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Equivalence of Ideas

First, two political points in international politics:

  • As you may have heard, the Israeli embassy in Egypt was recently attacked by a mob of people, in response to an earlier incident where a gang of militants who had carried out deadly attacks were pursued by IDF forces back across the Egyptian border, where some Egyptian border guards were killed. This is an unfortunate-but-inevitable first in a set of upcoming roadbumps as the hostile Egyptian public views towards Israel replace the lukewarm relations Mubarak dictated. Reasonable amounts of blame can be spread all around; it's interesting seeing whether Egypt will establish/maintain rule-of-law and diplomatic norms, or if the promise of freedom-of-democracy is replaced by the rougher freedom-of-anarchy.
  • It's pretty amazing that Syria has not made much in the way of motions towards resolving its conflicts either way.

Then two things I found today in philosophy that make me very happy.In both cases, it's that I found names and philosophers sharing my thoughts, and having written on the topic better than I could. Independent derivation of ideas for the win.

  • In philosophy of maths, I learned about Hartry Field's 「Fictionalism」, which is basically how I see maths: as a useful fiction rather than anything potentially true in itself. Field's thought experiments in support of his position are kind of cute too.
    • Note that if you're reading about this on Wikipedia, I (unsurprisingly) reject the social constructivist position; it may be trivially true that maths come from a culture and that other conceptions of maths may have different axioms that may be swayed by cultural need or chance. That truth does not mean that we must or should support other conceptions of maths out of a (IMO very misguided) desire to validate other cultures and their folk ideas. A desire to validate everyone is inherently sick, and in this case would leave us approving systems that are inferiour at being useful fictions. We don't have to trust logic or maths as being deeply true to recognise the utility of their formality.
    • I hold that Fictionalism is a more profound position and better response to the challenge of whether things can be true that do not describe states of the universe. It additionally meets our general intuition that when faced with uncertain foundations, our responses should be relativist (and thus honestly address the problems of prior, a priori-style thinking) but not postmodernist.
  • On that page, I came across mention of Max Tegmark's Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, which is not identical to but substantially similar to some ideas I've talked about on this blog; he writes about the idea of maths of sufficient complexity essentially embodying systems of the universe complex enough to be sentient. I grant/believe that the patterns in the brain are what is conscious, not the brain itself, and I am willing to grant that the embodiment in a real brain does not make those patterns conscious in a way independent from how they are in-themselves. For Tegmark, the mathematical models are the foundations. For me, I have an abstract notion of patterns (not necessarily mathematical) that is foundational. I need to read more about his perspective; it may be a challenge to explain clearly why fictionalism does not challenge my version of the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis.

I am both a bit disappointed and happy to find that my ideas are not novel; the best part of that discovery is reading about how others created them differently. With ideas like this, I am worried both by the sterility of not reading widely enough, and the gravity of having read the ideas of others before synthesising my own versions of the ideas. Unavoidable, really.


It is high on my to-do list, but first I need to figure out where I am living after the end of November. If I don't have that figured out by the deadline, I'll be living out of hotels with my pets in a cat hotel :(