[math] Accounting for Numbers

Michael Bishop michaelbish at gmail.com
Wed Nov 14 13:19:07 CST 2012

Thanks for your thoughts Andrew.  I know enough to know that I can't
evaluate the ideas  Landsburg presents.  I go back and forth on the value
of philosophy more generally even the parts of it which I find appealing.

As I've expressed on readings before, I am highly skeptical of Latour's
value.  To cite an example of what bugs me from your link to the Wikipedia
page on Politics of Nature:
"Latour argues that this distinction between facts and values is rarely
useful and in many situations dangerous. He claims that it leads to a
system that ignores nature's socially constructed status and creates a
political order without "due process of individual will"."

I'm aware that the fact-value distinction has some problems in a deep
philosophical sense.  But we just finished a presidential election in
which, as usual, IMO, lying about important things proves to be a good
political strategy.  It wouldn't bother me so much if the lies were about
things that are hard to prove - I expect that.  But even fairly obvious
lies, e.g. Romney's budget numbers,  make good politics.  This really
damages my confidence in democracy.  So when I hear that Latour's biggest
concern about our political life is that scientists with their emphasis on
facts are undermining democracy I am unimpressed by his insight.

On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 11:54 AM, Andrew Dudzik <adudzik at gmail.com> wrote:

> I'm actually about halfway through *Thinking Fast and Slow* at the
> moment.
>  I'd love to hear some more thoughts on this.
> This is something I'm currently thinking about a lot, so you might want to
> ask me again in a few months.  But sections 4 and 5 of this essay<http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/unger/english/pdfs/reorientation6.pdf>on pragmatism by Roberto Unger, my favorite thinker, contains some choice
> quotations.  Unger bemoans "the overwhelming influence that the
> disciplinary structure of the modern university, with its obsessive focus
> on the filtering out of unreliable people and ideas, has had upon the way
> we do science."  But, as with most of Unger's work, you'll have to find the
> details elsewhere.
> That essay, incidentally, is where I got the idea that the realism vs.
> constructivism debate is a pretty lie, covering up deeper, more unsettling
> concerns about how mathematics is actually practiced.  Unger calls it a way
> of "keeping disagreement within the family", and notes that it is by no
> means confined to mathematics.
> Related to the project of restructuring the social organization of the
> university system is the project of reorganizing the language surrounding
> science.  Bruno Latour's excellent book *Politics of Nature<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Nature>
> * attempts to do just that, though I've just barely begun reading it.
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