Got this terrific email with interesting questions from Anon. The obvious perspicacity of its young author caused my heart to soar like a hawk, and to have renewed hope of Renewal. Which, alas, is not likely to happen until I am long gone.
I’ve recently discovered your work at the perfect time. I’m finishing a BA in pure mathematics this spring and have become skeptical that much of any science is “telling us the truth.” This is extraordinarily complicated, as you well know, but the “studies” in which we abstract from reality in such a way as to apply number to the world with some measure, then to accumulate a bunch of these numbers in an idealistic laboratory setting, churn them around some statistical analyses with seemingly arbitrary verification measures, then claim X, Y, and Z about reality, is beginning to seem increasingly preposterous. Not to mention the epistemological problems from top to bottom.
Have you spoken to Alex Pruss about these problems? I would love to be a fly on the wall. If I want to push your questions of probability, statistics, and philosophy of science to the nth degree, do you think a master’s in mathematical statistics is the correct path? Applied math? Rogue studying outside of academia? Do you have any advice columns for young mathematically inclined men?
Dr. [James] Franklin sent me a pdf of his book and I hope to get to it soon. Aristotle has been coming up correct for too many years now, and I think Feser’s book about Aristotle is crucial for the path forward. I hope to find a used copy of your Uncertainty text soon.
P.S. I heard your talk with Coffin. The term “based” comes from, oddly enough, a rapper out of California called “Lil B.” In the mid-2000s he started calling himself based and released an album in 2007 called Based Boys. He would call cool or good things that he liked based and often went by the title Lil B the BasedGod or The BasedGod. The dissident right began using his word ironically around 2010. It grew slowly then suddenly. He was actually quite funny and sort of a quasi-troll. No idea what he’s been up to in the last 5-7 years.
I didn’t know about based’s origins, but we have indeed embraced the term with gusto now.
I’ve never spoken with Pruss, who has the book (among others) Infinity, Causation, and Paradox, the Abstract of which is:
Infinity is paradoxical in many ways. A particular large family of paradoxes is examined that on its face is widely varied. Some involve deterministic super tasks, such as Thomson’s Lamp where a switch is toggled an infinite number of times over a finite period of time, or the Grim Reaper, where it seems that infinitely many reapers can produce a result without doing anything. Others involve infinite lotteries. Yet others involve paradoxical results in decision theory, such as the surprising observation that if you perform a sequence of fair coin-flips that goes infinitely far back into the past but only finitely into the future, you can leverage information about past coin-flips to predict future ones with only finitely many mistakes. It turns out that these, and a number of other paradoxes have a common structure: their most natural embodiment involves an infinite number of items causally impinging on a single output. These paradoxes can all be solved with a single move: embrace causal finitism, the view that it is impossible for a single output to have an infinite causal history. The book exposits such paradoxes, defends causal finitism at length, and ends up considering connections with the philosophy of physics, where causal finitism favors, but does not require, discretist theories of space and time, and the philosophy of religion, where we get a cosmological argument reminiscent of the Kalam argument for the existence of God.
I am with him on his causal finitism, an ontological concept. My work is mainly epistemological, with the notion that, not only can’t there be infinite causes of an event, we also we can’t have infinite knowledge. Of course, most of the standard probability tools embraced assume that infinite knowledge is not only possible, but common. I speak of infinity in it various flavors from time to time to show how awesome and reckless standards assumptions are.
The paradoxes caused with infinite probability distributions all drop away when using finite (i.e. discrete) probability. No worries about having the wrong distributions, or priors, etc. I say in Uncertainty that we should start with finite premises matched to the measurement and decisions that are to be made. And only after that (hard math) can we extrapolate to infinity for the gains in ease of calculation it brings us.
Starting, as it were, at infinity, instead of leading up to it as a known tool of approximation, is the cause of much over-certainty and angst.
Franklin’s book—Franklin is the literary executor of David Stove—is An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics: Mathematics as the Science of Quantity and Structure, an excellent introduction to the topic. It is the philosophy of math behind all these other things.
Maybe you missed the dog that didn’t bark. The reason to be so cheerful about this email is that young Anon has made it through the system unscathed. So far. Will this luck continue?
What to do and where to go next depend much on your circumstance. Only you can judge that. Academia will only grow more debased, with more and greater Diversity and Perversity quotas. Plus mask and, at your age, needless vexxine mandates.
If you think you can make it through and not get cancelled, or have your morals corrupted, it is good to do so. Like it or not, we live in an Expertocracy, and the only way to become a member of the ruling class and influence it is to become Expert at something.
The other consideration is finding somebody good who will take you on, and protect you from the Stupidity Storms which will only grow more common. The mentorship of a knowledgeable leader can be invaluable. I would love to have students, and have much work for then to do (especially if they are hardcore math), but they won’t trust them with me. Any work I assign from my perch far away from university would count for nothing.
As long as you can convince future employers your math philosophy degree is equivalent to what they want from mathematicians, which shouldn’t be too hard, it would be worth studying what you, under guidance from some based professor, find fascinating.
All of us here (mostly geezers and cranks) wish and pray the best for you.
(P.S. I sent young Anon a copy of Uncertainty.)
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