Ancient Greek Computation

On the Antikythera mechanism. A familiar name appears: Parmenides may be the source for the measurements of two planets in this analog computer that models the Cosmos. 

The Present Regime, circa 2016

Worth reconsidering in light of the present moment, and the last several years -- or even the last six months. I am posting it here because I haven't time to read it this morning, and want to get back to it when I do have time.

UPDATE: Also interesting is the Codevilla essay it begins with -- again, this is 2016 -- that declares that Trump will be the end of America as a republic. 


Some people can’t visualize mental images. Those people also aren’t scared by ghost stories. 

A Curfew on Men

This idea seems to get proposed just from time to time, and the time has come around again in the UK. The problem, as Wretchard points out, is: who enforces this curfew on men? In this case, the man accused of the horrible crime was (in addition to being a man) a 'gun cop,' one of the few UK police entrusted to carry firearms. 

Why don't we have a 6 PM curfew on police, or at least 'gun cops'? Well, again: who enforces it? The unarmed police? The helpless victims? 

Ultimately there is no alternative beyond these: (a) let ordinary people protect themselves, which includes giving them the right to keep and bear the tools they need to do it; (b) accept those people being victimized by those you did entrust with power and/or weapons. All versions of (b) prove immoral over time.


The Dead South

I had a YouTube Tom Lehrer set on all afternoon, but whoever put it together started interspersing other music he likes, including this band:

That's no reason why they cain't be friends

Taking a break from all the unity and healing to escape into Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hammerstein. "I don't say I'm better than anybody else--but I'll be danged if I ain't just as good." I didn't remember how terrific the Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance were.

Plato's Parmenides III: Greater Difficulties

Parmenides now moves on to raise two stern objections to Socrates' theory of Forms. Edith Hamilton's translation has a very brief introduction to the dialogue in which she says that it is unclear why Plato wrote a dialogue that was so harshly critical of his own most cherished idea. It is "certainly a curious procedure since in the end he apparently neither demolishes them nor establishes them," she says, but "[t]o some people, however, it is only what is to be expected from Plato, never out to defend his own views, always with one object alone, to know the truth. It would be natrual for him to do his best to find out if what he had built up could be torn down."

Especially the second of these two objections will remain relevant in theology even to this day: in the Middle Ages, Maimonides and others were gravely concerned with the proof that God could not know us. 

Parmenides sets up his first objection with a reprise of his Third Man argument. If these Forms exist like ideas in a mind, then they are unlike the things in the world. The things in the world that are supposed to be 'made in their image' have extension in three dimensions, weight, color, and so forth; the forms are unextended objects, which cannot have parts (as per the last discussion). Thus, no Form is anything like the things for which it is supposed to be the model. 

A further proof that the Forms cannot be 'like' the things in the world is that, if they were, then there is room for a third concept that unifies the Form and the thing it is 'like.' You have the Form of a Table, say, and a bunch of actual tables; what holds those things together as a category? If the Form of a Table is an idea about the essential nature of a table, then it is the thing that holds all the tables together in a category. Yet if the Form of a Table is like the tables in some way, then another idea must exist that holds the Form together with the several tables. (The real objection is not that there must be a 'third' thing, but that the process will repeat infinitely, so that knowing any Form requires knowing an infinite number of higher Forms as well).

Now he gets to what he calls his "worst" objection to the Theory of Forms. If the Forms are supposed to be ideas that capture the real essence of a thing, then knowledge of them should be knowledge of the real things. Yet knowing a Form gives you no knowledge about the facts of the world. His (unfortunate) example is slavery: knowing the Form of Master and the Form of Slave doesn't tell you who is a slave; and even if you recognize a slave, it doesn't tell you who his master is. "The significance of things in our world is not with reference to things in that other world [i.e. the world of the Forms]." 

If that is true, the real and best kind of knowledge will be knowledge of a world so separate from ours that knowing the truth would provide us with no benefits. Our branches of knowledge, insofar as they exist in this world, would seem to involve knowledge of the real things -- not knowledge of the ideal things. 

This leads to the second objection, which is the one that bothered theologians. It would seem that "a god," and certainly God, would have the best kind of knowledge. Indeed, the usual way of talking about the Forms since the advent of Christianity is to talk about them as "Ideas in the Mind of God." So God, at least, knows the forms even if none of us do.

But because God knows the Forms, what God knows is not knowledge of this world but of the world of Forms. Later monotheistic theologians will prove to their satisfaction that God himself must be simple and unextended -- this is Aquinas' position, and Avicenna's, and Maimonides' -- and thus the Forms are the only things God could know, because they are simple and lack parts too. 

Even in Parmenides' day, the perfection of divine knowledge implied knowledge of the Forms rather than knowledge of particulars. 
Then if the most perfect mastership and most perfect knowledge are in the god's world, the gods' mastership can never be exercised over us, nor their knowledge know us or anything in our world. Just as we do not rule over them by virtue of rule as it exists in our world, and we know nothing that is divine by our knowledge, so they, on the same principle, being gods, are not our masters nor do they know anything of human concerns.
This is an intolerable objection in the eyes of the Christian philosophers especially, for whom a personal relationship with God is the essence of the faith. Yet it's also a problem for Jewish philosophers, for whom their foundational books are all about God knowing particular prophets and others, and working with them directly. 

(The Muslim philosophers seem unbothered by it; this would explain, e.g., why Allah communicated to Muhammad through an angel rather than directly. The angels serve a metaphysical role as messengers and intermediaries between the divine and the human. Avicenna's proofs of divine simplicity are thus thoroughgoing and unbothered by the fact that the consequence is that humans cannot have a direct relationship with such a God as he describes.)

Aristotle accepts these objections, and generally rejects separate Forms (with the exception of Unmoved Movers, as mentioned, whose role for him doesn't require them to know us). He has a totally different idea about how knowledge of the forms works. If you're interested, and you have a little more than an hour, here is the best philosopher working today on this subject explaining how he believes Aristotle's model works.

Plato's model is that the Forms do exist separately, in spite of these problems that Parmenides raises. We still have a lot of ground to cover, but at least now you understand some of the problems that Plato expects to have to overcome in order to maintain his position.

The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty

A sad song, all around; perhaps especially in its embrace of betrayal of friendship to power and wealth.

They're right: Lefty needs your prayers, far more than Pancho Villa, who was not merely a bandit as according to the American understanding. He was a constitutionalist, even; for a while.


So, how is this different in principle from a Federal law stating that "all states that accept funds from the Federal government shall adopt California's constitution and state laws, making only the necessary exceptions to change the name of the state to their own"? 

Or the next Republican Congress with a Republican President changing the language to "Alabama"?

It seems to me that 'you can't cut taxes for five years' is meddling in the internal policies of the state to such a degree that you might by the same principle say 'you must adopt favored state laws in other matters,' and thus, 'in any matter,' and thus, 'in all matters.' 

I suppose it's possible that the courts might throw out this provision, but the courts aren't impressing me lately with their devotion to preserving our heritage or Constitutional order. All those Trump judges and Justices, and they still seem mostly inclined to go along with whatever the powers that be want to do. 

Oh, Really?

In the days before the election, Wisconsin gave a Democratic activist the keys to the room where absentee ballots were stored. 

Plato's Parmenides II: The First Difficulties

After young Socrates proposes the theory of Forms, Parminedes and Zeno are described as paying "the closest attention" to him, "and often looked at one another, and smiled as if in admiration of [Socrates]." The impression given by that detail, and the subsequent questioning, is that Socrates' theory is one they both have discussed -- and thus a theory whose problems are well known to them. 

Parmenides takes over the questioning of Socrates, to explore the difficulties of the theory of Forms -- but along the way, he illuminates what the Forms must be like if they do in fact exist. 

The first difficulty Parmenides raises is whether all things end up having Forms on Socrates' model -- not just things like The Good or Justice, but whether there is a form of Man that is apart from the many men; Socrates says there must be. What, then, about trivial things, like mud or hair? Socrates is unsure as to whether such things merit a Form. Parmenides puts his hesitancy down to his youth:
Soc: I am afraid that there would be an absurdity
in assuming any idea of them, although I sometimes get disturbed,
and begin to think that there is nothing without an idea; but then
again, when I have taken up this position, I run away, because I am
afraid that I may fall into a bottomless pit of nonsense, and perish;
and so I return to the ideas of which I was just now speaking, and
occupy myself with them. 

Par: Yes, Socrates, said Parmenides; that is because you are still young;
the time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy will have
a firmer grasp of you, and then you will not despise even the meanest
things; at your age, you are too much disposed to regard opinions
of men.
This point may seem trivial, but it is not. The Forms must be vast in number if they are real, because they must embrace all sorts of likenesses. It is not just great and important ideas that have Forms, but all ideas that we would use in discussions of the things in the world. 

This leads to another problem: in what way can a single Form be participated in by all these many things? Socrates proposes that it is like the way that all of us participate in the same day; the "Day" isn't anywhere in particular, but somehow everywhere, and we are all participating in it. Parmenides proposes an analogy that he claims is fair (though it is not, as we'll see) to having a big sailcloth draped over everyone: then, everyone under the sail participates in being under the sail, but it is common to all. 

The point of disanalogy is that the day can't be divided into physical parts like the sail can.* Once Socrates accepts the analogy for discussion, Parmenides immediately uses that point to prove that the Forms can't in fact be like a sail. For if they were, then each person would have only a part of the idea captured by the Form, and not the whole. 

Thus, if all men are participating in the Form of Man, we would have to say that each one was only part of a Man; and, worse, that your part was different from mine, so that we couldn't really say that we participated in "the same thing" at all. The whole idea of the Form is that it is what is alike in two things that make it proper to discuss them as being the same. The Form thus can't have parts, but must exist as a unity (a 'simple,' in later terminology, meaning an indivisible). 

So the idea is not just that "each equal thing, if possessing some small portion of equality less than absolute equality" still must "be equal to some other thing by virtue of that portion only." The idea is that the Form itself either is or is not participated in by the individual that is (or isn't) equal.

Now that is a problem given where we began, although Parmenides doesn't bring it out here. Zeno's account of motion was that you can't get from White to Not-White because you'd have to be two contrary things at once. Socrates' proposed solution was that a thing (Aristotle will call this kind of thing a 'substrate') that can be either white or not-white is what makes the motion from white to not-white. Thus, White doesn't have to admit of its contrary; rather, the substrate, which could have been the one or the other, begins admitting of ('participating in') the contrary Form. 

Yet Parmenides has just shown that the Form must be a simple unity, and that participating in it therefore means participating in it fully because the Form is indivisible. So to participate in Whiteness is to have the whole of Whiteness; and participating in Not-Whiteness would mean having the whole of that present. The logical contradiction doesn't end up being escapable in this way (a problem also for Aristotle, whose account in the Physics 1&2 depends on just this move.)

The last problem I'll treat today is better known by its Aristotelian name 'the Third Man argument.' Parmenides is raising the same problem as an objection to the Forms.
Well, said Parmenides, and what do you say of another question?

What question? 
I imagine that the way in which you are led to assume one idea of
each kind is as follows: -You see a number of great objects, and when
you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same idea (or
nature) in them all; hence you conceive of greatness as one.

Very true, said Socrates. 
And if you go on and allow your mind in like manner to embrace in
one view the idea of greatness and of great things which are not the
idea, and -to compare them, will not another greatness arise, which
will appear to be the source of all these? 
If the Form of Largeness embraces all the large things, doesn't it seem large itself? If so, then there must be another Form that embraces the whole set of large things, plus Largeness as well. Yet won't that set seem larger (being, after all, the whole previous set plus one more big thing)? Then there must be another Form that embraces everything Largeness embraced, plus Largeness, plus the form that embraced the rest. 

Aristotle's treatment of the Third Man argument takes it as a serious objection to separate Forms (this is in the Metaphysics). Aristotle doesn't admit of separate forms for the most part, excepting the Unmoved Movers (of whom there were several for Aristotle; later thinkers reduced them to one, God). Socrates has a simpler answer: since these are ideas, they don't admit of the problem in the first place. You can think about "largeness" all you want without thinking a large thought; thoughts aren't 'large' in even an analogous way to the physical things that are large. You can think about all the men you know, and try to identify a thought that approaches something like the Form of Man; but it won't be a man, it'll be a thought. 

Socrates thus thinks that the problem Parmenides is trying to raise here is a non-starter. But Parmenides has more to say about it, which we'll get to next time. 

* Except according to metaphysics that treat time as a kind of dimensional space (e.g. spacetime), in which case dividing the 'time' makes exactly as much sense as dividing the sail; but Socrates is still OK even on such a metaphysics, because everyone is equally present in each part of the fourth-dimensional 'day.' The fourth dimension is a single dimension, so all the third-dimensional parts of each of us would all be fully present in this time line extended from dawn to dusk.

Medical censorship

It's been nearly a year since I was first startled by a bizarre new trend: a concerted effort to prevent doctors from communicating the results of promising new COVID treatments. Almost every new idea about treatment was relentlessly smothered. I believe it began with that deeply weird insistence that HCQ must be evil because the evil man expressed hope about it, followed by the even more deeply weird attempt to blame him for the woman who poisoned her husband and herself with aquarium cleaner. I had no idea then how much worse it could get. Even now, I'm unsure how much this has to do with suppressing any hopeful news about a potentially useful crisis, and how much is simply Nanny-State-ism, in which no ideas can be permitted even to be discussed--let alone recommended or used--unless an Expert Panel connected to the Right People had spent a year considering all aspects, political, social, and anything else that's not the tired old scientific method. The corruption of mind that led to declaring CO2 a toxin will undermine all useful science if we let it.

Striking Back Against Big Tech

Karen Hao in the MIT Technology Review has an interesting article titled "How to poison the data that Big Tech uses to surveil you." 

Data strikes, data poisoning, and intentional data contribution to competitors, explained and discussed.

Melanin appropriation

They'll stop at nothing.

A Permanent Praetorian Guard

The task force established to review how to protect Congress from the American people calls for a permanent military presence

Georgia Update: 404,000 Ballots Lack Chain of Custody

The Georgia Star filed an Open Records law request for chain of custody documents on the 600,000 ballots dropped off at “drop boxes.” Sixty-seven percent of those documents are unaccounted for, with 35 counties including Fulton refusing to obey the law. 

The margin of victory? Less than 12,000. 

Plato's Parminedes, I

With all of that mental furniture about Zeno in place, it will be much easier to tackle the Parminedes. We will nevertheless do it in stages, because it is one of the deepest of the dialogues. 

I think I'm going to do this as a direct encounter with the dialogue first, so that it's just you and me reading it and discussing it together. After that, we can look at other accounts of it. For now, you don't need anything that you won't find either here or in the dialogue

The dialogue begins many years after the discussion between Socrates and Zeno and Parminedes. Several travelers come to Athens to hear the account of the discussion they had -- not from anyone who was there, because it was too long ago, but from a man who knew a man who was there. This underlines the importance of oral culture to this period of Ancient Greece, which was discussed in the prefaces. They clearly have confidence that the recitation will be accurate, and it probably more or less is; in Iraq, where oral culture remains strong among the tribes, the witness accounts of a bargain is considered more accurate than a written version of the agreement. The honor of the men, and their oath that they are speaking accurately and honestly, is thought a better guarantee than a paper that might be altered by anyone.

He told us that Pythodorus had described to him the appearance of Parmenides and Zeno; they came to Athens, as he said, at the great Panathenaea; the former was, at the time of his visit, about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured. Zeno was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair to look upon; in the days of his youth he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides. He said that they lodged with Pythodorus in the Ceramicus, outside the wall, whither Socrates, then a very young man, came to see them, and many others with him; they wanted to hear the writings of Zeno, which had been brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of their visit. These Zeno himself read to them in the absence of Parmenides, and had very nearly finished when Pythodorus entered, and with him Parmenides and Aristoteles who was afterwards one of the Thirty, and heard the little that remained of the dialogue. Pythodorus had heard Zeno repeat them before.

Plato gives us a chance to get comfortable with these people, to know them not just as advocates for ideas but as human beings who lived and breathed, loved and fought. The mention of 'the Thirty' reminds us also that they sometimes killed each other, and turned to tyranny and violence as well as philosophy. Zeno will portray his ideas as a youthful defense of his master, Parminedes, who is also his lover. 

If you've read the three preface pieces below, you are better positioned to follow what Socrates and Zeno discuss as an opening.

Socrates requested that the first thesis of the first argument might be read over again, and this having been done, he said: What is your meaning, Zeno? Do you maintain that if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like-is that your position?

Just so, said Zeno.

And if the unlike cannot be like, or the like unlike, then according to you, being could not be many; for this would involve an impossibility. In all that you say have you any other purpose except to disprove the being of the many? and is not each division of your treatise intended to furnish a separate proof of this, there being in all as many proofs of the not-being of the many as you have composed arguments? Is that your meaning, or have I misunderstood you?

No, said Zeno; you have correctly understood my general purpose.

Consider Aristotle's discussion of a thing moving from being white to being non-white (e.g., a man obtaining a suntan). If the man is one, i.e. the same man, then he can't really move to being unlike himself. The man who has beet red skin is unlike the man who had white skin. Thus, if he is both like himself (the same man) and unlike himself (the 'two' men have differently colored skin). The man cannot be both 'like' and 'unlike' himself; this is because 'the like' and 'the unlike' are contradictions. Thus there can only be one man, not two; and he cannot change from the one to the other, because he would have to pass through stages of being unlike himself. 

A similar argument is at work here. There cannot be many things, like there cannot be 'two' men, because if there were they would have to be like and unlike each other. We don't have Zeno's account of why this is. A plausible reconstruction: because to recognize two birds as 'two birds,' we would have to say that they are like each other to say both are birds. Yet they must also be unlike in order to be two different birds. Thus they must be like and unlike at the same time, which is a contradiction. 

Socrates is going to propose a novel attack on this idea of contradictions arising from the discussion of things moving or being many. This either becomes the Platonic idea of Forms (if Plato is accurately recounting Socrates' discussion) or is that idea (if Plato is reading it back into the discussion). 

[T]ell me, Zeno, do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself, and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness, and that in these two, you and I and all other things to which we apply the term many, participate-things which participate in likeness become in that degree and manner like; and so far as they participate in unlikeness become in that degree unlike, or both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in both? And may not all things partake of both opposites, and be both like and unlike, by reason of this participation?-Where is the wonder? Now if a person could prove the absolute like to become unlike, or the absolute unlike to become like, that, in my opinion, would indeed be a wonder; but there is nothing extraordinary, Zeno, in showing that the things which only partake of likeness and unlikeness experience both. Nor, again, if a person were to show that all is one by partaking of one, and at the same time many by partaking of many, would that be very astonishing. But if he were to show me that the absolute one was many, or the absolute many one, I should be truly amazed. 

"An idea of X in itself," and all similar formulations, are going to end up equivalent to "there exists a Form of X." I shall indicate that by capitalizing the first letter when talking about the Form of something like Likeness rather than, say, an instance of likeness. What Socrates is saying is that the likeness of the birds isn't really contradictory to their unlikeness; rather, Likeness and Unlikeness are contradictories. But the birds merely participate in Likeness to some degree, and also in Unlikeness to some degree. Thus, there is no logical contradiction implied, because the birds aren't contraries; and they don't fully participate in either of the Forms. 

Plato intends to argue that the Forms are metaphysically real, indeed more real than you or I. You don't have to go that far to see value in this argument. For example, treat them as merely psychological facts rather than metaphysical entities. Let me draw an example. 

Consider three houses, two of which were built on the same pattern by the same builder, but one of which is painted red and the other is painted green. The third house is different in pattern and builder from the other two, but is also painted red like the first house. Now the red houses are alike in being red, and unlike the green house. But the two houses that are on the same pattern are alike in design (and perhaps in purpose -- more on that shortly), but unlike in color. 

Now our idea (not in this paragraph used to mean 'Form') that the two houses are like in color really does exist in our mind. When we are thinking about what makes them alike, we note this feature of color. But the color is manufactured by our minds, out of evidence collected by our eyes as interpreted by our brains. You might think that their physical layout is a more pragmatic fact, but 'design' is an intelligible layout that was first in the mind of the builder. If it is in the houses now, it is because he put it there. Thus, their likeness in all cases is a product of mind; and our ability to say that they are alike is itself the product of our idea of what would make two things alike. By the same token, our idea that they are different comes from our notion of what it would mean for two things to differ. Thus, the ideas of likeness and unlikeness do exist separately from the houses; they exist in our minds, while the houses are in the world. 

One possibility is that Plato may be mistaking physical/psychological differences for metaphysical differences. You'll have to sort out what you believe about the metaphysical claims as we read this dialogue. But to complicate that process a bit further, let's talk about whether or not there really are three things here, or only two. 

Back in the first preface, I gave a plausible account of what it means for there to be different things:

It seems like there are obviously many things, though. You can look around you and see what appear to be many different things. In my vision right now are this computer, a coffee cup with a skull and crossbones on it, and a Gerber Applegate-Fairbairn combat knife. It seems like these are several separate things, not just because they don't appear to be touching, but because my mind knows what each of these artifacts is for and it's not the same thing. Since each artifact has a distinct purpose, it must have a distinct reason for having come into being; and thus, since each thing was made at a different time for a different reason, it follows that they must be different things

Say the two houses that are alike in design were built by the same builder, at the same time, and for the same purpose: to fulfill a contract to a purchaser who wanted to put his family in the two structures. If that is true, then they came into being in the same way at the same time and for the same purpose. In that way, they are plausibly one thing: one work, which was done for one purpose. Indeed, the builder had one purpose -- to make money -- and the purchaser also had one purpose -- to house his family. 

Yet they are also plausibly two things: two houses, which are unlike in being physically separate and also in having been painted different colors. 

I think the intuitive thing most people would say is that the 'twoness' of them overrides the 'oneness' of the purpose; of the design; the unity of their coming-to-be; the oneness of the work of their author. And yet we might even talk about them as being one thing if we were giving an account of the development of the neighborhood: "The Morgan estate was built in 1943 by Bob Roy, with stone he brought up from the White River, timber milled on the property, and roof tiles they baked out of the mud." In that way, what we would intuitively describe as two (houses) becomes one (estate), and is sensibly treated as a single entity. 

So which is it? A single thing? Two things? Is the difference metaphysical or psychological? Which one is the 'real' thing, and which one(s) are just ways of speaking or thinking about the things that really exist?

Aristotle EN

Hot Air links this discussion on lessons for post-pandemic life:

Life events play a role in happiness. The pandemic darkened spirits, but also gave people a chance to rethink what is truly important and makes them happy. It remains to be seen whether a renewed sense of gratitude for simple things, like having a cup of coffee with friends, outlasts the pandemic. Sustaining a sense of well-being can be harder than achieving it, psychologists say. People fall back into routines and get caught up with busy lives. While the pandemic has forever changed so many aspects of life—work, family and play—they say sustaining satisfaction with life, even amid its difficulties and negative emotions, requires practice and intention.

Mary Pipher, clinical psychologist and author of “Women Rowing North” and “Reviving Ophelia,” says the pandemic underscored what she long believed: that happiness is a choice and a skill. This past Christmas, she and her husband spent the day alone in their Lincoln, Neb., home, without family and friends, for the first time since their now adult children were born. “I thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ We went out for a walk on the prairie and saw buffalo. I ended up that day feeling really happy.”

Welcome to Aristotelian philosophy. I guess it would be a great gift if this most important lesson were rediscovered. 

When I was a young college student, many years ago, a professor put it this way: "Aristotle explained that happiness is an activity" -- here he had my interest, as I knew I wanted to be happy -- "and the particular activity it is" -- here he had my attention -- "is the pursuit of excellence." 

Now what is meant by "excellence" is arete, which is given by the Latins as virtus, but "virtue" doesn't really capture what Aristotle was after. Virtue has the connotation in English of moral uprightness; in Latin, of manhood. What Aristotle meant was to learn to grasp what was the very best thing to do in every case, and then to do it. The discerning of the good is a part of it; and the doing of the good is the other part. 

Some days, the best thing you could do is to take a walk with your husband, and see some buffalo.