Herakleitos and Diogenes

Herakleitos and Diogenes by Guy Davenport is a book of fragments translated into English. Here are some I found interesting, Heraclitus first:
5 Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.
Fallibilism :-)
13 Eyes and ears are poor informers to the barbarian mind.
Possibly a statement about fallibilism of the senses. But could also be racism against non-Greeks.
55 The stupid are deaf to the truth: they hear, but think that the wisdom of a perception always applies to someone else.
I run into that frequently.
57 Many people learn nothing from what they see and experience, nor do they understand what they hear explained, but imagine they have.
One meaning of this statement is that communication is fallible even when everyone involved believes the communication has been successful.
80 All men think.
I wonder why this has been preserved. Why did anyone find it worth quoting and saving? Was it controversial statement of equality (contrary to the possible racism above)?


6 It is absurd to bring back a runaway slave. If the slave can survive without a master, is it not awful to admit that the master cannot live without the slave?
An interesting perspective.
10 Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?
A nice statement in favor of criticism.
23 It is luckier to be a Megarian's ram than his son.
From other fragments, I believe he means because the ram is fed and has an easy life, while the son is made to work hard. Though he could simply mean that parents are harsh.
42 There is no stick hard enough to drive me away from a man from whom I can learn something.
A good attitude which remains rare today. (Don't assume you are an exception. See Heraclitus 55.)
43 Eukleidos' lectures limp and sprawl, Plato's are tedious, tragedies are quarrels before an audience, and politicians are magnified butlers.
Plato gives bad lectures, Diogenes tells us.
48 Beg a cup of wine from Plato and he will send you a whole jar. He does not give as he is asked, nor answer as he is questioned.
To properly engage in reasoned debate with people who disagree, one must be willing to answer their questions clearly. Diogenes says Plato wouldn't do that.
49 Share a dish of dried figs with Plato and he will take them all.
I don't know ancient Greek etiquette, but I think this is saying Plato had bad character.
59 When some strangers to Athens asked me to show them Demosthenes, I gave them the finger, so that they would know what it felt like to meet him.
I wonder why Diogenes didn't like Demosthenes. Unlike with Plato, no specific grievance is given.
92 What lovers really enjoy are their spats and the disapproval of society.
This has some truth today as well. Without fights and controversy, some couples would grow bored. And don't forget Heraclitus 55.
99 Why not whip the teacher when the pupil misbehaves?
A wise comment. Why, indeed, are students blamed rather than teachers, or the pair together? The teacher is the responsible adult, and the leader, whereas the child's ideas are suppressed, so shouldn't the teacher bear primary responsibility for the outcome of a conventional education?
107 Make passes as you, do they? Why, then, don't you wear clothes that don't so accurately outline what they're interested in?
It's interesting that the same style of dressing sexually but denying having done so existed way back then.
109 I've seen Plato's cups and table, but not his cupness and tableness.
A criticism of Plato's Forms for their abstract nature and lack of evidence.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Democritus Book Quotes

Democritus by Paul Cartledge, p 6-7:
it is thanks chiefly to Plato that the scientists and philosophers known collectively as the Presocratics, of whom Democritus was the last, have almost without exception not survived to address us in their own right. For it was a major part of Plato's purpose, showing himself in this respect at any rate fully representative of the agonistic or competitive character of all ancient Greek intellection, to put out of court and drive from the market all earlier philosophers apart from Socrates — or at any rate his representation of 'Socrates'. This aim he achieved with near-total success.
That is very interesting. Some people assume we don't have more older books because they decayed. But which ones were preserved is not random and calls out for explanation.

This is quoting Democritus on page 24:
Nature and teaching are closely related; for teaching reforms a person, and by reforming remakes his nature.
The idea that nature can be changed is one of the major things missing from the current nature/nurture debate that assumes traits due to nature are permanent but traits due to nurture can be changed.

One more quote of Democritus from page 32:
Even when you are alone, neither say nor do anything bad: learn to feel shame before yourself rather than before others.
Here he anticipates Feynman's advice not to orient your life around what other people think, and connects it to morality.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Aristotle on Induction

How did induction get started? Where did it come from? What was it like, then? Here is the original argument that has, apparently, impressed the world. It's by Aristotle.

It is clear then how the terms are related in conversion, and in respect
of being in a higher degree objects of aversion or of desire. We must
now state that not only dialectical and demonstrative syllogisms are
formed by means of the aforesaid figures, but also rhetorical syllogisms
and in general any form of persuasion, however it may be presented.
For every belief comes either through syllogism or from induction.

Now induction, or rather the syllogism which springs out of induction,
consists in establishing syllogistically a relation between one extreme
and the middle by means of the other extreme, e.g. if B is the middle
term between A and C, it consists in proving through C that A belongs
to B. For this is the manner in which we make inductions. For example
let A stand for long-lived, B for bileless, and C for the particular
long-lived animals, e.g. man, horse, mule. A then belongs to the whole
of C: for whatever is bileless is long-lived. But B also ('not possessing
bile') belongs to all C. If then C is convertible with B, and the
middle term is not wider in extension, it is necessary that A should
belong to B. For it has already been proved that if two things belong
to the same thing, and the extreme is convertible with one of them,
then the other predicate will belong to the predicate that is converted.
But we must apprehend C as made up of all the particulars. For induction
proceeds through an enumeration of all the cases.

Such is the syllogism which establishes the first and immediate premiss:
for where there is a middle term the syllogism proceeds through the
middle term; when there is no middle term, through induction. And
in a way induction is opposed to syllogism: for the latter proves
the major term to belong to the third term by means of the middle,
the former proves the major to belong to the middle by means of the
third. In the order of nature, syllogism through the middle term is
prior and better known, but syllogism through induction is clearer
to us.

We have an 'example' when the major term is proved to belong to the
middle by means of a term which resembles the third. It ought to be
known both that the middle belongs to the third term, and that the
first belongs to that which resembles the third. For example let A
be evil, B making war against neighbours, C Athenians against Thebans,
D Thebans against Phocians. If then we wish to prove that to fight
with the Thebans is an evil, we must assume that to fight against
neighbours is an evil. Evidence of this is obtained from similar cases,
e.g. that the war against the Phocians was an evil to the Thebans.
Since then to fight against neighbours is an evil, and to fight against
the Thebans is to fight against neighbours, it is clear that to fight
against the Thebans is an evil. Now it is clear that B belongs to
C and to D (for both are cases of making war upon one's neighbours)
and that A belongs to D (for the war against the Phocians did not
turn out well for the Thebans): but that A belongs to B will be proved
through D. Similarly if the belief in the relation of the middle term
to the extreme should be produced by several similar cases. Clearly
then to argue by example is neither like reasoning from part to whole,
nor like reasoning from whole to part, but rather reasoning from part
to part, when both particulars are subordinate to the same term, and
one of them is known. It differs from induction, because induction
starting from all the particular cases proves (as we saw) that the
major term belongs to the middle, and does not apply the syllogistic
conclusion to the minor term, whereas argument by example does make
this application and does not draw its proof from all the particular
Notice how he says induction differs than argument by example because in induction one starts from every possible particular case, not just a limited set of examples. But when does anyone analyze every possible case? There are unlimited cases to consider. So no one performs induction up to the standard Aristotle sees is necessary for it to work.

Aristotle wasn't very consistent or clear about what induction is. He mentions in frequently. That passage was the closest thing I could find to an attempt to explain it.

Here's another mention:

Knowledge of the fact differs from knowledge of the reasoned fact.
To begin with, they differ within the same science and in two ways:
(1) when the premisses of the syllogism are not immediate (for then
the proximate cause is not contained in them-a necessary condition
of knowledge of the reasoned fact): (2) when the premisses are immediate,
but instead of the cause the better known of the two reciprocals is
taken as the middle; for of two reciprocally predicable terms the
one which is not the cause may quite easily be the better known and
so become the middle term of the demonstration. Thus (2, a) you might
prove as follows that the planets are near because they do not twinkle:
let C be the planets, B not twinkling, A proximity. Then B is predicable
of C; for the planets do not twinkle. But A is also predicable of
B, since that which does not twinkle is near--we must take this truth
as having been reached by induction or sense-perception.
What is he talking about? We know that things which are near don't twinkle via induction or sense perception? No we don't. Near things can twinkle. And even if we didn't have any modern flashing lights or paintings of Santa's eyes, there's no way to perceive that nothing that is near could ever twinkle. And if it could have been induced in Aristotle's time, as he seems to claim, that would prove that induction can reach false conclusions, since near things can and do twinkle sometimes.

Here's a relevant passage:
It is also clear that the loss of any one of the senses entails the
loss of a corresponding portion of knowledge, and that, since we learn
either by induction or by demonstration, this knowledge cannot be
acquired. Thus demonstration develops from universals, induction from
particulars; but since it is possible to familiarize the pupil with
even the so-called mathematical abstractions only through induction-i.e.
only because each subject genus possesses, in virtue of a determinate
mathematical character, certain properties which can be treated as
separate even though they do not exist in isolation-it is consequently
impossible to come to grasp universals except through induction. But
induction is impossible for those who have not sense-perception. For
it is sense-perception alone which is adequate for grasping the particulars:
they cannot be objects of scientific knowledge, because neither can
universals give us knowledge of them without induction, nor can we
get it through induction without sense-perception.
It tells us induction requires sense-perception for input, but that's about it.

In this next passage, as I read it, Aristotle says that induction is fallbile:
Nor, as was said in my formal logic, is the method of division a process
of inference at all, since at no point does the characterization of
the subject follow necessarily from the premising of certain other
facts: division demonstrates as little as does induction. For in a
genuine demonstration the conclusion must not be put as a question
nor depend on a concession, but must follow necessarily from its premisses,
even if the respondent deny it. The definer asks 'Is man animal or
inanimate?' and then assumes-he has not inferred-that man is animal.
Next, when presented with an exhaustive division of animal into terrestrial
and aquatic, he assumes that man is terrestrial. Moreover, that man
is the complete formula, terrestrial-animal, does not follow necessarily
from the premisses: this too is an assumption, and equally an assumption
whether the division comprises many differentiae or few. (Indeed as
this method of division is used by those who proceed by it, even truths
that can be inferred actually fail to appear as such.) For why should
not the whole of this formula be true of man, and yet not exhibit
his essential nature or definable form? Again, what guarantee is there
against an unessential addition, or against the omission of the final
or of an intermediate determinant of the substantial being?
Next, here's Aristotle commenting on a limit of induction. Aristotle says induction can only tell us whether a thing has some attribute or not.
may not proceed as by induction to establish a universal on the evidence
of groups of particulars which offer no exception, because induction
proves not what the essential nature of a thing is but that it has
or has not some attribute. Therefore, since presumably one cannot
prove essential nature by an appeal to sense perception or by pointing
with the finger, what other method remains?
Here's a final passage. In it Aristotle says that scientific knowledge is the truest type of knowledge, except for one superior type: intuition.
Thus it is clear that we must get to know the primary premisses by
induction; for the method by which even sense-perception implants
the universal is inductive. Now of the thinking states by which we
grasp truth, some are unfailingly true, others admit of error-opinion,
for instance, and calculation, whereas scientific knowing and intuition
are always true: further, no other kind of thought except intuition
is more accurate than scientific knowledge, whereas primary premisses
are more knowable than demonstrations, and all scientific knowledge
is discursive. From these considerations it follows that there will
be no scientific knowledge of the primary premisses, and since except
intuition nothing can be truer than scientific knowledge, it will
be intuition that apprehends the primary premisses
Perhaps I've searched the wrong books. If anyone knows another passage, let me know.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Example of Several Flaws in Courtship

In Hannah Montana: The Movie, Miley and a boy begin to date. He likes her; she likes him. He tries to confess his feelings on their first date, but circumstances intervene. She's busy; she leaves.

Soon he discovers why she left. It had to do with a momentous, life-changing secret of hers, which had nothing whatsoever to do with him. He, on the spot, dumps her for not being honest with him. She pleads with him, and says she can explain, but he says no and leaves. She accepts this as a reasonable reaction on his part, cries, and blames herself.

They get back together a few days later after she makes a large personal gesture and then also a huge change in her life in public as a method of apologizing and asking him for a second chance. The change was something he didn't know her well enough to ask for, there were no indications he actually wanted it and there was no reason for him to want it.

Notice anything wrong with this?

Confessing your feelings is a way of life involving independently creating feelings for each other, instead of gradually creating them together, and then having one conversation that instantly changes everything (possibly for the worse -- it's risky).

Dumping her amounted to giving up on their relationship when facing their very first problem, before trying to solve it. What sort of relationship can be conditional on no unexpected and unwanted problems ever occurring? Why doesn't he want to attempt problem solving?

One moment he's falling in love with her; the next he's ignoring her pleas and leaving her crying. What is his love worth if it's so fickle? What is he worth, if he's at any moment ready to hurt her if she does something he disapproves of too much? Why doesn't it occur to him to react by helping her improve?

They get back together without figuring out how to avoid any of their prior problems first. She doesn't seek any assurance he won't dump her again (without even trying to fix anything). He never apologizes. He doesn't seek any assurance she won't keep secrets again. She doesn't promise not to. She doesn't explain how she learned something new and has changed her mind. She simply concedes the one point he has made their relationship conditional on and he's satisfied; it's closer to extortion than persuasion.

She cries and considers that normal and doesn't seek a way of life without crying and pain, nor think seriously about how to prevent a recurrence.

When he dumps her, she considers it legitimate too. She agrees with the scheme of things where people callously dump their loved one and leave her crying without even giving her a chance to explain what happened.

Both of them blame the victim. She gets dumped and hurt, and she gets blamed for her own pain. He could have prevented it if only he wanted to, but no one blames him for choosing not to prevent her suffering.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Why School Is Worthless

Feynman explained differential calculus in 6.2 pages, half of which was more focussed on physics, and he had plenty of time for a lengthy real world example. It's in his physics lectures, 8th one in the first book.

His explanation was about 5000x better than anything I heard in school. I conclude school is worthless. One can learn more in an hour of Feynman's lectures than a semester or two of school. Note also: schools could, but do not, use Feynman's lectures. Improvement is easily available and rejected.

(Perhaps you can find a school somewhere that does use his physics or computer science lectures. I've never heard of one, and have heard that they are generally considered unsuitable for a school course. Complaints are made about both the difficulty and the style. But both are simply superior to standard textbooks...)

I am not exaggerating this factor of 5000, though it's hard to make it a number. I was never given any *explanation* of calculus in school, despite several calculus classes (as well as some physics classes). So a more accurate number would be infinity times better. Note that I refer to both high school and university classes, and that university was no better than high school in this regard.

In school, they give you formulas for doing differentiation, and problems which you can solve using about 5 formulas you memorize. They never explained where the formulas come from, why they were invented, what they mean outside a few set examples, or how to reinvent the formulas from scratch. They made a very poor attempt to state what dx and dy mean (it's the derivative of x with respect to y). Feynman addressed that same issue much, much better.

Without explanations, memorizing is the only choice. And if you forget, you can't work it out again with pen and paper, you have to look it up. That is awful.

If you ask a teacher why they never explain it, they probably won't know what you mean or have thought about it. But once you explain yourself more, they'd probably say either that it's too hard, long and complicated to do that, or that the kids wouldn't be interested and don't need to know it.

But Feynman did it in 6 non-dense pages, so it's not too long, hard, or complicated. (Admittedly 3 or so of those pages may be dense to some people. For those people, normal math textbooks would be dense too. And anyway, 6 dense pages would be far shorter and easier than the curriculum schools use.)

As to interest, it's certainly more interesting than memorizing formulas for no reason, which the large majority of students already consider boring.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)

Limits of Critical Discussion?

How effective can critical discussion be as the primary mode of learning more in a field once you reach the very top of the field? Once you know all the common ideas and arguments, then people who only know those common ideas and arguments can be of little use.

Or perhaps not. If you have a new idea, then the reactions of those same people to the new idea will be new to you.

But what if you are so far ahead of others in the field that their reactions to new ideas consistently contain nothing you didn't already consider? Then critical discussion wouldn't be especially useful. Is such a scenario realistic? If one was in it, should they make progress by critical discussion within their own mind? Or should they find another field to work on? Or should they teach others and help them catch up? Or should they make progress in this field by some other method?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)

Rethinking Popper Papers Comments

Preserving the authority of reason, Popper can...
The authority of reason is a contradiction.


Thus an author [like Popper] may be a privileged interpreter [of his own writing] but he is not necessarily reliable, infallible, the last word, or anything like that.
Why is a Popper conference paper claiming there exist privileged sources of knowledge (sometimes)?

Popper was essentially right about verification and passive induction : the former is inaccessible, outside formal sciences, and the latter is a myth
Why is a Popperian conference paper saying verification is possible (sometimes), and claiming further that that was Popper's view?
And we should certainly prefer the hypothesis that resists to our best criticisms better than the others do.
Why does he think we have a way to judge how good a theory is? And on a continuum, it sounds like. Popper offered no such technique.

What Popper offered is the idea that we can reject theories with even one false consequence. There's no continuum of falsity, they are just false, end of story. If criticism leaves us with exactly one remaining theory, then we should tentatively adopt it.

BTW that may sound implausible or unlikely to happen to have exactly one viable theory at some time. It isn't because there are techniques for ending up with exactly one theory, though I don't recall Popper ever explaining them.

Moreover, it is Popper, not Rawls, who identifies and emphasizes the connection between justice and full employment.
I don't remember reading that and it has no citation. Can anyone provide a cite?
Rawls’s method reflects his recognition that a strong moral conviction about a particular action or institution—e.g., slavery, sexism—may override the appeal of an otherwise appealing moral principle
What does it mean for an idea to override an idea? Either it refutes it, or it doesn't. I think this concept is incoherent.
Popper the first anti-foundationalist philosopher in the analytic tradition
But Popper was not an analytic philosopher. He criticized analytic philosophy.


This paper begins by explaining liberalism. However, it never mentions tradition (except negatively in passing). I would summarize the liberal attitude as about optimistic reform of existing knowledge (traditions), and contrast it with conservatism (keeping traditions unchanged) and radicalism or utopianism (which does not value tradition and try to reform it, but instead ignores it and is happy to start from scratch). When a supposed liberal has nothing good to say about tradition, I fear he is actually a radical. Popper himself certainly had good things to say about tradition, and a Popperian should know that.

The paper focusses more on liberalism as being about freedom, individualism, justice, and humanitarianism. But many conservatives and radicals are in favor of all of those things. So how can they be the defining characteristics of liberalism? Further, many liberals accept restrictions on freedom and the other things. This paper approvingly points out that Popper accepts restrictions on freedom later.
neoliberals and libertarians consider free market as a kind of scientific certainty
One can adopt fallibilism and be a free market libertarian, like me. The paper contains no argument that one cannot, just this alienating assertion.

The paper goes on to attack religion. I don't think it's a good idea for a Popper conference paper — and ironically one about liberalism, which is supposed to advocate tolerance — to be intolerant of views held by many Popperians. It'd be better to focus on things agreeable to Popperians.

A better, more Popperian way to criticize libertarianism or religion would be to consider what problem they are trying to solve, what they get right, what they get wrong, and how they can be improved, instead of being hostile to them. It is unliberal to be hostile to fellow liberals instead of trying to work together.

Popperian Selectionism and Its Implications for Education, or ‘What to Do About the Myth of Learning by Instruction from Without?’
That's the title.
Although Popper was vehemently opposed to the discussion of words and their meaning (Popper, 1992[1974], § 7), my experience in talking about learning with educationists has led me to accompany any exposition of a Popperian view of learning with what I term an evolutionary definition. I propose that learning is best defined as
Swann acknowledges doing something Popper was "vehemently opposed to". She spends four consecutive paragraphs doing it. The only reason for opposing Popper that she provides is an appeal to experience which she claims "led" her. But experience does not lead people: that is the myth of instruction from without, the very myth her paper criticizes.
The process itself is not entirely conscious, so you will not be aware of more than a few aspects of it.
It does not follow from a claim that X is not entirely Y that little of X is Y.
A criticism, even if valid, may be inappropriate if ultimately it serves to stifle creativity and inhibit further trial and error-elimination
How does critically seeking the truth stifle truth seeking?
What is at issue here is a choice between two competing theories. One proposes that ‘No learning takes place by instruction from without’, the other that ‘Some learning takes place by instruction from without’. Although both theories are about events in the world, neither has the potential to be refuted by reference to empirical evidence.
Although we don't know how to test the theories today, surely we will in the future. They are theories about the mechanisms by which some physical objects function. Why would that be impossible to test by observing those physical objects?
The function of the brain is to select and create; it has no means of taking in information
The Popperian position is the brain cannot directly take in knowledge. Of course it does take in information through the senses. But that information is not useful until it is processed and interpreted. I am at a loss as to how someone can think the brain does not take in any information at all. The paper does not include any arguments for this proposition, though there is a cite.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

New Induction Disproof

Deutsch, Popper, and Feynman aren't inductivists. I could add more people to this list, like me. So here we see a clear pattern of people not being inductivists. There's a bunch of data points with a certain thing in common (a person not being inductivist). Let's apply induction to this pattern. So we extrapolate the general trend: induction leads us to conclude against induction. Oh no, a contradiction! I guess we'll have to throw out induction.


Q: Your data set is incomplete.
A: All data sets are incomplete.

Q: Your data set isn't random.
A: No data sets are entirely random.

Q: I have an explanation of why your method of selecting data points leads to a misleading result.
A: That's nice. I like explanations.

Q: Don't you care that I have a criticism of your argument?
A: I said we should throw out induction. As you may know, I think we should use an explanation-focussed approach. I took your claim to have an explanation, and lack of claim to have induced anything, as agreement.

Q: But how am I supposed to object to your argument using only induction? Induction isn't a tool for criticizing invalid uses of induction.
A: So you're saying induction cannot tell us which inductions are true or false. We need explanation to do that. So induction is useless without explanation, but explanation is not useless without induction.

Q: That doesn't prove induction is useless.
A: Have you ever thought about how much of the work, in a supposed induction, is done by induction, and how much by explanation?

Q: No.
A: Try it sometime.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (20)