Summaries of posts

From the beginning. Work in progress.

Hello world!

This blog is begun, its aim expressed with a quotation from Maugham, to the effect that one might be able to make sense of one’s life by writing things down.

Basil II

When an authority favors a particular activity, then some persons will engage in that activity, not for its interest to them, but for the sake of currying favor with the authority. This may lead to a decline in the value of the activity. Inversely, an activity that falls out of official favor may nonetheless see a flowering. This is the gist of a quotation made here from Michael Psellus concerning the reign of Emperor Basil II (a quotation repeated, with no real new comment, in “Michael Psellus on learning”).

The post is thus relevant to an article about my alma mater published today (June 21, 2017) in Quartz: Peter Marber, “The most forward-thinking, future-proof college in America teaches every student the exact same stuff.” According to Marber,

The creative and critical thinking that develops in the St. John’s bubble may be just what the future will require. While most college students have been rushing to study computer science and other technical skills for better employment outcomes, these fields may be less lucrative over time with machine learning and artificial intelligence.

If forward-looking high-school students figure out that St John’s is the college to attend for a promising future, the actual life of the College could suffer.

The Swift

On the swifts that are seen and heard from our balcony in Istanbul and that occur in a legend from the Year of the Elephant (namely the birth year of Muhammad).

Aristotle on Heraclitus

Merely a note on a peculiarity in a Turkish translation of what Aristotle says about Heraclitus that can be translated into English as, “some have faith not less in what they opine than others in what they know.”

Logic (notes on the finger-wagging Cratylus)

Inclusive remarks on Cratylus as compared (by me) to Zen teacher Gutei and as discussed in a logic book by Wilfrid Hodges. Gutei answered questions by raising a finger, but then Gutei cut off the finger of a boy who imitated him. Thus arises again a theme in “Basil II”; now it might be put as, the copy has not the value or meaning of the original.

Strunk and White

My essay on the foolishness of Geoffrey Pullum in condemning The Elements of Style. A key point is that Pullum acts like a normative (“prescriptive”) scientist when the linguistics that he does professionally is supposed to be an empirical (“descriptive”) science. A third possibility is that linguistics is a criteriological science (Collingwood’s term: see “Body and Mind” and other posts). The Strunk and White book is criteriological, in the sense of aiming to help readers to write well, by the standards that they themselves will develop; and Strunk and White can aim to to this, because they are conscious of themselves as writers aiming to write well. As I put is, “Rules of style are supposed to induce thinking, not obedience.”

Michael Psellus on learning

This post merely repeats the quotation from Michael given in “Basil II.” Thus the post was probably a mistake.

Science and anti-science

Comments on a passage from R. G. Collingwood, “Reality as History,” December, 1935, in The Principles of History and Other Writings in the Philosophy of History (Oxford, 1999). Science leads to anti-science by undertaking “to understand man by the same methods by which modern man understood Nature.” This is called psychology; but again, as above under “Strunk and White,” a science of thought must be criteriological, involving different methods from those of natural science.

On reading too much into words

A Facebook post (not be me) accused the BBC of bias because a story had said that, in an exchange of fire, Israelis Palestinians had been killed, but Palestinians had only died. I shared the post with a comment that the accusation was ridiculous, since another BBC story that I had found used the words “killed” and “died” in the reverse order. Apparently some friends missed the point, since they shared in turn the original post, without my counterargument. One friend, even an academic, nonetheless agreed with the original accusation of bias. Flabbergasted, I wrote this article. I saw in my academic friend’s response itself a kind of anti-Western bias, and thus a confirmation of the argument of Chomsky and Herman that news confirming one’s own biasses is readily published without careful confirmation.

I tried to acknowledge that we all have biasses. Still, I would recall now what I believe Orwell said about the Spanish Civil War: that it entailed a death of objectivity. Scholars of the First World War could trust the research of scholars from any side; not so for the Spanish war.

The point of teaching mathematics

Provoked by Andrew Hacker, “Is Algebra Necessary?” I say that education in mathematics (including algebra) is like physical education: it develops the student’s own resources. Mathematics gives the student the right and the responsibility to decide what is true. And yet mathematics is not individualistic, but universal: it expects peaceful agreement by all interested parties.

Similar images of different saints

The images are Byzantine; the saints, John Chrysostom at Dumbarton Oaks and Cyril of Alexandria at Chora.

The von Neumann natural numbers: a fractal-like image and

Two connected posts. In the first, a still image; this is animated in the next, which has also some explanation of how I made the animation.

Limits and Learning mathematics

Again two connected posts. The first “is about limits in mathematics: both the technical notion that arises in calculus, and the barriers to comprehension that one might reach in one’s own studies.” I review the epsilon-delta definition and the “non-standard” definition. The next post is a memoir of how I learned mathematics in high school, along with some ideas of how to teach it. Students should be challenged to present mathematics for themselves, as at St John’s College and as in a course of Euclid’s geometry where I teach today. “To learn is to learn to be a teacher.”

Occupy Istanbul Taksim Gezi Parkı, Police against all, and May Day One Month Late

My reports from the Gezi Park Protests.

Books hung out with

Notes on works by Thoreau, Maugham, Collingwood, and Pirsig.

Pairing of paintings and More pairings



Long quotations, with discussion, from Collingwood on

  • how our lives do not simply unfold according to a plan (from The Idea of History)
  • TBC

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