Philosophy

As indicated by words on blogs: red is high neurotic, blue is low.  Highly speculative of course:

personality

How beautiful is mathematics?

by on February 14, 2014 at 2:22 am in Philosophy, Science, The Arts | Permalink

From James Gallagher of the BBC:

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London.

The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths.

The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The likes of Euler’s identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate.

Euler’s Identity is a particular favorite of mine, and indeed:

The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

…To the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler’s identity, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians.

Oh, and this:

In the study, mathematicians rated Srinivasa Ramanujan’s infinite series and Riemann’s functional equation as the ugliest of the formulae.

For the pointer I thank Joanna Syrda.

On the topic of Swiss immigration restrictions, Bryan Caplan has an interesting (but I think quite wrong) recent post about the recent immigration vote in Switzerland.  He writes:

The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration.  If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism.  Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism.

In other words, we should keep on letting more people in until nativist bias dwindles away into the dustbin of history.  I say backlash will set in first, as  I have never met a truly cosmopolitan Volk, the cosmopolitanites least of all.  I would say Bryan has the moral high ground but not a practicable proposal.  Nonetheless we can and should favor less nativism and more immigration at the margin.

Steve Sailer of course is far more skeptical about immigration and he serves up — repeatedly I might add — general strictures in favor of a particularist approach to policy and to immigration in particular.  Try this bit from his discussion of Switzerland:

The Swiss, in contrast, put much value on what I call Citizenism. A Swiss Italian is expected to value the welfare of his fellow Swiss citizens more highly than his fellow Italian co-ethnics. And they do.

He expresses related ideas in other posts as well.

My perspective is a synthetic one.  Citizenries will in fact always be Citizenist (surprise) and to some extent this is needed to encourage the production of public goods.  Caplanian proposals to make citizens otherwise are doomed to fail and probably also to backfire in destructive ways.

Now enter the intellectuals, whom I call The False Cosmopolitanites.  The intellectuals, for all of their failings, nonetheless see many of the defects and costs of Citizenism as we find it in the world.  The intellectuals therefore should push for marginal moves toward a stronger cosmopolitanism, even though in a deconstructionist sense their inflated sense of superiority and smugness, while doing so, is its own form of non-cosmopolitanism.  Sailer’s failing is to think or imply that the costs of The False Cosmopolitanites are higher, or more worthy of scorn, than the costs of Citizenism, and also the costs of other particularist doctrines, some of which are less savory than Citizenism by some degree.  The comparison of where the major injustices are generated is not even close.

Both the Caplan memes and the Sailer memes can generate an unending supply of entertaining and indeed edifying blog posts.  Caplan can point to the fallacies of the Citizenists, which are numerous, extreme, and which create high humanitarian costs, including through war and unnecessary immigration restrictions.  Sailer can skewer The False Cosmopolitanites, who serve up a highly elastic and never-ending supply of objectionable, fact-denying, self-righteous nonsense.  Blog post by blog post, either approach will appear to “work” in its own terms.  And blog post by blog post, either approach will be susceptible to attack by outsiders who insist on the opposing perspective.

It is only the synthetic and marginalist cosmopolitan approach which sees its way through this thicket.

Embedded in all of this, Caplan is more particularistic than he lets on, embodying and glorifying a form of upper-middle class U.S. suburban culture of which I am personally quite fond.  Sailer is de facto less on his actual professed side than his own writings will admit, and in fact a group of ardent Citizenists, if they were informed enough to apply their doctrines consistently, might cut him down some notches as a non-conformist and smart aleck who plays at the status games of The False Cosmopolitanites.  Sailer insists on relativizing and deconstructing The False Cosmopolitanites, which is fine by me, but at the same time he overestimates their power and influence and thus he falsely imagines a need to take up common cause with the Citizenists, a group it seems he enjoys more from a distance.

You will find related ideas in my book Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Cultures.  And here are by the way are my previous posts on horse nationalism.

Gabriel Axel, RIP

by on February 13, 2014 at 12:34 am in Film, Food and Drink, Philosophy | Permalink

He was the director of Babette’s Feast and he just passed away at age 95.  What stuck with me most from that movie, and what is one of my favorite sentences ever, Axel himself cited upon receiving an Oscar:

Mr. Axel was a week shy of his 70th birthday when he took the podium in Los Angeles in April 1988 to accept the award. After saying his thank-yous, he quoted a line from his film: “Because of this evening, I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.”

The obituary is here.

Equilibrium vs. disequilibrium?

by on February 11, 2014 at 7:28 am in Economics, Philosophy | Permalink

Adolfo Laurenti writes on Facebook:

Reminiscences from Tyler Cowen‘s macroeconomics class: “there are three ways to think about market equilibrium: (i) markets are always in equilibrium, (ii) markets are sometimes in equilibrium, and (iii) markets are never in equilibrium. And (i) and (iii) are much closer and alike than (i) and (ii) or (iii) and (ii).” Is this Tyler’s oral tradition only? I do not know if he put this down in writing anywhere. Anyone with a reference?

I meant that as a Quinean point of course.

BC: Every economist who gives policy advise is implicitly relying on philosophy. Unfortunately, most economists want to rely on philosophy without really reflecting on it, so they’re usually just crude utilitarians (with a heavy bias toward the status quo and democratic fundamentalism).

And:

Question: With the drought in Southern California is it possible the state is over populated? Meaning we have to halt immigration into the south west?

BC: No. Just raise the price of water!

There is more here.

From the excellent Jonathan Haidt:

…I took the full text of the three most important New Atheist books—Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and I ran the files through a widely used text analysis program that counts words that have been shown to indicate certainty, including “always,” “never,” “certainly,” “every,” and “undeniable.” To provide a close standard of comparison, I also analyzed three recent books by other scientists who write about religion but are not considered New Atheists: Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct, Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods, and my own book The Righteous Mind(More details about the analysis can be found here.) 

To provide an additional standard of comparison, I also analyzed books by three right wing radio and television stars whose reasoning style is not generally regarded as scientific. I analyzed Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil, and Anne Coulter’s Treason. (I chose the book for each author that had received the most comments on Amazon.) As you can see in the graph, the New Atheists win the “certainty” competition. Of the 75,000 words in The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty. (I also analyzed The Moral Landscape—it came out at 2.34%.)

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Eric Auld.

He has a new published paper, in Analyse & Kritik, entitled “Thoughts on Arrangements of Property Rights in Productive Assets,” here is the abstract:

State ownership, worker ownership, and household ownership are the three main forms in which productive assets (firms) can be held.  I argue that worker ownership is not wise in economies with high capital-labor rations, for it forces the worker to concentrate all her assets in one firm.  I review the coupon economy that I proposed in 1994, and express reservations that it could work: greedy people would be able to circumvent its purpose of preventing the concentration of corporate wealth.  Although extremely high corporate salaries are the norm today, I argue these are competitive and market determined, a consequence of the gargantuan size of firms.  It would, however, be possible to tax such salaries at high rates, because the labor-supply response would be small.  The social-democratic model remains the best one, to date, for producing a relatively egalitarian outcome, and it relies on solidarity, redistribution, and private ownership of firms.  Whether such a solidaristic social ethos can develop without a conflagration, such as the second world war, which not only united populations in the war effort, but also wiped out substantial middle-class wealth in Europe — thus engendering the post-war movement toward social insurance — is an open question.

There are some probably gated versions here.  He also explains later in the paper that socialism cannot work because a generally solidaristic social ethos will be undermined by a selfish minority, driven by greed, which will turn social institutions to their favor and evolve into a new ruling class.  In other words, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is not yet obsolete and still holds the power to sway men’s minds.

For the pointer I thank Kevin Vallier.   

The group that stalked Anthony Levandowski, an engineer at Google X, the company’s clandestine research laboratory, calls itself the Counterforce, after a Thomas Pynchon novel. About a dozen members, all dressed in black, gathered outside the Berkeley house where Mr. Levandowski lives with his partner and two young children.

They unfurled a banner and handed out fliers detailing the engineer’s work on Google’s driverless car technology, Street View and Google Maps. The flier read: “Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbor.”

This is still just a small and fragmented movement, as the article makes clear.  I predict it will vanish, but I wouldn’t have predicted its existence in the first place.

Thoughts about children

by on January 31, 2014 at 9:06 pm in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

“All Joy and No Fun” inspired me to think differently about my own experience as a parent. Over and over again, I find myself bored by what I’m doing with my children: How many times can we read “Angelina Ballerina,” or watch a “Bob the Builder” video? And yet I remind myself that such intimate shared moments, snuggling close, provide the ultimate meaning of life. I have never quite sorted out the conundrum of how I could be distracted into thinking about something as tiresome as email when I was with my beloved kids. If I lost all my emails, I’d manage, and if I lost my children, I’d never recover; yet still I sometimes find it hard to stay in the moment with them. Senior demonstrates that there is no contradiction in this seeming paradox; she understands that tolerating our children is the cornerstone of loving them.

That is from Andrew Solomon.

Mars

The link is here, and for the pointer I thank Gordon.  At least it’s not a watch.

Markets in everything

by on January 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm in Economics, Music, Philosophy | Permalink

For only 23,500 euros (who says you can’t take it with you?):

Sweden’s Catacombo Sound System is a funeral casket that eternally plays the deceased’s choice of tracks while they’re six feet under.

Created by Pause Ljud & Bild, the system consists of three different parts. Firstly, users create an account through the online CataPlay platform, which connects to Spotify and enables customers to curate a playlist for their own coffin or get friends and family to choose the tracks when they’re gone. The CataTomb is a 4G-enabled gravestone that receives the music from CataPlay and display the current track — along with details and tributes to the deceased — through a 7-inch LCD Display. Finally, the CataCoffin is where the parted will themselves enjoy two-way front speakers, 4-inch midbass drivers and an 8-inch sub-bass element that deliver dimensional high-fidelity audio tailored to the acoustics of the casket. The video below explains more about the concept…

Of course I want Brahms’s German Requiem, the Rudolf Kempe recording.  I am afraid, however, that I (in some form) will last longer than Spotify does.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

That is the new Robert M. Gates book, which of course has been widely reviewed.  I was very impressed with this work.  I read it as a meditation on the question of what kinds of martial virtue (or lack thereof) are possible in our contemporary age, updating Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch through the medium of the reigns and rules of the two Bushes, Cheney, Rice, Obama (most of all), Hillary, Biden, and of course Gates himself with a bit of Petraeus tossed in.

Here is one excerpt:

I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting.  To his very closest advisers, he said, “For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran, Joe [Biden], you be my witness.”  I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.

And this:

As is usual when the president makes a momentous decision, the White House wanted key cabinet members blanketing the Sunday talk shows…As I was flying back to Washington on March 25, the White House communications gurus proposed I go on all three network shows the next Sunday to defend the president’s decision on Libya.  Exhausted by the trip, I agreed to do two of the three.  then I took a call from Bill Daley, who pushed me hard to do the third show.  I told Daley I’d make him a deal — I would do the third show if he’s agree to get funding for the Libya operation included in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) appropriation (the war supplemental).  I said, “I’ll do Jake Tapper if you’ll do OMB.”  Daley whined, “I thought it would cost me a bottle of vodka.”  I shot back, “Bullshit.  It’s going to cost you $1 billion.”  Daley had the last laugh.  The president and OMB director Jack Lew refused to approve moving the Libya funding into the OCO.  The Defense Department had to eat the entire cost of the Libya operation.

And finally, this:

As I had told President Bush and Condi Rice early in 2007, the challenge of the early twenty-first century is that crises don’t come and go — they seem to come and stay.

The book has come under a good deal of criticism for its revelations about a sitting president and commander-in-chief and for its communication of inside discussions, which presumably at the time were considered to be confidential.  I am not sufficiently informed about the appropriate norms to make a final judgment here, but I can readily imagine that Gates is in this regard quite in the wrong.  Good books are not always based on good behavior.  Furthermore, the overall portrait of Obama is, in my view, quite a favorable one and indeed I would say a profound one (the same cannot be said for Biden or for Congress).

Here is part of Will’s new post:

…the fact is, mundane liberalism is flatly incompatible with the security state, as we know it. That anyone spurred to action against the illiberal security state by the democratic jusificatory ethos of mundane liberalism has come to seem a little “libertarian,” and may even therefore confess some personal “libertarian” sympathies, suggests to me a problem with “liberalism” as it is embodied in actual political discourse and practice. It suggests that liberalism is effectively a corrupt form of statist institutional conservatism, and that the democratic justificatory ethos of mundane liberalism has somehow survived within the ethos of “libertarianism,” even if, as an explicit doctrinal matter, libertarians are generally hostile to the ideas of democracy and the legitimate liberal state. It’s nice that libertarians have kept liberalism alive, but it would be even nicer if it were possible for liberals to espouse liberalism without therefore being confused for libertarians.

We all hope for more.

That is the new University of Chicago Press volume of Hayek’s collected works, this time volume 15.  It is the best single-volume introduction to Hayek’s thought, if you are going to buy or read only one.  It has the best of the early essays, as you might find in Individualism and Economic Order, and then the best later essays which build upon those earlier insights.

Here is Bruce Caldwell’s introduction to the volume, for e-purchase.  The book’s table of contents is here.  Here is our MRU course on Friedrich Hayek.