Blog: Ideas found in old drawers

Ideas found in old drawers
Ideas found in old drawers
Date: 2018-Jul-29 23:08:54 EST

When my cats were talking to me earlier today, it got me thinking about limits to our communication, and why those exist. Human languages are a technology suitable for thoughts from the highly abstract to future planning to the immediate, with an added usefulness in ordering one's own thoughts. Cats are more struck in the president and anticipation of the near future, and their language is much more limited. Could we imagine them having enough overlap that there would be a smooth gradient where we would have complete understanding of their language and then some? Why didn't nature do this for us? Why is there not a universal language? And then I thought about this some more and realised that lack of a common tongue may even be advantageous between human tribes, allowing for private conversations and deception and group cohesion, with natural selection offering even stronger cross-species benefits for unintelligibility. Should the crocs, hippos, and bison all speak the same tongue? Probably not.

My workplace has been closed for awhile due to an exploded water pipe near Madison Square. It reopens tomorrow. I am looking forward to this; I find it hard to be productive at home, and I both want to get stuff done and to be able to show others that I got stuff done. It also should be good to get back in the gym habit.

My recent trip back to Texas was nice; got to spend time with two uncles and my cousin Conner and some other family, catching a little slice of each of their lives. Also got some rather nice boots (Allen's Boots in Austin) and enjoyed some really great Chinese food in Houston. We did a Segway tour of the latter; I was a bit slower than the rest because I was uncomfortable at high speeds, and this may have annoyed them (and the two others on the tour), but I was overall happy with it.

While I was down there I chatted w/ Mark on something I've been thinking about for awhile - the oddity that people can tell when music they've never heard before is being misplayed. He noticed something that I missed before - that there's a narrow-form reason why a lot of errors are immediately obvious - musical keys are pretty concrete and misplayed notes usually fall out of key. My original fascination is there, but diminished in that in-key wrong notes, or bad improvisation would be a lot more rare and probably less immediately apparent. So this is disappointing because it diminishes the interestingness, but it's a reminder that it's important our ideas be challenged.

I also met the CEO of Conda, briefly. I wish we had had the time to talk further. In prep to chat with my cousin I learned more about what the company is doing, and the thing I'm using of theirs is more of a side-product (AFAICT).

On the way back from Texas, I found myself grabbing the airplane wall whenever the plane shook; some part of me knew that this was just instinct and that grabbing onto the wall would not plausibly be helpful (at least to the extent that the grab felt like a life-saving-urge rather than a don't-get-banged-up one) if the tube of metal I was in were to begin to plummet, but I find myself pretty comfortable with the idea that not everything we do in life must make sense; if it makes me feel safe, I'm intellectually comfortable doing it.

DragonCon is coming up. Looking forward to it, and also to the Amtrak ride down.

I recently have been getting into "The Good Place", a philosophically-aware comedy. Such things are pretty rare in public media, and they're doing a good job so far at portraying philosophy as having relevant things to say in real life (even though the character who brings these ideas in is himself not a doer).

Recently have been chewing on an indea - for most of the "holy books", or alternatively earth-shaking philoophical works (e.g. Rawls' Theory of Justice), could they be written today in our current political climate? Legally? Without being blasted as bigoted? I suspect the answer is often "no", both because of generally shifted social mores and because at least right now critical theory is one of the few cohesive sets of ideas with a grip on American culture. What should adherents think about this (if correct)? I hope they'd be willing to step up, realising this, and speak louder in the form of offering alternative frameworks of meaning and values (N - "write new values on new tablets"). Not every philosopher must, but I think there's a collective duty for us to undermine consensus on any single philosophy (or faith) when it grows too bold. Read too simply this sounds like anti-philosophy, but we should instead read of it as being for the practice of philosophy rather than its product.

On the sneakiness of language - in politics people get a lot more frustrated with a locked door than with a wall. People think about walls as part of the lay of the land, while a locked door is a restriction to rage against. The surveyor or philosopher may see them as the same, while the savvy debator may convert one into the other to get people to stop thinking about some possibilities.

Through Quillette I've been following, at least for now, a Rabbi Josh Yuter. A recent tweet of his reminded me of a particularly traditionalist perspective on tradition that ties into conservative politics - the notion that the test of time provides validity. There is something to this, but it's easy to overstate. The test of time at best provides supplementary validation for a set of ideas, in that if one cannot reliably develop ideas of causality to fully understand a domain, one at least knows that the ideas tested are not grossly destructive. If an economic or social theory regularly results in destruction, it's a good sign that, at least with all the specifics present, it is not viable. These ideas not leading to destruction doesn't indicate that the ideas tested are actually positive. I offered the idea of a family tradition dating back centuries of always tapping one's nose right before a meal. Here we understand the mechanisms of food and health and so on well enough to know that the nose tap does nothing, but without understanding those mechanisms, the "stood the test of time" would still be present.