Locklin on science

More books on how the world turns (Sept 2022)

Posted in Book reviews by Scott Locklin on September 2, 2022

“The Ancient City” Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges -an account of ancient Greek and Roman political and religious conceptions for cities. This is pretty fascinating stuff; Fustel de Coulanges deduced this from deep study of classical literature as well as the archaeology of the time, and the anthropology of Vedic practices which are broadly similar to those of the other Indo Europeans, as they share a common origin. Roughly speaking, he saw the original inhabitants of ancient places to be the later aristocracy; people who had household gods, a sacred fire and who inherited the gods of his ancestors, and performed rites meant to propitiate his ancestral spirits and the sacred boundaries. Marriage was joining the cult of the man’s family, and families were propagated religiously: aka adoption meant conversion to the family cult. Eventually in political organization,  as tribes grew into something resembling a town, there were sacred gods of the city, perhaps the household gods of the King. As new men (plebs) came to the city, they’d join the city cult, and have a patron in a local aristocrat. He traces various social revolutions where the plebs were given more rights and duties, and the fading of old practices in favor of new ones, eventually culminating in Christianity where all men shared the same religion and it was mostly separated from civic duty. It’s a vivid account: the ancient city was, according to him, basically a fanatical religious cult with many duties and sacred rites, and very little of what we’d think of as freedom: even in cities with democratic systems of government. One could think of it as a sort of development of human psychology beyond the primitive hunter gatherer band; religion being used to mediate conflict between people. You could also think of it as something completely consistent with the evidence presented in Julian Jaynes “Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” -one of those crazy, compelling ideas that captures many people’s imaginations. All of this seems pretty nuts to modern people, but Fustel de Coulanges seems to have done well in the eyes of modern Classicists, so I’m going to assume it more or less works this way. I wonder what this kind of thinking would look like applied outside of the Indo-European context: while European paganism and Hindu practices are deeply related, maybe comparing it to something like Shinto would be productive.

“Caesar: a sketch” Froude -the story of the most interesting man in the world brought to life by one of the great scholars of the classics. The political, social and legal contexts are left out of the classical accounts (Plutarch, Tacitus, Cicero, etc); it seems you’d really need to be a classical scholar to understand what was going on at the time, and why someone like Caesar was even possible in a Republic that had lasted for hundreds of years. His absurd achievements in war and politics are documented with loving detail, and a clear picture of his visionary nature and powerful personality emerges. When you look at the eald enta geweorc idlu stodon ruins of the Roman imperium, built thousands of miles and across oceans from Rome, two thousand years ago when news traveled by postilion and boat: truly it was the work of giants.

“Julius Caesar” -William Shakespeare. I read this after Froude, as this is the source for most contemporary views on Caesar as tyrant comes from. “Et tu Brutus” comes from this; not from any ancient source. Similarly his Caesar comes off as a sort of supernatural cypher as he does in popular culture; more a force of nature than a real man with understandable motivations and political angles. It is of course tragic and beautiful and it makes me want to sit down and go through the complete works. I had avoided this in the past for watching them in person, but they’re quick to read (assuming it’s not bedtime) and rewarding in their own rights.

“The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention” William Rosen -this one was a slow burn for me. Bill Dreiss recommended it to me when I still lived in Berkeley, after looking at the University’s antique microscope collection, but I only read a chapter or two here and there as I felt it. It’s an idiosyncratic history bouncing from medieval monks (the centers of technology in their day), to psychometrics on inventors, each chapter bouncing about to various inventors and iron-mongers, making it, in hindsight sort of suited to that sort of ad-hoc reading. Effectively a history of the industrial revolution leading up to steam engines, its also the disconnected stories of all the myriad scientists and inventors who pushed things forward, culminating in the steam locomotive.

On the Syrian Goddess” by Lucian. A quick read, I found it at the excellent Global Grey ebooks repo, which is a nice little one-woman resource of cleaned up and well formatted open source books. Lucian is a sort of fedora atheist stand up comedian of his time; a Syrian himself, he wrote in Greek. Mostly in Attic Greek, this one was in Ionian Greek, I guess to make fun of Herodotus. I sort of picture him as a sort of George Carlin making fun of David Attenborough documentaries in a twee British accent. Contains an interesting account of the Assyrian version of the Great Flood which provoked some wikipedia forays.

“Mimes of the Courtesans” by Lucian. Also found in Global Grey. Remembering Lucian was a stand up philosopher, this is a series of dialogues between whores. Another quick and amusing read. Kind of makes you think; the courtesan was a familiar character to ancient Roman civilization. Not quite a prostitute in our modern senses; I think they called those meretrixes, and they were considered lower caste (prostibulae basically means “lower class”). Courtesans are more like high class escorts or the type of women who loaf in bikinis on rich men’s boats or something. Regular meretrixes were of no interest to upper class men who could buy their own sex slaves. Courtesans were women who could actually be amusing conversationalists in addition to the obvious. Of course the Romans while they’d accept the presence of Courtesans at parties, considered all of them, actors and actresses alike to be prostitutes (news flash: this is still true). Part of the comedy here probably is some complex social class thing I’m not going to fully understand without reading a half dozen Classics sociology books, most of the amusement is men acting like fools. Some may be horrified by the stock figure of the mom whoring out her daughter in these anecdotes; I have a hard time with that -current year moms in our “civilized” world generally do worse without encouraging their daughters to make the gentlemen pay.

“The Characters” Theophrastus –a nice list of the weirdoes one might encounter among gentlemen at the peak of Ancient Greek civilization. One might still encounter most of these people today among the leisured classes. I would have liked to have the same thing among working and merchant classes. Jean de La Bruyère wrote something loosely inspired by this which is also worth your attention. Reminds me a bit of Chesterfield’s letters to his son.

“The Perfectionists” Simon Winchester -this one came about looking for more information on Maudsley and all that. It is a decidedly mixed bag. Some of it is excellent; the story of Rolls Royce or Frank Whittle for example. The Hubble, GPS, microprocessors, atomic clocks is just meh. Chapters 7-10 are basically the nucleus of a different book; these have nothing to do with precision engineering -they’re various kinds of physics more or less unrelated to the earlier chapters on maschinenbau. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, the earlier stuff is quite nice.

“The Secret Team” L Fletcher Prouty. Prouty was a former air force colonel in charge of the spooks during the Kennedy administration. He is most famous as being the inspiration for “Mr. X” in Oliver Stone’s JFK movie. He is, of course, denounced in the usual ways; “conspiracy theorist” and is the type of guy who’d be writing at Unz these days. I dunno if the guy in charge of the CIA during the Kennedy administration thinks it was a CIA coup, maybe we should simply listen to what he has to say. This book is beyond reproach though: it’s basically a personal history of how the spooks work, and how they interact with the rest of the government: within the letter of the law, but with maximum deception. It presents the way the spooks orchestrated the Bay of Pigs, favoring Kennedy in the election and cultivating the relationship and idea months before he was actually elected; even pointing out the investments in sugar done by CIA insiders right before the invasion. This book was written towards the end of the Vietnam war and also describes the escalating spook nonsense that got us into the war in the first place. Not some hidden mastermind idea: just bureaucratic incompetence, in-fighting, inertia and narrative control. One of the key issues he raises repeatedly is that the spooks are reasonably OK and useful for intelligence, but it’s their clandestine activities which are a problem. They often spin up on otherwise unviewed intel input and serve no national purpose: more or less imagine if the DMV had the ability to overthrow local county governments to impose traffic rules which help them meet some internal bureaucratic figure of merit like number of registered drivers who live in apartments: that’s what they spooks are and why they do what they do.

“Background to Betrayal” by Hilaire Du Berrier. Du Berrier is one of those larger than life characters who almost couldn’t possibly exist: he ran away from home to join a flying circus,  flew for Hailie Selassie against Mussolini in Ethiopia, spied on the communists in the Spanish civil war (was nearly shot for his troubles), hung out with Hemmingway, Pound and Man Ray in Paris, flew for Chiang Kai Shek against the Japanese and communists, was captured and tortured by the Japanese in WW-2, was involved in the Algerian and Vietnam wars. He had almost perfect insights at every historical moment in time; predicting the GWOT in 1999.

“Byzantium: the early centuries” by John Julius Norwich. The early centuries of Byzantium are basically the Roman empire falling apart, religious controversy and innovations, and Justinian kind of sort of putting something new together (while almost blowing the whole thing up) thanks to a couple of important administrators and generals. I had read “the decline and fall” volume of Norwich’s 3 book series, like a couple of decades ago, mostly for further accounts of the fourth Crusade, and the invasions of Robert Guiscard both of which are absolutely fascinating to me. There are some nice asides here, including Chersoneus, which I had visited back when that was legal for Americans to do. Norwich is a great pleasure to read; you could imagine him in tweed telling you stories like this over a Sherry in the embassy library. Looking forward to cracking “the Apogee.” His book on Venice is also excellent. Apparently there are also books on the Normans, various random Princes, France, the Mediterranean and various other things I’ll eventually have a look at.

The Mind of Napoleon. compiled by J. Christopher Herold. Curtis Yarvin suggested this. I guess the easiest way to describe it is “Hitler’s table talk” except as written by “Ole Boney,” and compiled from random places rather than post turnip digestion at the Fuhrertable. Unlike Hitler’s tedious gasbagging, Napoleon was very much to the point, most of the things recorded here have the character of aphorism (there is a book of his aphorisms as well); even when he waxed prolix it was only a couple of paragraphs. This is the sort of thing anyone interested in any kind of leadership or organization should page through.

“The Education of Cyrus” by Xenophon (translation by Wayne Ambler). Is it the world’s greatest management book? History of ancient Persians? Idealized leader philosophy book? Probably some of each. Xenophon wasn’t around when Cyrus was in clover; he probably acquired his historical knowledge of Cyrus from the Persian court, a member of which he famously served with the 10,000 as a mercenary in Anabasis. It isn’t possible he spoke to anyone who knew Cyrus who died 100 years before Xenophon was born, so I assume he got a bunch of history and ideals from the Persian courts. It’s a very warm portrayal of a very great man, even if the man portrayed was semi-fictional in nature. It rings true psychologically, and I’m sure was somewhat informed by Xenophon’s generalship experiences.

Moralia Plutarch. Moralia is much lesser known than Plutarch’s Lives. This is a shame, as there are better translations of it, and it’s a relatively quick read. I won’t say I like it better (Montaigne did), as that would be like saying you like the Book of John better than the Bible; they’re not comparable sets. But it is something very much worth people’s attention.

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  1. […] More books on how the world turns […]

  2. jtobin said, on September 4, 2022 at 12:25 am

    I just recently finished an English translation of Caesar’s own Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which, as an uncultured boor, I’d never read until this, my 39th year (and still in English, at that — I’m learning to read Latin, but am not quite there yet). It is very highly recommended for anyone who’s in the same boat. I have read plenty of Xenophon and his works are always fantastic; I recently picked up The Landmark’s version of his Anabasis, which contains an enormous amount of supplementary information, maps, appendices, etc. One of the editors actually retraced the entire route of the ten thousand in his youth. Supremely based.

    Some other exceptional books that I’ve recently had the pleasure to read recently: Du Pape by Joseph de Maistre, The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc, and The Orthodox Eastern Church & The Lesser Eastern Churches by the outstanding Adrian Fortescue. Oodles and oodles of excellent history in those last two in particular.

  3. Xens said, on September 4, 2022 at 1:24 am

    ‘“Et tu Brutus” comes from this; not from any ancient source.’

    I wouldn’t really say that, even if Wikipedia does. Cassius Dio says that Caesar turns to Brutus upon being stabbed and says to him, “Even, child?” καὶ σύ, τέκνον; Obviously the source for “Et tu, Brute.” Dio was writing in Greek, of course. As these things go it’s as direct as it gets.

    • Xens said, on September 4, 2022 at 1:25 am

      Comment mangled slightly: “Even you, child?”

  4. Sprewell said, on September 4, 2022 at 10:15 pm

    The ancient city cults you describe remind me of the modern Big Tech corporations, which have become cults in their own right. While I never spent any time inside any of them, from the outside observing it appears those old city cults live on in this new modern form. Another modern form would be many online communities, everything from Selena Gomez fangirls to adherents of some obscure programming language like Haskell.

    • Scott Locklin said, on September 7, 2022 at 10:26 am

      Mark Andreessen said something like this on the Toe Rogaine show. It’s a tie with Moralia for best thing I read this year; strongest recommendation.

      • Sprewell said, on September 11, 2022 at 2:06 pm

        Speaking of writing and Unz, what do you think of his American Pravda series over the last 6-7 years? I think he’s dug up and highlighted a lot of great, hidden factual material, though one could always construct different narratives and emphases from those same facts than he does.

        • Scott Locklin said, on September 11, 2022 at 3:18 pm

          I more or less agree. Some of it he is too in love with (Covid as an attack on Iran or whatever: some evidence for sure, but it looks a lot more like an accident, or, less likely, animal leak like in the movie Contagion). But it’s all valuable and makes people mad. Making the right people mad is doing God’s work.

  5. Altitude Zero said, on September 8, 2022 at 4:16 pm

    Prouty’s later work is pretty out there, tin foil hat stuff, but his earlier work can be pretty valuable.

    • Scott Locklin said, on September 11, 2022 at 3:22 pm

      I think he’s been unfairly tarred as tin helmet brigade because of his testimony to the Church commission (and this book). The worst thing on his wiki page is some weird idea about Gary Powers jet being sabotaged instead of shot down fair and square. He might be right!

  6. Agent Cooper said, on September 12, 2022 at 8:55 pm

    Andreesen digs through all civilization history just to uncover absolute truths in Adam Carolla rants on tribal think.

    Predictable startup cult formulas exist, such as the Series A size determines the founder’s passion for culture and the number of alligator tears shed on an All-Hands about Ukraine.

    • Sprewell said, on September 14, 2022 at 11:21 am

      In this sense, open source has been an absolute godsend. Leaving aside the issue of warped Big Tech incentives, eg one Microsoft kernel engineer’s claim a decade ago that linux is faster because “There’s no formal or informal program of systemic performance improvement” for the Windows Kernel, the ability to fork Open Source Software (OSS) and start over with a new team is underappreciated. Of course, the problem with pure open source is that the business model sucks, ie consulting and support contracts, so what’s sprung up are open core business models, where the core is open, but you make money off proprietary modules added to the core.

      There is currently a revolution underway with open core software, everything from Android to the .NET platform, but almost nobody talks about it. Don’t like how the open core is being run? Fork it and add your own closed modules to create a competing product, as Amazon did with their Android fork.

      This keeps much of the low cost of OSS, but brings us back to the rabid and ruthless competition of the early days of software. I see big things coming out of open core, so much so that I don’t think any of the Big Tech firms will survive this revolution. I don’t even think the corporate form will survive, eg there was no company behind the Bitcoin OSS and it hit it big.

      In that coming Darwinian tech market, group think like you highlight won’t be able to survive for long.

  7. toastedposts said, on September 16, 2022 at 2:38 am

    I was reading Xenophon’s march of the 10,000 lately. Interesting stuff. Especially interesting how the Greeks would hold a vote, about anything, at the drop of a hat, complete with speeches and Roberts rules of order. And a good fraction of these were Spartans, who were not on the democratic end of the spectrum by the standards of the Greeks. As far as decisionmaking goes, that’s very unusual: Most of mankind seems to operate according to hierarchical despotism.

    (Even Americans, who used to have a very strong town-democracy procedure for decisionmaking in their early history, these days mostly take orders from “management”.)

    Also somewhat interesting seeing how they either were set upon by, or managed to antagonize, everyone between Persia and Greece. I don’t think they managed a single peaceful encounter until they were back at the Greek colonies in Asia minor.

    • Scott Locklin said, on September 16, 2022 at 9:03 am

      Historically, the tribes that let 10,000 random (in this case armed) men pass through their lands without attacking them got wiped out. The good burghers of Martha’s Vinyard seem to know this instinctively.

      I’m pretty sure the votes were for morale. People who think they have a say fight harder. Though there are lots of anecdotes about low ranks coming up with good ideas.

      • toastedposts said, on September 16, 2022 at 2:32 pm

        Re: The voting: I dunno, it seemed very much not for show to me. You could see the gears turning about how various collective decisions were made. I remember thinking: This is what a democracy (uncut, and unfiltered) looks like when it’s not a sham. (Of course, the trial of Socrates, or the boneheaded moves of the Pelopponesian war is also what it looks like.)

        Anyone who wanted to lead these guys had to be at least intelligent enough to convince them that the plan was a good one. And you were out (via another vote) the moment anyone felt like it. No quarter-generation long terms of office.

      • toastedposts said, on September 16, 2022 at 2:54 pm

        Also, they did fight harder, and better. Apparently so much so that Cyrus would pay them as mercenaries ludicrously above the standards of his own men. (Perhaps not a genius move for the morale of his people, but we have no insight into what the average Persian grunt thought.) After Cyrus was dead and the Greeks were up a creek, Tissaphernes, despite apparently not wanting them to escape, couldn’t seem to destroy them on Persia’s home turf with far larger forces.

        I don’t have much of a background in classical reading, but I’m starting to change that as I have the time. It’s a lot more interesting than I expected. As far as the dismal history of most of mankind goes, the Greeks were *different*. (Their failures were at least different failures, and their successes weren’t all projection of Rennaisance-early-modern enthusiasm.)

        • Scott Locklin said, on September 16, 2022 at 3:06 pm

          I think it’s clear from reading them, they thought they were better fighters because they were free men fighting for their own glory rather than slaves like the Barbarians were (Aristotle says as much in Politics). Of course Napoleonic soldiers said the same thing. Were they more free than English soldiers? They certainly thought so. Napoleon said it a lot. Yet, Napoleon was a dictator.

          People’s ideas of what freedom is varies a lot over history, but mostly not having the perception of being a slave of someone else’s whims seemed to sum it up. People would live under very harsh laws and consider themselves free, as long as the law wasn’t arbitrary.

          If you read enough history you start to notice it’s transitive: people who merely thought about the ancient Greeks a lot seemed to get a lot farther than people who didn’t. Of course you could look at the now: everything sucks, nobody reads Aristotle.

  8. toastedposts said, on September 16, 2022 at 4:36 pm

    PS: This may be grist for your astronomy mill:

    The James Webb telescope appears to be putting some holes in the big-bang model of the universe. I’ve been reading things about galaxies, far too close to the cosmic-microwave background, what we think is the temporal horizon of the universe: They seem to have too much structure, too much light from old-looking stars. There are too many of them, and they all seem exactly as well developed as much nearer (older) galaxies. Also weirdness about angular extents with distance that doesn’t match the assumed geometry of the situation.

    It’s too early to tell if these are misinterpretations, but it looks like we may not, in fact, know what we’re looking at. (A little bit of schadenfreude on my part aimed at the public intellectuals, not the scientists actually trying to understand things. If past behavior is any indication, whatever new model replaces our current understanding will also have a century of people smugly browbeating schoolkids with factoids, proclaimed from a lectern with supreme confidence. And it too, along with whatever theoretical edifice, might be demolished the next time someone remembers what science is and *takes a look at the world*.)

    • Scott Locklin said, on September 16, 2022 at 5:58 pm

      It wouldn’t surprise me, but Astronomers smoke a lot of dope, so it’s best to let them think about it for a few years before coming to any conclusions. I sort of like the big bang theory because a Catholic Priest thought it up and it looks like something from the Old Testament, but it would also make me laugh if it doesn’t work this way.

    • Sprewell said, on September 17, 2022 at 6:28 pm

      Don’t know much about astronomy but as I went through college decades ago, the mental image that struck me of the science and math I was learning was that of a tour of a fancy mansion, where the tour guide was always crowing about how solidly the manse was built and how beautiful it was, but when I snuck off to check out rooms for myself, I’d see gaping holes in the edifice with plastic sheets waving from the wind outside, ie I was given a carefully guided tour to obscure how rickety the whole affair was. This applied to everything from how mathematical derivatives were found to the whole ridiculous formulation of the dirac delta “distribution” to extract single values from a “continuous” function to all the hand-waving involved in the claims that fundamental physical equations underlay more macroscopic phenomena (the truth: they usually didn’t).

      Maybe the best example was almost a throwaway paragraph from the Feynman lectures (which I bought on my own but mostly never read, but this line always stuck with me) where he pointed out that even if one could really view the world at the atomic level as completely mechanistic “pinballs” completely describable by Newton’s basic laws and you somehow knew the position and velocity of every molecule in say a cubic foot of ideal gas, within seconds you would have no idea where anything was, because of the exploding error bounds from trying to reasonably keep track of all those moving particles and the need to round in real calculation.

      I don’t think he brought it up, but it just showed what a joke the whole debate of “mechanistic” pre-quantum physics and determinism was, as it was created by math illiterates who don’t know the first thing about engineering calculation, ie even if physics is “deterministic,” the realities of calculation and finite precision mean we don’t get very far with knowing what will happen. Unfortunately, we now have generations of math and science professors who don’t know much about such real calculation either.

      • toastedposts said, on September 20, 2022 at 1:18 pm

        I suppose I’m a little less cynical than you are. The Dirac delta distribution doesn’t bother me that much: Like everything else in science/mathematics, you can’t just get a pre-packaged entity/characteristic, you have to know something about what was being attempted, the intent. (A delta distribution is just any distribution that is “narrow-enough” with respect to a smooth function. The fine details end up not mattering due to the smoothness of the fn being interrogated. Try to apply it to Weirstrass function or something and you might have a bad time.) (Just like a derivative is something taken over any interval that is “small-enough”.)

        But science/(math/engineering/*everything-else*) would be massively improved, IMO, if the construction is emphasized, and the gears are shown. (As well as all the things that don’t fit. And you’re absolutely right, there are holes everywhere!) We’re not going to continue making discoveries if kids aren’t taught how (and why) the models were built, how to build their own models, and where all the holes are.

        Kids given years of lectures in the style of “a reading from the TED talk of magazine-cover science” won’t do it. I don’t mind the big bang theory at all – (though “dark energy” is a hideous fudge factor, and no one should claim otherwise!) I suppose I just mind the religious attitudes people take to it. We are trying to deduce things from our one fixed vantage point in space and time – uncertainty is natural. Uncertainty where uncertainty exists is *seemly*. (That religious attitude lets then then slip in all sorts of other things that are far flimsier than that as unquestioned truth: Hawking radiation and event-horizon-area/entropy, throwing in log_2 and h-bar where it has no business going and acting like it’s a foundational brick of mechanics, not an extremely strained analogy between fundamentally irreconcilably *different* things, for example.)

        • Sprewell said, on September 23, 2022 at 9:53 am

          > I suppose I’m a little less cynical than you are. The Dirac delta distribution doesn’t bother me that much: Like everything else in science/mathematics, you can’t just get a pre-packaged entity/characteristic, you have to know something about what was being attempted, the intent. (A delta distribution is just any distribution that is “narrow-enough” with respect to a smooth function. The fine details end up not mattering due to the smoothness of the fn being interrogated. Try to apply it to Weirstrass function or something and you might have a bad time.) (Just like a derivative is something taken over any interval that is “small-enough”.)

          I don’t see what cynicism has to do with evaluating the efficacy of competing mathematical and scientific techniques. My point is that they got stuck in the morass of continuity and “infinite limits,” and the Dirac delta is clearly a mathematical hack to get single values back out again, appropriately invented for physics to get back the natural utility of the Kronecker digital delta. Since I believe that such old pencil-and-paper methods should be entirely thrown out and replaced by software computation, as I noted on this blog last year (I recommend the links in that subthread), my issues are much more than methodological, though those are important too.

          We completely agree that all current science consists merely of models, models often built on old pre-computational math that is fairly obsolete in our now computer-stuffed era. Take for example something as basic as Coulomb’s law: does anybody with a brain really believe that it accurately describes the electrostatic force, or rather was a simple best fit through the available data a couple centuries ago, with an inverse square that was computationally tractable at the time? I suspect we will one day throw out that equation too for numerical tables, just as our computers do for even something as well-studied as sines and cosines today.

          What holds all this back is precisely the “religious attitude” you describe, like all the zombies who “love science” who just swallow fact-free govt Covid edicts without a thought.

      • toastedposts said, on September 20, 2022 at 1:57 pm

        As for determinism: The point here isn’t that it’s a practical mechanism for making microstate predictions – no one ever really expected that.

        The point of determinism (along with the other boogeymen that philosophers love to hate: locality and realism)) is more along the line of “what do we think the world is doing?” IMO, the positivists are full of crap on this: the world is more than a disconnected set of sensory impressions, or measurements. We can’t even rationally speak of probability without some model in mind of what the distribution is an uncertainty over. We have to build models of what we think the world *is*, and *is doing* to understand the world at all.

        The fact that there is a world “out there” whose properties, while varying, are persistent and relentlessly consistent, and utterly unconcerned with what we think about it (unlike the shifting randomness of a dream) is one of the fundamental facts of our experience of the world. It’s what allows us to even start the project of trying to understand the world, much less do so on the level of physics – that there is a world to understand!

        Does the universe refer to anything other than itself when evolving? If not, then determinism follows.

        Re: The kinetic theory of gasses and a piston: The pressure is being built up from many “random” collisions of gas molecules with the piston (in this picture): If those collisions were all truly random – the results of some true-random number generator process, necessitating no relationship to any of the other collisions, then there would be no reason why moving the piston in and out would change the temperature. Whatever unmonitored degrees of freedom that the gas particles have, there is at least one degree of freedom that is removed by the conservation of energy. (And many others for all the other conservation laws.) So, despite the fact that we can’t perceive any correlations collision-to-collision, some correlations *must* be there for the world to make sense. We don’t keep track of each particle’s motion, but nature *must*. Determinism makes sense of that. Positivists would deny that.

        (Of course the QM picture wouldn’t be the particle’s motion, but some ungodly huge wavefunction over particle-configurations.)

        • Sprewell said, on September 23, 2022 at 12:02 pm

          I wan’t referring to all this philosophizing about determinism, which goes much deeper than what I had in mind and much of which can never really be proven. We observe macroscopic correlations: whether that is caused by full determinism, which also allows for chaotic behavior, or some mix of conservation laws and quantum randomness may never be fully teased out by us puny humans.

          I was instead referring to the superficial argument, really a strawman in many ways, when discussing quantum indeterminacy, that the old dream of classical physics determinism allowing us to fully calculate the evolution of complex systems someday was dashed by Schrodingers cat and the like. While there may have been a few idealist classical physicists who truly believed that, I suspect most, like Feynman, were never so naive, as they actually had to do real measurement and calculation for working physical systems much more back then.

  9. Altitude Zero said, on September 16, 2022 at 7:23 pm

    Du Berrier lived until 2002, which meant that he lived long enough to see himself proved right about almost everything – which was probably not a great comfort to him.

  10. Pangur said, on October 10, 2022 at 11:39 pm

    Late to the party but Fustel de Coulanges’ work is even more impressive when you consider how he did it. As you note, he deduced his conclusions from various sources, including the archaeology of the time, but the archaeology of the time was, to put it mildly, somewhat primitive compared to modern techniques. The fact that he was able to get so much of this stuff right speaks to both deep learning and insight into his subject matter. A similar book is Nilsson’s “Greek Folk Religion.” Nilsson claims special insight into his subject matter because of his familiarity with rural life and customs, and (like Fustel de Coulanges), his work has stood the test of time.

    It can be hard to describe to moderns just how all-pervasive the religion of these people were; from dawn to dusk it was at the center of their lives.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 11, 2022 at 7:37 am

      Thanks for suggesting Nilsson; I keep meaning to read this.

      Religion was important to people in the West in my lifetime; there are still groups of people who say the liturgy of the hours and otherwise live a pretty intense religious life in the West. I spent a Christmas holiday in some tuscan hill towns where at least the broad outlines of this were preserved.

  11. Lit said, on October 12, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    Does anyone knows what`s the library presented on the picture?
    Thank you.

    • Dave said, on October 13, 2022 at 9:29 am

      I’ve always assumed this was Scott’s house library

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