Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What side are you on?

I often buy books at airports. Yesterday afternoon I got excited and bought up a bunch of stuff well ahead of the day of travel. One of the books I got hold of promises to be quite a gem. It's a slim little volume called: What We Believe But Cannot Prove. It consists of 109 major thinkers, people such as Freeman Dyson, Leonard Susskind, and Richard Dawkins, stating briefly - in passages ranging in length from a single paragraph to a page or three - one thing they believe but cannot prove.

There are, of course, the philosophical musings about religion and consciousness and the natures of belief and proof and the existence of true love or a flying spaghetti monster. One contributor (Maria Spiropulu) states, "I would suggest that belief and proof are in some way complementary: If you believe something, you don't need proof of it, and if you have proof, you don't need to believe." On the other hand, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (he of "flow" fame) avers that "I can prove almost nothing I believe in." Then there are a lot of musings about the cutting edge of science -- from cosmology to consciousness. A few choices are disappointing: my hero Jared Diamond stuck to two pages of self-conscious synopsis of his theory about the first humans in North America.

So the book promises to be a good read. I'm not planning to go cover to cover on it, since it looks as if it might be more interesting to read at intervals, non-linearly. More interestingly, I sat down for a bit today to wonder what it is that *I* believe but cannot prove. Apart from a brief flirtation with the idea that "things are only going to get worse", some sort of second law of thermodynamics dealing in human entropy, I drew quite a significant blank. What do I believe but cannot prove?

I'm not sure. Maybe tomorrow's flight will be spent wondering about this question.

Or maybe it will be spent reading one of the other books I picked up yesterday.

powered by ODEO

Poodle Factory > What Side of the Funk Are You On?
Garaj Mahal with Nick Barron
May 24, 2002
[Serious download alert]

PS. Now I'm wondering -- what do differences in the ability to generate items in this belief/proof business tell you about the person doing the generating?


Anonymous Anonymous said...



1. That there is a word called "exquisitive".

2. That infants are inherently evil.

3. That there were harmonics in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto.

4. That I believe all of the above.


10/18/2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

the fourth one is a copout, but as for the rest... exquisitive (or should i say "lovely" :-D)

10/18/2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

n! -

3. That there were harmonics in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto.

If there was a violin, there were undoubtedly harmonics -- a spectral analysis can prove that. Now, whether there were harmonies, that's a different question...

I haven't heard the concerto: was it exquisitive?

TR - is this the same as what appeared on some time ago? I read some of that. I liked Freeman Dyson's answer the best...

10/18/2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

T Rasa - if I may digress (as usual), would you please mail me again? I seem to have deleted your last mail.

Reason being that I should be in Hong Kong next week and would love to meet up (if you have the time and the inclination). Failing which, could at least pick up tips from you on street food, interesting walks and so on.


10/18/2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

What We Believe But Cannot Prove... hmm, looks like a good one to make a list for, doesn't it? And, yeah, things can only get worse seems quite likely to fit somewhere near the top of the list :-)

10/18/2006 6:12 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yes, looks like a version of the same thing. thanks.

excellent! you've got mail.

agree on both counts :-D

10/18/2006 7:27 PM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Inherent human entropy? Interesting theory but I have to say that I believe in pretty much the opposite. I think it's one of those things that make people unnatural.
Nature tends towards the path of greatest entropy, and humans, because of their insecurities, try to make things nice and orderly again. Uphill battle, but one that's being fought none the less.
If you look at human societal progress using 200 year intervals as points of reference you'll see what I mean.

10/18/2006 10:12 PM  
Blogger km said...

"There's nothing you can know that isn't known" - J. Lennon

"See all without looking/do all without doing" - G. Harrison

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" - P. McCartney

"Man buys ring woman throws it away" - R. Starr

Thanks for the book reco. Sounds like a perfect read for a flight.

10/18/2006 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Rahul, I meant er.. deliberate harmonics written into the piece (am I making sense?) What's a spectral analysis?

The concerto was, indeed, exquisitive.


10/19/2006 6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

n! - you mean notes played by the violinist as harmonics (by stopping the string?) Surely that would be in the score.

Sorry to be so literal-minded...

10/19/2006 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

n! -- ps: by spectral analysis I meant a technique (called the Fourier transform) that tells you what frequency components are in a signal. If you do it on a note of a violin (or other musical instrument), you'll find all frequencies are multiples of a fundamental frequency (so they are called "harmonics"). For general noises this is not so. The fundamental is what you perceive but the harmonics add "colour" to the tone. Also, violinists can damp the fundamental and excite just the harmonics by "stopping" the string (without actually pressing it down) at appropriate places. This gives a high-pitched "whistling" note.

More off-list if you like...

10/19/2006 1:51 PM  
Blogger Szerelem said...


Mother Nature is going to gobble us all up pretty soon.

There is no such thing as true love (in a romantic sense).

Many more also but I cant think of them right now....
Oh and about Diamond - did you like Collapse?

10/19/2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

it's possible we're talking about different things. if you read "collapse", by jared diamond, you'll see where i'm coming from. science may advance and diseases may be eradicated, but for every scurvy and tuberculosis of past years, there's a cancer and an aids today. after all there are more people suffering every new day than there ever were in all of history before. otoh, i read most of a brilliant book called "an intimate history of humanity" on the plane just now, and that's a little more optimistic than i am. but that looks just at the human condition as of itself, not as part of the environments that societies have lived in. ymmv.

and of course, "nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free." brilliant, thanks :-)
i ended up reading something else on the plane (see above) and am very tempted to blog about it soon. said post being nothing but sentences and passages copied verbatim.

rahul and n!:
words mean what you want them to mean after all, don't they. or not. it's all a question of how you pitch it.

your first point sounds like mine.
your second point -- you should read "an intimate history of humanity".
your third -- i couldn't either, that's what i meant :-)
your fourth -- and that's where your first came from, isn't it? in absolute terms, i LOVED it. in relative terms, i was disappointed -- it isn't as "good" as guns, germs, and steel, i felt partly because the last few chapters focused too narrowly on the environment. the broad sweep of his other books (including most of this one) takes my breath away. this is what i want to be like when i grow up.

10/19/2006 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks! Will mail you offline - I'm sure this is not such a fascinating discussion for all and poor TR's wonderful blogpost is getting commentjacked by semantics.


10/20/2006 12:32 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

yep, the first point is basically what you were saying. I actually havent read Collapse yet. I just belive that we have been so disrespectful to nature that she is bound to eat us up.
I loved guns, germs, and steel. It would be difficult to beat that.
And, yeah I totally now what you mean about wanting to be like Diamond. But arent you grown up already??

10/20/2006 1:20 AM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

This may be still available online:
I find that at any given stage beliefs (even intellectual ones which do not affect everyday life) are a sort of co-ordinate system to get by and I keep changing my beliefs. I will go along with Benjamin Franklin:

" … for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought were right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement, and to pay more respect to the judgement of others. "

10/20/2006 5:37 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

i don't mind, you know. it's all about the free (and harmonious) flow of knowledge.

you know i'm not going to respond to that... (i'm just going to urge you to read collapse as soon as you're done with your macro midterms.)

great quote, thanks! (and yes, the edge link is the same thing.)

10/20/2006 7:08 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Well, I am already done with macro...I even got my results! (I did suprisingly decently!)
I do plan on reading Collapse but other papers and projects are piling up...I hate school.

10/20/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

woo hoo! there's no hope for you :-)

10/20/2006 6:42 PM  

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