Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Poetry of Universals

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 7:59 PM

A search today, All Souls Day, for relevant learning
at All Souls College, Oxford, yields the person of
Sir Michael Dummett and the following scholarly page—

(Click to enlarge.)


My own background is in mathematics rather than philosophy.
From a mathematical point of view, the cells discussed above
seem related to some "universals" in an example of Quine.

In Quine's example,* universals are certain equivalence classes
(those with the "same shape") of a family of figures
(33 convex regions) selected from the 28 = 256 subsets
of an eight-element set of plane regions.

A smaller structure, closer to Wright's concerns above,
is a universe of 24 = 16 subsets of a 4-element set.

The number of elements in this universe of Concepts  coincides,
as it happens, with the number obtained by multiplying out
the title of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets .

For a discussion of functions that map "cells" of the sort Wright
discusses— in the quartets example, four equivalence classes,
each with four elements, that partition the 16-element universe—
onto a four-element set, see Poetry's Bones.

For some philosophical background to the Wright passage
above, see "The Concept Horse," by Harold W. Noonan—
Chapter 9, pages 155-176, in Universals, Concepts, and Qualities ,
edited by P. F. Strawson and Arindam Chakrabarti,
Ashgate Publishing, 2006.

For a different approach to that concept, see Devil's Night, 2011.

* Admittedly artificial. See From a Logical Point of View , IV, 3

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 6:00 AM

From a review of Truth and Other Enigmas , a book by the late Michael Dummett—

"… two issues stand out as central, recurring as they do in many of the
essays. One issue is the set of debates about realism, that is, those debates that ask
whether or not one or another aspect of the world is independent of the way we
represent that aspect to ourselves. For example, is there a realm of mathematical
entities that exists fully formed independently of our mathematical activity? Are
there facts about the past that our use of the past tense aims to capture? The other
issue is the view
which Dummett learns primarily from the later Wittgenstein
that the meaning of an expression is fully determined by its use, by the way it
is employed by speakers. Much of his work consists in attempts to argue for this
thesis, to clarify its content and to work out its consequences. For Dummett one
of the most important consequences of the thesis concerns the realism debate and
for many other philosophers the prime importance of his work precisely consists
in this perception of a link between these two issues."

Bernhard Weiss, pp. 104-125 in Central Works of Philosophy , Vol. 5,
ed. by John Shand,
McGill-Queen's University Press, June 12, 2006

The above publication date (June 12, 2006) suggests a review of other
philosophical remarks related to that date. See …


For some more-personal remarks on Dummett, see yesterday afternoon's
"The Stone" weblog in The New York Times.

I caught the sudden look of some dead master….

Four Quartets

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 12:25 PM

From math16.com

Quotations on Realism
and the Problem of Universals:

"It is said that the students of medieval Paris came to blows in the streets over the question of universals. The stakes are high, for at issue is our whole conception of our ability to describe the world truly or falsely, and the objectivity of any opinions we frame to ourselves. It is arguable that this is always the deepest, most profound problem of philosophy. It structures Plato's (realist) reaction to the sophists (nominalists). What is often called 'postmodernism' is really just nominalism, colourfully presented as the doctrine that there is nothing except texts. It is the variety of nominalism represented in many modern humanities, paralysing appeals to reason and truth."
— Simon Blackburn, Think, Oxford University Press, 1999, page 268

"You will all know that in the Middle Ages there were supposed to be various classes of angels…. these hierarchized celsitudes are but the last traces in a less philosophical age of the ideas which Plato taught his disciples existed in the spiritual world."
— Charles Williams, page 31, Chapter Two, "The Eidola and the Angeli," in The Place of the Lion (1933), reprinted in 1991 by Eerdmans Publishing

For Williams's discussion of Divine Universals (i.e., angels), see Chapter Eight of The Place of the Lion.

"People have always longed for truths about the world — not logical truths, for all their utility; or even probable truths, without which daily life would be impossible; but informative, certain truths, the only 'truths' strictly worthy of the name. Such truths I will call 'diamonds'; they are highly desirable but hard to find….The happy metaphor is Morris Kline's in Mathematics in Western Culture (Oxford, 1953), p. 430."
— Richard J. Trudeau, The Non-Euclidean Revolution, Birkhauser Boston, 1987, pages 114 and 117

"A new epistemology is emerging to replace the Diamond Theory of truth. I will call it the 'Story Theory' of truth: There are no diamonds. People make up stories about what they experience. Stories that catch on are called 'true.' The Story Theory of truth is itself a story that is catching on. It is being told and retold, with increasing frequency, by thinkers of many stripes…. My own viewpoint is the Story Theory…. I concluded long ago that each enterprise contains only stories (which the scientists call 'models of reality'). I had started by hunting diamonds; I did find dazzlingly beautiful jewels, but always of human manufacture."
— Richard J. Trudeau, The Non-Euclidean Revolution, Birkhauser Boston, 1987, pages 256 and 259

Trudeau's confusion seems to stem from the nominalism of W. V. Quine, which in turn stems from Quine's appalling ignorance of the nature of geometry. Quine thinks that the geometry of Euclid dealt with "an emphatically empirical subject matter" — "surfaces, curves, and points in real space." Quine says that Euclidean geometry lost "its old status of mathematics with a subject matter" when Einstein established that space itself, as defined by the paths of light, is non-Euclidean. Having totally misunderstood the nature of the subject, Quine concludes that after Einstein, geometry has become "uninterpreted mathematics," which is "devoid not only of empirical content but of all question of truth and falsity." (From Stimulus to Science, Harvard University Press, 1995, page 55)
— S. H. Cullinane, December 12, 2000

The correct statement of the relation between geometry and the physical universe is as follows:

"The contrast between pure and applied mathematics stands out most clearly, perhaps, in geometry. There is the science of pure geometry, in which there are many geometries: projective geometry, Euclidean geometry, non-Euclidean geometry, and so forth. Each of these geometries is a model, a pattern of ideas, and is to be judged by the interest and beauty of its particular pattern. It is a map or picture, the joint product of many hands, a partial and imperfect copy (yet exact so far as it extends) of a section of mathematical reality. But the point which is important to us now is this, that there is one thing at any rate of which pure geometries are not pictures, and that is the spatio-temporal reality of the physical world. It is obvious, surely, that they cannot be, since earthquakes and eclipses are not mathematical concepts."
— G. H. Hardy, section 23, A Mathematician's Apology, Cambridge University Press, 1940

The story of the diamond mine continues
(see Coordinated Steps and Organizing the Mine Workers)— 

From The Search for Invariants (June 20, 2011):

The conclusion of Maja Lovrenov's 
"The Role of Invariance in Cassirer’s Interpretation of the Theory of Relativity"—

"… physical theories prove to be theories of invariants
with regard to certain groups of transformations and
it is exactly the invariance that secures the objectivity
of a physical theory."

— SYNTHESIS PHILOSOPHICA 42 (2/2006), pp. 233–241


Related material from Sunday's New York Times  travel section—

"Exhibit A is certainly Ljubljana…."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Diamond Theory vs. Story Theory (continued)

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 5:01 PM

Some background

Richard J. Trudeau, a mathematics professor and Unitarian minister, published in 1987 a book, The Non-Euclidean Revolution , that opposes what he calls the Story Theory of truth [i.e., Quine, nominalism, postmodernism] to what he calls the traditional Diamond Theory of truth [i.e., Plato, realism, the Roman Catholic Church]. This opposition goes back to the medieval "problem of universals" debated by scholastic philosophers.

(Trudeau may never have heard of, and at any rate did not mention, an earlier 1976 monograph on geometry, "Diamond Theory," whose subject and title are relevant.)

From yesterday's Sunday morning New York Times

"Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and 'news stories' that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories…."

Drew Westen, professor at Emory University

From May 22, 2009

Poster for 'Diamonds' miniseries on ABC starting May 24, 2009

The above ad is by
  Diane Robertson Design—

Credit for 'Diamonds' miniseries poster: Diane Robertson Design, London

Diamond from last night’s
Log24 entry, with
four colored pencils from
Diane Robertson Design:

Diamond-shaped face of Durer's 'Melencolia I' solid, with  four colored pencils from Diane Robertson Design
See also
A Four-Color Theorem.

For further details, see Saturday's correspondences
and a diamond-related story from this afternoon's
online New York Times.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Return of the Stone

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 6:06 PM

The New York Times  philosophy column "The Stone" has returned

"There will certainly always be a place for epistemology,
or the theory of knowledge. But in order for a theory of
knowledge to tell us much, it needs to draw on examples
of knowledge of something or other." — Justin E.H. Smith


Examples: Quine on geometry and Quine on universals.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday October 30, 2008

Filed under: General — m759 @ 5:01 AM
From the Mountaintop

Katherine Neville, author of perhaps the greatest bad novel of the twentieth century, The Eight, has now graced a new century with her sequel, titled The Fire. An excerpt:

“Our family lodge had been built at about this same period in the prior century, by neighboring tribes, for my great-great-grandmother, a pioneering mountain lass. Constructed of hand-hewn rock and massive tree trunks chinked together, it was a huge log cabin that was shaped like an octagon– patterned after a hogan or sweat lodge– with many-paned windows facing in each cardinal direction, like a vast, architectural compass rose.
From here on the mountaintop, fourteen thousand feet atop the Colorado Plateau, I could see the vast, billowing sea of three-mile-high mountain peaks, licked by the rosy morning light. On a clear day like this, I could see all the way to Mount Hesperus– which the Diné call Dibé Nitsaa: Black Mountain. One of the four sacred mountains created by First Man and First Woman.

Together with Sisnaajinii, white mountain (Mt. Blanca) in the east; Tsoodzil, blue mountain (Mt. Taylor) in the south, and Dook’o’osliid, yellow mountain (San Francisco Peaks) in the west, these four marked out the four corners of Dinétah– ‘Home of the Diné,’ as the Navajo call themselves.

And they pointed as well to the high plateau I was standing on: Four Corners, the only place in the U.S. where four states– Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona– come together at right angles to form a cross.”

Related material
(Oct. 14, 2004):

The Eight

Lest the reader of the previous entry mistakenly take Katherine Neville’s book The Eight more seriously than Fritz Leiber’s greatly superior writings on eightness, here are two classic interpretations of Leiber’s “spider” or “double cross” symbol:

Greek: The Four Elements

The 4 elements and
the 4 qualities
(On Generation and
Corruption, II, 3

Chinese: The Eight Trigrams

Richard Wilhelm:
The 8 trigrams
the I Ching

The eight-rayed star may be taken
as representing what is known
in philosophy as a “universal.”

See also

The Divine Universals,

Plato, Pegasus, and the Evening Star,

A Little Extra Reading, and

Quine in Purgatory.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday June 25, 2008

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:02 AM
Born 100 years ago today:

Willard Van Orman Quine, picture from cover of his autobiography

From A Logical Point of View,  Harvard U. Press, 1980, p. 72
From A Logical Point of View,  Harvard U. Press, 1980, p. 73
Other approaches to the
eight-ray star figure

Figure by Quine for an argument against univesals in 'From a Logical Point of View'

have been sketched in
various Log24 entries.

See, for instance, the
June 21 entries on
the Kyoto Prize for
arts and philosophy.
Quine won this prize
 in 1996.

Quine’s figure, cited in an
argument against universals,
is also a classic symbol for
the morning or evening star.

This year’s winner http://www.log24.com/images/asterisk8.gif
of the Kyoto Prize has
a more poetic approach
to philosophy:

“… the object sets up
 a kind of frame or space or field
   within which there can be epiphany.”

For one such frame or space,
a Mexican cantina, see
Shining Forth.

See also Damnation Morning and
The Devil and Wallace Stevens.

http://www.log24.com/images/asterisk8.gif Charles Taylor.  See
“Epiphanies of Modernism,”
Chapter 24 of Sources of the Self
  (Cambridge U. Press, 1989, p. 477)

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