Reading Diary

I read quite a lot of stuff.  On a good day I get to do little else.  Much of it is triage, but some of it might be quite interesting?

What is Social Construction?

Another gem from Esa Diaz-Leon.  I really enjoy Esa’s papers—which I’ve been reading since we were both looking at phenomenal consciousness: they’re models of clarity, carefulness and concision.  (As well as, as far as I can tell, being basically right about things.)  Here she distinguishes between “causal" and “constitutive" social construction, and points out that only the latter is inconsistent with the sort of things social construction is supposed to be inconsistent with: natural-kind status, biological realism, intrinsicality.  Which makes constitutive constructions the best things to lean on for social change.

One nit: at p1140 she puts the question as “is the property that all things that fall under X have in common just a matter of being classified in that way by individuals like us, or do they share an underlying nature or ‘essence’, independently of how we classify things?”  This seems to lump kinds produced by looping—where the process of classification causally produces properties—on the constitutive side, rather than the causal (where presumably it belongs).

Better Explained

Oy.  Things I have been missing all my life, and I’m not sure how I missed them.  Maths for people who like maths, but who think technical Wikipedia is mostly useful for illustrating the distinction between explanations and Ramsey sentences.

The link is to the post on the Fourier transform, which has given me the feeling of understanding.  “Enough circles make a shape” is as far as I had previously gotten, and tbh I’ve survived—but now I have an intuitive sense of how.  

Bonus: intuitive understanding of Euler’s formula.  For free. Seriously. 

Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to develop these ideas in a precise way.

Via Jeremy Butterfield (possibly unintentionally) this one is J. S. Bell describing, in an utterly accessible way, the six main ways of understanding the relation between the wavy and particley nature of quantum mechanics, and between the quantum and the classical.  Three ways are “romantic”, weird and paradoxical; the other three are related unromantic but sensible stories.  It raises again, but utterly fails to offer an answer to, the most basic and frustating question I have about the interpretation of QM: why are we not all pilot-wavers? 

(The title is Bells response to Wegners dualist picture, on which it is the intervention of extra-physical minds that collapses wave functions and, for example, forces particles to choose locations.  I suppose non-UK people might think Bell was being neutral there.)

PS I couldn’t find a non-paywalled version.  Should anyone read this and want a copy of this or anything else: my email’s over on the left there. 

Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?

Neuroscientists attempt to understand the brain by, basically, measuring the behaviour of neurons—or the effects of their absence—when subjects perform cognitive activities.  This interesting, and sometimes hilarious, paper (bioR𝜒iv preprint, May 2016) applies neuroscientific methods to a MOS 6502 processor (of Apple I fame) running early video games.  (Tough work, but someone’s got to get funding for it.) The result is a bunch of correlational truths about the processor’s transistors, but almost no insight at all into how it adds numbers, never mind how it generates the graphics for Donkey Kong.   I don’t know what neuroscientists are supposed to do with this, exactly, but it nicely makes the point that are more than a few layers of explanation between architecture and behaviour.  Worth reading.