Math and Morality Index

In August of 2010, I wrote a series of posts on the relationship between math and morality."From Dreams I Proceed to Facts" -- an introduction to my views on math and metaphysics by way of Flatland Hail to the Cylinder God -- being able to make negative definitions of God is essential As sure as I am of anything -- how does evidence for morality compare to evidence for causality, or the reality of sight Tangled Up in Blue -- a discussion of the tension between societal norms and the … [Read more...]

Optimized and Arbitrary

This is one of a series of posts about math and morality.  I'll be getting back to the series soon, but I'm currently pausing to answer some of the questions that have been accumulating.In comments on "On What Evidence?" Crowhill and Charles got into a disagreement about human morality and evolution that I exerpt below.Crowhill: Does there have to be some sort of "objective morality" for a dog to know how he's supposed to behave towards other dogs? Isn't it entirely possible that dogs … [Read more...]

On what evidence?

This post is part of a series of responses to the comments on my ongoing series on math and morality.  You can check out previous posts in this series here.So having spent one post answering questions using my sight metaphor, I’m going to move away from it in this round of answers. (Remember, as George Box said, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”).Eitan said: [M]orality is clearly quite different than EVERYTHING else we know. If there were objective values, they w … [Read more...]

Tangled up in Blue

Thanks so much for all the comments and challenges to yesterday’s post in the Math and Morality series. Rather than reply in the comment thread, I’ll be putting up response posts throughout the day. Please comment to clarify or bring up something I neglected! I’m glad Anonymous linked to Steven Pinker’s NYT article on ”The Moral Instinct” and that J.C. linked to the article on how descriptions of color vary across cultures. Hopefully pairing these two can help me clear up a little … [Read more...]

As sure as I am of anything

This is the third post in a series about math and morality. Read about the uses and abuses of abstraction and metaphysics in the first two postsLong before I tried to find a way to justify that my belief in morality in some way corresponded with absolute truth, I found myself in the traditional freshman-in-intro-philosophy-class discussions at summer camp. “How do you know that any of this is real?” we would ask each other. “Surely the labels we assign to our sense perceptions are somew … [Read more...]

Hail to the Cylinder God!

This is the second post in a series about math and morality. You can see all posts in the series here.I knew I’d get along with my soon-to-be friend Matt from our first discussion of theology. Matt was explaining why he saw paradox as the natural consequence finite humans trying to describe an infinite being, and he shifted right into the language of Flatland and topology. “So imagine one religious group claims that God is a rectangle. And a rival sect claims that God is a circle. But th … [Read more...]

“From dreams I proceed to facts”

 Reading Flatland changed my lifeThe novella was published in 1884 by Edwin A. Abbott--an English schoolmaster. The novella is narrated by a square living in a two-dimensional world. One night, he is visited by a Sphere, or, rather, from his point of view, a Circle of varying diameter.The Sphere has come to explain to him that there is a dimension he knows nothing about—a dimension along a hereto unknown direction “Upwards, not Northwards.”  To help the Square understand, the Sp … [Read more...]


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