Thursday, December 27, 2012

Object Lesson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — m759 @ 3:17 AM

Yesterday's post on the current Museum of Modern Art exhibition
"Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925" suggests a renewed look at
abstraction and a fundamental building block: the cube.

From a recent Harvard University Press philosophical treatise on symmetry—

The treatise corrects Nozick's error of not crediting Weyl's 1952 remarks
on objectivity and symmetry, but repeats Weyl's error of not crediting
Cassirer's extensive 1910 (and later) remarks on this subject.

For greater depth see Cassirer's 1910 passage on Vorstellung :

IMAGE- Ernst Cassirer on 'representation' or 'Vorstellung' in 'Substance and Function' as 'the riddle of knowledge'

This of course echoes Schopenhauer, as do discussions of "Will and Idea" in this journal.

For the relationship of all this to MoMA and abstraction, see Cube Space and Inside the White Cube.

"The sacramental nature of the space becomes clear…." — Brian O'Doherty

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Annals of Mathematics

Filed under: Uncategorized — m759 @ 10:35 PM

University Diaries praised today the late Robert Nozick's pedagogical showmanship.

His scholarship was less praiseworthy. His 2001 book Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World  failed, quite incredibly, to mention Hermann Weyl's classic summary of  the connection between invariance and objectivity.  See a discussion of Nozick in The New York Review of Books  of December 19, 2002

"… one should mention, first and foremost, the mathematician Hermann Weyl who was almost obsessed by this connection. In his beautiful little book Symmetry  he tersely says, 'Objectivity means invariance with respect to the group of automorphisms….'"

See also this journal on Dec. 3, 2002, and Feb. 20, 2007.

For some context, see a search on the word stem "objectiv-" in this journal.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tuesday February 20, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — m759 @ 7:09 AM

Today is the 21st birthday of my note “The Relativity Problem in Finite Geometry.”

Some relevant quotations:

“This is the relativity problem: to fix objectively a class of equivalent coordinatizations and to ascertain the group of transformations S mediating between them.”

— Hermann Weyl, The Classical Groups, Princeton University Press, 1946, p. 16

Describing the branch of mathematics known as Galois theory, Weyl says that it

“… is nothing else but the relativity theory for the set Sigma, a set which, by its discrete and finite character, is conceptually so much simpler than the infinite set of points in space or space-time dealt with by ordinary relativity theory.”

— Weyl, Symmetry, Princeton University Press, 1952, p. 138

Weyl’s set Sigma is a finite set of complex numbers.   Some other sets with “discrete and finite character” are those of 4, 8, 16, or 64 points, arranged in squares and cubes.  For illustrations, see Finite Geometry of the Square and Cube.  What Weyl calls “the relativity problem” for these sets involves fixing “objectively” a class of equivalent coordinatizations.  For what Weyl’s “objectively” means, see the article “Symmetry and Symmetry  Breaking,” by Katherine Brading and Elena Castellani, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“The old and natural idea that what is objective should not depend upon the particular perspective under which it is taken into consideration is thus reformulated in the following group-theoretical terms: what is objective is what is invariant with respect to the transformation group of reference frames, or, quoting Hermann Weyl (1952, p. 132), ‘objectivity means invariance with respect to the group of automorphisms [of space-time].‘[22]

22. The significance of the notion of invariance and its group-theoretic treatment for the issue of objectivity is explored in Born (1953), for example. For more recent discussions see Kosso (2003) and Earman (2002, Sections 6 and 7).


Born, M., 1953, “Physical Reality,” Philosophical Quarterly, 3, 139-149. Reprinted in E. Castellani (ed.), Interpreting Bodies: Classical and Quantum Objects in Modern Physics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 155-167.

Earman, J., 2002, “Laws, Symmetry, and Symmetry Breaking; Invariance, Conservation Principles, and Objectivity,’ PSA 2002, Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002, forthcoming [Abstract/Preprint available online]

Kosso, P., 2003, “Symmetry, objectivity, and design,” in K. Brading and E. Castellani (eds.), Symmetries in Physics: Philosophical Reflections, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 410-421.

Weyl, H., 1952, Symmetry, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

See also

Archives Henri Poincaré (research unit UMR 7117, at Université Nancy 2, of the CNRS)–

Minkowski, Mathematicians, and the Mathematical Theory of Relativity,” by Scott Walter, in The Expanding Worlds of General Relativity (Einstein Studies, volume 7), H. Goenner, J. Renn, J. Ritter and T. Sauer, editors, Boston/Basel: Birkhäuser, 1999, pp. 45-86–

“Developing his ideas before Göttingen mathematicians in April 1909, Klein pointed out that the new theory based on the Lorentz group (which he preferred to call ‘Invariantentheorie’) could have come from pure mathematics (1910: 19). He felt that the new theory was anticipated by the ideas on geometry and groups that he had introduced in 1872, otherwise known as the Erlangen program (see Gray 1989: 229).”


Gray, Jeremy J. (1989). Ideas of Space. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klein, Felix. (1910). “Über die geometrischen Grundlagen der Lorentzgruppe.” Jahresbericht der deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung 19: 281-300. [Reprinted: Physikalische Zeitschrift 12 (1911): 17-27].

Related material: A pathetically garbled version of the above concepts was published in 2001 by Harvard University Press.  See Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World, by Robert Nozick.

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Tuesday December 3, 2002

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — m759 @ 1:45 PM

Symmetry, Invariance, and Objectivity

The book Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World, by Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick, was reviewed in the New York Review of Books issue dated June 27, 2002.

On page 76 of this book, published by Harvard University Press in 2001, Nozick writes:

"An objective fact is invariant under various transformations. It is this invariance that constitutes something as an objective truth…."

Compare this with Hermann Weyl's definition in his classic Symmetry (Princeton University Press, 1952, page 132):

"Objectivity means invariance with respect to the group of automorphisms."

It has finally been pointed out in the Review, by a professor at Göttingen, that Nozick's book should have included Weyl's definition.

I pointed this out on June 10, 2002.

For a survey of material on this topic, see this Google search on "nozick invariances weyl" (without the quotes).

Nozick's omitting Weyl's definition amounts to blatant plagiarism of an idea.

Of course, including Weyl's definition would have required Nozick to discuss seriously the concept of groups of automorphisms. Such a discussion would not have been compatible with the current level of philosophical discussion at Harvard, which apparently seldom rises above the level of cocktail-party chatter.

A similarly low level of discourse is found in the essay "Geometrical Creatures," by Jim Holt, also in the issue of the New York Review of Books dated December 19, 2002. Holt at least writes well, and includes (if only in parentheses) a remark that is highly relevant to the Nozick-vs.-Weyl discussion of invariance elsewhere in the Review:

"All the geometries ever imagined turn out to be variations on a single theme: how certain properties of a space remain unchanged when its points get rearranged."  (p. 69)

This is perhaps suitable for intelligent but ignorant adolescents; even they, however, should be given some historical background. Holt is talking here about the Erlangen program of Felix Christian Klein, and should say so. For a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion, see this web page on Klein's Erlangen Program, apparently by Jean-Pierre Marquis, Département de Philosophie, Université de Montréal. For more by Marquis, see my later entry for today, "From the Erlangen Program to Category Theory."

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