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Showing posts from October, 2014

The weirdness of academic writing

"The changes in the nature of Chinese government after 1978 where at least as great as those that took place in economic policy. Indeed, one could argue that the massive shift from a centrally planned economy to a more open and marketized one could not have occurred without corresponding changes in the nature of government." -- Fukuyama, p. 371

"One could argue"? Well, is one arguing? And who would that "one" be?

Why not just write, "I argue that"?

Fukuyama on the contemporary Chinese state

"I would argue that the state that has emerged in China since the beginning of reforms in 1978 bears more resemblance to this classical Chinese state than it does to the Maoist state that preceded it, or even to the Soviet state that the Chinese tried to copy. Contemporary China has been engaged in the recovery of a long-standing historical tradition, whether or not participants in that process were aware of what they were doing." -- p. 371

We should go easy on Mises

"Da molti italiani il fascismo fu considerato un male che era necessario accettare. La mancanza di libertà sembrò un prezzo che era giusto pagare per avere un'Italia ordinata, senza scioperi né agitazioni popolari, senza minacce di rivoluzione." -- Il racconto dello storico

"For many Italians fascism was considered a bad that was necessary to accept. The loss of liberty seemed a just price to pay to have an orderly Italy, without strikes and popular unrest, without the threat of revolution."

I hope I live long enough to see the ancap revolution

I want to be around to console my ancap friends when all the angry young kids on the Internet are posting slogans like:

"Defense agency fees are theft!"

"A defense agency is nothing but a criminal gang that has duped people into thinking it is legitimate!"

"The network of ancap defense agencies is a massive conspiracy to extort money from people!"



McCarthy on Burnham

You should really read this great piece by Dan McCarthy on James Burnham. Machiavelli was a realist, and of course was despised for being one.

But the most interesting thing to me was the influence of Vilfredo Pareto on Burnham. Pareto pointed out that every society that has ever existed has had an elite. But when a rising elite is struggling for power with an existing elite, it will often use anti-elitist language to inspire its followers, since "Give us power" is a slogan unlikely to attract many supporters.

Contemporary libertarians might ask themselves, "Is there a rising elite class who is using our idealism and energy in an attempt to gain power?" (Ahem, ahem, Koch Brothers, Peter Thiel.)

Literal deer in the headlights are no longer like figurative deer in the headlights

When I first started encountering deer on the road, 30 years or so ago, real deer acted like figurative deer in the headlights. But they have adapted to cars remarkably quickly. Now I see them calmly standing on the side of the road, waiting for my car to pass, after which they casually trot across the road.



"Overdetermined": A strange concept

"Latin American institutions are overdetermined: that is, there authoritarian and illiberal character has multiple sources and does not simply lie in the material conditions found by the colonialists." -- Fukuyama, p. 242

Outside of the world of controlled laboratory experiments, doesn't almost everything that happens in the world have "multiple sources"? Collingwood notes this in a discussion of causation: we can say "the high winds caused the tree to topple," but so did its weak roots. And the weak roots were caused by the poor soil in the area. And the poor soil was caused by overfarming in past centuries. And the overfarming was caused by…



Not getting the "web" idea

Looking at a job site today, I found:

"To search positions, click the Search Postingslink on the navigation bar."

Um, why not allow users to click "Search Postings" in that very sentence?

Don't you realize, that is handled in the literature?

On pointing out some logical flaw in libertarianism, a typical response is "Aren't you even aware that has already been handled in the literature?"

Of course, if it is a logical flaw, you already know it cannot be "handled" by writing more about it. So naturally these "handlings" are always patches. But they do serve the purpose of keeping any critic foolish enough to try to address every one of them busy forever. I will show you two examples of how logical problems in libertarianism are "handled," and henceforth stop posting comments like this.

1) I point out that the ancap notion that "the market should decide the law" is viciously circular, since we first need law to determine who owns what before they can enter the market. I am told, "Criminy, don't you know that is handled in the literature!" And I am pointed to this passage:

"A sophisticated critic may charge that my proposal rests upon a circular argumen…

The modern individual is different

"In agrarian societies, a person's important life choices -- where to live, what to do for a living, what religion to practice, whom to marry -- were mostly determined by the surrounding tribe, village, or caste. Individuals consequently did not spend a lot of time sitting around asking themselves, 'Who am I, really?'" -- Fukuyama, p. 187

Fukuyama would have been a bit more accurate here to say that these things were not a matter of choice, rather than calling them "important life choices." But the main point is sound: it was not until the last couple of centuries that millions and millions of human beings puzzled over the above choices, wondering who they should be.

With no final arbiter, disputes easily escalate to violence

Bob Murphy is incredulous: Don't I realize that making an activity illegal tends to produce violence in those conducting that activity?

Yes, I do realize that, but the question is "Why does it do so?"

Let us look at some history to answer this question. The earliest form of human social organization was the band. No, not like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but a small group of closely related people, numbering perhaps a few dozen, who live, hunt, and forage together. Inside the band, the incidence of violence was low. When there was a dispute, the disputants brought their case to the band's elder(s). But violence between bands was widespread. Why? Here I forward a hypothesis: in a case of conflict between two different bands, there is no arbiter to whom they can bring their dispute for resolution, and so they fight it out.

As human population density grew higher, and this interband violence grew more frequent, a solution was devised: A number of bands in close geog…

The weak state and the rise of the Mafia

"Diego Gambetta, however, presents an elegant economic theory of the Mafia's origins: mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform this basic service." -- Fukuyama, p. 114

In fact, according to what I have read, state law enforcement was almost entirely absent in Sicily when it was ruled by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century. (One of the "Two Sicilies" was the mezzogiorno.)

As Gambetta writes:

"In all likelihood, by the time Italy was unified in 1860-61 the foundations of this peculiar industry were already firmly in place. Not only did the state have to fight to establish itself and its law as the legitimate authority and a credible guarantor in a region where no such authority had previously existed."

So, in Sicily before the creation of the Italian state, there was effectively no state at all. The Mafia filled this vacuum.

This hi…

The most basic form of redistribution

"The most basic form of redistribution that a state engages in is equal application of the law. The rich and powerful always have ways of looking after themselves, and if left to their own devices will always get their way over nonelites. It is only the state, with its judicial and enforcement power, that can make elites conform to the same rules that everyone else is required to follow." -- Fukuyama, p. 56

Of course, the state often fails to perform its duty in this regard. That is a good argument for reforming it. It is no more an argument for eliminating it than is the fact that most new businesses fail an argument for eliminating entrepreneurship.



The cancer of American politics

"For example, Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010 turned into something of a monstrosity during the legislative process as a result of all the concessions inside payments that had to be made to interest groups, including doctors, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry. The bill itself ran to 900 pages…" -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 480

Yes, indeed: the good done by the ACA could have been done with a 10-page bill subsidizing insurance coverage for everyone making under some amount per year. That means there are 890 pages of bad in there.

The rule of law and religion

"The rule of law, understood as rules that are binding even on the most politically powerful actors in a given society, has its origins in religion. It is only religious authority that was capable of creating rules that warriors needed to respect." -- Fukuyama, p. 11

It is interesting, in view of the massive amount of historical evidence showing the positive role that religion has played in ordering social life, how little heed the New Atheists pay to this data. Honest scholars who are nonbelievers, such as Fukuyama, Eco, or Hayek, have not had this blind spot.

La Bocca: Your all Francis Fukuyama all the time blog!

Well, at least for the next two weeks, as I frantically try to read his new 600 page book and write a review of it before November 11. As usual, I will be placing interesting quotes from and occasional remarks about the book here, in the process of collecting material for the review.

Here is one for my ancap friends: "The reason that [Africa] is so much poorer in terms of income, health, education and the like than booming regions like East Asia can be traced directly to its lack of strong government institutions." -- Political Order and Political Decay, p. 4

It suggests a new slogan for them: "Embrace anarcho-capitalism, and we, too, can be as poor as Africans!"


Well, let me introduce you to some of my friends, Francis…

"Hence even the most committed free-market economist would readily admit that governments have a role in providing pure public goods." -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 55

Well, Rothbard/Hoppe/Block says that would not be permitted!

One very curious ancap habit is to declare what would actually transpire in ancapistan by looking in some book by an ancap writer. So, for instance, when asked "Would there be IP rights in ancapistan?" they look in Block's work and answer, "Well, Walter Block says 'no,' so, no."

But Walter Block will not be the king of ancapistan, so how he thinks ancapistan ought to work is almost completely irrelevant as to how it will work. To answer that question, we should look to the interests of those with the most money to pay defense agencies to get the rules that they want. And once we do that, we can see that almost certainly ancapistan will have stronger IP rights than we do at present: the large corporations that own those rights today can pay a hell of a lot more to have them enforced and enforced more strongly than they are today, than Stephan Kinsella and his coalition of 50 anti-IP activists can pay to have them done away with.

Incentives matter, but acco…

If it's not your body it's not your decision

I saw a bumpersticker declaring this on a car in a parking lot today. Presumably, this bumper sticker was meant to make an argument in favor of abortion rights. But it is a very shallow argument: all anti-abortion folks have to do to refute it is to note that the fetus's body is not the mother's body.

I don' for a moment pretend this post has definitively resolved this issue: I am merely noting a very bad argument for abortion rights.

In ancapistan, if you have no property, you have no rights

Ancaps often declare, "All rights are property rights."

I was thinking about this the other day, in the context of running into libertarians online who insisted that libertarianism supports "the freedom of movement," and realized that this principle actually entails that people without property have no rights at all, let alone any right to "freedom of movement."

Of course, immediately, any ancap readers still left here are going to say, "Wait a second! Everyone owns his own body! And so everyone at least has the right to not have his body interfered with." Well, that is true... except that in ancapistan, one has no right to any place to put that body, except if one owns property, or has the permission of at least one property owner to place that body on her land. So, if one is landless and penniless, one had sure better hope that there are kindly disposed property owners aligned in a corridor from wherever one happens to be to wherever the near…

The computer does not give partial credit

I am working with a student on a programming project at present. I can see that he needs to make a fundamental shift in his mentality in terms of working on a project like this, as opposed to the sort of things he's used to doing in school. He is a smart guy, but he is used to thinking things through part way, and getting close to the idea, and having professors tell him "not bad."

But the computer never tells you "not bad." You either got the code right, and it does what you wanted it to, or you got it wrong. Something very close to the right code can often produce results wildly off from the right results. The computer does not give partial credit.

Wouldn't it be ironic…

if in some future, garbled version of the history of our time, historians described it as follows:

"Around the year 2000, humanity faced a crisis: a new ice age, more terrible than those before, was about to put the world in a deep freeze. Luckily, the far-sighted people of that era had foreseen this looming disaster, and, in a valiant effort to avert it, frantically burned fossil fuels at an incredible rate in order to keep temperatures higher than they would have been otherwise. Thanks to their valiant efforts, humanity narrowly pulled through the frozen centuries that followed."



The genius of Thomas Schelling

I am rereading Micromotives and Macrobehavior, as I am supervising the senior thesis of a student who is writing agent-based models drawn from this book. I must say, if there is a superior analysis of what models are and what they are good for, I do not know of it.

The red tribe and the blue tribe

Scott Alexander has a great piece on tolerance and the red and blue tribes.

Among other things, it explains what Noah Smith meant when he said that "white" people move out into the country so they can be around only other "white" people. At the time, I had remarked that there were plenty of non-white people at my local redneck bar the very night that I read his post. But as Alexander points out, "white" is used as a code word by the blue tribe for members of the red tribe. So Smith was, in a sense, correct: The blacks and Hispanics who hang out at that bar drive pick up trucks, own guns, go hunting, and watch NASCAR races. This makes them members of the red tribe, and thus "white" in this classification scheme. And right as I was reading Alexander's piece, I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant with a black couple two tables away. The guy was chatting with the (white) people at the next table, and saying, pointing at the TV, "How great i…

The persistence of false ideas

This is been a running theme of this blog, but sometimes, readers might suspect that I have been biased in my accounts here: perhaps Gene notes the falsity of the typical view of the Middle Ages simply because he is sympathetic to religion, or contends that the typical understanding of Berkeley is false because he is sympathetic to idealism.

But tonight I offer a case in which I cannot see that the persistent falsehood has any religious, ideological, or social implications, and yet it just goes on and on: The idea that Einstein's formula E=mc2 explains the power of atomic and nuclear weapons. Here is a good version of the true story. The true story has been pointed out again and again, yet the falsehood just keeps circulating: tonight I read it in a recently published Italian history book. Once a falsehood becomes popular, it is seemingly almost impossible to eradicate it from the world of thought.



Does Siri have a political bias?

Just now, every time I tried to dictate the word "repellent," Siri instead put in "Republican."

Hmm, doesn't Apple contribute a lot to Democratic candidates? Very suspicious, I think.




The Tibetan idealists are largely in agreement with the British idealists

"For instance, when reading the words on this page, we automatically tend to think that they exist independently from their own side. We do not take into consideration their relationship to ourselves, the factor of our consciousness, or our manner of perceiving them. Holding on to the concept of independent existence, we continue to read without awareness of the interdependence of things. This applies to all phenomena we perceive. However, this appearance of all external objects and of our own person as being independent entities is merely superficial and does not withstand analysis." -- Geshe Rabten and Geshe Dhargyey, Advice from a Spiritual Friend, pp. 41-42

Take that, Ken B.

"'Pilgrimage' implies piety and reverence. I have not had occasion here to mention my impatience with traditional piety, and my disdain for reverence where the object is supernatural... It is not because I wish to limit or circumscribe; not because I want to reduce or downgrade the true reverence with which we are moved to celebrate the universe, once we understand it properly... My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the grandeur of the real world." -- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, pp. 613-614

So, the "real world," not any theory about the real world, is, for Dawkins, the object of a "pilgrimage," worthy of "piety" and "reverence," and praised for its "grandeur." But I predict this attitude would immediately disappear if someone notes how grand this indicates its source must be: "What?! Can't you see how wasteful evolution is?! Red in tooth an…

Murphy To Sing Karaoke, Help Fulfill My Plan for World Domination

Several commenters went nuts when Bob posted about not being able to thwart God's plans, declaring that his viewpoint denied free will. But consider:

I know Bob will be at a conference Friday evening. I know that after conferences, Bob goes to sing Karaoke.

Does my knowing this interfere with Bob freely choosing to sing Karaoke? Of course, I only know it is highly likely that Bob will go sing, but if my knowledge improved more and more (by monitoring his movements, perhaps measuring his vital signs, etc.), would this make Bob less and less free?

Given that Bob will sing karaoke Friday night, I can now incorporate that fact into my plan for world domination.

Does the fact that Bob's action helps fulfill my plan mean he does not have free will?

Real People Are Just an Economic and Age Demographic!

Marketing firms often buy ads by treating people as abstractions that are characterized only by an age and an income figure. These abstractions apparently work very well for these firms.

Keshav, can you show me that it is impossible that people actually are just these two numbers, and the "apparent" people we see around us are only an appearance caused by those numbers?

Why Peter Singer is wrong

"What is inherently impossible is not morally binding. This means that when scarce goods are involved, loving your neighbor as yourself cannot always mean loving your neighbor equally with yourself. 'Since you cannot do good to all,' wrote Augustine, 'you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.'" -- John D. Mueller, Redeeming Economics, p. 37

And note the interesting similarity of Augustine's phrasing with Hayek's!

Actually, my sister is a total dog

Imagine some guy describing how beautiful his sister is... Until he notices some fellow whom he does not want interested in his sister listening in. Suddenly the description changes completely: now she is just hideous.

We see something similar from the new atheists talking about evolution, don't we? It is a beautiful process, one that should fill us with mystery and awe, that contains all the wonder one should ever need out of life.

Unless one says, "Yes, and that is just the sort of marvelous process by which God brought about human beings." Then suddenly, evolution is described as mindless, and wasteful, and ugly, and obvious disproof of the existence of a supreme being.

The Grey Lady Grows Senile

I flipped through the week in review section of the New York Times while attending to some other, serious business in the bathroom. Thomas Friedman was comparing ISIS to kudzu. The metaphor may be mildly enlightening, but Friedmans attempts to draw policy conclusions from it just seemed silly. Nicholas Kristof, who appears to be pretty darned white, is complaining about how "White people don't get it." Maureen Dowd is writing something about some female comic book character. In short, the usual middlebrow tedium.

And then I found this, a piece questioning whether humans are actually conscious! This was a dive from middlebrow tedium into the utter depths of stupidity! And you know how utter stupidity is the La Brea Tar Pit of Callahan, so let's wade in! The piece begins:

"OF the three most fundamental scientific questions about the human condition, two have been answered."

What Graziano is actually going to ask are three philosophical questions, but he doe…

Bakewell on idealism and realism

"In so far as realism is merely a protest against subjectivism we can all be realists. If it means to affirm the existence of independent reals outside the realm of experience, and therefore wholly independent of consciousness, it is the old hypothetical realism whose absurdities have so often been shown up in the history of philosophy...

"No criticism of idealism has any value which starts out with the assumption that we have, to begin with, two separate orders, called mental phenomena and physical phenomena, or a ' world without ' and a ' world within' and then proceeds to put ideas into the class mental phenomena, the so-called world within, and then to rule idealism out because it has taken the half of reality for the whole. It has no value because it simply begs the question at issue; for idealism is one continued protest against the finality of any such divisions of realities. If one could make any such division of experience into two mutua…

The skeleton key

Why is every single scene involving a computer on a television show or a movie mind-bogglingly dumb?

Blacklist, a decent program, has an episode where the NSA is developing a "skeleton key": it can instantly hack into any computer system. That idea is just as silly as that of a single physical key that can open every lock.

Even worse, the skeleton key itself, which looks like an iPad, actually has commands built-in for every device you can hack into. So, for instance, when someone uses it to take control of a DC metro train, it actually has "open door" and "close door" commands available, as well as a "hazardous speed" warning! So we cannot only get you into any device, it apparently also contains some sort of universal menu reader.

But even, even worse: the criminal who steals the skeleton key is named "Ivan." He left his digital signature at the crime scene, and here is the thing: it took him 32 bytes to spell his four-character name…

The modern individual

Someone was telling me about a powerful woman they admired whom they heard speaking. This woman said she had decided to sacrifice time on her career because she realized, approaching 40, "That if I don't have more kids I will be unhappy."

This was offered as an example of a refreshingly different attitude, but it is really the same attitude as that of someone who chooses career over kids, just with a different bundle of consumption goods being picked out. In both cases, the person is asking "Will picking this bundle of goods make me happy?" One can pick either the new Mercedes or the new baby, and the question one asks oneself is, "Which consumption good would I rather have?"

What makes these attitudes essentially the same is the question that neither those who choose career or those who choose kids even think of asking: "What should I be doing?"

Olive Garden is grotesque

Who is tempted to eat multiple bowls of really bad pasta simply because you can pig out for only $9.99? Why wouldn't someone go instead to a local restaurant where they can get one bowl of nice pasta for $9.99, and not be motivated to ridiculously overeat?

Personal causation

Suppose someone asks me, "Why are all your paintings in the corner of the living room?"

If I respond, "I put them there because I am intending to paint the walls," few people would think that I am claiming to have done something magical that violated the laws of physics. Rather, the laws of physics were an integral part of my being able to do what I did: if physical objects did not reliably follow such laws, I would have no idea how to act in regards to them in achieving my goals.

But when someone says something like, "It is a blessing that I recovered from my illness: God must've been looking after me," many people do assume that there is an assertion of some violation of natural law involved. This is a very strange double standard. (I take the point I am making here to be much the same one Bob Murphy has made a number of times in his posts concerning miracles.)

Physics: A partial and incomplete representation of reality

"The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality."-- Physicist George Ellis

Should this be the official song of the US Census Bureau ?

(With my amended lyrics below the video, of course.)



You fill out my census
Do you live in a forest?
Where were you in springtime?
Can you tell me your race?
Do you live in the desert?
Do you live near the ocean?
You fill out my census
Come fill it again

Come let me know you
Who gave your life to you?
What have you done after?
Do you own many arms?
Tell me who lives beside you?
Who always lives with you?
Come let me know you
Let me count you again

What is my opinion of Herbert Spencer?

If someone asks me that question, I will tell them, "I have none."

I have read a number of other people writing about Spencer's work. I have read both condemnations of him as a crude social Darwinist, and defenses of him saying that the first opinion is all wet. But I have read almost nothing of what he wrote myself. And thus, I suspend judgment, until such time as I might get to read him myself.

I cite Spencer only as an example here, in particular, since I am presently reviewing a book that condemns him along the lines of the first evaluation mentioned above. But the author of the book in question has no such scruples: he summarizes hundreds of thinkers in the work (a history of liberalism), and tosses out quite definite opinions as to whether they are good, bad, or ugly. As I often do when first opening up such a book, I looked to see what he wrote about thinkers with whom I am very familiar. I found he had sections devoted to Oakeshott and Hayek, and read through them.…

Perceptual illusions

Bob Murphy brings up an interesting point about this post:

What if someone says, "Hang on Callahan, did you just 'prove' that illusions don't exist, period? I mean, if I can't trust my eyes in the desert when I think I see water, how can I trust me eyes when I read in a book that it talks about 'mirages'?"

My post certainly did not mean to imply that perceptual illusions never occur. But this does not negate my general point, because consider how we decide that something is a perceptual illusion: Let us say we think we see an oasis in the desert ahead of us. Then we walk closer to what we thought we saw, and find only an empty stretch of sand. We walk back to where we were before, and again see the oasis. We again walk forward, and see only sand. If we are still unsure about our perception, we ask someone else: "What do you see here?" It is only based upon other, better perceptual evidence that I decide that some of my perceptual evidence has …

The world of physics cannot condemn the world of everyday experience as illusory without so condemning itself

Every one of us must of heard someone contend that the world of our everyday experience is an "illusion," or something similar, and that physics proves this is so.

Here is a typical example: "Quantum physics tells us that reality is far beyond human perception and intuition. In other words, our rational mind and common sense are just not capable of understanding the true nature of reality."

Or here: "The world around us is real, yes, but it is not what we perceive it to be."

There is plenty more of this around. The problem with it is that the very same manuever that condemns the world of everyday experience as illusory completely undermines physics itself, and so the very basis for this argument. Why? Because every single finding of physics ultimately rests upon someone's perception of everyday reality. No matter how sophisticated are the instruments we (think! aren't the instruments part of this "illusion" as well?) we have devised, ult…

Names Are Conventional

It is strange how often people are confused on this point. Let us start out with a couple of examples that are not likely to generate too much heat, in order to fully understand the point being made.

Example 1: Is Pluto a planet?

Pluto itself simply is what it is, and does what it does, regardless of what we call it. The question "Is Pluto really a planet?" is confused: The real question is, "Is our classification system more helpful to us if we classify Pluto as a planet, or if we do not?"

Astronomers recently decided that the right answer is: "Not." Given I am not an astronomer, I trust them, and suspect they made the right decision. But the question is completely different from one such as, "Does Pluto have an iron core?" or "What is the period of Pluto's orbit of the sun?" The latter two questions are about Pluto; the former question is about how we want to structure our language to make it the most useful to us.

Example 2: Is o…

What is real?

What is less complete, more partial, is less real than what is more complete, less partial.

Illustration: We say that the story of World War II given in a chapter of an elementary school textbook is "less realistic" than that offered in the multivolume work of a master historian.

The textbook version leaves out very many important details offered in the master historian's account.

Illustration: A boy is scared by a stuffed tiger in a museum. His parents tell him, "Wait until you see a real tiger!"

The stuffed tiger is less real because it is missing things that a living tiger has, in particular, whatever it is that gives living creatures their life.

Illustration: We say a blueprint of a house is "less realistic" then a scaled down model of the house. The blueprint has fewer characteristics of the real house than does the model: It is merely lines, while the model has walls, windows, a roof, doors, etc.

Illustration: I know Bill only from online chats. His f…

Keshav's Extreme Idealism

Keshav suggests a world view where "the things outside the mind are describable purely by numbers, and through some magical process, certain sets of numbers trigger certain experiences in the mind." 

Notice, first of all, the things "describable purely by numbers" must be numbers. Anything that is not simply a number would need a number plus a statement of whatever it is beyond a number to describe it. So in this view, somehow the numbers outside our brain interact with the numbers that make up our brain and make us see, hear, feel, etc. a world full of sights, sounds, textures, and so on.

But numbers themselves are, after all, ideas, and so are the mathematical formulas with which physicists make systems of these numbers. So this view claims that a world of mathematical ideas causes us to hallucinate a world of "physical objects" that really have very little to do with reality. Now this view, to me, really is guilty of all the things Berkeley's view…

What do I mean by the modern individual?

Since this topic has generated some puzzlement, let me expand upon it.

First of all, consider the Middle Ages: Of course, people then still acted, and still made choices. But what sort of choices? If one was a peasant, one did not even really contemplate being something other than a peasant. (This began to change with the reemergence of cities, which is part of the transition to the modern era.) If my father was a peasant, I was going to be a peasant as well. I was going to do subsistence farming, and turn a certain portion of my crop over to the Lord of the Manor. I was going to marry another peasant, and we would have as many kids as we were able to. I would be a Catholic, I would observe all the usual holidays, and the goods I had would be those goods that other peasants had as well. The choices I did make would be along the lines of, "Should I flavor tonight's dinner with an onion, or with some garlic?"

Although if I were born into the nobility, although my choices …

Kant on Berkeley

Here are three quotes from Berkeley's Dialogues:

"Let me be represented as one who trusts his senses, who thinks he knows the things he sees and feels, and entertains no doubts of their existence…"

"I do therefore assert that I am a certain as of my own being that there are bodies or corporeal substances..."

"I might as well doubt of my own being as of the being of those things I actually see and feel."

And what does Kant have to say about a thinker who repeatedly asserts things like the above?

"The dictum of all genuine idealists, from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in the formula: 'All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion...'"(Prolegemona to Any Future Metaphysics, 2001: 107, emphasis mine).

"experience, according to Berkeley, can have no criteria of truth because its appearances (according to him) have nothing a priori at their foundation, whence it follows that exp…

Berkeley was a defender of common sense

"Moreover, the Dialogues are filled with passages in which Berkeley, through Philonous, makes reference to the view of common folk, which Berkeley accepts, that the things they see, feel, and otherwise perceive are real objects, that is, physical objects." -- George S. Pappas, "Berkeley and common sense", from Berkeley: Critical and interpretive essays, p. 9

Hey libertarians: The individual you oppose to the state was a creation of the state

"In primitive societies the person does not exist, or exists only potentially, or, as we might say, in spe. The person is the product of the State." -- David George Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, p. 29

Many other thinkers have pointed this out: The rise of the modern individual and the rise of the modern state were mutually supporting processes that each depended upon each other.

Charles V

I happened to be looking at a map right now showing the territories of Charles V. It is somewhat mind-boggling how extensive they were. By the end of his reign, in 1556, his territories included most or all of present-day:
Spain
Germany
Italy
Austria
Belgium
The Netherlands
The Czech Republic
Poland
Slovenia
Croatia
Mexico
Florida
Cuba
The Dominican Republic
Haiti
Jamaica
Puerto Rico
Mexico
Guatemala
Honduras
Belize
El Salvador
Coasta Rica
Panama
Venezuela
Columbia
Peru
Bolivia
Ecuador
Chile

That's a whole lot of territory!


Siri is jealous

In writing a comment a few minutes ago, I repeatedly tried to get Siri to recognize the word "neural." Not only did she not get it correct, she simply ignore the fact that I was saying anything at all, and inserted nothing whatsoever into the comment. This happened even when I said the word completely on its own, with no surrounding phonemes.

I think she is upset because she knows that she has no neurons. (I also could not get her to type the word "neurons" correctly.)

The drunken body politic

"we are delighted to learn from Mr. Spencer that the Houses of Parliament... Resemble the cerebral masses in a vertebrate animal... Apparently the social organism in Mr. Spencer's ideal state, where government is no longer needed, ought to resemble an animal drunk or asleep, with the brain doing as little as possible." -- David George Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, pp. 20-21