Sound and Fury

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Free Stuff!

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This started as part two of my list of web resources for students. But it has kind of devolved into a list of free stuff available online. Basically, as far as I can tell I got most of the good sources for philosophy online the first time round…

Here are some more sources for free stuff on the net.

  • John Baez has a great big list of free maths and physics texts available online. Be careful, there’s an animation on that page that crashes my browser.
  • Project Gutenberg is a massive store of out-of-copyright texts in electronic formats. Lots of cool stuff available there.
  • The Online Books page has lots of stuff on it. I don’t know if any of it is any good, though.
  • Books about linux available online.
  • Googling online free books gets you lots of hits. Most will probably be dubious however… Most search results always are…
  • Here’s a book that looks interesting and is available for free by Alexandre Borovik of A dialogue on infinity fame. It’s called Mathematics under the Microscope.
  • Another free book. It’s called God’s Debris and it is by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. This one I have read. But I can’t really remember if it is any good…

Any suggestions as to other similar stuff is welcome.

I forgot to mention Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods which is kind of almost a dialogue. And while I’m linking to freely available stuff, The Elements is online for free. Read Digest and Be Impressed by the most successful maths textbook ever. 2000 years and still going strong.

“Read, digest and be impressed” I like that phrase. I shall use it regularly. Whether it is relevant or not.

Written by Seamus

March 13, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Probabilities

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Probability is something I am interested in. I’m interested in the philosophical aspects of probability. When I was a maths student, probability didn’t excite me at all. But I am interested in the philosophy of probability and I wanted to write something more about it. My philosophy of physics essay was about one aspect of probability in science. But I’d like to look more at probability in general. I thought maybe of making it the topic of my postgrad seminar talk. It would be an interesting diversion from writing my dissertation. On the walk back from the bookshop today (dammit. I forgot to by the book I meant to pick up…) I was planning out how the talk would look in my head. It would have three sections… I use bullet points quite a lot in this blog, so perhaps I’ll use the ennumerate thing this time…

  1. Discuss some of the terminology of philosophical work on probability. Different writers distinguish different numbers of types of probability and give them different but sometimes overlapping names. So I’d talk about what people mean by; objective, subjective, epistemic, ontic, chance, credence and so on…
  2. Look at which of the extensions of these terms overlap or are contained in one another. Come up with my own classification of probabilities and associated vocabulary. This would probably take the form of different terms on different axes, because I think probability is more than a one-dimensional concept. (Does that make any sense? I might have to think about how to explain that some more…)
  3. As well as terminology and concepts, there is the interpretation of probabilty. So I would finish by looking at which interpretations cause what kind of collapsing of concepts. If you’re a determinist, objective probabilities are going to have to collapse somehow. If you believe in GRW you can’t be a frequentist. (I’ve mentioned this point before I am sure…)

I’d take a realist, indeterminist position for most of the talk, because I think that will allow you to differentiate the most types of probability. Then to avoid criticism of the “theory-ladenness” of my characterisation, in the third section I’d look at the problem through different philosophical goggles. Wearing different philosophical hats.

This got me thinking about another awkward point. If you’re a realist about objective, physical probabilities, how do you guarantee they satisfy the axioms of probability theory? I can’t see how you do it. Even if you replace Kolmogorov with some other axiomatisation (Luder’s rule conditionalisation or whatever) you still have to explain why the probabilities satisfy that system. Since the probabilities will be inherently independent how do you do this?

Right I have to stroll back up to the bookshop before it starts raining again. I need to pick up On the Shoulders of Giants. Because it will look good on my bookshelf next to God Created the Integers and The Road to Reality. Because it will be a good source for my history of science essay.

Written by Seamus

March 10, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Posted in books, philosophy

Dialogues in philosophy

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I’m interested in the idea of the dialogue as a way of expounding philosophical ideas. So here is a list of some philosophical dialogues.

  • Obviously, the daddy of them all; Plato’s whole oeuvre is roughly dialogue shaped.
  • Berkley’s Dialogues between Hylas and Philonius
  • Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos. My favourite dialogue. It’s crazy! all the characters are named after Greek letters. It’s madness. But it’s really good. It gives you new perspectives on the history of maths. It also can kind of be seen as an allegory about the philosophy of science.
  • Mary Hesse has a book called Models and Analogies in Science that has a dialogue between Duhem and Campbell. Have to admit I haven’t read it. But I did borrow the book from the library once to check it was there.
  • Today I picked up Sue Blackmore’s Conversations on consciousness, which is basically dialogues between her and eminent philosophers and psychologists…
  • Godel Escher Bach has many dialogues in it. They serve more as diversions and, again, as allegorical tools, rather than as the main expository tool. But they are still interesting and very clever.
  • There’s Lewis Carroll’s original dialogue between Achilles and the Tortoise which served as the inspiration for Hofstadter’s GEB dialogues.
  • Galileo used Salviati, Simplicio and Sagredo in his dialogues to discuss new sciences and new world systems. (Bizarrely Project Gutenberg has no results for galileo. Disappointing.)
  • Schopenhauer has also used the dialogue.

I can’t think of any more dialogues for now. But I feel I’m missing some… Anyway, I think it is an interesting way of presenting an argument. I’d like to think more about what sort of discussions can usefully be presented in this form.

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Written by Seamus

March 8, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Posted in books, philosophy, science

If I were a casting agent…

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One thing we did in our house last year was discuss who we would cast as whom if certain things were made into films: Brendan Fraser was made to play Peter Perfect from Wacky Racers. And our house, being our house, always had a role for Sam Leeroy Jackson. So, I’ve been reading Titus Groan recently, and I’ve been thinking about who I would cast.

  • The obvious choice for Fuschia would be Addams family-era Christina Ricci.
  • Johnny Vegas as Swelter would make me laugh.
  • Sepulchrave, Flay and Sourdust are all too alike in my mind to cast indiviually, but you could choose from a pool of Christopher Lee, Vincent Price (circa Edward Scissorhands), Ian McKellen…
  • Prunesquallor should be played by Mark Heap like a less neurotic, more annoying version of Alan Statham from Green Wing
  • I wonder if Rupert Grint could pull off a convincing Steerpike. Or maybe Edward thingy from American History X and Terminator 2.

It’s an interesting way to amuse oneself. If you share my film-geekery and my book-nerdage. Of course, the whole thing is spoiled if the book has been made into a film. You can’t really talk about casting for Harry Potter characters or Lord of the Rings chaps without having the actual choices impinge upon your discussion.

I’m going to think about this with other books…

Written by Seamus

February 28, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Posted in books, film

Here are some links and stuffs!

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First up, Charles Darwin was born a week on Tuesday. Thus evolution sunday is soon! Interesting project. Nice to see people trying to do more than just alienate religious people. Speaking of which; The four horsemen. I haven’t watched it yet, but I have my reservations. Putting four notorious atheists round a table isn’t exactly a recipe for reasoned debate on religion. That said, I have a great amount of respect for Dawkins as a scientist and Dennett as a philosopher. (I know nothing about the other two except that they are not fans of Him Upstairs)

In other news; why are people who study metaphysics called metaphysicians and not metaphysicists? I can’t see how metaphysics is more like being a physician than a physicist. When Aristotle coined the term it was because it came after the Physics, not because it came after a treatise on medicine.

I am buying books faster than I read them. And I’m amassing a list of books I want faster than I buy them. This despite the fact I got about a dozen books for Christmas… How the devil will I ever get out of this mess? I bought and have started reading the Gormenghast trilogy. None of the books I got for Christmas have been touched yet! Oh, except Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days.

Written by Seamus

February 3, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Posted in books, philosophy

Nothing to do. Awesome.

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My essays have been handed in now and I’m at a bit of a loose end. Nothing much to do. Well, all sorts of things I should do, like tidy up my room and catch up with the reading for my new courses, return my the library book Everest I have built on my desk and so on. But I’m enjoying not doing much a bit too much to start any of that nonsense.

I watched Bobby today. Quite a good film. Incredible cast… Not much else to say about it really…

I’m reading Night Watch and I saw the film of Day Watch a few days ago. The book is better than either film. But isn’t that always the way…

Written by Seamus

February 2, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Posted in books, film

Why I shouldn’t go near libraries.

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So I went to the library today looking for a translation of a paper by Max Born which I needed to read for Physics. But of course, the only copy of the book was out. And in the physics library which I don’t know where it is… or… whose location I am ignorant of. Anyway, I left the library and popped into Waterstones, as you do. I sort of accidentally ended up buying three books. Oops.

In my defence, two of them make tangential allusions to Henry Oldenburg, so they might provide some background for my putative essay topic for the history course next term. And the third one is about the history of maths. (Nicolas Bourbaki, to be specific.) So they were all sort of a bit almost relevant to stuff. Kind of… I also got 10% off with my new shiny Waterstones card… So I really only bought 2.7 books.

OK. The Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox. That’s why I’m here. I need to vent a bit. What? Seriously. It’s bonkers. I know Bohr and friends went a bit crazy with the “indeterminacy is a feature of the world not a defect of the quantum theory” thing with no evidenc. But EPR seems to make similarly unfounded claims about the “reality” of physical quantities witout really explaining what a quantity is or what it means for it to be real. For example is “hage” (=height*age) a real quantity? I don’t know. Its all very silly. I hope Bohr’s reply, which I have yet to read, is a decent paper…

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Written by Seamus

October 15, 2007 at 2:48 pm