Monday, March 19, 2007
  Spring Break
I'm in New York City with a very spotty internet connection. I'll be gone for a few days. Expect much talk of structuralism when I get back.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Speaking of numbered lists:

  1. I'm taking another pass at continental philosophy. While some continental people have effected me a lot (Nietzsche), I too quickly dismissed others in my early years as essentially nonsensical, and I'm revisiting them to find out why some folks seem to see so much in them that I don't. I'm always trying to broaden my horizons, but I worry that the things I'm committed to (a certain form of physicalism) may not be commensurable with the objects of my study. Am I going to gain anything here?
  2. I've been thinking I'd learn another programming language. For practical purposes, my heart belongs to Python, but I'd like to learn a little more about programming theory. LISP seems to be a pretty good place to start, but Common LISP or Scheme? And for that matter, maybe a functional language (Haskell?) would be good; I'd like to learn more about lambda calculus.
  3. I wonder if I should I change the name of my blog. It's a lyric from the Orchid song "Snow Delay at the Frankfurt School" so it forms a kind of a cryptic reference to critical theory and the revolutionary politics that formed a big part of my intellectual development. Still, at the moment I'm going through a lot of turmoil politically, and I'm using this blog primarily for rather apolitical book reviews. Maybe this isn't the best place to be representin' as they say.
  4. This isn't a question at all, but for years I've been unreasonably obsessed with the Orchid album Chaos is Me/Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! and I just started playing it again. I think that if you can stand a band that quotes critical theory in songs made of pure chaos, you should check it out. Sometime I'd like to do a song for song explanation of why I think this album is so great.
  What I'm reading
I've managed to shed nearly all the books I own over the past year or so. I gave most of my favorites to my lovely girlfriend, and so I consider these hers even though I still have access to them and I don't suspect she'll get around to reading them before she rounds out her to-do list by learning Hebrew and becoming an astronaut. When I moved up here, I left the rest of my books in the care of some people who will probably end up selling them (which I think I'm at peace with except for the tiny 1918 Modern Library edition of The Genealogy of Morals.)
So I've thrown myself on the mercy of the library.

As a new feature here at When We Move, I'm going to start writing about not only all the books I read, but in fact all the books I have signified my intentions of reading through the act of possession. That is, I'll report on what I've checked out from the library, when I'm in the middle of a lot of things. A simple list would do just fine, but why not give it the extra 35% and adorn each item with a few notes.


  1. Shoenfield, Joseph R. Mathematical Logic. Being more familiar with the use of symbolic logic in mathematics never hurts, and I suspect I'll need it when I inaugurate my research project on the history of the idea of the formal system. Progress: 14/344 terse symbol filled pages.
  2. Chaitin, Gregory J. Meta Math! The Quest for Omega. Part of my "why not read everything by Gregory Chaitin" series. This one's for popular audiences. No LISP, but longer than the rest. Progress: Haven't opened it.
  3. Chaitin, Gregory J. The Limits of Mathematics. Algorithmic Information Theory. Not for popular audiences. Rife with LISP code, but short. Progress: Virtually none.
  4. Larson/Hostetler. Precalculus. Heh. I read about set theory, category theory, model theory, graph theory, topology, game theory, incompleteness, computational complexity, algorithmic information theory, probability theory, analysis, mathematical logic and combinatorics. My dark secret: I taught myself trigonometry and I'm terrible at it.
  5. Campbell, Jeremy. Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life. There's a serial comma in the title, which a consider a plus. Progress: I started this but got weirded out by the difference between (presumably) Shannon's wishy-washy interpretation of information content and Kolmogorov complexity. Maybe I'll pick it up again soon.
  6. Kenny, Anthony. Wittgenstein. I'm thinking about Wittgenstein again, I'm probably going to read PI sometime soon. I tend to try to surround my reading of primary sources with readings of lighter interpretive works, to get myself in the right frame of mind. Progress: I'm through the introduction.
  7. Pears, David. Ludwig Wittgenstein. See above. I haven't opened it yet.
  8. Rée, Jonathan. Heidegger. I've been trying to get closer to understanding Heidegger. There's no way I'm reading Being and Time unless I know it's going to be productive. I picked up a few introductory books to get a better handle on the situation. This one is tiny! Progress: I'm 10 pages into it which is like a fifth of the whole book. I haven't started either of the others.
  9. Inwood, Michael. Heidegger. See above. Apparently the same author wrote the VSI volume on Heidegger. I love the VSI series.
  10. Clark, Timothy. Martin Heidegger. See above, only with an emphasis on literary studies, as it's part of the Routledge Critical Thinkers series.
  11. Plant, Raymond. Hegel. Another tiny book from the same series as the Heidegger one above. My only understanding of the dialectic comes from studying Marx. So I have questions. Progress: Zero.
  12. Hawkes, Terrence. Structuralism & Semiotics. I'm approaching structuralism again, as I got a muddled account of it in my introduction to anthropology class. Progress: I OD'd on introductions to Saussure near the beginning and haven't picked it up again yet.
  13. Nishioka, Hayward. Foot Throws: Karate, Judo and Self-Defense. I've been re-training, and I thought I might learn some throws as the style of Kung Fu I practiced is pretty percussive and, well, it's much easier to kick someone once you've thrown them on the ground. I'm martial-arts-illustrative-picture illiterate or something though; I can never read the motion of the move from the pictures. Progress: Virtually none, it'll probably be returned.
Plus everything I've reviewed here (I admit I'm lazy about returning things.) As you can see, I'm not more than a few pages into anything but I'm working on a lot.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007
  Thoughts on Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought
Tasić, Vladimir. Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 189 pages.

For a book that references the Sokal affair on the first page, this is a pretty illuminating look at "postmodernism". Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought attempts to establish parallels between postmodern thought and the foundational controversies that occurred in mathematics around a century ago. It goes about this primarily by drawing connections between postmodern concepts and the ideas that came about due to the clash of formalism and intuitionism in the mathematical community, and by suggesting historical lines of intellectual influence between the players on both sides. The latter method is at times surprising but often sort of sketchy. This doesn't particularly bother me, as the historical and conceptual lens offered by the book is productive in some ways, regardless of how pronounced the actual influences between actors were.
The subject matter made the book somewhat difficult for me. The thought of Husserl, Heidegger and those influenced by them is of a style rather orthogonal to mine, which is one of the reasons I was interested in this book to begin with. It's good to come at dense subjects by way of ones that you are more familiar with. Unfortunately for me, the book is more interested in using Heidegger and Husserl to get at more postmodern types in a genealogical manner than it is in shedding light on them in particular. Consequently, some passages left me straining to follow the train of thought.
Nevertheless, I found some aspects of Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought problematic for their own reasons. It’s obviously and admittedly oversimplified. I didn't find the first few chapters particularly illuminating, and the introduction to Saussure is very unwieldy. It's not entirely clear on first reading whether the author uses Wittgenstein to get at postmodern types or whether he strangely considers Wittgenstein a postmodern philosopher.
Despite the author's warnings that he won't criticize his subjects for being derivative of romantics or mathematical theorists in ways that he can't conclusively prove, this seems to be exactly what he does in the end. The final section seems to condemn postmodern types for not being aware of the roots to which the author has hypothetically attributed to them. This isn't a very convincing criticism to me.
Regardless of his criticisms, at a certain level the author seems to share some assumptions with his subjects. A sort of Platonism is rampant among math people, which actually makes it easier for them to digest the strange sorts of hypothetical entities that seem to permeate postmodern thought. I would prefer a more thorough scientific naturalism but that's probably asking too much given the subject. Still, there's a superfluous argument against AI that's ridiculous.
Don't think that I wouldn't recommend the book. In many cases criticism is more interesting to write than praise. This book didn't inspire any great revelations on my part, but once it got started it was definitely interesting. This was a little bit deeper than the stuff I've been reading lately and it took me a while to get through, but it's inspired me to get serious about the parts of continental philosophy that I've never really understood.

"Open your eyes, Clevinger. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."

When we move, it's a movement

An attempt to overcome a crippling perfectionism; an appendix-in-progress for a perpetually unwritten book. Notes on variety of subjects including but not limited to: cognition, mathematics, sociology, philosophy and art. Now with book reviews!

Regarding The Author

J.S. Nelson is a young fellow with a broad array of interests and a lot of time on his hands.

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