Kant's Dialectic

PXL_20231229_211535558~2 Before going off for Christmas I made a doomed attempt to buy second-hand books as presents, and succeeded only in buying myself a few slim tomes (although one of those, In Defence of War by Nigel Biggar, did turn out to be a present for my wife).

One of which was the said Kant's Dialectic by Jonathan Bennett, 1974. I'm mostly interested in this via Popper (see Kant’s cats) who believed the Antimonies were designed to demonstrate how reason goes astray when unconstrained by reality. I think that's a good interpretation though (as I said there) I'm doubtful whether that was actually Kant's intent; certainly, IMO, if you're going to do something like that you should clearly state it, which Kant never does.

Sadly that doesn't get addressed in KD1. Instead, despite a refreshing beginning summarising the contents and some well-turned flings against Kant, we degenerate too much into philosopher-ese. My doubt now is to how far I bother go in discussing this.


In antient philosophy, people were interested - amongst a great many other things - in what the world is made of. Recall that they didn't know if matter is fundamentally "atomic" or continuous, and so the question of what is a fundamental "substance" arises. Section 19 offers "The concept of substance, dropped in §14, must now be picked up again. We have met the idea of a substance as something indestructible, but our considerations of the Dialectic will involve the stronger thesis that a substance cannot come into or go out of existence, or, as I shall say, cannot be originated or annihilated. By this criterion, a must be sempiternal, i.e. must exist at all times". That would have made reasonable sense all through classical antiquity and to Kant, but makes no sense by 1974, when we have had mass-energy equivalence and the creation and destruction of particles for more than fifty years. The section continues onwards, wurbling happily about philosophical things, totally unmoored by reality, almost as though determined to demonstrate Popper's version of Kant's point. Similar problem occur elsewhere.

As a slight aside, one can consider "the soul" under this rubric; if feeling religious, you consider "the soul" in it's usual "woo" fashion; if not, you consider consciousness instead. But either way the question arises: is it a "substance", i.e. indivisible? This, then has some eery echoes of the "splitting brains" discussions that Parfit was so fond of. There I've argued, effectively, that consciousness is indivisible; but I don't think it is meaningful to call it a substance.

Extension and divisibility

Kant presents arguments why extended things cannot be indivisible, largely following Descartes. But he is wrong, because, as we now know, matter is fundamentally "atomic"2, which I'll put in quotes, because as-we-all-know somewhat confusingly for conversations like this, the things we call atoms are not "atomic". But nevermind, electrons are "atomic", i.e. indivisible, and are extended in space, although in a slightly confusing way. Now we know that, we of course re-examine his argument for the crucial and illuminating error. But unfortunately it is simply and uninterestingly "if a thing is extended in space (and space is divisible) then we can consider the thing to have parts and so be divisible". All of the fascinating bits of QM that this has (inevitably, for its time) failed to take account of are the bits of interest. Sadly, KD fails to go that route, instead preferring to merrily emit a long string of words. See-also Ye workes of ye Francis Bacone.

As a sort-of ironic post-script, part of that stream-of-words is a discussion of Our Author's pet idea that compositeness, i.e. divisibility, might be nicely discussed in terms of breakability. But this fails, or at least is complexified, unbeknownst to him, due to quark confinement in protons.

Aside, in update: I think the modern notion that things can have several instrinsic properties also doesn't fit well with what Kant and Descartes and a host of other extension-is-primary people say. Electrons have mass, spin, charge, and something that can be considered extension. All of these different properties are intrinsic.

Infinite time

Having been nothing but critical I should leave you with the one where I do feel sympathy, which is the discussion of the finiteness, or otherwise, of past time. Kant's actual discussion of this is often uninteresting, because he doesn't know about infinity, Cantor being fairly new at that point and not something Kant has studied. But in place of his argument against the past being infinite, I'd put the rather handwavy "as we know, it takes about 13 b yr to get from formlessness to us, really there can't have been infinite time".

Kant's argument against "the world" having begun at some point is that there would be empty time before this. That makes sense in a Newtonian universe; but (I think; don't push me on this I'm weak on GR) doesn't in a GR universe with big bang: instead, time starts. Again, one doesn't blame Kant for missing this; I do blame Our Author for not mentioning it; because really it is the only interesting point in an otherwise long dreary stream of words.


1. From the head of chapter 7 will probably do: "In Kant's usage, an "antinomy' is a pair of good-looking arguments for apparently conflicting conclusions. In the chapter on the Dialectic to which I now turn, he offers four antinomies, each purporting to exhibit a conflict which can be resolved only with help from Kantian philo- sophy. Sometimes Kant suggests that his principles discredit the ques- tions to which the antinomal arguments offer answers, but he also suggests that in the first two antinomies each of the opposing conclusions may be false, while in the third and fourth both conclusions may be true. Indeed, no one account will do. The chapter is in fact a medley, and the several sorts of unity claimed for it are all spurious".

2. I know: we have no final theory. QM might get overthrown. But I'm betting on it to this extent, at least. Ditto on electrons being the bottom. If absolutely necessary I recast my argument into the form "there is a model of reality in which...", which suffices.

3. Since I have space, I'll include this here (from Critique of Pure Reason): It is not so extraordinary as it at first sight appears, that a science should demand and expect satisfactory answers to all the questions that may arise within its own sphere (questiones domesticae), although, up to a certain time, these answers may not have been discovered. There are, in addition to transcendental philosophy, only two pure sciences of reason; the one with a speculative, the other with a practical content-pure mathematics and pure ethics. Has any one ever heard it alleged that, from our complete and necessary ignorance of the conditions, it is uncertain what exact relation the diameter of a circle bears to the circle in rational or irrational numbers? By the former the sum cannot be given exactly, by the latter only approximately; and therefore we decide that the impossibility of a solution of the question is evident. Lambert presented us with a demonstration of this. The Lambert he refers to is Johann Heinrich Lambert, who proved in 1761 that pi is irrational. But WTF is Kant trying to say here? If he is trying to say that pi is irrational, he is choosing a wilfuly obscure method of doing so. Even "the question" at hand in "the impossibility of a solution of the question is evident" is obscure; the only question he has actually asked is "Has any one ever heard...", but he can't mean that. But the ratio of circumference to diameter is known exactly; it is pi; that pi doesn't have a finite decimal expansion doesn't mean we don't know its exact value. I think that just as he doesn't understand infinity, he isn't really comfortable with irrationals, which is like weird because sqrt 2 has been known to be irrational for a loong time.


* What's the difference between a mathematician and a philosopher? All a mathematician needs: pencil, paper, and a trash can. All a philosopher needs: pencil and paper. Source.


Happy Christmas

PXL_20231224_185434455.NIGHT Happy Christmas, world, and any remaining readers I may have. I encourage you to leave festive greetings in the comments so that you may be, as is traditional, enumerated in this season. This year, unlike last, we are unstruck by Covid or similar and so are at my Mother's. I have done my Christmas Morning Half, beating my nephew (he blew up in Churchill) and retaining my smugness for another year. The end-of-year review will follow in a day or so.

For those unfortunate enough not to be English: my picture, taken on the way back from the carols-on-the-village-green, is a knitted scene on top of a post box.


Introducing Justapedia?

PXL_20231203_144123066 Well, that's what Quillette says. I suppose they hope to do better than the failed Conservapedia. They have five fundamental principles and core content policies but I didn't even bother skim them1, because without editors, they're doomed. As a quick test, 500 changes in JP gets you back 3 or 4 days. 500 changes on Wiki gets you back... 4 minutes.

If I look at their current "Selected Contents" I find Outline of the American Civil War, Underwater diving, Poetry, Polar regions of Earth, Machine learning, Mormons, Philosophy and Adoption. Only one of those has had any updates since their import from Wiki, and that is a trivial update of a date in a flagging. That's powerfully unimpressive.

I haven't quite worked out when the import was done, but it looks to be around November 2022. Quillette gives the impression that JP is recent.

Why would you even bother doing this? Q talks about "Recent Wikipedia Controversies" but it is rather telling that issue number one for them is where the funding went, not anything to do with content. Next up is Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/World War II and the history of Jews in Poland, which was a thing but not that exciting (I didn't follow it). They then come to what I think is rather closer to their hearts, Race and intelligence and how it is controlled on Wiki. They may have a point; I would whinge about a variety of other articles and topics, if I felt like it. But... it all seems too thin to sustain what they want.


1. Well that sounded nice and dismissive, which is what I intended, but then I decided on a quick skim. The core content policy doesn't seem to significantly differ from what they imported; and the 5 pillars also seem eerily similar to Wiki's version.


Grasping at straw - Light Blue Touchpaper on plod and kiddy pron.


YAME: 3:01:58.4

Screenshot_20231208-191731 Every now and again I do a marathon on the erg, though I don't usually blog it. In fact I think I've done four over the years; the first was Ergathon in 2009, 3:20:58 (others: in early 2020, just before lockdown, on the Saturday of Lents was Wattmaggedon in 3:04:39; and also in 2020 I did one at home during lockdown, 3:16:45).

But the urge came upon me again, perhaps in order to dstract myself from my uncompetitiveness at 2k. And I noticed that the C2 ranking were a little soft this year. So with 1:28, 1:27 and 1:26 in the half-bag, and an abortive 2h a few days ago when my spirit broke in the yawning voids of about 1:45, I set off on Friday knowing I didn't quite need to hit 3 hours to get the coveted spot amongst the 55-59 lightweights.

Strava is interesting for my HR trace; mostly I was in the low 140's, with a bit of a peak just before half way; and then a spike at the end as I went down to 1:50 to get under :02 minutes. Compare that with a half, where I'm at 157 for much of the second half; though my split there is significantly lower. My peak HR, which I can only hit by really hurting and so generally don't, is in the low 170's.

Compared to what I said in 2009, I think I survived better this time. With my trusty gel seat-pad backed up by the cut-to-shape carrymat I have taped to the erg, my bum was fine. For most of the second half I backed off the arms / finish and tried to drive from the legs, since experience tells me that the arms, and whatever muscles drive the shoulder blades together, don't survive the distance if fully used. My calluses are bedded in and didn't suffer. I drank a small glass of orange juice at 1h and half way, and would have liked one at 2h and 2:30 too, though they eat up 30 seconds.

Having done a few halves, getting to half way was not too bad. From there to two hours is pretty grim, there's still so far to go, and there aren't any good markers. Past two hours I start to believe, partly by lying to myself about how my splits aren't going to decline too badly. Once the counter drops below 10k into four digits it's just a matter of grinding it out; again I lied to myself that my target was 3h, so I could pretend to be 2 mins closer than I really was. To get under 3h, apart from bringing myself to do it all again, I need to not decay so much in the second half; more bravery required.

Here's a link to the C2 rankings (arch). If I was a heavyweight (I'm 68 kg) I'd be #8. Next year I'll be 60, and the ranks are even less competitive. If it was the 2023 season, I'd be 7th (curiously, there's a huge gap from 2:58 to 3:09). If I was female... I'd have more than four minutes margin, irrespective of age and weight, in 2024. I'd be 4th in 2023. I'm currently 8th for the half; last year I was 14th.

Update: 2024/01: well, I'm no longer #1, I'm #3, behind a Kraut and a Frog. I might pull back #2 if I try again but I don't see any way to get to 2:54 so #1 is out of reach. At least, until I'm 60 in a few months time.


* 2024/01: new world record by Joel Naukkarinen @rowingfinn is a 1:39.6 split. I can't get close to that for 2k; or, indeed, 500m.


Spotify like fuckwits make you jump through hoops to get a copy of your playlists. Mine was:

* Highway to Hell / AC/DC
* World Shut Your Mouth / Julian Cope
* Unbelievable / EMF
* Geno - 2000 Remaster / Dexys Midnight Runners
* Monster / The Automatic
* Rocks / Primal Scream
* Girls & Boys / Blur
* Relax / Frankie Goes To Hollywood
* Nemesis / Shriekback
* Temptation / Heaven 17
* Gay Bar / Electric Six
* Antmusic - Remastered / Adam & The Ants
* Sheriff Fatman / Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine
* Mama Said Knock You Out / LL COOL J
* Bat Out of Hell / Meat Loaf
* Down At McDonaldz / Electric Six
* Street Fighting Man - 50th Anniversary Edition / The Rolling Stones
* Girls on Film - 2010 Remaster / Duran Duran
* From a Buick 6 / Bob Dylan
* Virginia Plain / Roxy Music
* Our Lips Are Sealed - Single Version / The Go-Go's
* Livin' On A Prayer / Bon Jovi
* Born to Run / Bruce Springsteen
* Rio - 2009 Remaster / Duran Duran
* I Have The Touch / Peter Gabriel
* Like A Rolling Stone - Live / Remastered 2009 / The Rolling Stones
* Seven Seas Of Rhye - Remastered 2011 / Queen
* Start Me Up - Remastered 2009 / The Rolling Stones
* The Struggle / Scroobius Pip
* When Love Comes To Town / U2
* Walk This Way / Aerosmith
* Slippery People - Live / Talking Heads
* 2-4-6-8 Motorway / Tom Robinson Band
* Thou Shalt Always Kill / Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
* Everything Is AWESOME!!! (feat. The Lonely Island) / Tegan and Sara
* Eye of the Tiger / Survivor
* Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake - 2018 Remaster / Kate Bush
* Life During Wartime - Live / Talking Heads
* Born in the U.S.A. / Bruce Springsteen
* Joan Crawford / Blue Ö?yster Cult
* New Moon on Monday - 2010 Remaster / Duran Duran
* Mr. Blue Sky / Electric Light Orchestra
* Pretty in Pink / The Psychedelic Furs