A Little Churchill

I had a feeling once about Mathematics–that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me–the Byss and Abyss. I saw–as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show–a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Published in: on August 31, 2005 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Little Epicurus

The blessed and immortal is itself free from trouble nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therfore, it is not constrained either by anger or by favor. For such sentiments exist only in the weak.

Epicurus, Principle Doctrines 1, translated by Eugene O’Connor

Published in: on August 31, 2005 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Red Cross Relief Fund

You can donate to the Red Cross’s Hurricane Relief Fund here. $5 minimum required.

Published in: on August 31, 2005 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Window to the Soul

I like reading peoples’ published letters, diaries, and journals. It is a window to their souls.

Blogland is like that sometimes.

Published in: on August 30, 2005 at 12:44 pm  Comments (2)  


The British physician in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai surveys the death and destruction in the final scene of the movie. He says, “madness, madness.” The movie ends on that note.

After I finished the final draft of my third terrible novel last week, I swore I would not attempt another one anytime soon if ever. I was sitting in the local bar later in the afternoon, and I started making notes for another novel on the postcards stocked in the dispenser by the jukebox.

What is this terrible compulsion I cannot expel from my system?

“Madness, madness!”

Published in: on August 30, 2005 at 11:56 am  Leave a Comment  

A Class

I have been thinking about taking an alumni course this fall in the University of Chicago’s Basic Program. All of the courses, as usual, seem interesting. The one that has caught my attention most is Literary Cityscapes: Paris from La Vie Romantique to the Decadence. Here is the course description:

During the Romantic which arose in response to the philosophy of the enlightenment, Paris took its place firmly as a cultural and intellectual center of the Western world. We will read the literature of the time and study the social and historical developments that changed the public mood of optimism prevalent at the beginning of the century into the disenchantment of the Decadence. We will also study aspects of art, culture, and music of the time. Our readings will include George Sand, Indiana, Balzac, Cousin Betté, Flaubert, Sentimental Education, Zola, Nana, de Maupessant, Bel Ami, and the poetry of Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rimbaud, and Verlaine.

I can’t resist.

Published in: on August 30, 2005 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  


Rednecks like to talk about politics just like the rest of us. Rednecks run the gamut from ignorant bumpkin to the sophisticated Christopher Hitchens. Rednecks are fond of the slogan, “America, love it or leave it.” What they really mean is “agree with me, or leave it.”

About the only response you can make to the belligerence of a Redneck is “oh, shut up, and drink another beer. Who gives a fuck what you think?”

Published in: on August 29, 2005 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Father Knows Best

President Bush’s speeches are impeccably stage managed. He appears to be a father straight out of a 50’s sitcom. He shows his sardonic face when talking about killing people or when people disagree with him, but that is about the only crack in the facade.

President Bush doesn’t do much for me, but he’s probably an alright guy to hang out with, politics aside. Still, I think disinterested people like me should add some perspective every now and then. After all, nobody is perfect.

Published in: on August 29, 2005 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Video Schmideo

Video Schmideo, a little video store across the street, survived the demolition next door. In celebration that it was still there, I decided to rent a couple of videos. I chose “Alexander” and “I, Robot”.

“Alexander” was a bust. The History Channel did a better special on Alexander the Great than the movie. Plutarch’s life of Alexander seems absolutely riotous and thrill-a-minute compared to the movie. In the movie, Alexander had to rape his bride on their wedding night. If Alexander was so Great, then why didn’t she swoon?

“I, Robot” was an interesting pastiche and modernization of the Isaac Asimov novel which I read when I was about 14 or so. Plus, it was set in 2030 Chicago. Will Smith, always a good movie action hero, played a Chicago cop who tries to discover why new model robots have turned authoritarian and murderous. He had one line in the movie I thought was memorable, but I’ve forgotten it, so I guess it was not all that memorable. I thought the best acting job in the movie was by Sonny the good robot with a little bit of soul. He should have had a bigger part.

All in all, I regretted not watching Mystery Theater on PBS and then some Sci Fi Channel stuff.

I think I’ll check out an audio book at the library next Saturday in the spirit of exploring alternative media.

Published in: on August 28, 2005 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

A Little Thucydides

When the news was told at Athens, they believed not a long time, though it were plainly related and by those very soldiers that escaped from the defeat itself that all was so utterly lost as it was. When they knew it, they were mightily offended by the orators that furthered the voyage, as if they themselves had never decreed it. They were angry also with those that gave prophecies and with the soothsayers and with whosoever else had at first by any divination put them into hope that Sicily should be subdued. Every thing, from every place, grieved them, and fear and astonishment, greatest that ever they were in, beset round.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, VIII, 1, translated by Thomas Hobbes

Published in: on August 27, 2005 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cubs Chances, Love, and War

I am taking a break this morning from running a Monte Carlo simulation that gives some insight into the Cubs chances of making the playoffs.

Inspection of the standings and remaining schedule offer insight enough. The Cubs are in seventh place in the Wild Card standings, 8.5 games behind Philadelphia, have won 47.7% of their games to date, and have 34 games remaining.

How has the Monte Carlo simulations I’ve done over the past several weeks instructed me. First, it showed that the Cubs chances were highly improbable even though it appeared the chances were much better by mere inspection of the standings.

Second, it makes me pause to think about the chances of other seemingly random events. I should not discount the available statistical evidence, and I should apply the elements of probability theory to the evidence. Not doing so, can be my undoing.

That leads me to reflect upon why the mind unconsciously applies heuristic rules in situations where the heuristics may not be appropriate. And that leads me into reflections about the chances involved with love and war.

Published in: on August 27, 2005 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Brain Science and Postmodernism

A hallmark of postmodernism is that it asks questions about how and why we think the way we do? The postmodern critique has been valuable in identifying discourses, grand narratives, metaphors, ideologies, and how we are affected by them, even become a part or element of them.

Critics of postmodernism claim it offers no prescriptions for action of its own, is subject to its own critical methods, and views science and history as merely other metaphors amongst a sea of metaphors.

Brain science tries to understand how the mind works. Its best successes have been medical research for treating diseases and traumas to the brain. Cognitive blending and how we think metaphorically has been a fruitful area of research. Two tenants of the enterprise are that most thinking is unconscious and that thinking is metaphorical.

These scientific researches have their own postmodernist elements. We possess many metaphors for the concepts we use. We arrive at sometimes contradictory positions about matters of fact depending upon the metaphors we are using and their inferential systems. The best one can do is try and discover which metaphors apply best, that is, which ones are apt.

Some people charge the scientific view of metaphor with relativism, a charge leveled against postmodernism in general. However, the scientific study of cognitive blending and metaphor can be tested and confirmed using scientific methods. If science finds we use often conflicting metaphors, that’s not a problem for science. It is just another case where we must recognize our limitations and do our best to take those limitations into account. The reflexivity of the mind thinking about thinking is as old as philosophy. Now, with modern techniques for researching how the brain works there is the possibility of going beyond a priori thinking and theorizing.

The problem is that the brain remains at the frontier of all scientific knowledge despite the progress that has been made. Let us imagine that scientific research continues to advance rapidly and we arrive at a reasonably good theory of how the mind works. How long will a bona fide theory of mind take to permeate the culture? I think of evolution when I ask the question.

The interesting thing is that there is an intersection set, of sorts, between the cognitive sciences and postmodernist technique.

Published in: on August 26, 2005 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  

The Two Wars of Attrition

The Iraq War military conflict has become a war of attrition. The U. S. is dug in and conducts limited operations against insurgents. The insurgents are well hidden with a limitless supply of suicide bombers. The military engagement could last for as long as you please.

The war for share of mind regarding what should be done in Iraq has been a war of attrition too. Withdrawing soon is beginning to gain a significant share of mind across parties, philosophies, and specialties. What was once considered radical leftist critique is becoming homogenized into mainstream thinking whether it is the mind of the loftiest of thinkers or the common citizen too busy or disinterested to give it much thought.

The Iraqi constitution is the writing on the wall. To paraphrase the professional wrestler Rick Flair, you can like it or not like it, but you better learn to love it because it is the only thing going. The same can be said for withdrawing soon.

Published in: on August 25, 2005 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Memoir written on postcards while drinking alone at Pippin’s

Reading a few Montaigne essays at random, dawdling over some lines of Wittgenstein, thinking about certainty and postmodernity, and looking out the window at the brilliant blue sky drove me to the lake where I dangled my feet in the water on the nearly deserted beach. The summer sun burnt away my loathing and angst.

Later, at Pippin’s, the beer and whiskey convinced me that tomorrow I would write one good sentence, or, at least, one I liked. I drifted for hours. Drifting, the nexus of my life, the irreducible core, the purest drug, a friend who keeps me afloat, my secret, a lover who never treats me shabbily, obliterated time.

Beatitude is either finite or infinite, something defying my imagination.

Published in: on August 24, 2005 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Little Montaigne

Montaigne, On Books, translated by M. A. Screech

I do not doubt that I happen to talk of things that are treated better in the writings of master-craftsmen, and with more authenticity. What you have here is purely an assay of my natural, not at all my acquired, abilities. Anyone who catches me out in ignorance does me no harm: I cannot vouch to other people for my reasonings: I can scarcely vouch for them to myself and am by no means satisfied with them. If anyone is looking for knowledge let him go where such fish are to be caught: there is nothing I lay claim to less. These are my own thoughts, by which I am striving to make known not matter but me. Perhaps, I shall master the matter one day; or perhaps I did so once when Fortune managed to bring me to places where light is thrown on it. But I no longer remember anything about that. I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing.

Published in: on August 24, 2005 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Fun With Constitutions

Reading constitutions can be fun. The New York Times has a link to the proposed Iraqi constitution.

Constitutions can be used to predict the future too if you’re into that kind of thing. Put away your crystal balls, astrological charts, and tarot cards for a few moments, and check it out.

Gotta run. I need to check in with my Internet bookie.

Published in: on August 23, 2005 at 4:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Godel, Tarski, and a Typo

I think it was two winters ago I decided to read Godel’s On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems one more time for comprehension. I pushed the project through in less than two weeks. I gained a greater appreciation of how recursive relations create the bridge between the formal and metamathematical worlds.

However, I felt I had arrived when I discovered a nasty type on page 59 of the Dover edition, right in the heart of the proof of Proposition VI leading to the first incompleteness theorem. I wrote an outline of the paper for later reference.

I had been studying the logic papers of Alfred Tarski for several years. If anyone could claim to be a peer of Kurt Godel, it would be Tarski. His logic papers are the most elegant writing about logic you will ever find. I decided to reread several of his papers to see how it felt in retrospect of my last reading of Godel. As usual, I picked up new insights from reading them.

After I finished reading the papers, I decided to read the article Tarski wrote in the June, 1969, issue of Scientific American, Truth and Proof. The article is pure Tarski. You can’t find a better explanation about what is going on in the mathematical logic game. His discussion of incompleteness, delivered in a short section at the end of the article, is stunningly simple, yet profound at the same time.

I felt I had hiked a ways into the forest and mountains with two geniuses. I was glad that life had afforded me the means to do it.

Published in: on August 23, 2005 at 7:41 am  Comments (2)  

A Flask

Pippin’s threw their 32nd anniversary customer appreciation party tonight. This year they gave away stainless steel flasks. The screw top cap is attached by a swivel to the top of the flask so that you will not lose the cap even in your most drunken stupor. The Pippin’s logo is painted on it. That alone will, one day, make it priceless when Pippin’s is no more.

It sits beside my computer as I write, the light reflecting off its surface, and casting a long shadow like the nights past.

Published in: on August 22, 2005 at 10:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Informal Logic and Cindy Sheehan

Ad Hominem attack has long been known recognized as an invalid argument.

Let us say I am against the war in Iraq. Let us say that someone calls me a nut case, traitor, or dupe of the enemy. It is unfortunate that some use those labels as a form of ad hominem attack. When they do, their argument immediately becomes invalid.

However, another move might be to give evidence for my insanity, being a willful traitor, or being a dupe. Does that necessarily invalidate any argument I may have for opposing the Iraq War? It depends. How it invalidates my argument needs to be proved also. There is the old saw, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

Another invalid argument related to the ad hominem attack is the guilt by association move. Someone may claim I consort with reprehensible characters, and it might be true, but it remains a form of invalid argument under the time honored rules of informal logic.

What can we say about Cindy Sheehan and President Bush? Cindy Sheehan protests the Iraq War on the basis of conscience. She demands a justification for the death of her son from the President of the United States. She has served the ball into President Bush’s side of the court. President Bush has the choice of hitting it back onto Cindy’s side of the court, or not.

That could lead one into a discussion about Noblesse Oblige, but that leads us away from logic.

Published in: on August 21, 2005 at 8:17 am  Comments (3)  

The Naive Realist and Enjoyment

The international relations realists have been riding in the rumble seat for quite a while. One wonders if they will not soon take over the steering wheel from the international relations moralists.

I’ll put my cards on the table. I was against the Iraq War before it started. I was persuaded by the more sober and serious assessments concluding the projected benefits and costs could not be achieved. Subsequent events have shown that it has indeed been a case of poor planning based on bad information followed by poor execution.

Now, we see the continuation of bad business practice. It is standard practice when doing a financial analysis of an ongoing project that one disregards sunk costs. One reassesses future benefits, costs, and discounts it by the opportunity cost. Is any of that being done when assessing the Iraq War? No.

I know my comments will disturb those who hold strictly moralist sentiments about the war. Fine. Moral concerns are always a relevant factor when it comes to war whether one holds moral attitudes for or against it.

However, relevant questions arise. Why is performance so bad when viewed from a disinterested business perspective? Who is accountable? Are they being held accountable? Are there any who accept accountability for performance and results?

“Potential is nothing; performance is everything,” Bud Wilkinson.

The President says we will set no timetables because it will aid the enemy? His statement leads me to reflect on another sort of reality.

There is more to naive realism than my expression of it. Part of this more is knowing the mind of the enemy and how it comes to be that way. Multi-discipline expert study is now replacing naive conventional wisdom. The question is whether the political situation will allow credence and influence for that essential knowledge when making decisions. How much is invested in the conventional wisdom? How many of the sunk costs invested in the conventional wisdom will be defended even though the future is the only relevant factor?

Enjoyment adds another layer to my assessment of the war. Jodi Dean’s engaging thoughts and articles about enjoyment at I cite have stimulated my own personal thoughts about enjoyment.

I watch the war on television. The spectacle both horrifies me and fascinates me. How does the spectacle create and reinforce my resignation that there is simply nothing I can do about the war? How does the enjoyment of the spectacle and my passivity prevent me from arriving at sober assessments and conclusions about what needs to be done next?

Published in: on August 20, 2005 at 8:57 am  Comments (2)  

Cubs Chances

Here are the latest results from this week’s 200 trial Monte Carlo simulation. The Cubs were not successful in any of the trials achieving a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

For you kids scoring at home that’s 0%.

The technical term for 0% is the big goose egg.

However, the Cubs are only 5 games behind Houston with 40 games to go. That leaves it open to believe anything is possible, the cruelest belief.

Published in: on August 20, 2005 at 6:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Straightedge and Compass

Euclid Postulate 1, 2, and 3.

  1. To draw a straight line from any point to any point.
  2. To produce a finite straight line continuously in a straight line.
  3. To describe a circle with any center and distance.

Change the language of the postulates so that they do not suggest a straightedge and compass. Create a formal system for the postulates.

Don’t forget the straightedge and compass. The straightedge and compass in the mind are as useful for creating proofs as the straightedge and compass in the hand, or the formal system.

Published in: on August 19, 2005 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Must Be the Air and Water Show Weekend

The military aircraft have been buzzing about my building the past two days.

I watch the latest news from Iraq. Somebody on television says, “it’s not like Vietnam,” on such a beautiful day with the bombers flying overhead.

A voice coming from nowhere says, “bullshit.” Is it the harsh voice of Mnemosyne who calls to me?

Published in: on August 19, 2005 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Amendments

Every now and then I am shaken from my lethargy and denial by an accumulation of political events. I begin thinking about how to change the electoral system so as to address some structural problems baked into the cake. I propose the following Constitutional amendments in the names of practicality and justice. I provide the preliminary background to my proposal first.

People accept an accountability in their lives they do not hold politicians to. Make enough mistakes at work, you don’t have a job. Make enough mistakes in your marriage, you are divorced. Make enough mistakes with your friends, you are lonely. Make enough mistakes while batting, you strike out. Make enough strikeouts, you are out of the ballgame.

That is not they way it works for politicians. The system perpetuates poor performance. Some people might respond to me, but they have good intentions. I say, everybody has good intentions. And even those people who do not have good intentions won’t admit it. Hell, the BTK killer said he was a Christian at his sentencing yesterday.

I will quote Bud Wilkinson yet again. “Potential is nothing; performance is everything.”

OK, what are my Constitutional amendments? First, get rid of the Electoral College. The more populous states are already under represented in Congress compared to the less populous states. The Electoral College makes the injustice more egregious.

Second, limit all members of Congress and the President to one four year term. Assuming the elimination of the Electoral College, hold the Presidential and Senatorial elections at the same time. Two years later elect the House of Representatives. That way if the performance of elected officials sucks more than usual, you can still hold some of them accountable within two years.

People ask, but what if our elected officials are doing a good job? My immediate unproductive response is yes, and what if frogs grow wings so they don’t bump their ass. My productive response is politicians groom your successors well just like everybody else is accountable for.

Published in: on August 19, 2005 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Metaphor and Incompleteness

I hesitate to write about something I have studied and thought about for over thirty years, yet have not mastered. I feel lucid this morning even if it is an illusion. I will plunge in.

Godel’s incompleteness theorems have been interpreted many ways. Godel’s Platonism most likely motivated him in the development of his proofs. Godel’s assessment of their import could be wrong in some respects.

Let’s say something like the Lakoff and Nunez project for constructing mathematics is true. That is, the mind possesses a stock of basic mathematical concepts and primary metaphors. These concepts and metaphors derive from our sensori-motor systems, the mental systems we use to negotiate everyday reality.

From this primary stock of metaphors, the mind creates increasingly complex mathematical metaphors. Our mathematical knowledge continues to grow, for it can only be limited by our imaginations and the mental capacities from which imagination derives. This mathematical knowledge spreads throughout the culture.

Our notions of mathematical logic are no different in this regard. Those notions are metaphors. What are the implications of the incompleteness theorems if something like the Lakoff and Nunez project turns out to be true?

All of the mathematical logic concepts, formal mathematical languages, recursive relations, models of arithmetic are metaphors too. The incompleteness theorems say, “here is the result of using the inferential systems created by the metaphors for those concepts.

The incompleteness theorems might strike one as odd or strange, but they may be no deterrent to proving mathematical truths. The idea that mathematics is metaphorical and grounded in our common sensori-motor systems and experience is foundational. The only deterrents to proving mathematical theorems are our imaginations and that our thinking is embodied, dependent on how we have evolved to negotiate the world.

I sometimes think of it as validating Kant’s intuitions about the knowability of phenomena and noumena. The difference is that Kant arrived at his position via a priori thinking about mind, whereas, the creative and imaginative foundational approach is based on scientific study into how we think.

What does it mean for the consistency and independence of the parallel postulate and the continuum hypothesis? It is what one would expect given where mathematics comes from. We imagine our way into the situation.

Why does mathematics work so well when applied by scientists? Mathematics arises from our sensori-motor systems. It would be odd if there was no fit between how we experience the world and how we use mathematics to explain the world since, at the root or foundation, mathematics is part of our sensori-motor systems.

I have felt compelled to say these things in a public forum for several years. I hope I arrive at a sort of catharsis from doing so. I suppose it is one of the virtues of Blogland that I can do it.

Published in: on August 19, 2005 at 7:59 am  Leave a Comment