Thursday, July 30, 2015


If all individuals devoted themselves to caring for existing children  to such an extent that they never brought any new ones into the world, the population would quickly become invaded by mutant individuals who specialized in bearing.
-- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976; 2nd edn. 1989), p.  109

That observation was brought to mind by an unsettling article from the pen of Larissa MacFarquhar in the current New Yorker,

The aberration is not isolated.  Compare the following quotations (cited in our essay Singing Nuns):

Q: You just took office as the first woman to head the Episcopal Church…
Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
A: No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.


I don’t know which Mafia I dislike the most.  I’m leaning toward liking the Italian Mafia  because they are just immoral  and still believe in mother and child.  But the Art Mafia is immoral  and, from what I can tell, they’ve stopped procreating.
-- Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia (1985)


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Quantum poem

Schroedinger’s Cat

Silent as twilight,
Shadowcat glides by.
Like the Moon, she moves in phases.
Like Time, she’s blind as ice.

Delicate as melancholy,
as distant as though nearer,
it seems as though she senses me;
I sense as though I see her.

I reach out as to pet her,
but my hand goes through her.
Years later, someone asks me.
I say “No, I never knew her.”

You are in my dreams;  I am in yours ...

Informative tautologies

Technically, for a logician, or a semanticist of the Snow-is-White school, tautologies convey no information;  but to linguists and pragmaticians, in context they often do.  In fact, we may state that they usually do, since otherwise why utter them?  “Business is business” is flint-hearted;  “Boys will be boys”, tenderly exculpatory.

The opposite of an utterance that pretends to contain no information (and thus, in particular, to be inexpugnable) but actually does (and often of a trenchant sort), is a definition that, ex cathedra, is all about informing, but which melts to the touch.  Cf. our essay here:

A recent example of the uses of tautology:

Robert Buissière on Médi1, re the  (presumable eventual) Presidential front-runners (after the Trumpwad has been flushed):

Jeb Bush, frère de son frère,
et Hillary Clinton,  épouse de son époux.

As they stand, these are “analytic”; but we understand the import:  Jeb and Hillary got where they are today, largely owing to family association.

Cf. & contrast the common expression “He is his father’s son.”  Normally this means that he takes after his Dad, and not that he is getting any special favors from other people owing to that filiation.  To imply the latter, you might say “Daddy’s little boy” or something.  By contrast, the French phrases in the above context  do not imply that Jeb’s politics are a close match to Dubya’s, let alone that Hillary’s are a close match to Bill’s.

For the full essay to which that is an appendix, click here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Esse est percipi (poem)

The spot on the branch where the bird perched,
lo these several seconds, few minutes,  now an hour ago,
still bears the shimmering imprint
of that perfect bird.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Found Monostich

~        ~

A baby in a state of busy wonder

~         ~

(I don’t know where I first encountered this,
 but it glows in the mind like a gem.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Motifs and imitation

I thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Finder’s 2014 thriller Suspicion.   The only other book of his I’ve read -- likewise excellent -- is his industrial-espionage thriller Paranoia (2004).    Only after-the-fact did I realize that the books share an identical premise to trigger the action.
In both cases, a likeable protagonist engages in a piece of legally sketchy behavior, not for selfish reasons, but to aid another.  And in both cases, another party, with a sinister agenda of their own, discovering his role, use that leverage to grab him by the short-hairs and force him into extremely delicate and dangerous behavior as an undercover operative.
The fact that I didn’t realize until afterwards that, to that extent, I was reading the same book over again, simply illustrates the role of motifs in literature.  It is no crime to swipe them, to reuse them consciously or unconsciously.  In the Middle Ages, that was taken for granted.   And even today, in genre fiction, it is recognized to be no harm no foul if the book or movie employs such tried-and-true vignettes as the Spy Called Out of Retirement (the Cincinnatus motif), or car chases, or femmes fatales.

[For the full essay, of which the above is an update, click here:]

[Update 19 July 2015]  By an accident of meteorology, I found myself in the atrium of the local library, a lethal heat outside, and A/C like an ice-blanket within.  Seeking an excuse to remain amid the soothing cool, I browsed a bit, and stumbled upon another Joseph Finder -- Buried Secrets (2011).
Today, sheltering indoors, I curled up with the book.   This time, parallels to Suspicion  leap to the eye  immediately.

*  Both novels focus on a teen daughter, product of swank New England boarding schools, abducted by a sinister crime organization (in one case genuinely, in the other only initially-supposedly, a Latino drug cartel).
Now, I myself never had a daughter, and didn’t attend prep school:  but with the slightest tip of the die, I might well have done so.  Therefore these themes are of personal interest, as being might-have-beens, real in a closely adjoining alternate universe.  
So, I read and imagine.  Along the way, I meet the slang that has come into currency since the Beatles broke up.

*  The central target of elaborate blackmail is a very wealthy man who made his pile in high-finance, hedge-fund type activity.  In either case, he has an over-manicured tarty trophy bride, whom we see in her “soapstone-topped” sparkly kitchen.  In both cases, in addition to his criminal pursuers, the magnate is being closely monitored by Federal law enforcement (FBI bzw. DEA), who are wise to his game.

 About halfway through, though, Buried Secrets begins to unravel.  Oh well.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Upcoming polar reversal event

Most of us are aware that the Earth’s magnetic polarity  periodically switches.

North and South flip: Earth's magnetic field may be on brink of switching, warn scientists

Strange things might happen:

Frogs levitate in a strong magnetic field

(A frog just floated past my window.  Could that be a harbinger?)

Less well-known  outside of the physics community itself  is the fact that gravity too is about to reverse polarity -- probably before the end of the month.  Instead of being an attractive force, it will become repulsive.   Objects will fall upwards. 

As anyone knows who has been paying attention, this has happened before in cosmic history, during the era of the Inflaton Field, which put the “Big” in “Big Bang”.  (Or was it the “Bang”;  I forget. )  Anyhow, it’s That Time again.

All that may necessitate some changes in our daily routines.  Of particular concern is the possible impact upon women and minorities.

Going out on a limb a bit, some Democrats wonder whether this impending change might influence our planetary orbit.   Republicans, however, denounce such speculations as just more climate-change speculation.

Candidate Trump has charged
that these impending developments
will cause illegal Mexicans
to be sucked northwards.

Notice the effect of these disturbing reversals  upon The Donald's coiffure.
Seeing is believing.

~  The World of Dr Justice ~
~~  Science You Can Trust  ™~~


These creatures, by contrast,
have been adapted  by far-sighted, all-seeing
Natural Selection
for exactly this event.
 So who's smiling now??

The effect upon pigs
is expected to be
especially dramatic.

Official anthem for this grand event:

Commemorative stamp
for the Great Gravity Polarity Event

Meanwhile, Pravda (“News U Can Trust”) is predicting that the polar reversal will lead to a Transvaluation of All Values:

War is peace; slavery is freedom; ignorance is strength

Fraternity boys will be delighted to learn that, in this new gravitational regime, “No” will in fact mean “Yes”!

Vanguard artists
embrace the new
gravitational regime


Another upcoming event that might effect your travel plans is that the Pacific Northwest is about to be utterly destroyed.   And no, not the old San Andreas fault -- something less well-known but potentially more deadly:  the Cascadia Subduction Zone.   Nor is the Big One quake the worst of it:  rather, the ensuing tsunami.  As one seismologist put it:  “We expect everything west of Interstate 5  to be toast.”  (Soggy toast, actually; FTFY.)
Anyhow, don’t take my word for it:  see  Kathryn Shulz's excellent feature article in this week's New Yorker:

For those of you who lack the time to read the entire detailed article, or who, not being subscribers, lack access to it, we shall summarize its contents:

For most of us, the phrase “Ring of Fire” connotes only the exasperation, the agony, and, yes, the ecstasy of hemorrhoids.   But for a seismologist …

No, sheesh, what kind of journalistic lead-in is that.  Anyhow, what I wanted to lead up to was, the New Yorker writer predicts a local post-seismic version of The Singularity (when the phone system goes sentient and robots take over the planet):

Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens,
unplugging themselves
-- Kathryn Shulz, “The Really Big One”, The New Yorker (July 20, 2015, p. 57)

Now, frankly, we here at The World of Doctor Justice ™  run a pretty trim scientific ship, and can scarcely endorse such flights of fantasy (more Ferlinghetti than Wegener) as evidently appeal to the dope-smoking interns who run The New Yorker while the grown-ups are off at Martha’s Vineyard during the summer months.  Even so, there might be some truth in it, and we thought we should warn you, as you might wish to take some precautions against an insurrection among your appliances.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Abstraction and Formalism

Abstraction and Formalism:  These are not really the same, though they are related.

To our essay about Abstraction Fetishism among Harvard math majors, an appendix for  physicists:

The most practical person must realise that abstract arguments (by which we really mean  arguments with a tremendously wide range of applicability)  are a necessity … now that science has grown so vast.  If the engineer is willing to overcome his nostalgia for the practical, and embark on the study of Lagrange’s equations in a spirit of abstraction, he will be rewarded by having at his disposal a powerful tool for the study of electrical networks, which are not ‘dynamical systems’ in the ordinary mechanical sense, but nonetheless behave as if they were.
-- John Synge & Byron Griffith,  Principles of Mechanics (1942, 1959), p. 411

Graduate students in theoretical physics … are very often impressed with “formalism” -- the formal apparatus of their subject. … I suffered … from an infatuation with beautiful formalism.  Working with Viki Weisskopf was a most effective remedy against the excesses of such an infatuation.  He never ceased to harp on the importance of … understanding, by means of simple arguments, the physical meaning of a theory …
-- Murray Gell-Mann, “The Garden of Live Flowers”, in Selected Papers (2010), p. 27

Re quantum theory:

This formalism has provided us with a revolution in our picture of the real physical world  that is far greater  even than that of  … general relativity.
Or has it?  It is a common view among many of today’s physicists  that quantum mechanics provides us with no picture of ‘reality’ at all!  The formalism of quantum mechanics, on this view, is to be taken as just that:  a mathematical formalism.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 782

That last clause provides a deflationary use of the term “formalism”, utterly at odds with the connotation in the first.

The full essay can be viewed here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scholars cast doubt on status of newly-discovered manuscript

The literary world has been abuzz of late with a literary find, accompanied by a whiff of suspicion:  Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which presents a picture disturbingly different from what we all read in high school, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Its publication status has been questioned.  It is a sort of a sequel, or rather a prequel, or maybe a pre-written sequel;  the history of the manuscript, and its “discovery”, is obscure, and the lawyer at the center of the intrigue  keeps changing her story.   There’s a bodacious editor involved, who, one commenter suggested, may have done a sort of Maxwell Perkins on Lee’s manuscript:  “There’s what Lee wrote, and then there’s what got published,” the latter being a much more acceptable narrative.

Atticus Finch redivivus ?

[Update 27 July 2015] Another nay-sayer:

Fortunately, such skeptical doubts do not attach to the equally spectacular recent publication of a lost fragment of Charles Dickens:

In a literary climate so rife with hoax and dark doings, it is a pleasure to be able to present this impeccable find, saluted by all the experts.  Although the circumstances of discovery of this treasure are nothing short of scandalous, the manuscript itself is undoubtedly genuine.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Jour de la Bastille

Félicitations à nos alliés de plusieurs guerres, et meilleurs vœux pour une solide coopération entre nos nations.
Et heureux anniversaire à mon épouse Suzanne Marie, née en ce jour il y a, eh ben, quelques années et le pouce, et qui porte un nom français en l’honneur de cette amitié  plusieurs foix séculaire.
Pour célébrer, voici le palmarès de nos aperçus hexagonaux:
La francophonie

A beautiful friendship


Friday, July 10, 2015

Veracity, Verifiability, Vindication

[That is an ascending series.  Some things that are true, may yet be inaccessible to us -- temporarily, or forever;  a veracious person is someone who asserts only what he sincerely believes to be true (and -- for this quality to have any practical value -- has reasonable warrant for so believing, reasonable relative to the contemporaneous state of the art.)
Verifiable means that the assertion is ‘in the running’ for being experimentally (or proof-theoretically) verified, even though these happy results have not yet eventuated.
Vindicated means that the result has been confirmed, whether by (theory-supported) experiment, formal proof, or revelation.]

[Original post from 7 VI 2015]

A crisp, concise op-ed, in this morning’s NYTimes, “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics” by Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser (both professors of physics), states the case against (over-cantilevered or under-buttressed) speculation, not only for string theory (which has notoriously come in from a lot of pushback;  see Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics), but for supersymmetry generally.  The authors note that, as of even date, “no supersymmetric particles have been found” (perhaps they are hiding out in a back room, playing poker with the Higgs boson).  So far as that goes, not a problem;  plenty of propositions in math and science took centuries or even millennia to settle.  What disturbs the authors is that some champions of supersymmetry -- the jusqu’au-boutistes, we might call them -- may simply move the verificationist goalposts.

Some may choose to simply retune their models to predict supersymmetric particles at masses beyond the reach of the Large Hadron Collider’s power of detection -- and that of any foreseeable substitute.

Exactly the same concerns were voiced, a good decade earlier, by the mathematician-physicist Roger Penrose, in the section “Can a wrong theory be experimentally refuted?” (p. 1020 ff.), in The Road to Reality (2004), concerning “un-Popperian” practices in physics.

If that were only a problem for one avenue at the forward fringes of physics, that would not be a problem for most of us  as we bustle about our daily chores.  Yet the authors further suggest that certain well-traveled avenues  are actually cul-de-sacs:

The standard model, despite the glory of its vindication, is also a dead end.  It offers no path forward to unite its vision of nature’s tiny building-blocks with … gravity.

What really bothers the authors is something that goes well beyond physics:  “the specter of an evidence-independent science”.   And that specter has been haunting the West for some time, and increasingly reaches into the headlines, as witness the countermovements to the theses of natural selection or of global climate change.

Not being a physicist, I have no right to comment;  but, at the margins, this:

(1) The larger cultural worry, is the dissociation of the notion of Truth überhaupt  from that of Evidence and Argument. In that perspective, we would deplore the demand to dissociate theory from experiment.
(2)  Yet -- Do not forget  Einstein’s classic crack in 1919, anent the possible negative results of an experiment purporting to validate or refute General Relativity:  “Da könnt’ mir halt der liebe Gott leid tun.  Die Theorie stimmt doch.”  (Informal translation:  "I'm right.  Bite me.")

Die Theorie stimmt doch!

The consensus of scientific history (for right reasons or wrong)  has been to applaud  those cheeky remarks .


Einstein was speaking of his theory of gravitation.  But similarly for particle physics.

Compare, re Feynman and Gell-mann’s joint article “Theory of the Fermi Interaction” (written in 1957, and subsequently published in Physical Review):

The V - A theory was in disagreement with more than a half dozen experimental results on beta-decay,  but it was so beautiful  that the authors proposed it anyway, suggesting that all those results were wrong.
-- Harald Fritzsch, introduction to Murray Gell-Mann: Selected Papers (2010), p. 5


The Standard Model … has been driven largely by certain powerful consistency requirements, hard to satisfy in such theories.  In order to appreciate something of the force behind these consistency requirements (which continue to drive the more modern speculative theories, such as string theory), we shall need to look at the structure of quantum field theory. … The theoretical requirements appear to be so tight  that it might seem almost incidental that these answers are actually in excellent agreement with experiment!
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 655-6

And more generally:

Polanyi delighted in drawing attention to cases where the scientific community ignored or waved aside or explained away  seeming counter-evidence to accepted theories.  He seems to have felt that a scientists would abrogate his personal responsibility for his beliefs  if he allowed them to be at the beck and call of experimental results.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 29

Nor must we wait until our own extravagant age of post-modernism and M-theory, to find ourselves confronted with an “All is Permitted” ethos in the realm of physics.
Karl Pearson, as a pioneer of statistical thinking in a wide range of fields, is in that respect  a representative of a hard-headed, just-the-facts-ma’am, shut-up-and-calculate approach to messy realities.  But when doing (what he thought of as) physics, his Romanticism, which early on was a major strain of his make-up, got the better of him.   In the years around 1890, he theorized about atoms in terms of the then-regnant ether theory:

He spoke  not of causation  but of analogy, indeed “analogies … of the vaguest description”, and in the context of this paper, his doubts about the human capacity to get at real objects or real causes  functioned as a license to invent … Since his ether model  so far  had strange, almost inconceivable properties, he discarded physical plausibility as a criterion of a good theory.
-- Theodore Porter, Karl Pearson (2004), p. 187


Working the equations of physics to their long-reaching logical conclusions, continually leads to apparent absurdities:  negative energies or frequencies, unobserved particles, particles moving backwards in time, a Hobson’s choice between acausality or indefinitely-proliferating alternate universes, and miscellaneous infinities.  Some physicists shudder at such;  others grin and say “Bring ‘em on.”  (Unfortunately, the latter are the ones favored in the popular media -- the problem of Physics Porn.)  The problem is deciding when that is just the way Nature (inscrutably) actually works (in which case you have made a major discovery), and when it is merely absurd.  Will the Higgs boson turn out to have been more like the positron (born from the forehead of Dirac’s mathematics) and the pion (brain-born from Yukawa), eventually found in everyday space, or like the cute-sounding but still-missing photinos, squarks, and pentaquarks?

[Update July 2015]  Bzzt!  No sooner had I posted that, than experiments claim to have spotted one of the elusive critters:

So here is the larger temptation -- the intellectual Occasion of Sin:
Beginning several decades ago, comparing the results of experimentally well-verified physics  with the predictions of the equations, scientists marveled at what was memorably dubbed “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”, summed up by the epigram “the equations seem to give us more than we put into them;  they seem to be wiser than ourselves”.   But The Edge beckons when we start to conclude, that if our favorite equations predict something, it must be so (if only in the Multiverse) -- even if, to the guys in the lab, it doesn’t seem physically reasonable.

As Penrose puts it:

What is the physical justification in allowing oneself to be carried along by the elegance of some mathematical description  and then trying to regard that description as describing a ‘reality’?
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 670

That question takes us back  to a very old debate -- as old as poetry :  What is the relation between Beauty and Truth?

In that essay, we concluded that, in a sense, ‘beauty’ (in a rather austere sense of crisp symmetric elegance, having more to do with the Parthenon than a Miss America pageant or a Rosebowl parade) does characterize any deep theory in the mathematicized sciences -- but only in retrospect, after years and decades of its practitioners coming to appreciate its depth; the theory does not wear its beauty on its sleeve.

Thus, even in the case of the (relatively) well-behaved, now-long-familiar poster child of particle physics, QED:  Paul Dirac, the pioneer of QFT, wasn’t buying it.   In response to a 1936 experiment (by Shankland) which suggested (incorrectly, as it turns out) that energy need not be microscopically preserved,

Dirac immediately jumped at this opportunity to disown QED, claiming “because of its extreme complexity, most physicists will be glad to see the end of it."
-- Matthew Schwartz, Quantum Field Theory and the Standard Model (2014), p. 247


Taking physics on faith

Penrose again, concerning a couple of signature contributions by Richard Feynman -- probably the educated public’s favorite hip physicist since Einstein:

The path-integral approach is, it seems, almost wholly dependent upon a faith that the wildly divergent expressions that we are presented with (like the divergent series above) actually have a deeper ‘Platonic’ meaning  that we may not yet properly perceive.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 670

Theophysical note:  Here we see a reference to “faith”;  its truth-functional content may be roughly equivalent to “working assumption”, but since we are indeed dealing with such deep and ultimate matters of Platonism, the theological overtone is not actually out of place. 
Similarly, my casual reference to “revelation” above, as denoting one of various routes to knowledge, was not flip.  Compare, from our hard-headed flinty-eyed philosopher of science:

If  we had a hot line to the Author of Nature, and if we had a clearly formulated IP [for which see below], an excellent question to put to him would be:  Is our IP true?  If he answered ‘Yes’, we could happily set a computer to work to print out all those h[ypothese]s that are singled out by our evidence  in conjunction with this authoritatively endorsed IP.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 93

And if that strikes anyone as credulous, note that most of us largely treat computers as oracles as well (e.g. in the proof of the Four-Color Theorem, or any of innumerable unsurveyable and possibly preposterous simulations).

Back to the sadder-but-wiser Penrose:

Even that archetypal renormalizable theory, QED, is not actually a finite theory, even after renormalization.  How can this be?  Renormalization refers to the removal of infinities from finite collections of Feynman graphs.  It does not tell us that the summation of all these resulting finite quantities is actually convergent. … In fact it is not finite, but has a ‘logarithmic divergence’.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 680

As for the next step beyond QED (which is part of the Standard Model), QFT:

Strictly speaking, quantum field theory … is mathematically inconsistent.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 610


But let us set aside quantum mechanics, that known maze of paradox, along with its ever-more-speculative successors.  Surely matters stand better in the case of classical mechanics and electromagnetism, along with their tool-of-all-work, the venerable Lagrangian, which dates back to the eighteenth century. 

Yet even here, Penrose demurs:

In modern attempts at fundamental physics, when some suggested new theory is put forward, it is almost invariably given in the form of some Lagrangian functional. … However, I must confess my unease … The choice of Lagrangian is often not unique, and sometimes rather contrived … Even the Lagrangian for free Maxwell theory … has no obvious physical significance. … Moreover, the ‘Maxwell Lagrangian’ does not work as a Lagrangian unless it is expressed in terms of a potential, although the actual value of the potential, A, is not a directly observable quantity. … In most situations, the Lagrangian density does not itself seem to have clear physical meaning.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 491

Nor is Penrose a professional maverick or skeptic.   After all, the book we’ve been quoting from clocks in at over a thousand pages, and is subtitled “A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe”;  you wouldn’t do that if you thought physics was a crock.


Simply as an assertion, the Weyl curvature hypothesis  is perhaps more like a claim for ‘an act of God’  than a physical theory.
-- Roger Penrose,  The Road to Reality (2004), p. 769

Rule of Thumb:
Physics advances by dint of Physicists’ Encyclicals.
These are almost never arrived at purely deductively;  neither do they come out of nowhere.

Schrödinger’s equation -- Feynman’s path-integrals -- the laws of thermodynamics:  inspired guesses, which awaited the mathematicians to tidy things up.

-- Not trying to debunk, here;  simply being historical.
(Feyerabend, too, was long  historical  in this sense, before he went over to the dark side.)


Donning our old lexicographer’s hat, let us look a bit more into the matter of vocabulary, the Wortfeld of terms for justification. 

Our negative result so far, entirely in line with Hume’s, is that, without an inductive principle, there can be no legitimate ascent from level-0  [i.e., things like “yellow patch, for me, here, now”] to level-1, or from level-1 to level-2, and that any inductive principle strong enough to “legitimise” the ascent  could not itself be legitimised.   If that is so, then it is obvious that there can be no legitimate ascent to still higher levels.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 105

In the following, we see a fine distinction drawn between justification and “vindication”.

The philosopher John Watkins imagines a principle, call it the Inductive Principle, which would answer Hume’s objections, to the satisfaction of inductivists.  What would then be the status of the IP?   He distinguishes several possible theses :  that it is “synthetic and true a-priori”, “synthetic and provable by a transcendental argument” (which latter turns out to be little more than “Well, it seems to work”), and:
*  IP is synthetic and empirically justified.
*  IP is synthetic, and, although it cannot be justified either a priori or a posteriori, it can be vindicated.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 93

The verb vindicate is slightly odd here;  usually it has moral overtones, of someone having been right against opposition or against the odds.   You verify someone’s age on his driver’s-license;  you validate a parking-stub; you vindicate a statesman’s course of conduct.
The term justification also has a richly complex ethico-theological usage in Christianity, quite opaque to an outsider.


More fine distinctions, this one semi-defined on the fly:

One’s degree of rational assent to a hypothesis should be controlled by its degree of confirmation (‘confirmation’ being understood in some quasi-verificationist or probabilist sense).
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 118

Watkins then spins off into the world of proofs-and-refutations, abduction, and the like:

The sought-for relation between e[vidence] and h[ypothesis] is now inverted:  instead of an upward, quasi-verifying inference from e to h, we have a downward, explanatory derivation of e from h.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 119

Note those squirrely “quasi”s, by the way.  For all the wealth of the verificatory Wortfeld, no term seems quite to fit.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Penguin Paradox

If you’ve ever read an introduction to linguistic or analytical philosophy, you will have met the concept of the “semantical paradoxes”, such as Grelling’s.   These involve the limits of language -- although, not in the usual way whereby there is so much you wish to impart but you can’t put it into words :  rather the opposite.  Language, unbridled, can take us places we should never go, and needs to be regimented -- to have limits set upon it, like a wayward teen.  (Russell to language:  “You - are - so - grounded !!”)

One of the variant colors or flavors  is:  What is the largest number not nameable in fewer than twenty-two syllables?   (There is a variant that replaces fewer with less, and thus can say “twenty-one”;  but grammatical decorum forbids.)
So you think about it, and come up with some number with a lot of nines in it, and proudly present your answer.  Then the presenter grins and says:  Ah, but I just named it with that very phrase, and it took me one syllable less to do it!

Actually, I can top that.

So, for fifty points:
=> What is the largest number nameable by an English monosyllable??? <=

(Thinks …   thinks …)

(Hmmmmmmm ……….)

And the answer is:


“Bob” is my name for a certain very, very big number.  He’s huge.  And Bob is the largest because there are only finitely many English monosyllables, which were dealt out to a bunch of us, and I waited till everyone else had christened his number first.  Bob is defined as the sum of all those numbers.
(Same strategy Lyndon Johnson used in wrangling his election to the Senate.)

Since I discovered this paradox, parable, or whatever it is,  I get to name it.  I call it The Penguin Paradox, because I like penguins.

“Bob”s official mascot