A couple of brags, and then we’ll get down to business. I had a short story, Exit and Return, cited for Honorable Mention by The New Millenium. It was also short-listed in the Fish Publishing short story contest for 2020. Another short story, The Train, is soon to be published at Fiction Attic Press.
Inituition of Significance is available on amazon and barnes and noble and the publisher’s site, Wipf and Stock. I have a limited supply for $10 each, you can just email me or place an order on my website.
Here are some ideas that came to mind while reading a book review about mathematical realism, by Michael Barany, in The Spectator (May, 2020 US edition, reviewing The Mathematics of the Gods and the Algorithms of Men: A Cultural History by Paolo Zellini, translated by Erica Segre).
This is of interest to me because of some things I’m working on for my next book. There is this idea of mathematical realism which suggests that mathematical concepts are an “out-there,” objective real thing to be discovered, as opposed to only an internal, subjective thing to be invented and projected onto reality. When I say mathematical realism, you can think also of things like computer algorithms, and, pertinent to my book, dualisms such as those in binary opposition according to linguistic (de Saussure) and culture (Levi-Strauss) structuralists.
I keep thinking maybe I’m wandering too far afield, worrying about stuff like this, but actually it’s pretty fundamental to the reality of things. There is a war going on between idealism, which says 2+2=4 is a real thing, and flattened-out nominalism, which says it’s only a mental construct, there are no ideals. So it’s not just 2+2. It’s truth, beauty, morality, honesty, virtue, and so on. And ultimately God.
The reviewer noted an under-sold insight of the author:
“inverting the relation between numbers and what they enumerate, is most timely and relevant. Scholars, activists, policy-makers and many others are grappling with the urgent problem of computation and reality in data-driven societies. The data points that shape our lives derive from a tiny (if worryingly growing) fraction of our experience. Algorithms transform these data into analyses, predictions and actions, making new and consequential realities that override the lived experiences they purport to represent.”
My emphasis. This is just a review of a book, but the emphasized part got my attention. When computer programmers program, and mathematicians do math, are they discovering something, or inventing something?
Mathematical realism, in my estimation, is just one instance of idealism. That idealism can be conflated with a new kind of hyperrealism. Think of Jean Beaudrillard, who considers an idea like the Hegel’s geist, or spirit of the age, and takes it farther, to mean a collectively-held realm of human interaction that we take as more real than person-to-person exchanges. So you have the whole internet, and collectively-viewed media, which form a hyper-real imagined reality. In our imaginations it is more “real” than our personal interactions.
There is some way in which people don’t even consider something real until it’s been posted on-line, kind of like when people go on vacation and take a bunch of pictures instead of just enjoying it, because it’s somehow more real if it’s recorded, even if that means walking around with a camera stuck to your face the whole time. It doesn’t count if it’s not uploaded to the cloud and joined in that way to the mind of all humanity. Why this happens and why it matters is that the collective mind of humanity is a sort of substitute form of transcendent idealism. It takes the place of God.
Anyway it occurs to me that with the coronavirus you can see this played out at hyper-speed. No one knows the facts, and there are alternative ideas swirling around that constitute their own reality. A few weeks ago health officials (like the WHO) actively tried to dissuade people from wearing masks, because they were unsafe and unhelpful and maybe create more problems than they solve. Now health officials (mostly) say the exact opposite. Why? Because of new discoveries about the virus (or about masks)? No, because masks are more available now. So you might ask when were they lying: before, nor now?
Answer in an age that throws off idealism: who cares? What matters is the hyper-reality, not the physical reality. We create, through brutal social power struggle, the reality we want (masks=good; masks=bad). Of course we don’t do this with any consensus as to value, because there is none, other than the fumes of Judaeo-Christian mores still extant among the influences in society.