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In-depth Kant Podcasts
November 14, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Kant. Modern thought begins with Kant yet his work is dense and hard to understand. Perhaps this set of lectures, some 12 hours in total from the University of Glasgow will help. Titled 'Kant's Epistemology' they cover most of the subject matter of the Critique of Pure Reason - an extremely ambitious task. They are free and appear to be available only for a limited period. Perhaps worth downloading now - to savour when you have an few idle years.
posted by grahamwell (91 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
You can also post this http://podlearn.arts.gla.ac.uk/feeds/0001.rss into iTunes to download seven forty minute lectures on conciousness. All lectures are 'mic on the wall' tape recordings of, I assume, undergraduate lectures and as such the sound quality is somewhat raw. The Kant set is the real thing however, and would appear to be a fairly thorough and extrememly useful study-aid to the Critique.
posted by grahamwell at 10:18 AM on November 14, 2006


...his work is dense and hard to understand.

I think this is in large part, because he, and other revolutionary thinkers, had to play defense and spend most of their time preempting and anticipating the attacks that were sure to come. If all he had to do was present his ideas I'm sure it would be much easier to understand.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2006


...his work is dense and hard to understand.

Ah. That explains the naming of the SI unit for philosophical depth: the Kant Fathom.
posted by weston at 10:24 AM on November 14, 2006 [8 favorites]


Most critiques of modernity rest on an inadequate understanding of its complexity. Modernity should be seen in terms of the question that guides modern thought. This is the question of divine omnipotence that arises out of the nominalist destruction of Scholasticism. Humanism, Reformation Christianity, empiricsim [sic], and rationalism are different responses to this question.

The Theological Origins of Modernity
posted by spock at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2006


These should be good - Susan Stuart was one of the most engaging lecturer's in the Philosophy Dept. when I was at Glasgow (she even managed to make me understand Logic enough to almost not fail it!). She's of the Pastafarian faith, I believe.
posted by jack_mo at 10:26 AM on November 14, 2006


lecturer's

Jesus.

posted by jack_mo at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2006


I think it's dense and hard to understand because it is truly radical. Here are the bullet points. The work also needs deep study because there is an immense amount to it. It is a colossal intellectual achievement, even if it is not true.

Unlike many of the Philosophical 'greats' the themes and conclusions retain a certain currency. Like those greats it seems to me to have been essentially ignored by modern Science. I would love to know what a Kantian critique of modern Physics, for example, would look like. Can anyone help me here?
posted by grahamwell at 10:44 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Kant

and Vont!
posted by eriko at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2006


Is there anyway to get these that doesn't require installing iTunes?
posted by wfrgms at 10:52 AM on November 14, 2006


Is there anyway to get these that doesn't require installing iTunes?

The RSS feed is:
http://podlearn.arts.gla.ac.uk/feeds/kant_taster.rss
posted by spock at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Kant distilled for me is "Art (beauty) is moral. Be moral."
posted by four panels at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


thank you for sharing
posted by stratastar at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2006


"oooohhh Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable." ... etc

sorry, sorry,
posted by edgeways at 11:08 AM on November 14, 2006


Ayn Rand Objectivists (and perhaps Libertarians) tend to despise Kants ideas. Given how Libertarian-minded much of the online world is (or at least was) I never understood Kants equal fascination online, I suspect mainly by reputation of "unfathomableness".
posted by stbalbach at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2006


Oh you bastard, edgeways, you beat me to it.

Here's a link if anyone wants.
posted by elendil71 at 11:16 AM on November 14, 2006


Ayn Rand Objectivists (and perhaps Libertarians) tend to despise Kants ideas.

Well, that sold me. Viva Le Kant!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:19 AM on November 14, 2006


Definitely best of the web. Thanks.

Nietzche was pietzche
but Sartre was smartre

posted by Rumple at 11:20 AM on November 14, 2006


http://podlearn.arts.gla.ac.uk/kant/index.html

Looks like you can just download the files there as well.
posted by papakwanz at 11:20 AM on November 14, 2006


A Kantian critique of modern physics would be a colossal waste of time (I'm sure it's been done though). Physicists aren't interested in finding "truth", they're interested in explaining and predicting measurements made by laboratory machines. From my experience, "philosophy" and especially "metaphysics" are two of the dirtiest words in physicists' vocabulary.

To give a concrete example, physicists define time to be "what's measured by clocks", and go to great trouble to define what a "good" clock is, and what may or may not affect measurements it makes. At no point does the human perception of time, or meaning, or mind enter into the picture. Physicsts worry about what a clock will measure, and leave worrying about what that means to philosophers (or else they put on their philosopher hat when they get off work for the day).
posted by Humanzee at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2006


I just wanted to check in to be sure we had adequately covered the "real pissant" angle.

Carry on.
posted by yhbc at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2006


This should be very interesting. Thanks.

It does seem a rather bold assertion to say that "modern thought begins with Kant" (I realize this is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia). Is this really the standard, relatively uncontested view?
posted by Urban Hermit at 11:45 AM on November 14, 2006


Humanzee,

I disagree. Exhibit A:

Put your hand in an oven for a minute and it will be like an hour, sit beside a beautiful woman for an hour and it will be like a minute, that is relativity. - Albert Einstein

Relativity has shown us that even an absolutely 'objective' clock can perform differently than another clock based on circumstance - the speed at which it travels, for instance. There's a blurring of what's absolutely true vs. our perception in even seemingly unshakeable things such as time. If time can be stretched or deformed in such a manner, it is fallible on fundamental levels and worth exploring on a metaphysical, philosophical level.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2006


Ayn Rand Objectivists (and perhaps Libertarians) tend to despise Kants ideas.

From what I understand, Ayn Rand pretty much took stuff from Kant and not realize it, even though she made it clear how much she hated Kant. Furthermore, I've recalled reading some stuff from libertarian authors who say that Kant has made a small but powerful influence on the foundation of libertarian thought.

So Kant is okay by most libertarians. Libertarians with a capital 'L' too, probably.
posted by champthom at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2006


I would say that modern thought is often thought to have begun with Descartes, and to have reached some sort of pinnacle with Kant.
posted by goethean at 11:56 AM on November 14, 2006


Thanks for the bullet points, grahamwell.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2006


About Descartes vs Kant, goethean has it. Descartes is the beginning of the Modern period in philosophy, Kant is its end. Probably if you ranked western philosophers, the ranking would go:
1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Kant
4. Descartes
Some people would reverse the importance of Kant and Descartes.

Kant, in part, was trying to reconcile Hume's empiricism and his resulting criticism of our ideas of causation with Newton's new work on physical laws. And he does this in a highly systematic way. So, partly by being the philosopher who has the most systematic and smart things to say about how we can understand the ramifications of Newton's work, he gets in on the ground floor of the scientific revolution. Or, maybe we can think of there being two main phases of the scientific revolution -- one much earlier, with Descartes leading the charge, against the scholastics; one later, with Kant and Newton.

Thanks for the link!
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on November 14, 2006


I always thought it was

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Hefner
4. Kant
posted by jimmythefish at 12:11 PM on November 14, 2006


Relativity has shown us that even an absolutely 'objective' clock can perform differently than another clock based on circumstance - the speed at which it travels, for instance. There's a blurring of what's absolutely true vs. our perception in even seemingly unshakeable things such as time. If time can be stretched or deformed in such a manner, it is fallible on fundamental levels and worth exploring on a metaphysical, philosophical level.

But Einstein would still maintain that both clocks were absolutely correct, or true, within their inertial frames. Claiming that time/space dilation opens up strict physical phenomena to philosophical introspection is really missing the point of relativity. The whole point is that neither clock is wrong, and defining time as "what's measured by clocks" hasn't been defeated in any manner.
posted by LionIndex at 12:19 PM on November 14, 2006


I'm no philosopher, but I did enjoy a fine Critique of Pure Riesling the other night.
posted by wzcx at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2006


jimmythefish: Einstein was joking in that quote. As for actual relativity, it's founded precisely on what "good" mechanical clocks measure. The fact that clocks in different circumstances will disagree is something that can be determined by experiments with actual clocks, and the disagreement is explained by theory. At no point is a "blurring of what's absolutely true", or people's perception of time a concern in this matter. It makes no difference if relativistic space time is "real", or a computer simulation, or the fevered dream of an ancient god ---all that matters is that the clocks disagree under explainable, predictable circumstances.

P.S. Einstein had a terrible tendancy to explain things in goofy, unhelpful ways:
You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.
--Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio.

posted by Humanzee at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2006


Pips has a copy of Critique Of Pure Reason that she got for a class or something. I tried reading it but it was too much for my poor addled brain. However, I'm glad it's in the apartment since, in the event of a burglary, it would make an effective bludgeon.
posted by jonmc at 12:22 PM on November 14, 2006


The Transcendental Deduction, from the Critique of Pure Reason, is also available in song form.
posted by moss at 12:32 PM on November 14, 2006


Humanzee: "A Kantian critique of modern physics would be a colossal waste of time (I'm sure it's been done though). Physicists aren't interested in finding "truth", they're interested in explaining and predicting measurements made by laboratory machines. From my experience, "philosophy" and especially "metaphysics" are two of the dirtiest words in physicists' vocabulary."

Positivism is a fairly modern invention, and has only been as popular as it is now for about 25 years. It's silly to pretend that scientists haven't, for the bulk of the existence of "modern science," been aiming for truth. It's equally silly to pretend that people like Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Faraday, and Einstein weren't trying to uncover the truth about the universe.

I understand the goal: to make it seem as though science has no relationship with ontology, and therefore to sidestep the messy and difficult problem of ontology. But it's still hard to shake the human intuition that practice and theory have a real relationship; that is, that the question of whether a theory works has to do with whether it's true.

Given that science deals in ideological descriptions of practical experiences, I'm surprised that so many nowadays are quick to claim that the two have no relation. Doesn't that make science-- the ability to duplicate results-- impossible?

"To give a concrete example, physicists define time to be "what's measured by clocks", and go to great trouble to define what a "good" clock is, and what may or may not affect measurements it makes. At no point does the human perception of time, or meaning, or mind enter into the picture. Physicists worry about what a clock will measure, and leave worrying about what that means to philosophers (or else they put on their philosopher hat when they get off work for the day)."

Don't scientists test those theories that they come up with? At least, didn't they used to? That's "human perception." And, while I feel as though the progress science has made generally invalidates a lot of Kant's claims, I don't think that means that science can claim to be aloof of any notion of 'reality.' Science, in its modern form, is a very specialized and limited branch of philosophy; it is the attempt to understand testable and repeatable processes through testing and repetition. Any untestable or unrepeatable processes, while perhaps knowable, are not within the realm of science, but some other branch of philosophy.

I'm not really well equipped to answer grahamwell's question, but I know that it was a much-discussed one in the eighteenth century. And, from what I can remember of my physics classes, it turned out that our experience of time and space are too complex to be covered by Kant's categorical explanations. Does anybody else have a better explanation of this? I'd like to hear it myself.
posted by koeselitz at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2006 [3 favorites]


I would say that modern thought is often thought to have begun with quonsar.
posted by TweetleBeetleBattleBookie at 12:58 PM on November 14, 2006


Everything I needed to know about Kant, I learned from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence.
posted by hwestiii at 12:59 PM on November 14, 2006


A small aside. Kant was possibly the first person to realise that spiral nebulae were in fact entire Galaxies. He was certainly the first to put this idea into print.

" ...if we ask who the first person was to conceive the form of the universe as we now see it, filled with "billions and billions" of galaxies (as Carl Sagan liked to say), the answer is just: Immanuel Kant, a man who never left East Prussia and who never saw a mountain."

If he had achieved nothing else he would probably be recognised as the first person of the modern age to get the general structure and generative processes of the universe 'right' - his theory, with Laplace, of solar nebulae and planetary formation is now accepted as correct.

Kant's Cosmological writings are arcana indeed, full of bizzare flights of fancy which seem laughable to the modern reader, yet much of it turned out to be right. For those who find the Critique an unmanageable doorstop, the Cosmogony is an accessible entry point to - quite possibly - the greatest mind the planet has ever produced.

One wonders what else he got right.

A comprehensive (if rather out of date) index to Kant on the web is here.
posted by grahamwell at 1:03 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Kant ruined philosophy for me. The density of the writing. The mind numbing grueling tediousness of understanding him all to realize in the end, that it was simply an academic exercise. If I remember correctly Kant proved the existence of God and then went about disproving the existence of God, simply to show that he could. That sort of metaphysical wankery is best reserved for late night stoner sessions. Out here in the real work Kant did not provide inspiration, or transcendence or understanding. Only exhaustion. (And yes I know he was dealing with pure forms.) This was also about the time as a Philosophy major I realized most philosophy professors were like little beavers picking their place on the shorebanks of the the mighty rivers of philosophical thought and obsessively worrying throwaway footnotes and the mental droppings of the greats. What use did it have to anyone outside of the university walls? I got my BA in Philosophy, but I couldn't see any reason to continue. I blame mostly Kant.


Schopenhauer is better.
posted by Skygazer at 1:06 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I would say that modern thought is often thought to have begun with quonsar.

quonsar's pantsfish = Socrates' daimon ?
posted by Urban Hermit at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2006


koesselitz wrote: Any untestable or unrepeatable processes, while perhaps knowable, are not within the realm of science, but some other branch of philosophy.

This is what I was going to come back with, though not nearly as eloquently or perhapos coherently. I didn't word my initial post very well - I know bugger all about physics save for A Brief History of Time etc. and shouldn't really be playing devil's advocate in a thread involving Kantian metaphysics and relativity with someone at a physics dot com extension. I will most certainly be on the blunt end of the smackdownz.

I guess my question is this: Isn't it more useful to approach something on a more broadly philosophical level with questions of space-time where many things are, like I think koeselitz is saying, are currently untestable? To take truth in the pragmatic sense? While Einstein was joking, I think it might be at least somewhat useful to understand the passage of time as observed in ideal, real, and pragmatic senses of the word 'truth'.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:20 PM on November 14, 2006


I always thought it was

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Hefner
4. Kant


Does this BCS of philosophy take into account each philosopher's margin of victory? Hefner had a relatively easy schedule.
posted by spock at 1:26 PM on November 14, 2006


jonmc Pips has a copy of Critique Of Pure Reason that she got for a class or something. I tried reading it but it was too much for my poor addled brain. However, I'm glad it's in the apartment since, in the event of a burglary, it would make an effective bludgeon.

It may also make an effective bullet-stopper.
posted by kcds at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2006


The original question I was addressing was about a critique of modern physics, not modern science. I assumed "modern physics" meant relativity and quantum mechanics, because I've never seen it mean anything but those things. Relativity put a dent in the idea of striving to understand absolute reality (because after all, time and space were relative) but quantum mechanics dealt it a death blow. The entire theory of quantum mechanics is built upon measurement. The only way to probe reality is with measurements (and measurements invariably affect what they measure). It follows then that anything that can't be measured can't be described with quantum mechanics. The idea that science should only address measurable things has thus existed in physics for quite awhile, and is certainly at the heart of most physicists' approach to "modern physics".

koeselitz: I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at in regards to humans coming up with theories. I assume you mean that since humans come up with the theories, the theories themselves are constrained by human imagination. That may be true, but I think that it's arguable. For starters, modern quantum theory has been developed in a very progressive fashion ---no one person developed all of it. Furthermore, much of its development has consisted of applying mathematics to relatively elementary postulates. Thus modern physical theories are the result of human recognition of elementary laws combined with mathematics. Even if it could be convincingly argued that there was some limitation that this placed on the laws we could discover, what would be the point? Would it argue that our understanding was incorrect in some way?

On prevew: physics.com? I wish. There's no money in .edu :) I think the thing that I've taken away from learning physics (and debating with many people who've learned philosophy) is that human imagination has historically always been completely flabergasted by experiment. Physicists haven't fared much better than philosophers in predicting future results. So if you want to understand this stuff, you have to read what people have found out. The fortunate thing is that a lot of this stuff is understandable if you're really interested in it.
posted by Humanzee at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2006


Physicists aren't interested in finding "truth", they're interested in explaining and predicting measurements made by laboratory machines. From my experience, "philosophy" and especially "metaphysics" are two of the dirtiest words in physicists' vocabulary.

The irony here, however, is that this is itself a philosophical position sometimes called instrumentalism. I agree that science today is interested in the regularities as reported by their machines, but to say that science and philosophy no longer have any connection is to over-simplify the situation in an unfortunate way.

BTW, thanks for the link, great stuff.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:32 PM on November 14, 2006


The only way to probe reality is with measurements.

How silly.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:36 PM on November 14, 2006


Grr. You crowd get to listen to all this for free, I can't get the buggers to release the videos/recordings they make of the stupidly early ones I always sleep in for.
posted by bonaldi at 1:42 PM on November 14, 2006


bonaldi: "I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.”
— Rene Descartes
posted by spock at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2006


Sorry, .edu...I haven't had much sleep - I'm submitting my airy fairy social sciences thesis on Friday. I may be going off into left field here, but I think you picked a bad example in the measure of time in that it's a human construct and highly relative (based on planetary movement etc.). Human constructs are problematic in a purely objective sense.

I think what is confounding for a lot of us non-physicists is that, with physics, the changes in theories are so radically different in their explanations of this 'reality' that it becomes abstract and meaningless. I did a bit of reading once on super string theory and it was only somewhat useful as, while I could grasp its explanation for accounting for a quantum mechanics-predicted G and the 'bread slices' model of other dimensions, I couldn't in any way imagine 8 or 9 dimensions. Humans only think in 3, arguably 4 dimensions (if time is the 4th dimension. We have little to no capacity to perceive this reality. If we can't understand it and these other dimensions are undetectable other than in theory, how can the theory possibly be useful to us on a practical level?
posted by jimmythefish at 1:57 PM on November 14, 2006


I got my BA in Philosophy, but I couldn't see any reason to continue.

Me too. Yes, Kant had a lot to do with it. I took away a slightly different perspective though. Firstly Kant's work is an amazing monument. Even if it is useless, uninhabitable and wrong - it is one of the most elaborate, bizzare, immense and, yes, beautiful constructions of the human mind. You could spend your whole life pottering around in the foothills, and many do.

I've always wanted to model it in architecture - if anyone has a spare billion, let me build a representation of the Critique on a Tuscan hillside. The central octagon, the 'Trancendental point of Apperception' with symmetrical passages leading off into the ornate Halls of the Categories - complete with their bizzare and complex mechanisms realised in brass, could be rather spectacular.

What depressed me was the number of Academics who acknowledged the work, coughed and moved on - essentially ignoring the entire thing. It didn't seem to me that you could do this - the work had to be engaged, even if only to comprehensively knock it down. The closest that I've seen to a proper critique of Kant is Schopenhauer. At least he can write, and boy, can he write.

If I remember correctly Kant proved the existence of God and then went about disproving the existence of God, simply to show that he could.

I don't think that's fair. Kant did indeed demolish the conventional view of God - the divine architect, the first cause, something like us, but bigger - and put in its place something rather different, something stranger and something perhaps more credible.

And there it remains. Twenty years after reaching the point where I could supposedly explain the Trancendental Deduction (yeah, right) it's all a vague memory, but it's one that won't let go, the thought that there is something basically correct about it. I haven't really got that feeling about much else in Philosophy.
posted by grahamwell at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2006


Ahh, I see it now. You're commenting on physics, not science in general. That does make much more sense.

At the same time, though, physics operates through principles and methods, much in the same way as Hume, Kant et all did their thing. I would still argue that physics is still within the realm of metaphysics specifically and philosophy by proxy, due to its focus on the nature of the world - as viewed through instruments. (Albeit, "metaphysics" is a word so abused that very few academics, physicist or philosopher, tend to claim it. Words aside, however, the project remains the same.)
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:11 PM on November 14, 2006


My point was not that it's impossible to come up with a philosophy of science, but rather that a philosphical critique of modern physics (especially from a metaphysical viewpoint) is a waste of effort. The dismissal of philosophy by physicists is merely a practical, day-to-day thing: once you start talking about things that can't be measured, you're probably not doing physics. You want to do that outside your day job, that's a different story.

"I think you picked a bad example in the measure of time in that it's a human construct"
That's the most popular explanation of time on metafilter, but it just doesn't work with modern physics. Relativity pretty much forces the abandonment of space and time as separate entities, and requires consideration of spacetime; an entity which is deformed by mass-energy.

String theory may be useful if one day it makes concrete predictions, or provides simple explanations for reality. At the moment, it's in progress. It's about as useful as a car chasis up on cinder blocks. The need to visualize and understand large numbers of dimensions is not unique to physics, and certainly not to string theory. Even non-relativistic quantum mechanics involves infinite-dimensional vector spaces. Mathematical formalisms have been developed that allow one to write down equations in large-dimensioned (or infinite) spaces. Physical intuition is then developed in terms of vectors as a whole, rather than thinking in terms of components (i.e. you think of an arrow, not: the x-component is this, the y-component is that). Usually when I visualize space, I think in terms of two dimensions if possible, because that's easy to draw. It's still easy to write down equations in N dimensions. Those equations make very concrete predictions.
posted by Humanzee at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2006


Yeah, well twenty years later and I'm downloading these podcasts. I must be a masochist or something. It would be good to see the work as an architectural representation and I guess one thing I got from reading the Critique was a sense of the x, y, z and q,r,s,t,u,v etc...axises the mind is capable of moving around in. So I guess it did push out in all sorts of directions and patterns that fall in upon themselves and then reform and put you in a different place that looks a lot like something familiar but not (like string theory maybe). I guess Kant was a lot more about the trip than the destination.
posted by Skygazer at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2006


Why did the most prominent Kantians—Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, the best philosophical brains Germany has ever produced, become Spinozists? One will try in vain to find an answer to this question in our histories of philosophy, which do not even ask that legitimate and obvious question. And there is no other answer to it than this one: that it could not have been otherwise, since these truly philosophical men necessarily saw and felt how different Benedict Spinoza's stance within philosophy was from that of Kant, who—to say it in my blunt way—had nothing in common with philosophy.—Constantin Brunner, Spinoza gegen Kant.
posted by No Robots at 2:58 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Constantin Brunner = My new best friend
posted by Skygazer at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2006


Mmm, Kant. Yes.
*smokes pipe*
Mmm. Indeed.

I dig that Spinoza, man.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:32 PM on November 14, 2006


Modern thought begins with Kant

Whatever, Kant was just riffing off Hume, and in the end he doesn't have the balls to own up to the consequences of Hume's philosophy.
posted by afu at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


hm, nice quote, No Robots, and pretty much how I feel as well. Only thing I'd add is that spinoza was ultimately an Aristotelian, so The Philosopher is still the Philosopher...

to those who burned out on philosophy due to Kant, I can certainly relate to that; I took off quite a bit of time before deciding to return to the academic world. Once I fully embraced the uselessness of philosophy as its noble purpose (like poetry, or comedy, to wish it to produce something applicable and separable from its own stimulating insight is to misunderstand it) I could enjoy it again.

Kant is fun in his own way - it's all very neat and logical and fits together in a nerdy sort of configuration that can be quite satisfying, but ultimately it seems to me quite stunningly wrongheaded. There are some very generous interpretations of his ideas out there these days, but what most Kantians still have in common is an anxious need for complete certainty that seems to immunize them to the bizarre assumptions they have to accept in order to gain it (e.g., McDowell). It can be seductive, but it ultimately relies on the philosopher's own definitions, which can get us no further than "if certain knowledge is defined as X, then X is certain knowledge."

Where I think Kant gets interesting is in the 3rd critique - which in many ways overturns much of what he concludes in the 1st critique, and, not incidentally, is a lot more on target in my opinion.

Oh - to suggest Kant proved and disproved god "just because he could" is misleading - Kant made the point in the CPR that certain arguments were fundamentally irreconcilable to human reason: his point was that reason is limited by its own conditions of possibility, so it cannot answer the big questions on freedom, infinity, god and .. oh, what's the other one... oh, atomism, basically - infinity in the other direction (potentially smallest parts, as opposed to unboundedness or endlessness of space / time). Anyway, he presents thesis/antithesis on all of these to illustrate a point about reason, not about the issues.
posted by mdn at 8:03 PM on November 14, 2006


Humanzee, I love that.

Metafilter: kind of a very, very long cat.

Kant ruined philosophy for me. The density of the writing.

So no Hegel for you, then?
posted by dreamsign at 10:32 PM on November 14, 2006


Big Kant fan here. Late to this little party, but I think where Kant really shines is his ethics. He laid the foundwork for what turns out to be one of the only real alternatives to utilitarianism. Modern versions of Kantian ethics are amazing and sometimes beautiful. In fact, for me the list is:

1. Kant
2. Plato
3. Aristotle
4. Locke

Skygazer, your take on Kant with God is not correct. In fact, Kant believes that we could never know whether there was a God (some passages in the ethics aside). God is an "Ideal of Reason", something that the human mind cannot help but suppose even if it can't actually know. For me, the key to understanding Kant on God is that he to some degree wanted to "get rid of reason to make room for faith". He thought this quest for a "proof" of God was misguided.

But take a look at Kant's ethics some time. Despite the occasionally dead-wrong remarks (view of women, capital punishment, and lying to the axe murderer), it really is an amazing system. In order to be free, we have to act morally, and to act morally is to be free. Morality is rationality is freedom. That's quite a package.

Quickly, to not be be free is to be determined by the laws of nature. These laws of nature command certain parts of our mind, namely our desires. In order to escape the stranglehold of the laws of nature, we must live by some other laws, namely laws that we give ourselves. By following our own laws, we overcome our base desires. The part of the mind that is able to do this is pure practical reason. Which laws should we give ourselves, then? Only the ones that come from reason -- to use those which come from desire is to be unfree. The only laws that seem to hold are those that any reasoning person could follow, and reasonable people couldn't agree to treat other reasonable people as mere means to their own ends. Hence, the laws we give ourselves to be free turn out to be the moral laws. To deviate from them for desire is simultaneously to surrender our freedom AND our duty.

Thanks for the great post!
posted by ontic at 10:33 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Some years ago before I abandoned Philosophy for Mathematics, I spent an entire summer reading through Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Yes, it is dense and hard to understand. For me the necessary inertia was first reading Hume's Principles of Human Understanding, and being sickened by his taking skepticism to its extreme, hopeless, and materialistic logical conclusions.

Many days it would take 3 hours just to read through a dozen pages and understand them. I filled a 300 page notebook. But at the end it was worth it. The intricacy of logical argument is unparalleled with anything I've since read; it's a masterpiece of human thought. Afterwards, I felt like I had reached a point where my philosophical seeking had been satisfied to a very large extent. I agree with the comment about Kant being more about the trip than the destination.

Schopenhauer is similar and really good too, though he's kind of a rebound back to Hume's doom & gloom.

Someone mentioned a "Critique of Physics". I've read that Kant's final work, the Opus Postumum, was somewhat of an attempt at this.
Perhaps next summer...
posted by archae at 10:38 PM on November 14, 2006


"Are you a Mexican... or a MexiKant?"
posted by Merlyn at 8:19 AM on November 15, 2006


"Humans only think in 3, arguably 4 dimensions (if time is the 4th dimension. We have little to no capacity to perceive this reality. If we can't understand it and these other dimensions are undetectable other than in theory, how can the theory possibly be useful to us on a practical level?"

Yeah, we can, and kind of easily. I used to hold the same principle that you do, until I talked to a mathematician who works with matrices. He pointed out that the dimensions are just essentially axioms for variables, and that it's easy to assign more variables to any given situation. Other dimensions to an object, past HWDT, can be color, sound, energy level (temperature), etc. I realize that with string theory, the dimensions are explicitely spacial, but that doesn't mean they have to be represented purely as such (though by the time that you're doing string theory, all representations tend toward the abstractions of formula, don't they?)
posted by klangklangston at 9:52 AM on November 15, 2006


Locke before Hume, ontic? Ok, I'll play.

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Kant
4. Hume

After that it gets a bit muddled. Descartes? Locke? Wittgenstein? Aquinas? No picking there, I don't think. Well, maybe Descartes.

On the next level down, tastes start to diverge. Hobbes maybe, and you've got your Marx/Spinoza/Hegel if you swing one way, and your Kripke/Moore/Russell if you swing another.

After that it's even more of a mess.
posted by Kwine at 1:10 PM on November 15, 2006


Interesting summary ontic - ever read the Divine Comedy? Just curious. Dante addresses similar issues.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on November 15, 2006


Why did the most prominent Kantians—Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, the best philosophical brains Germany has ever produced, become Spinozists?

(You say that like it's a bad thing . . .)

I guess you're talking you're using Spinozist as a synonym for monist?

It's my impression that Hegel, etc., were really already monists in spirit and sought a monistic account of Kantian dualism (which they saw as a compelling challenge).
posted by treepour at 2:29 PM on November 15, 2006


Ah, the battle of the top 4 lists! I love this place:

1. Aristotle (materialism)
2. Spinoza (nature = god --> science = my religion)
3. Hegel (history? yes please!)
4. Wittgenstein and/or Heidegger (linguistic turn, just say no to metaphysics)

Someone should aggregate all these rankings, so we can figure out who to kick off the canon. Also, could someone please point me to the actual non-proprietary version of these lectures? The last attempt to answer that question pointed back to the itunes download page. I'm not going to download itunes, but I'd like to hear them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:47 PM on November 15, 2006


Also, could someone please point me to the actual non-proprietary version of these lectures?

Here is the link, as per papakwanz above, and notwithstanding the egregious omission of your top 4 list's proper title: "A Series of Footnotes to Plato."
posted by Urban Hermit at 6:33 PM on November 15, 2006


"A Series of Footnotes to Refutations of Plato."

Fixed that for you. :-) Thanks for the links!
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:43 PM on November 15, 2006


"It is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable; it is precisely thereby that it attracts subtler minds."

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 18.
posted by Urban Hermit at 10:18 PM on November 15, 2006


Some more good quips from Brunner by way of reply to some comments here.

mdn:
spinoza was ultimately an Aristotelian, so The Philosopher is still the Philosopher

Brunner:
How is it that Aristotle studied at Plato's school for twenty years and never learned anything?

treepour:
I guess you're talking you're using Spinozist as a synonym for monist?

Brunner:
It is highly desirable that our natural philosophers, the materialistic monists, be finally willing to become aware of the difference between Spinozism and their own creed, since their brothers, the theologians, have already long ago established very clearly the difference between their creed and Spinozism. To us, both of them are on the same level, the superstitious adorers of a personal God (Ruler of the Universe) and the superstitious adorers of the Cosmos—even if the first believe in the unknown God and the second believe in the unknown world behind the world of appearances and of the phenomena of the Cosmos.
posted by No Robots at 8:20 AM on November 16, 2006


1. Plato
2. everyone else
posted by goethean at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2006


Dreamsign: So no Hegel for you, then?

Hegel Schmegel. I was deeply suspicious of Hegel on principle alone. From what my profs said Hegel was like the rock star philosopher rock star of his place and time. Widely read, beloved and embraced by bourgeois society. Packed classes and lectures that were a bitch to get in to. My copy of Phenomenlogy of Spirit sits in a dusty cellar barely cracked open.

Schopenhauer on the other hand: Obscure, irritable (He threw his landlady down a flight of stairs). Poorly attended classes. Shunned by academics and by the tastemakers. He was a miserable bastard and a genius whose books didn't sell so well and he despised Hegel. I preferred Schopenhauer's punk rock intensity to what I thought (probably wrongly I admit) was Hegel's commercial sell out. I was very much under the opinion at the time that anything that appealed to the masses was flawed and if not flawed than at least diluted and mediocre at best.


Ontic: Skygazer, Your take on Kant with God is not correct.

Oh, I know it...wrong and simplistic. Thanks for the refresher summary. It's funny I had such a reaction to Kant, as even before I began studying philosophy, I had believed that "God" in order to be "God" could not be knowable by man or would cease to be God. So I agree with his conclusion, but something about his method getting there is annoying.

Funny this also reminds me of the poor professor who taught my Kant class. He would enthusiastically explain the transcendental deduction and wait for questions and be met by a deafening blast of awkward silence...

Anyhow:

1. Plato (with a bullet...)
2. Descartes (just cos he pervades so much enlightenment and modern era thought and literature).

3. Camus (because every single page of some of his books is breathtakingly thought provoking and resonant).

4. Nietzsche
5. Schopenhauer
6. Husserl (Edmund)
posted by Skygazer at 9:36 AM on November 16, 2006


Camus (because every single page of some of his books is breathtakingly thought provoking and resonant).

Are there two Camus? :P
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:49 AM on November 16, 2006


We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize?
[Holds up prize] Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.

1st prize: Spinoza
2nd prize: Plato
posted by No Robots at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2006


No Robots, the philosophical relation between spinoza, hegel, aristotle & plato is far too enormous a topic to get into here, but if one of those were to stand out to me it would be the traditional interpretation of Plato (which I'm not sure is entirely fair to plato to begin with, but that's another story) - the other three all explore matter as the actualization of idea, as the thoughts of god, as the becoming of world-spirit, however you want to say it... There are certainly differences, and I undoubtedly read with an eye toward the kind of holistic materialism I've already presumed, but it's not hard to find in hegel or spinoza.

Though that quote is a bit confusing - he's saying aristotle is one of the "materialist monists" who should recognize that they aren't true spinozists, and that their fault lies in adoring a second world behind the appearance? Isn't that exactly what a materialistic monist doesn't do?
posted by mdn at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2006


Well, I suppose it's safe to assume that there's no one here in this discussion but us (philosophical) chickens.

First, about the quotations. There are two quotations: one about Aristotle, and another about materialist monism. They don't have anything to do with one another. I used one to reply to you and the other to reply to someone else. Brunner's critiques of Aristotle and of materialist monism are extensive, but they are entirely separate. Brunner's main criticism of Aristotle is his reliance on the primus motor, which is essentially creationism. The critique of materialist monism is quite involved, but the aspect relating to its need to appeal to a second world behind the appearance is what we can discuss now. It is especially pertinent to this thread about Kant, who claims that there is a noumenal thing-in-itself behind the phenomenal world of appearance. Brunner argues that this kind of thinking lies within most of our contemporary science. See his Science, Spirit, Superstition. On the subject of thought and matter, Brunner pithily summarizes his position by saying, "We are absolute idealists and relative materialists."
posted by No Robots at 12:29 PM on November 16, 2006


Brunner's main criticism of Aristotle is his reliance on the primus motor, which is essentially creationism.

aristotle's claim is that time is without beginning; there is no creation in his universe. The prime mover is that which articulates being and can be compared to the mind/spirit/soul of the universe as seen in other philosophies, or can be understood as beyond/outside the universe, but not prior in time - it would only be in the platonic sense of the idea being more so than the thing, and some people do read aristotle as "platonizing" in that sense. But the fundamental activity of being, prime matter as pure potentiality formed by thought thinking itself, etc, seems more spinozistic than classicly platonist to me...

I don't know the guy you're quoting, and I'm not sure what he means by "materialist monism" as that is not a phrase I'd have thought applicable to Kant (often considered a dualist and/or an idealist, though these terms probably only confuse matters) - but then he seems to be saying, the two 'wrong' sides are theologians and kantians, and one side doesn't understand how they're not spinozists - the kantians? I think they are certainly aware of that... but I'm sure we won't solve these differences in readings in one MeFi thread :).
posted by mdn at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2006


If time is eternal for Aristotle, and time is the measurement of motion, how can there be a "first mover"?

The connection between materialist monism and Kantianism is the focus of Brunner's critique. Materialist monists like to believe that Spinoza is one of them, but he isn't. And as Brunner states in one of the quotations above, Kant isn't involved with philosophy at all. Instead, Kant's work lends itself to whatever dominates popular thought, which in our time is materialist monism. A very good example of someone caught up in this situation is Einstein. He believed that he was faithful to Spinoza; but in the end, when confronted with Spinoza's absolute idealism, he could not overcome his allegiance to Kant.
posted by No Robots at 1:46 PM on November 16, 2006


For documentation on the foregoing assertions regarding Einstein, see here (self-link).
posted by No Robots at 1:51 PM on November 16, 2006


If time is eternal for Aristotle, and time is the measurement of motion, how can there be a "first mover"?

If, as I would argue, Aristotle believes that "the good" is the prime mover, than it need only be coeval with time, without needing to precede it. The primary-ness here is not a sequential priority, but rather primacy of rank or honor: it's the 'bestest' mover, and the source of all other motion. Thus, both time and the good can be sempiternal without running into paradox. Frankly, I don't see how time can be bounded without running into paradox... which is one of Kant's points in the antinomies. The antithesis he proposes assumes that all movers are themselves moved... which "the good" need not be, since it is self-identical with all that is desirable.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:52 PM on November 16, 2006


I don't know if you philosophy types would find this interesting, but cosmology has a lot to say about the boundedness of time. Since general relativity causes time and space to be mixed (and curved) togther, spacetime can be thought of geometrically. Although this is only an analogy, you can get a sense of how this can work out by thinking of a globe (the surface only). Imagine that at any point on the globe, east-west is a space-like direction: anyone can walk east or west as they please. North-south is a time-like direction, so everyone is gradually drifting north. To beings living on this universe in the southern hemisphere, the universe is expanding, as at any earlier point in time, the "circumference" is smaller. At the south pole, the universe shrinks down to zero size (just like our big bang). It's also notable that there, the meaning of north-south breaks down: every direction points north. Thus asking what happens before the big bang is like asking what's south of the south pole.

If I get the gist of what philosophy-types have been saying, perhaps the "prime-mover" would be the reason there's a universe in the first place. There's no need to consider this as being before the big bang, any more than you'd explain the reason for the existance of a globe by considering what's south of its south pole.
posted by Humanzee at 6:02 PM on November 16, 2006


If time is eternal for Aristotle, and time is the measurement of motion, how can there be a "first mover"?

the prime mover is not temporally first - it is "thought thinking itself" in his words - the source of motion, and hence of time, but not an efficient cause. It's essentially the inherent "intelligence" or organization of the universe, that towards which the "underlying thing" (matter or potentiality) works, though in the end they're inseparable, because the substance works to be what it is (what aristotle calls its energeia, or entelechia, which is usually translated as "actuality", which doesn't give enough credit to the depth of the concept, I don't think)...

anyway - as always there are multiple interpretations, so I won't go on, but to echo what sonofsamiam said above, I get the sense you're reading a different aristotle than I am! But that's the fun of philosophy, I guess...
posted by mdn at 6:15 PM on November 16, 2006


Since general relativity causes time and space to be mixed (and curved) togther

See, this is my problem. Thanks for the quote, Humanzee, it's the kind of thing I've grown up with, the modern account of things eternal. As you say, it's only a metaphor - but what does it mean? Unlike the metaphor there's no cat, no additional dimension for Space and Time to be curved in. It means that on some enormous scale you must use non-euclidean geometry. Really? Why?

This spatialisation of Time makes me nervous too. Time is not like space at all. You can't travel in it for a start. We have a convention about our internal memories and expectations which represents time as a single space-like dimension, but that is something about us, not about time.

It seems our modern understanding is dominated by mathematics. This, according to Kant, is what our understanding gets up to when unconstrained by any facts. When we use these analogies, such as the 'South Pole' analogy that you gave above, do we really understand?

I want to resurrect Kant to give us a second opinion.
posted by grahamwell at 11:00 PM on November 16, 2006


It is true that time seems different than space, but this is hardly unprecedented. Up-down seems different than forward-backward and left-right. After all, we can walk along the ground, but we can't walk up into the air or down into the ground. In the past, people even used special units for measuring up-down: the fathom only measured depth. Ultimately, it's unproductive to consider up-down as somehow separate from other spatial dimensions. Objects can be freely rotated between them. To people living on a different part of Earth, their "up" points in a completely different direction than our "up". So now everyone is comfortable with realizing that their are three equal spatial dimensions, but this is an abstraction, this is something that takes knowledge and reason to get at. It's the same way with time. Observers can "rotate" what they see as time and what they see as space (gravity and movement do this). We can observe this with clocks; as we can observe the direction of "up" with plumb lines. Even the curvature of space is something that can be measured (directly and indirectly). It's not some crazy abstract thing that we have to take on faith.

Why do you think that natural language is somehow more reliable than math? Math is merely a formal language, stripped down so that logical errors are easier to spot. I'm particularly mystified by the claim that mathematics is "what our understanding gets up to when unconstrained by facts". As a scientist, much of my career has consisted of learning how to put factual constraints into mathematical formalism. There are many questions that I can think of that seem to be accessible only from math, because of the precision of description it gives us. Consider flipping a coin four times. How likely is it to come up the same face every time? How could you begin to answer that without math? What would a non-mathematical answer even be?
posted by Humanzee at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2006


One more quick note on curvature. We all have an idea of what curvature is from our daily lives. We look at an object from outside, it's round ---that's what curvature is. This is what mathematicians call "extrinsic curvature". But it's possible to (very naturally) define curvature considering only the object itself, that is "intrinsic curvature".

Consider again a sphere, with little bugs living on it that can't leave the surface. A bug walks down from the north pole, and makes a 90 degree turn at the equator. Then it walks 1/4 of the way around the world, and makes a 90 degree turn towards north. When it comes back, its final path makes a 90 degree angle with its starting path. It's drawn out a triangle who's angles add up to 270 degrees! In fact, any triangle on this world will add up to more than 180 degrees. So any bug physicists could work out that their geometry was not euclidian by pretty simple means, even if they had no mental concept of leaving the sphere, and even if they didn't know that they lived on a sphere. There are plenty of other ways of figuring this out too.

Anyway, I just want to point out that mathematics isn't necessarly as weird and inaccessible as you might think. Even non-euclidian geometry can ultimately be thought of in a very practical fashion. You asked "why" the universe should be non-euclidean. Let me throw that back: why shouldn't it? Unless you can argue why it couldn't possibly be, it makes the most sense to allow for the possibility, and then try to find evidence one way or the other.
posted by Humanzee at 9:36 AM on November 17, 2006


re: curvature

The reason you are forced to use a sphere with bugs on it is to discount the natural tendency to visualize the third dimension to account for these confusions. Cartesian space informs the human imagination. It's how our minds configure reality. The account you give makes perfect sense in any three-dimensional Euclidean world, since we can, and do, make sense of them by taking curved planes and transmuting them by adding the third dimension. Even special relativity, which accounts for the curvature of light near large masses, can be just as easily explained by thinking of forces acting on particles as it is by 'curving' space itself. Curvature is just a metaphor... it's an analogy to explain some surprising mathematics. The math is sound, but the explanation of the math lacks metaphysical rigor. And that's why Kant is so important. (Kudos to grahamwell for making this point above.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:47 AM on November 17, 2006


    Humanzee, cool and well put, thanks.

    What follows are guesses in a rather overlong post. See if any of it persuades.

Look at your finger. Move it up and down, in and out, left and right. Easy. Now move it 'back' and 'forwards' in Time. You see the problem.

Cheap shot - I agree, but there's deeper difficulty. The future in particular doesn't seem to be one 'place' but an endless series of maybes. There's nothing like it anywhere else and our attempts to tie it down - to have a linear 'God's eye view' - appear to be doomed. That at least is my understanding of what's going on at the Quantum level. The clockwork universe and predictable future are unreal, are fantasies.

There are some elegant and appealing theories about multiple universes endlessly branching and endlessly 'real'. Nice, if a little extravagant - but all essentially spatial metaphors for something that isn't spatial - it's Time.

In Kant's world, Space and Time are made by our minds. They are constructions, the framework added by us to experience. That framework allows us to make sense of the world. An apparent consequence of this is that the framework must be empty. It can't have any content or features. It can't have curvature or color or pattern or anything else. If it turns out that it does, we have a problem.

How do we solve the problem? Here's an idea - see what you think. We invent 'fields' . The problem is real - hold a compass in your hand and turn around - space appears to have direction and properties. Why? To get a grip on this we abstract the effects from the container. We construct something called a field, the only purpose of which is to explain why space isn't, or doesn't appear to be uniform. (We then get rather confused as to what a field 'is', it hurts our head - we call it metaphysics and move on)

The situation you describe with bugs on the surface of a sphere is real. The bugs are us. How do we understand why "walking that way for a certain amount of time" brings us back here? We construct an additional dimension and arrange things in it - arrange them so that it makes sense. So far we have found that we need three of these. Exactly why is a mystery.

Please forgive my cartoon characterisation of Mathematics. I am on very Thin Ice. What Kant seemed to be saying about Geometry and Mathematics is that they are our understanding of our own mechanism. They are the intellectualization of the structure that we apply to the world. In itself they tell us nothing about the world, they are empty but they are tools.

Mathematics can tell us anything that we want. If we refused, for religious reasons, to believe that the Earth was not the centre of the Solar System, Mathematics would come to our aid, constructing the required model to reinforce our faith. For centuries that's exactly what happened and we got rather confused. (then we swung the other way, but that's another story)

If we decide that "Space is curved" then Mathematics will give us suggestions as to what we might mean. We then choose the ones we like.

But space is not curved. It can't be. If it seemed to be - if the facts showed undeniably that it was - then we would create another dimension to explain why the facts that seemed to be telling us one thing were actually telling us another. An interesting part of this idea is that we would have no problem directly understanding this - presumably as part of infancy we would adapt to the appropriate number of spatial dimensions as we have adapted to three.

I think that's what Kant is saying. I'm aware that I haven't really engaged your main points. That is going to take some proper thought.... instead of which:

1. Kant
2. Plato
3. Pythagoras (if what we believe is true)
4. Augustine.
posted by grahamwell at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2006


anotherpanacea: I gave the example that I did precisely in order to resonate with someone with a cartesian outlook, simply because I wanted to create a simple analogy. I didn't do any calculations of curvature, but there's nothing inherently cartesian in the underlying math (which is quite rigorous). Before general relativity, the standard description of gravity was in terms of forces; and tradition and comfort would create a tendancy to continue describing gravity that way. However, a force-based description of gravity is untenable in a relativistic setting for a zillion reasons (one example: doesn't explain why clocks in different gravitational fields run at different rates).

grahamwell: relativistic physics is even more strict than you in terms of knowing the future. We can't even know the present (or the recent past) of places sufficiently far away. We can only know of events that are close enough/old enough for light to have reached us. But the theory still holds together, and no God's eye view is required.

When you talk about "fields", I don't know if you're talking about particle fields, or some definition that's applicable to philosophy. Since you mention compasses, I'll assume you mean fields the same way that a physicist would. Back in Newton's day, I think that almost everyone would agree with what you said. I think that by the time Maxwell came along, there would be some dissenters. Nowadays, there can be little doubt that fields are as "real" as any other natural phenomenon. Consider the Casimir effect (which results from the energy of these fields) and the anomalous magnetic moment (which results from background fluctuations in fields).

I guess my point in arguing over all these little details is that no one would have guessed this stuff back in Kant's day. We were driven to the conclusions that we've reached by experiments that no one had done then, and we understand those experiments using math that hadn't even been developed then. When trying to describe the limitations of human understanding, it's worth noting that gaining new information can sometimes lead to understanding things that previously seemed unknowable.
posted by Humanzee at 5:16 PM on November 17, 2006


Don't misunderstand, I wasn't claiming that fields are unreal. I'm not surprised that they may have many interesting and unexpected properties, my point was about space and the way that Kant believes we are forced to abstract and conceptualise it. That point crashes against the ideas of 'Spacetime' and 'Curved Space'. For Kant and Einstein it seems that "this town 'aint big enough".

So much the worse for Kant I suppose .... and yet - I have a suspicion that if there were any Kantian physicists (I assume there are not?) that they would be hugely encouraged by the work of Emmy Noether. If I did understand this (I don't) it would seem to derive the Conservation laws of Physics from basic considerations of Space and Time (symmetry). Just when the idea of "Synthetic A-Priori" truths seemed to be consigned to the dustbin of philosophical arcana, here they are again - with knobs on.

Interesting.
posted by grahamwell at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2006


there's nothing inherently cartesian in the underlying math (which is quite rigorous).

I have found that those who understand the math lose track of what they are describing. This seems to be the case here: the math may not be Cartesian, but our experience of the world definitely is. So when you tell me that my experience is wrong and your math is right, I have to ask: what makes you so sure that this interpretation of the math is the correct one, since you too are constrained by the dictates of Cartesian spacial imagination? You can analogize further dimensions to color or temperature, but you can't really -imagine- extra dimensions. Your brain isn't built like that. Instead, you 'fold' a dimension out of the way so that you can continue to think in three dimensions. Your 'simple analogy' reveals this: you can no more tell a reasonable four dimensional story than I can, so you tell a two dimensional story and subtly imply that my imaginative powers are that of a bug, while waving at 'rigorous' math that proves your point.

I'm sure the math proves something, but there's a notorious translation problem between natural and formal symbolic systems. Ultimately, we are stuck with some experimental evidence, all experienced in three-dimensional space + time, and some really neat, interesting, challenging math, that attempts to model those weird and unexpected experimental results. For Kant, this means that we are stuck with the evidence of our senses, the phenomena, the forms of intuition (space and time), and the categories (necessity, possibility, totality, causality,etc.) through which we apprehend this evidence. When the evidence is surprising, we can always confront it by denying that the forms of our intuition or the categories of our experience correctly model the world, but we can never experience the world differently. Alternatively, we can pursue explanations within the frame of time, space, quality, quantity, relation, and modality, which in any case are required for meaningful human thoughts. Kant distinguishes such uses of pure reason from ratiocination or mathematic calculation, neither of which can give us answers about the noumenal world, i.e. things-in-themselves, but rather answers regarding the symbolic system in which they are asked. Human reason, with all its metaphysical baggage, is still required to make meanings our of mathematical or logical abstractions.

a force-based description of gravity... doesn't explain why clocks in different gravitational fields run at different rates

This has yet to be proven experimentally. The Hafele-Keating experiment, which many people point to for such proof, has serious challenges in the accuracy/measurement department. Still, even if cesium-clocks are shown to experience relativistic effects, it will always be possible to come up with a particle-field explanation and a timespace curvature explanation. That's why the debate over string-theory still rages on after thirty years. Sadly, the non-relativistic math will frequently be less eloquent than wholesale reworkings of the fabric of reality, but this reflects the tragic ugliness of other aspects of experience.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:17 AM on November 18, 2006


anotherpanacea:
Well, you're sticking to your claim that arguments using natural language are more reliable than math, and that my confidence in math demonstrates a lack of understanding. This is precisely the opposite of my experience, but I don't see either of us convincing the other. I guess we're at an impass. I'll just close by pointing out that I've neither demonstrated that I "understand the math" nor that I've "lost track of what [I am] describing". Metafilter comments just aren't the right place for my grand tretise on curvature.

The Hafele-Keating is hardly the only experiment verifying general relativity, nor was it what I was thinking of. Just in case it's amusing, here is a PDF
of a Physics Today article describing how relativistic effects (and many other headaches) must be considered in order to make GPS work. Far from being some half-assed theory, general relativity is something that must be accounted for in order to make a common technology work. In fact, some were so skeptical of general relativity, that the first GPS unit was built with the ability to essential turn realtivistic calculations on and off: it verified predictions to within about 1%.
posted by Humanzee at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2006


Humanzee, I don't think anyone doubts that the Math works, that it produces accurate results and spot-on predictions. That's agreed. The question is over the interpretation - in natural language, what does it mean?

Correct me if I'm wrong but for Mathematicians and Physicists (is there a difference?) this possibly doesn't matter. For the rest of us however, it does.

It amuses me to remember that poor Copernicus, when he first produced his theory, was laughed at because it didn't work - or rather it produced predictions which were much less accurate than the calculations of the Scholastic Establishment. Copernicus insisted on circles, and it was not until Kepler that the real heavy lifting made the sums come out right. The developed science of Epicycles had essentially solved the problem of planetary motion - from a predictive point of view. Indeed the Ptolomaic equivalent of GPS was just as impressive. The Scholars could not see that their explanation - what they believed the mathematics meant - was absurd and that the imaginative straightjacket of their success stood in the way of a deeper understanding of the heavens and yet more accurate predictions.

What anotherpanacea describes as "translation problem between natural and formal symbolic systems" matters because in the end it is the natural systems that engage the imagination - allow us to think laterally - show us where to look and what to look for. Are we looking for Gravitons for example? (forgive me - I'm a one trick pony). Without a coherent natural system we do not have understanding - just inadequate metaphors and blind calculation.

Anotherpanacea says that "When the evidence is surprising, we can always confront it by denying that the forms of our intuition or the categories of our experience correctly model the world". I wonder if we really can. Is not even the most sophisticated mathematical mind not ultimately anchored in the spatial, the phenomenal, the real? Is it only me that is chained to my physical metaphors? How much thinking is really possible outside of that box?
posted by grahamwell at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2006


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