" that means the same thing as the English word, then Google Translate will return "ken." But if there is no such word in Dutch, Google Translate will return... "ken," because whenever you type a word not in a language into the program, you simply get that word back in the translation.

This strikes me as an error: wouldn't it be better to do something such as put in some symbol standing for an untranslatable word? That way the user knows that, at least as far as Google is concerned, that word does not exist in the source language.

Assemble all the suspects

In countless fictional mysteries, the solution to the crime is revealed when the detective protagonist assembles all the suspects in a dining room or drawing room, reviews the whole case for them, and then names the culprit.

In the entire history of actual crime, do you think a single real investigation has ever ended in this way?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

God's playthings

"I say that a man must be serious with the serious. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God's plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games..." -- Plato, The Laws

Resisting debt

Here's the funny thing: apparently, according to this book (I admit I just read the summary), the way to "resist" debt is not to resist borrowing money, but to resist paying back the money you already borrowed.

Friday, April 18, 2014


"But in acknowledging play you acknowledge mind, for whatever else play is, it is not matter. Even in the animal world it bursts the bounds of the physically existent. From the point of view of a world wholly determined by the operation of blind forces, play would be altogether superfluous. Play only becomes possible, thinkable and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos. The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation. Animals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things." -- Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, p. 3-4

New Yorkers Crossing the Street

So a fellow who looks like he's about 90 approaches the intersection moving slightly faster than a three-toed sloth. He looks up: the walk signal changes from the blinking red hand that means "don't start crossing" to the steady red hand that means "get out of the intersection now." Across the intersection, there is a car revving its engine, ready for the light to change. What does the pedestrian do?

Of course he starts to cross the street: He's a New Yorker! I mean, if this guy just came to a complete halt at the corner, he hardly would be going any slower than he had been. Meanwhile, at the rate he's moving, the car might miss the entire green light before he is out of the crosswalk. Doesn't matter: Years of training kick in, saying that as long as you can get in front of the car and block its path without getting hit, you cross, dammit.

Playing Catchup

Here are the twelve volumes of Toynbee's A Study of History that I really ought to have finished long ago, but haven't:

And that is just one tiny shelf of one bookcase out of hundreds in what is a rather small library. Sisyphus, push on!