Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, June 20, 2016

Maths and Paths

I’m enjoying Gros’s The Philosophy of Walking. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m in my third week of walking and can relate, or if the text is, for me, way less Platonically contentious than Herman.  

I read Dr. Oliver’s post where he was initially “put off” by the author's deconstructive and textualist sensibility” and escaping personal identity, but he later reconsidered. The deconstruction—so far it was evident in Chapter 2—doesn’t bother me. Here’s an excerpt.

“What I mean is that by walking you are not going to meet yourself. By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history. Being someone is all very well for smart parties where everyone is telling their story, it’s all very well for psychologists’ consulting rooms. But isn’t being someone also a social obligation which trails in its wake – for one has to be faithful to the self-portrait – a stupid and burdensome fiction? The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life” (pp. 6-7).

I think I know what the Gros is getting at here. I’ve felt the loss-of-self while walking. Sometimes, it’s the ultimate come-as-you-are feeling—definitely not the pre-conceived expectations of social function decorum.

I liked the Call of the Wild mention too. I could relate to this as well—the idea to walk or head off somewhere unknown and start anew or try something else.

There’s a great film entitled Wild starring Reese Witherspoon that's about hiking the Pacific Crest Train in search of personal redemption. Although the film is about a protracted hiking trip, I think it can serve as a macrocosm of much shorter journeys.

Chapter 3 on Nietzsche was painful to read. I wonder what else he could have accomplished if he would have had access to modern medical treatment.  

“Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces” (p. 20).  Nice!

Do you think Herman is trying too hard to reconcile the science vs. religion debate, known as the "two chief world systems," by appropriating "traditional Aristotelian view of nature (Aristotle was wrong about almost everything) and "the power of observation and Platonic mathematics" (Plato's Forms are incoherent) in the bold face of modernity? Do we need "Platonic mathematics" for mathematics to work?  If we called them Bob's mathematics, would this add anything to the discussion and functionality--or do we need a razor (p. 336)? Does Platonic transcendence add anything useful?


  1. Well, he wants to say that the "two chief world systems" debate (Plato vs. Aristotle) does not map neatly onto religion vs. science. Somehow, apparently (not really?), Plato transcends matter and spirit, correcting the scholastically-rigidified and dogmatized Aristotle in the process.

    I suppose any view, Bob's included, that could really pull that off would be the preferred view. I don't see it, myself. That is, even if it's true that Plato/Aristotle is a more interesting and important debate than religion/science, I don't see that the religion/science debate is thus mooted or dissolved.

    But if religion/science doesn't reduce or translate to Plato/Aristotle, I say they still complement each other in a happy and healthy tension (which I think is the larger thesis Herman will still defend at the end).

  2. And religion/science issues still exists today.

  3. I don't see the "two chief world systems" or "non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA)" either, for that matter.

    I was reading an interview with Philosophy professor Michael Hodges at Vandy. He noted this from one segment of the interview: “I am very interested in coming to grips with that experience without committing myself to a transcending metaphysics. I am influenced here by Paul Tillich, among others, and by Dewey's little book, A Common Faith”.


    I think that’s my rub with Plato and transcendence. The idea of transcendent math provides a stepping stone into transcendent pretty-much-anything. Plato has “realm” for numbers, although it’s not clear if the realms are real or conceptual. I can’t get a handle on it. No doubt, Neo-Platonists cling to the transcendent aspect.

    As noted by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Nunez, “there’s no way to know whether theorems proved by human beings have any objective truth, external to human beings.” All mathematics are human mathematics. No sense in adding something spooky or transcendent to your TI-84 Plus calculator.

    1. Hodges is an interesting case-study, a Wittgensteinian who later discovered pragmatism and (hence?) was not tempted to read Wittgenstein TOO mystically.

      Theorems could bear objective truth and function as a universal language without being spooky or transcendent, of course, if they happen to tap in to nature's internal structure. Guess we won't know that for sure until we find someone else in the universe, some other independently evolved life-form, that speaks the language of math and physics. Hope we do!

    2. That's Cheryl Strayed's story, she's one of the many women walkers I've noted in reply to one of Gros's critics. Need to see that film!

      I do know what you mean, there are indeed times when a walker (in my experience) is just "an eddy in a stream" and is glad to be nothing more. But, then you go home and resume your committed social relationships and responsibilities. I would never want to walk permanently away from those, but a little time away each day seems only sane. Even Thoreau came out of the woods eventually.