Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Autumn Reading Summary (part 1)

Pindar said: "Mistress of high achievement, O lady Truth, do not let my understanding stumble across some jagged falsehood."

In between the time I've been spending reading my sociology and geoscience textbooks, I've found a bit of time (every now and then) to read for enjoyment and personal interest. Here are a few excerpts that I found particularly interesting...

First, I've been reading a bit of Plato. Specifically, several of his dialogues of Socrates. All of the following quotes (except one) are thus Plato's account of what Socrates said.

From Euthyphro, "Consider this question: is what is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved?" This question of yours, Socrates, has been named the "Euthyphro dilemma," and ever since you asked it more than 2,400 years ago, it has been running philosophers and theologians around in circles. I'm mildly annoyed that I was 26 years old before I came across it..

In Phaedo, Simmias says, "[That idea] appealed to me, without any proof to support it, as being based on plausible analogy; which is why most people find it attractive. But I realize that theories which rest their proof upon plausibility are imposters, and unless you are on your guard, they deceive you properly, both in geometry and everywhere else." He has a good point there, Socrates. And he voices this insight right in the middle of a conversation in which you clearly demonstrate man's ability to prop up quite ridiculous beliefs by all means of dubious "proof." That's ironic, in my opinion.

From Meno, "...true opinions...are not worth much until you fasten them up with the reasoning of cause and effect." Quite true, Socrates, but good luck convincing most people of that.

To which Socrates might reply, "But my dear Crito, why should we pay so much attention to what 'most people' think? The really reasonable people, who have more claim to be considered, will believe that the facts are exactly as they are." I don't think I can disagree with you there.

From Phaedo, "You know how, in an argument, people who have no real education care nothing for the facts of the case, and are only anxious to get their point of view accepted by the audience?" I think I know just what you mean, Socrates...

Second, in keeping with my occasional habit of science reading just before bed (previously Stephen Hawking, or Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy), I've started reading The Whole Shebang. It was written by Timothy Ferris, and so far it is quite good. From the preface:

"Religious systems are inherently conservative, science inherently progressive."


"Scientific findings, even the most imposing ones, customarily stumble into the world fraught with blunders that have to be worked out before they really begin to fly. They lack the satisfying, thunderclap certitude of religious and pseudoscientific dicta that admit to no error. But they are alive, and the withering of one branch of a theory does not necessarily mean that the theory as a whole is doomed."

That second sentence is a truly impressive sequence of words. It reminds me a bit of some of the text that I plan to share in part two of my autumn reading summary, which I will hopefully post soon.

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