Beautiful Objectivity

Old Aristotleian habits die hard and the human penchant for bifurcating or othering is alive and well. In this handy primer on the distinctions between analytic and continental philosophy, we learn that “philosophers in one camp discount the work of those in the other simply because of their personal distaste for [analytic] symbolic logic or for elaborate [continental] literary and historical discussions.” Nietzsche, who asserted that philosophers are never disinterested and do the kind of philosophy which suits their psychology, would agree.

In this piece on the distinctions between mainstream and fringe physicists, we something similar at work. One group thinks it is dealing in reality even though its basic assumptions rest on some mathematical sleights of hand which can’t be tested. The other group thinks this is hocum and searches for alternative realities. But perhaps the most important difference between them is personal: “beyond their divergent appetites for mathematics and willingness to shut up and calculate, physicists and fringers might be separated by something else quite basic—a different appreciation for what counts as beautiful.”

Whether talking about different approaches to philosophy or physics, I think Nietzsche was right. However wrapped, the ultimate justification for our preferred approach is what counts as beautiful.

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2 thoughts on “Beautiful Objectivity

  1. Jayarava

    Interesting article. I like the smoke ring machine particularly. Does God blow smoke?

    I had this sneaking suspicion reading Stephen Hawkings book last year that things had gone backwards since his first book – that the world had become less comprehensible not more. The more it gets like that the more I wonder why it matters, except that some of these math geniuses would not be productive members of society otherwise.

    Meanwhile every man and his dog explain “reality” or consciousness with Quantum Mechanics – or at least the bits of QM that don’t involve any math.

    And yet there is a beautiful simplicity and accuracy to Newton’s equations of motion – all of which I experimentally verified at school or university. Accurate enough. I recall that sense that reality seemed comprehensible because we can see so much regularity. Now I try to avoid the word reality, as I don’t even know what it means any more.

    Antonio Damasio has shown that people with ventral medial prefrontal cortex damage – which does not impair intellect but does impair emotional regulation – find it difficult to make decisions. They are aware of all the relevant facts, but they have trouble deciding which facts should take priority in making a decision (their problems is not with sense, but with salience). So yes, if we like a fact then it will seem more important than a fact we don’t like. When it comes down to it aesthetics are important.

  2. Sabio Lantz

    Great NYT article. I will get to the other. Your point is something I have been making in different ways on my blog since the onset — albeit much more confused. Well done.

    But when reading the NYT article, I agreed that while temperament can slant one’s choices of truth, it is also clear that “tribalism” or politics/economics are larger to some extent. Just as most people settle in the religion of birth, most philosophers (wouldn’t you say) settle into the philosophy of their continent of birth to a large, significant extent. (not exclusive by any means, but I am pointing at influence). Universities and peers reward behavior and view with jobs, governments and institutions give grants which ‘encourage’ certain forms of thoughts. Only the precious few are free from economic and social constraints — the homeless or the independently wealthy, perhaps.

    Thanx again for point at the articles — they are very helpful. (I think I ‘favorited’ them on Twitter, but I rarely get back to my favorites there — they end up being a burden all of their own in this age of Information.)

    PS: I see Jayarava found you (probably from my site, I’d wager). He scolds me often on his site. Though he won’t see this comment in his e-mail box. (sniffle) (smilingly persistent)

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