[math] Accounting for Numbers

Andrew Dudzik adudzik at gmail.com
Wed Nov 14 13:59:13 CST 2012


The ironic thing is that Latour is attempting to address precisely the
problem you are complaining about (see the preamble to his essay on
criticism <http://www.pathguy.com/Latour.pdf>).  But one of the disturbing
strengths of Rationalism is its insistence that everything that does not
resemble itself must be in some sense a perversion of reality.  Yet it has
failed to adequately take into account its own historical biases, rooted in
17th century post-colonialism, and based more on a concept of power than on
a concept of truth.

In any case, a system that presupposes a singular truth administered from
on high is every bit as destructive as a system that leaves truth entirely
up for grabs.  In fact, the two have a tendency to transform into each
other.

Rationalists who blame democracy are failing to first remove the plank from
their own eye.  The world has good reason to reject the technocracy that
science is frequently caught wishing that it was.  The question is not how
to force the world to accept our particular version of natural reality; it
is how best to assist others in pressing forward, towards greater
solidarity and appreciation of the essential matters of concern.  Yet
somehow anyone who actually attempts such a reconstruction is ridiculed by
the defenders of science, a sign that science itself has fallen into a kind
of despair.

...for those getting tired of this philosophizing, I'll try to send some
actual math out to the list later today to make up for it...

On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 11:19 AM, Michael Bishop <michaelbish at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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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>>
>>
>
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