(This is a 4000 word exam paper I wrote a couple of weeks ago.)
A common view is that we should take Plato’s ideas as very serious theoretical arguments, to be held up to scientific standards, and, when found wanting, excused on the ground of being ancient and charming. With this strategy of interpretation, most of Plato’s work has to be rejected. The only idea to withstand at least the bulk of such scrutiny, and which for that reason is framed as the great theoretical achievement entitling Plato to his traditionally very high position in the hall of philosophical fame, is his so-called Theory of Forms. This kind of interpretation was introduced as early as with Aristotle, who saw in elenchus something like a rudimentary scientific method, aiming narrowly at logical definitions. The modern heir is the tradition of linguistic philosophy, where prominent philosophers such as Frege and Russell self-identified as “platonists”, referring by that term to a philosophical realism of universals and abstract objects. But this tradition has long since outgrown the connection to its inspirational root, and is generally no longer invested in the issue of how we should interpret Plato.
In this essay, I’ll propose a “fictionalist” strategy of interpretation to challenge the one sketched above, which I’ll call “theoreticalist”. The term fictionalism is primarily meant to suggest that the best measure against which to judge Plato’s work is something else than truth (at least in the conventional sense). My ambition is to persuade the reader that this is a much more profound perspective than one might at first suspect.
I do not pretend to do theoreticalism justice. In fact, I am using it as a straw man position, to lever against in launching the fictionalist interpretation. The point of this essay is not to compare and evaluate the possible ways to interpret Plato, merely to propose and elaborate the fictionalist one.
The original intentions of the historical Plato is not the issue at stake here; for the purposes of this essay, the measure of an interpretation’s merit is simply how much it allows us to take out of Plato’s work – the width and depth opened to us by it. The interpretation is thus given a long leash: It shouldn’t stray too far off course, transforming Plato into something else entirely, but, on the other hand, there is no aspiration to actually capture the real Plato.
I will start out by reminding the reader of how Plato makes Socrates go about presenting his conception of the tripartite soul, as a representative example of Plato’s constructive thought. Then, I’ll point out the difficulties a theoreticalist interpretation of it faces, and go on to introduce the alternative, fictionalist approach, not just to the tripartite soul, but to Plato in general.
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Base-4 timekeeping method to make more sense of our standard (thousands of years old and completely obsolete) clockPosted: 20/06 -09
Lately, beginning with getting really carried away with decimal time last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about timekeeping. Decimal time has the great advantage of making timekeeping intuitive for base-10 minds such as our own. But it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see any revolutionary changes in society on this point, and even if we would have, I’d still have been unhappy, because I’ve realized that there is another, even more revolutionary step I’d much prefer: A step away from the base-10 numeral system. I’m not sure which alternative I prefer yet, but I think both base-8 and base-16 is far, far better. These have one huge advantage in common: They are multiples of 2. This is good for several reasons:
- Doubling and halving is by far the most intuitive way we have of dealing with numbers.
- In base-10, halving a number repeatedly becomes very hard very fast. Starting with 10, we get 10 — 5 — 2,5 — 1,25 — 0,625 — eh… That was four halvings. This is in stark contrast to the ease of halving in a base that is a multiple of 2. Take base-8, starting with 8, which in base-8 is written “10″, for reasons that should be obvious: 10 — 4 — 2 — 1 — 0,4 — 0,2 — 0,1 — 0,04 — 0,02 — 0,01 — 0,004 — etc. etc. That was 10 halvings, but you can go on forever without even having to think.
- Computers are base-2, and use multiples of 2 as byte-sizes. We all know how poorly this translates to base-10: 2 — 4 — 8 — 16 — 32 — 64 — 128 — 256. In base-8, this same series would read: 2 — 4 — 10 — 20 — 40 — 100 — 200 — 400. And in base-16: 2 — 4 — 8 — 10 — 20 –40 — 80 — 100. A numeral system with a base that is a multiple of binary is perfectly suited for our computer age.
But this post isn’t really about numeral systems, I’m just getting carried away again. Let me just point to a brilliant pro-base-16 book from 1862 by the Swedish-American John William Nystrom, and get on to what was the reason I started writing this post: I have found a close-to-perfect system for timekeeping that doesn’t demand a hopelessly improbable revolution. I romantically call it the base-4 timekeeping method. The premises are that our waking day is 16 hours long, and that 4 is the most intelligible number there is. Now, have the day split in four parts of four hours each, and each hour in four quarters, and you get a new map of the day that looks something like this (the bars are hatched up to 10:30, the time that this post was published):
A full day is 64 quarters long. You probably have a lot better sense of the length of a quarter than of a full hour, so calculating time in terms of quarters might be a good idea, in particular short spans. You gain a better grasp of the experienced duration of time that way, and, when placed on the map above, you know exactly how to weight time in relation to a full day. Timekeeping is made very simple.
You’re probably not convinced yet. But try to think about — for instance — how your waking time is budgeted on work, play, exercise etc., and I’m quite confident you’ll start seeing some benefits to the base-4 method.
I’d like to have a virtual office, with online functionality to replicate ways of interaction from the real world, i.e. blogs and messageboards, yammering etc., but in terms that makes it intuitive for my old and technology-suspicious coworkers. Google Wave will probably be the service to save us from the horrible impracticalities of email-based office work, but that’s mostly about communication and collaboration. The stuff that goes on in meeting rooms. I want to have a home and an office as well. Something else than just another url. I would like the web to be redesigned in some way, to allow me — as a legal entity — to have a virtual place to call my own. In this place, I can build a home, an office, another office perhaps (for my future freelancing career), a study desk etc. Call these the aspects of me as a virtual entity. Visit my office aspect at an address that looks something like this: [Gorm > Office no. 1], or alternatively, you can find the identical place via my workplace: [Super Secret Workplace > Dept. of Supersecrecy > Gorm's Office].
All legal entities can have virtual locations. Indeed, I think they should have one reserved for them. Every individual, firm, government etc. should have reserved a virtual place with a unique address. First time visit by a proprietor of such a virtual place is greeted by a wizard with butler-like demeanor that explains and suggests ways to use the features available. Social networking stuff, virtual homemaking stuff, etc. The new Opera Unite has perhaps some attractive features in this regard. Your workplace can put requirements on your virtual office — for instance, it might be obligatory to have displayed a yammer gadget in your “office entrance” (how much better than “the front page of your personal office website” is this?).
It all has to be very rationally as well as intuitively designed, and completely void of the desperately social focus that a lot of social networking sites has. I have some ideas about the details, but you’re not that interested, and I have no way of realizing any of this anyway.
Addendum: I’d like to be able to design a map-like tool as an interface to my virtual world. Something vaguely resembling the Sims, where I can place my virtual home, my virtual office etc., and also my neighborhood — friends, colleagues, games I like to play, trusted newspapers I like to read etc. Imagine all of this placed on one big map with great zoom functionality (I guess this will be possible with html 5). At a distance, evertything is reduced to something diagrammatical: Icons and lines signifying relations, groups etc. But zoom in, and you get more details. Zoom all the way in, and you materialize into an avatar that shows your presence, and what you’re doing. You can talk to people, leave a note if noone’s there, search the place (e.g. your office) or “knock on the door”, which is something that pings the owner whereever he or she might be.
Model for zoom functionality: The game Sins of a Solar Empire.
My brother Trym recently made these drawings of Nietzsche, unaware of how fitting quotes they could be paired with, as I’ve done below. The first quote is from section 146 of Beyond Good and Evil and the second one from section 4 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman — a rope over an abyss.
A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going [Untergang].
Why obsess about sentential logic and language in a time when visualization tools allow us to develop new and better ways to express thoughts? The visual language of infographics have the power to be clearer, broader and less ambiguous than sentential language, and it can offer a vision that can be shared more easily among minds, being far less dependent on interpretation.
I’m seriously wondering if studying infographics would be the best philosophical path for me right now — better than studying philosophy.
These days, I’m slowly but surely learning Illustrator, and I hope to expand to Flash and more in the future — because these tools, in this era of information, translate directly into power (in the sense of Nietzsche’s “will to power”).
I might even try to get work doing graphic design, to get paid while gaining the skillpoints I need to be able to create a philosophical work in the language of infographics. I already found a name for the sole proprietorship I’ll have to set up if I get work: “Platonic Infographics”. And in a moment of particular enthusiasm, I even bought a domain: infoplatonic.com.
The reason I’d like to associate myself with platonism, is that my own view of graphic design reminds me of Plato’s view of poetry: It is a very powerful tool that tend to be corrupting unless one actively ensures that it is wielded in the service of reason. I guess this is close to the principles of mainstream infographics as opposed to other kinds of graphic design, but I like to emphasize it anyway. And the connection to philosophy is nice as well.