“Although composition has always been fundamental to painting, all modern painting has been distinguished by a new way of being concerned with it. In modern art, especially in Cubism, composition comes to the forefront and finally, in consequence, abstract-real painting expresses composition itself. While in the art of the past, composition becomes real only if we abstract the representation, in the abstract-real painting composition is directly visible because it has truly abstract plastic means.”—Piet Mondrian (1917)
“Speaking in a general way, and within certain liberal and expansive limitations, it should appear that there is no evil under which the human species can labour, that man is not competent to cure.”—William Godwin, On Population (6.9)
I’m reading Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue (2009) by R.P. Hanley, which is a study of Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and its publication history. Hanley argues that having laid out a theory of market economics in The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith became one its first serious critics as well in his revisions to The Theory of Moral Sentiments, first published in 1759. It went through six editions, and in the final edition in 1790, Smith added a chapter called “Of the corruption of our moral sentiments, which is occasioned by this disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despite or neglect persons of poor and mean condition.”
“Amass as much knowledge as you please, but no authorities. To quote authorities is a vulgar business; every soulless hypocrite can do that.”—William Godwin in a letter to John Thelwall on September 18, 1794
“However you may be, be your own source of experience! Throw off your discontent about your nature; forgive yourself your own self, for you have in it a ladder with a hundred rungs, on which you can climb to knowledge.”—Friedrich Nietzsche, from Human, All Too Human (via violentwavesofemotion)
“When something is true, it doesn’t need to be entrenched. Criticizing it, conceiving that it might be false, actually strengthens one’s understanding of such a truth. If you take an idea on board critically, then you will see why your criticisms actually fail—and criticisms failing is what we actually have, that’s what is really possible, unlike authority or infallibilism or whatever. If you see why the criticisms fail, then you can be comfortable, not that it’s true, but that the rival ideas that you might have entertained are false. And if they aren’t false, they’ll be some reason that they aren’t false, which you don’t know yet, which you need to find via criticism again. On the other hand, if you’re told even perfectly true things, in a way that either prevents you from criticizing, or if you’ve already given up on criticism and don’t criticize yourself, then you never really understand why they’re true, even if they are completely true. It’s a commonplace observation that people can, say, pass an exam in a subject, get all the questions right, without ever actually understanding what they’re saying, so that when they then come up with a practical situation that’s framed in a different way from the way that an exam can be framed, or the way they’re accustomed to exams being framed, then they don’t know how to connect what they learned to say with the actual situation.”—David Deutsch (via superfluidity)
Since the Enlightenment, technological progress has depended specifically on the creation of explanatory knowledge. People had dreamed for millennia of flying to the moon, but it was only with the advent of Newton’s theories about the behavior of invisible entities such as forces and momentum that they began to understand what was needed in order to go there.
This increasingly intimate connection between explaining the world and controlling it is no accident, but is part of the deep structure of the world. Consider the set of all conceivable transformations of physical objects. Some of those (like faster-than-light communication) never happen because they are forbidden by laws of nature; some (like the formation of stars out of primordial hydrogen) happen spontaneously; and some (such as converting air and water into trees, or converting raw materials into a radio telescope) are possible, but happen only when the requisite knowledge is present—for instance, embodied in genes or brains. But those are the only possibilities. That is to say, every putative physical transformation, to be performed in a given time with given resources or under any other conditions, is either
-impossible because it is forbidden by the laws of nature; or
-achievable, given the right knowledge.
That momentous dichotomy exists because if there were transformations that technology could never achieve regardless of what knowledge was brought to bear, then this fact would itself be a testable regularity in nature. But all regularities in nature have explanations, so the explanation of that regularity would itself be a law of nature, or a consequence of one. And so, again, everything that is not forbidden by laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
This fundamental connection between explanatory knowledge and technology is why the Haldane-Dawkins queerer-than-we-suppose argument is mistaken—why the reach of human adaptations does have a different character from that of all the other adaptations in the biosphere. The ability to create and use explanatory knowledge gives people a power to transform nature which is ultimately not limited by parochial features, as all other adaptations are, but only by universal laws. This is the cosmic significance of explanatory knowledge—and hence of people, whom I shall henceforward define as entities that can create explanatory knowledge.
”—David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity (2011:55-56)
“This consideration should make us look with aversion upon all resources of violence. When we descend into the listed field, we of course desert the vantage ground of truth, and commit the decision to uncertainty and caprice. The phalanx of reason is invulnerable; it advances with deliberate and determined pace, and nothing is able to resist it. But when we lay down our arguments, and take up our swords, the case is altered. Amidst the barbarous pomp of war and the clamorous din of civil brawls, who can tell whether the event shall be prosperous or miserable?”—William Godwin, Political Justice (1793:113)
“Although, unfortunately, these young men do not understand that the sacrifice of life is, perhaps, the easiest of all sacrifices in many cases, while to sacrifice, for example, five or six years of their ebulliently youthful life to hard, difficult studies, to learning, in order to increase tenfold their strength to serve the very truth and the very deed that they loved and set out to accomplish – such sacrifice is quite often almost beyond the strength of many of them.”—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (via joestanley)
“[German goalkeeper Oliver] Kahn once agreed to take part in a penalty shoot-out for charity in which he faced children who would collect money for an orphanage by putting one past the famous pro. Then he saved every single spot-kick because he couldn’t stand to be beaten.”—Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, Tor!: The Story of German Football (via eush)
“The concept of physis was transferred from the whole universe to a single part of it—to mankind; and there it took on a special meaning. Man is subject to certain rules prescribed by his own nature, which must be known if he is to live correctly in health and recover properly from illness. This was the first recognition of the fact that the physis of man is a physical organism, with a particular structure to be understood and treated in a particular way.”—Werner Jaeger, Paideia (1:306)
“Aeschylus took the main outlines of the character of Prometheus, the hero of the intellectual world, from Ionian theories of the origin of civilization, which with their triumphant faith in progress contrasted so sharply with the peasant Hesiod’s melancholy description of the five ages of the degenerating world, and of its approaching ruin. Prometheus is inventive and exploratory genius, inspired by a helpful love for suffering humanity.”—Werner Jaeger, Paideia (1:263)
“At this stage logic appears to work like an explosive. The oldest authorities shake and fall under its impact. Nothing is correct but that which I can explain to myself on conclusive grounds, that for which my thought can reasonably account…Yet in this victory of the rational I over traditional authority, there is latent a force which is to triumph over the individual: the concept of Truth, a new universal category to which every personal preference must yield.”—Werner Jaeger, Paideia (1:155) on early Greek philosophy.
Here’s how it works: Detroit account holders who owe $250 or less to DWSD can enter their information through a simple form-based site. Required info includes address, account number, past due and current charges, and account balance. The information is then verified through the Detroit Water and Sewage Department website.
Would-be donors simply submit an email address. Once a donor is matched with an account holder, the donor then receives all the account information required to pay the overdue bill. The donor can’t see the Detroit account holder’s name, though, unless the account holder asks to reveal it.
Bell and Tillman’s site indicates that only individual residents are eligible to participate—so a donor won’t be asked to pay on one of the city’s many delinquent corporate accounts. Some 4,400 homes remained without water in late June, according to reports. The department announced today that it was suspending shut-offs for the next 15 days to give delinquent account holders time to seek help.
While attending Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, he had a out-of-body experience during which he was transported into outer space. As biographer John Szwed records him saying, “my whole body changed into something else. I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn.” While there, aliens with “little antenna on each ear. A little antenna on each eye” instructed him to drop out of college and speak through his music. And that’s just what he did, changing his name from Herman Blount and never looking back….
In 1971, he served as artist-in-residence at UC Berkeley and offered a spring semester lecture, African-American Studies 198, also known as “Sun Ra 171,” “The Black Man in the Universe,” or “The Black man in the Cosmos.” The course featured readings from—to name just a few—theosophist Madame Blavatsky, French philosopher Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, black American writer and poet Henry Dumas, and “God,” whom the cosmic jazz theorist reportedly listed as the author of The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (otherwise known as the King James Bible).
“The point is that although all known life is based on replicators, what the phenomenon of life is really about is knowledge. We can give a definition of adaptation directly in terms of knowledge: an entity is adapted to its niche if it embodies knowledge that causes the niche to keep that knowledge in existence. Now we are getting closer to the reason why life is fundamental. Life is about the physical embodiment of knowledge, and in Chapter 6 we came across a law of physics, the Turing principle, which is also about the physical embodiment of knowledge. It says that it is possible to embody the laws of physics, as they apply to every physically possible environment, in programs for a virtual-reality generator. Genes are such programs. Not only that, but all other virtual-reality programs that physically exist, or will ever exist, are direct or indirect effects of life. For example, the virtual-reality programs that run on our computers and in our brains are indirect effects of human life. So life is the means — presumably a necessary means — by which the effects referred to in the Turing principle have been implemented in nature.”—David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality (181)
“If the laws of physics as they apply to any physical object or process are to be comprehensible, they must be capable of being embodied in another physical object — the knower. It is also necessary that processes capable of creating such knowledge be physically possible. Such processes are called science. Science depends on experimental testing, which means physically rendering a law’s predictions and comparing it with (a rendering of) reality. It also depends on explanation, and that requires the abstract laws themselves, not merely their predictive content, to be capable of being rendered in virtual reality. This is a tall order, but reality does meet it. That is to say, the laws of physics meet it. The laws of physics, by conforming to the Turing principle, make it physically possible for those same laws to become known to physical objects. Thus, the laws of physics may be said to mandate their own comprehensibility.”—David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality (135)
“The instrument by which extensive mischiefs have in all ages been perpetuated has been, the principle of many men being reduced to mere machines in the hands of the few. Man, while he consults his own understanding, is the ornament of the universe. Man, when he surrenders his reason, and becomes the partisan of implicit faith and passive obedience, is the most mischievous of all animals.”—Godwin 1793:99
“The consequences of all this speedily manifested themselves. The very next incident in the story was in some degree decisive of the catastrophe. Hitherto I have spoken only of preliminary matters, seemingly unconnected with each other, though leading to that state of mind in both parties, which had such fatal effects. but all that remains is rapid and tremendous. The death-dealing mischief advances with an accelerated motion, appearing to defy human wisdom and human strength to obstruct its operation.”—William Godwin, Caleb Williams (1794:36)