The Examined Life (Again)

I seem to be spending my blogging life catching up from large gaps these days. Either “pressure of work” business reasons or intense distracting correspondences in “another place”. So again this is a quick round up.

Reading :

Finished Dostoevsky’s Karamazovs. Overall it’s a whodunnit (and why) exploration of psychology and motivations, real and rationalised, life and death, love and hate, children and the elderly, lovers, families, friends, colleagues and strangers, so perhaps not surprising that the “Most magnificent novel ever written.” cover blurb is a quote from Sigmund Freud. Close on a thousand pages of small closely spaced print, and so many character names, so a tough read in practice despite the wit and intrigue. Ultimately Alyosha’s “wise head on young shoulders” relationship with the village children is the one that seems to matter most, so perhaps no coincidence they form Dostoevsky’s final forward looking scenes. Worth the effort.

Delayed picking up Wittgenstein (again), since I started into J. S. Mill. On liberty is just so much common sense and so easy to read. His scope is limited by the western context of Victorian Christian “received opinion”, but Socrates “examined life” is the root of the message again, the recognition of “excluded middles” and truth as “active meaning”. I’m through his introduction and the liberty of thought and discussion, still have individuality as an element of well-being, the limits of social authority and his “applications” to go. Based on earlier secondary references to Mill, I had already concluded he was ahead of his time, but yet again even he would say, “nothing new under the sun”.

Strangely having acquired Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, I recently found myself in a meeting of a group of data modellers (who shall individually remain anonymous here) amongst whom I first became aware of Wittgenstein eight or nine years ago. I’ll refer to two of this group as (A) Alan and (B) Bill. I told the anecdote elsewhere, of Alan (a philosopher by training) who confided after one meeting way back then, his regret at introducing the group to Wittgenstein, since the Russellian logicians amongst them / us had latched all too easily onto the Tractatus, but ignored his later work. Well, at the recent meeting, Bill expressed a realisation, often mentioned as an aside in previous encounters, that we were really modelling what is known (imperfectly), rather than what exists (in reality) … ie despite liberal use of taxonomy and ontology and set theories, our model was essentially epistemological rather than ontological. I mentioned my recollection of Alan’s warning all those years ago. Anyway, Alan, who was not at this meeting, and in fact has not been involved with this group for five years to my knowledge, coincidentally contacted me just two days ago having lost contact and recently re-discovered me through Skype. We had a brief “what are you doing these days” catch-up chat, during the course of which I mentioned to Alan that I’d used his name in response to Bill’s realisation just last week. Spookily, Alan responded that his original realisation of the epistemological significance over ontology, had arisen during a presentation by none other than Bill, some ten years ago, where Bill’s particular application involved a domain where most data was collected by remote / indirect measurement, where they could only infer or guess at the reality being probed. As Alan said, that’s when he realised (from his earlier philosophical training) that this was in fact more generally the case.

The consilient convergence continues.

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