I’ve just spent most of a week in a very nice hotel, discussing some deep academic questions on probability. Not everyone’s cup of tea. The food was really nice. My own interests here are not mathematical and a lot of people were swinging equations around. I sort of want to know more about how basic assumptions we make so often contain the seeds that destroy the arguments we thought we were setting out to establish, yet serve some practical purpose as we go along. The week’s theme was ‘symmetry and its discontents’ – something that would take me a chapter to unravel in lay terms. To some extent this is about Hume’s problem of induction and possible ‘cures’ for it in twentieth century statistics.
I’m not good at the esoteric stuff now, and probably never was. What I want to know more about, personally, is how we manage to have a modern society that remains trapped in thinking and action known to be rubbish in the seventeenth century. I believe one of the main issues concerns the staking out of positions that have nothing to do with argument as a matter of routine, to prevent any real personal argument taking place at all, and through which most of the work needed to produce evidence is routinely denied. Hence, to some extent, my interest in legal systems and media dross. The mathematical prerequisites to get into links between induction and probability are just one example of needing to know a language game to make proper sense of a wider argument.
I left with the recipe for the excellent leek and potato pie. Whatever I learned has yet to sink in. My own paper was favorably received, but I still don’t know how to shape it up for a postgrad class I’ve agreed to challenge in a couple of weeks. It was inspired by my friend Francis who mentioned the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in a comment a few weeks back. I really enjoyed the week and there is nothing quite like this kind of experience in the general flood of of general experience for me. I’ve just switched off the Rolling Stones because they were so dull. I don’t actually take much pleasing.
Over at his Mysterious Things blog, which I recently discovered, John Myste has a very interesting post which touches some of the issues on which you are musing much better than I could, Neil!