FOM: Poor slobs and unique structures

Neil Tennant neilt at
Fri Oct 9 08:55:38 EDT 1998

On Fri Oct  9 06:21 EDT 1998, Charlie Silver wrote:

> I take it that Hersh and others would think you are radically
> misdescribing mathematical activity, though I believe in their
> descriptions of mathematical activity they'd have to include somewhere the
> fact that mathematicians may *think* there's a unique structure out there. 
> I'm a little puzzled as to how a sophisticated version of this would go. 

I'm not interested in sophisticated versions of The False. There's
been enough of that from Clinton already; let's not draw more of the
same from Hersh. (Note that, according to the humanistic
postmodernist, I cannot be convicted of bad faith, or bad rhetoric, or
bad logic, in putting WhiteHouseSpeak and HershSpeakOnThe NatureOfMath

> Would one who was describing mathematical activity, but totally rejected
> Platonism (and perhaps supported something like "humanistic mathematics"),
> have to say something to the effect that many of the poor slobs who *do*
> mathematics think their work is guided by the existence of silly things
> like unique structures?  

I confess I don't know. Perhaps one has to ask the poor slobs who
support "humanistic mathematics" what guides the work of "poor slobs"
like G"odel.

> But we, acting as cultural anthropologists
> observing their behavior, can see that they are really just engaged in a
> lot of scribbling exercises, besides hanging out together and speaking in
> a contrived language which seems to give them pleasure? 

Have you heard the story about the psychiatrist (call him Jones) who
decided to enter an asylum incognito in order to do field work on a
research project into how psychiatrists related to inmates? He sat
unobtrusively in a corner, making notes in his notebook about the
conversational exchanges and the ethical implications of various other
personal interactions that he observed between doctors and inmates. He
was unaware of being observed, himself, by the doctor in charge of the
ward. When Jones resumed normal duties (and his old identity), he came
across the ward journal. The doctor in charge that earlier occasion
had written "Patient J. exhibits writing behavior".

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