Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Peirce, Semiotics and Sports

[From Joel] I tried to follow what Howard was saying [First comment on Million Monkeys ...] by looking up Peirce [on Wikipedia]. I became lost in the jargon. However, I did get something out of it, because the president of Harvard apparently blocked any role for Peirce at Harvard. I checked out Eliot to see if I could find out why. Along the way I found this interesting statement from Eliot's bio in wikipedia. Did Eliot have a point? Do some sports degrade character?

Eliot's opposition to football and other sports
During his tenure, Eliot opposed football and tried unsuccessfully to abolish the game at Harvard. In 1905, The New York Times reported that he called it "a fight whose strategy and ethics are those of war", that violation of rules cannot be prevented, that "the weaker man is considered the legitimate prey of the stronger" and that "no sport is wholesome in which ungenerous or mean acts which easily escape detection contribute to victory."[citation needed]

He also made public objections to baseball, basketball, and hockey. He was quoted as saying that Rowing and Tennis were the only clean sports.

Eliot once said, "Well, this year I'm told the team did well because one pitcher had a fine curve ball. I understand that a curve ball is thrown with a deliberate attempt to deceive. Surely this is not an ability we should want to foster at Harvard."


Ira Glickstein said...

Howard and I have been going round and round about "meaning" for over a decade. He wrote see first Comment here: "... Meaning in any sign or symbol system requires establishing a triadic relation between symbol, interpreter, and referent ... This largely arbitrary but fixed relation is partially codified in what we call a dictionary, but a dictionary is circular. It takes much more direct experience than reading a dictionary to ground a word’s meaning in the real world. The interpreter (cell, brain, or computer hardware) is what determines meaning, not the sequence of marks."

What we call a word is merely a string of symbols. They are arbitrary, but fixed by convention for those of us who know a given language. A person who does not know that language could look a word up in a dictionary and all he would get would be more words. He could look those up and get still more words, ad infinitem. That would not lead to understanding at all. Those words do not have meaning to a person who has no knowledge of the language! Yet, a person who knows that language could look up an unfamiliar word and obtain "meaning". How can a circular process lead to "meaning"?

Howard uses the term "semantic closure" to describe the necessary relationship between the producer of a symbol, the symbol, and the interpreter of that symbol. A biological organism produces DNA, which can be thought of as a string of symbols. (Your parents produced the DNA that created you.) That DNA would just be a complex string of atoms if not for the fact that a human reproductive system (your mother) used it as a code to produce the proteins that became you. Absent the closure, it would be meaningless.

Where I differ from Howard is that I see meaning in everything, even if no one has interpretd it (yet).

For example, a deer leaves a footprint in a forest. To a person without experience, it is just a depression in the mud or snow, but an experienced hunter can "read" it and tell the approximate size of the animal, which way it was going, how fast, etc. I say the meaning occured when the footprint was made. I think Howard thinks meaning only adheres when there is "closure" and the hunter interprets it.

The issue comes into focus when we have a "million monkeys ..." (or a computer) typing out "random" characters and one monkey happens to type an original, perhaps prophetic or poignant sentence, never before uttered by a human. Or, a computer programmed to play chess makes a really great move, perhaps never before made by a human in that situation. Or, using Searle's "Chinese Room" thought experiment, a computer accepts written questions in Chinese and responds with answers that Chinese speakers judge excellent.

Howard said the "meaning" occurs when the English teacher finds and reads and understands that "monkey" sentence. He would say, I think, that the only "understanding" of chess or Chinese is possessed by the programmers and the people interacting with the computer.

Yet, I think this is an example of "protoplasm racism". You and I are merely complex electro-chemical machines. We've been wired up by DNA that was refined over eons by evolution and Natural Selection. Atop this "hardware" is "software" impressed upon us by our parents, teachers, and experiences. No one would doubt we really understand English and chess. Yet, computer hardware (the product of evolution and Artificial Selection) and software (the "teachings" of the programmers), cannot really understand? Why not? Because they are not protoplasm? They are not alive? Seems like racism to me!

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

In my previous Comment I gave my understanding of symbols and semantic closure and "meaning".


As for Peirce (who spells his name wrong and pronounces it "Purse") I have never been able to make head nor tail of his writings or of the writings of those who write about him. He seems to have been a disgusting person, perhaps due to his painful disease. Yet, some people say he was brilliant.

Despite extended collegial discussions with people who really get off on "semiotics" and "biosemiotics" (like Howard Pattee and Luis Rocha and Jon Umerez) I just don't "get" it!

Like the deer in the forest, Peirce left some meaningful footprints - I guess I am just not "hunter" enough to make the semantic closure.

Like you Joel, I am more interested in why Peirce did not hit it off with Eliot, and why Eliot, President of Harvard, had such a strange view of competitive contact sports. (We don't know Peirce's views on sports, so let us assume Eliot had other reasons for disliking him.)


As I have revealed before, my dad was extremely competitive in sports. He played handball and softball as contact sports to the point I was turned away from that type of competition. Of course I understand the rules of baseball and football and basketball and soccer and hockey, and have watched professional and amateur competition, and I root for the Yankees, but I am not a "sports fan".

Nevertheless, I agree that "the battles of Britain were won on the playing fields of Eton" and the Greek/Roman ideal of "a sound mind in a sound body" is useful for success.

I always enjoyed non-competitive bicycling and have joined clubs for hiking and cross-country skiing and kayaking and so on.

As for football and other big-time sports in college, I am of two minds. On one hand, big-time sports are useful for "college spirit" and keeping alumni interest and financial support. On the other hand they are corruptive of the main purpose of college which is learning. "Jocks" are glorified and get away with all kinds of sexual hijinks. Professors are often pressured to give them undeserved passing grades.

Big-time college sports earn the money to pay for not only their own sports but also for the stadiums and gymnasiums used for less popular sports. They bring in contributions from alumni that pay for academic programs. Although it is illegal to pay the players, we know that they are often paid under the table and given cars and girls and other benefits.

Why not recognize big-time college players as professionals and pay them as such? Why pretend that they are college students? Why make them go to classes and pretend they are learning? Just suit them up in college colors and let them play!

Colleges should also have a variety of other sports teams that are not big-time and do not earn money. Players in those sports should be genuine college students who have to go to class and pass tests and meet all academic standards. All students should be required to participate in gym classes for an hour or two each week.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Ira said: Despite extended collegial discussions with people who really get off on "semiotics" and "biosemiotics" (like Howard Pattee and Luis Rocha and Jon Umerez) I just don't "get" it!

Joel responds: Thanks for the help. I might stand a better chance if I understood the objective. What are they trying to accomplish?
As for Peirce, I reminded of my futile efforts in London to find "Beecham Place." After going round and round with Joanna and my four year old in tow, I discovered that what Londoners meant was Beauchamps Place.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard would be the better person to answer Joel's question: " What are they [Peirce and other semioticians] trying to accomplish?"

I am only mildly interested because, as an engineer, I don't have to know why something is, just that it is. Scientists need to know WHY. Of course, they never can really know why, but that is what keeps them employed (like WPA workers digging ditches and then filling them in :^)

Circular reference is often a bad thing For example it is not allowed in a spreadsheet, and it causes an endless loop in a computer program. A "circular argument" is considered a bad trick in rhetoric and law and science. It can lead to illogic:

a) Smalltown has only one barber who, by law, is only allowed to shave anyone who does not shave himself. Who shaves the barber?

b) Everything I say is a lie, including this sentence.

c) God is Omnipotent, He can make a weight so heavy even He cannot lift it.

Yet, self-reference is the only thing a dictionary does, defining words in terms of other words that are defined in terms of other wrds, ad infinitem! Biological life creates DNA and uses that DNA to reproduce biological life, with crossover and mutations that corrupt the copying process just enough to drive adaptation to changing environments. Feedback is common in nearly all mechanical, electronic, economic and social processes.

According to the semioticians, "meaning" occurs only when this circular process exists! How do we know anything? Do we know anything or is it all a hall of smoke and mirrors?

Why is the sky blue? Because blue light is more easily scattered than other visible light. Why is blue light more scattered? Because it is at a higher frequency. Why does light have a frequency? Because it is an electro-magnetic wave. I thought light was made up of photons, which are particles, how can they also be waves? ... Because, says the engineer, that is just the way it is!

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Joel says it might help if he knew what semioticians were trying to accomplish. I can’t speak for all of them. but long before the word “biosemiotics” was coined, I joined a multitude of philosophers and scientists who were most curious about (1) the origin of life, and (2) the origin of thought. How did evolvable organisms arise from ordinary matter, and how did organisms start to think? If you don’t “get off” on these questions (as Ira puts it), then don’t bother reading further.

You need to know a short history: The first half of the 20th Century saw the spectacular rise of modern physics, and what was known as “the physical basis of life” was a big issue. The physical structures and energy metabolism of cells was the focus. Biochemistry and biophysics were popular fields. To a large extent, this mode of understanding the physical basis of life has been accomplished.

Then gradually, with the discovery of phage, transduction, the double helix, and the genetic code, it became clear that information and communication, not matter and energy, were the unique characteristics of life. As a consequence, today’s popular fields are genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics and biosemiotics. These areas turned out to be much more complex than physics and chemistry, and the goal of understanding the meanings of codes and symbols in organisms is far from accomplished.

There is now a common view that life and evolution arose when some types of matter began to have meaning in this conventional sense. That is, matter can act as a meaningful symbol when it can promote the survival or interests of an agent or an interpreter. Symbol, referent, and interpreter are generally accepted as the minimal productive conditions for “meaning” or “function” in both philosophy and science.

Ira says he believes that “meaning is in everything” even if no agent is around to interpret it. Now as Humpty Dumpty, or any nominalist would point out, Ira’s belief is, in effect, nothing more than Ira’s private definition of the word “meaning.” I would not disagree with Ira on whether his definition is right or wrong any more than I would argue that, say, the French language is right or wrong. Ira agrees that symbol meanings are largely arbitrary and are fixed by convention. The issue is whether his definition is useful or productive in modeling and communication of ideas.

It is just because of this arbitrariness of words that I would claim that Ira’s private "meaning" is not as clear, useful, or communicable as is the conventional meanings of the word “meaning” that have been evolved and elaborated over millennia by philosophers, linguists, semioticians, and scientists. A logician would also point out that a word that applies to everything is useless for making distinctions, and that is the most important function of words.

Howard Pattee said...

In view of Ira’s derogatory opinion of Peirce, I would suggest participants and lurkers on this site at least read Wikipedia on Charles Sanders Peirce

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for an excellent description of the basic and important questions biosemiotics seeks to explain. We agree on the importance of the question of the origin of life and thought and intelligence. Your explanations are the best I know of.

When you say meaning you imlicitly mean interpreted meaning. Given that meaning of "meaning" you are right that it first occurred with the origin of life. (Though you and I might disagree if there was interpreted meaning at the stage of self-reproducing autocatalytic cycles or the primitive RNA world that preceeded the origin of primitive DNA.)

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, of course it vibrates the air, but if no one is around, it does not make a heard sound.


PS: A related issue. If a man is in the woods with no one around and he says something, is it still stupid? Ask you wife, she will say "yes".

Ira Glickstein said...

In light of my "derogatory opinion of Peirse", Howard recommends the reading of the Wikipedia about him. Excellent idea!

Wikipedia says Peirce's "seminal work" is On a New List of Categories which I tried to read today. Here is the first part and I challenge anyone to make head or tail of it!

On a New List of Categories
by Charles Sanders Peirce

Presented 14 May 1867 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Published 1868 in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 7.

§ 1. This paper is based upon the theory already established, that the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and that the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it.

§ 2. This theory gives rise to a conception of gradation among those conceptions which are universal. For one such conception may unite the manifold of sense and yet another may be required to unite the conception and the manifold to which it is applied; and so on.

§ 3. That universal conception which is nearest to sense is that of the
present, in general. This is a conception, because it is universal. But as the act of attention has no connotation at all, but is the pure denotative power of the mind, that is to say, the power which directs the mind to an object, in contradistinction to the power of thinking any predicate of that object, — so the conception of what is present in general, which is nothing but the general recognition of what is contained in attention, has no connotation, and therefore no proper unity. This conception of the present in general, of IT in general, is rendered in philosophical language by the word “substance” in one of its meanings. Before any comparison or discrimination can be made between what is present, what is present must have been recognized as such, as it, and subsequently the metaphysical parts which are recognized by abstraction are attributed to this it, but the it cannot itself be made a predicate. This it is thus neither predicated of a subject, nor in a subject, and accordingly is identical with the conception of substance.

§ 4. The unity to which the understanding reduces impressions is the unity of a proposition. This unity consists in the connection of the predicate with the subject; and, therefore, that which is implied in the copula, or the conception of being, is that which completes the work of conceptions of reducing the manifold to unity. The copula (or rather the verb which is copula in one of its senses) means either actually is or would be, as in the two propositions, “There is no griffin,” and “A griffin is a winged quadruped.” The conception of being contains only that junction of predicate to subject wherein these two verbs agree. The conception of being, therefore, plainly has no content.

If we say “The stove is black,” the stove is the
substance, from which its blackness has not been differentiated, and the is, while it leaves the substance just as it was seen, explains its confusedness, by the application to it of blackness as a predicate.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

In part Ira gave us from Peirce;

§ 1. This paper is based upon the theory already established, that the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and that the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it.

Wow! No wonder Eliot didn't want Peirce at Harvard. The man couldn't write. However, I'll have a go at interpreting it. Howard, please tell me where I'm wrong, if I am.

This overly long sentence is an attempt to avoid defining the word "conception" by jumping to its function or properties. In modern terminology we might say that there must exist a mental shorthand notation for each of the various things and situations that we observe or sense in our environment. (This is just because of the neural storage problem.) This mental representation or icon we will call a "conception" and will assume that by definition it is the single representation capable of causing recall or reconstruction of the entire sensory experience.

Howard Pattee said...

Joel, I think your restatement of Peirce’s passage meets Ira’s challenge. Part of the problem is that even the clearest philosophers find epistemology inherently obscure, but they agree that Peirce and his private terminology sometimes appears to make matters worse. Peirce was a polymath, but his deepest interest was epistemology – Ira’s question: “How do we know anything?” Peirce asks a more productive question: How should we conduct our inquiry into the unknown?

Peirce, along with philosophers like Spinoza (Ira’s favorite philosopher, some of whose writings are just as obscure as Peirce’s) recognized that all human inquiry is fallible and a struggle against our instinctive emotional irritation when faced with uncertainty, obscurity, or doubt. Peirce also studied psychology and understood that people do not easily accept doubt and are emotionally unwilling to suspend judgment, so they invariably seek to eliminate uncertainty by forming a defensive belief, to which they will then cling firmly even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

So powerful is this emotional urge to believe something in the face of ignorance that many people, especially conservative minds, will defend whatever beliefs please their established ideology, appeal to their favorite authority, or that follow from “safe” a priori assumptions. In his Ethics Spinoza called this “human bondage.”

To counter this instinctive and uncritical belief system, one of Peirce’s strategies he called pragmatism which he briefly described in 1878 as follows: “Consider what effects which might conceivably have practical bearings we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”

Later, Heinrich Hertz in 1894 expressed the idea more precisely: "We form for ourselves images [conceptions] or symbols of external objects; and the form which we give them is such that the logically necessary consequents [effects] of the images in thought are always the images of the necessary natural consequents [effects] of the thing pictured."

Hertz then made explicit what Peirce was getting at: "For our purpose it is not necessary that they [images/conceptions] should be in conformity with the things in any other respect whatever. As a matter of fact, we do not know, nor have we any means of knowing, whether our conception of things are in conformity with them in any other than this one fundamental [pragmatic] respect."

Modern physics has adopted this pragmatic principle. It is really a form of empiricism that says you do not have a clear conception of reality until you can detect its measurable (observable) effects. Of course this includes mental effects in the brain itself.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks, Howard, for nicely and concisely (and mostly understandably) summing up the Peirce discussion.

Now, let us move on to the original Topic posed by Joel, namely Harvard President Eliot's negative views on the role of competitive contact sports in college.

I'd also like to hear views on my idea to have big-time sports teams at colleges with the players paid and not required to take college courses.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, before you move us on from the original topic of the Virtual Philosophy Club to Virtual Contact Sports, you might find it interesting (since you like Spinoza) that many philosophers recognize Spinoza’s influence on Peirce, especially Peirce himself.

For one example, Shannon Dea, a history of philosophy professor, notes that in numerous papers, Peirce explicitly praises Baruch Spinoza, and in several describes him as an adherent of Pragmatism. In a 1904 book review, Peirce insists that, had Spinoza lived longer, it would have been he and not Peirce himself who founded Pragmatism.

joel said...

The conduct of sports and the philosophy of pragmatism may actually be related.

William James wrote on Pragmatism:

“Ideas become true just so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.”

Eliot saw the use of a curve ball as being unsportsman-like. Others (like my wife) view it simply as part of the game. I dislike baseball because of the crashing into the catcher or second baseman and other tricks that the rules fail ignore. For others, using pragmatic reasoning, such contact in a non-contact sport is just part of the game. I think football is less barbaric than baseball, because the contact is defined within the rules. The showboating such as hanging on the rim in basketball makes me fume, but it sells tickets, therefore it must be right according to pragmatism.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard: Regarding Peirce, I wrote: "... some people say he was brilliant. ... I just don't 'get' it! ..."

Similarly for Spinoza. Though I love (most of) his philosophy, I find some of his writing inpenetrable and have relied mostly on Wolfson and Einstein and others who interpret and support his ideas. As you may remember, I wrote a paper regarding the role of emotions in humans (as the ombudsman for enlightened long-term self-interest and the survival of the greater society) and the need for something like emotions in intelligent robots. Spinoza, most likely, would have disagreed with me.

Epictetus (the Greek Stoic with whom I most identify) wrote:

"When a man prides himself on being able to understand and interpret the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself:--

"If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this fellow would have had nothing to be proud of. But what is it that I desire? To understand Nature, and to follow her! Accordingly I ask who is the Interpreter. On hearing that it is Chrysippus, I go to him. But it seems I do not understand what he wrote. So I seek one to interpret that. So far there is nothing to pride myself upon. But when I have found my interpreter, what remains is to put in practice his instructions. This itself is the only thing to be proud of."

Joel: I agree with your wife on the curve ball being a valid part of the game. My Dad (from the grave) would have said that the runner has every right to run or slide or crash into the baseman so long as he remains within the lines of the basepath.

I agree about pragmatism. I won't go as far as to say "anything that sells tickets" -and I won't watch boxing even for free on TV- but think a reasonable amount of hard contact in sports, between players who volunteer to play and know what to expect, is acceptable to keep up the interests of the crowd.

What do you think about "The wars of England were won on the playing fields of Eton"? What about my idea to overtly pay athletes in big-time college sports and not require them to attend classes? Shoudn't colleges abandon the fiction that they are students? (How many pass due to pressure on the profs? How few graduate even with that extra help? How many are covertly paid under the table?)

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I will argue that participative, local, competitive team sports should be part of the required curriculum of elementary and secondary schools and the first two years of college provided that they are taught only to promote health and character building values.

I could (but universities couldn’t) do without big university, national competitions in which few students participate and which do nothing to promote general health or character. Too often they serve only to entertain and to make money. Worse that that, they often corrupt both the students and the school’s academic values (e.g. read about the recent Binghamton basketball scandal).

What are the character values that should be taught? Well-coached team sports can teach cooperation, discipline, and sacrifice. Competition with other teams can teach fair play, courage, respect for opponents in winning and dignity in defeat. Too often today’s school sports values have been reduced to simply cheering, winning, being first, and adulation of the most valuable player.

This isn’t just my idea or the fields of Eton’s. This is Ancient Greek philosophy of sports. I had a British headmaster, Ramsey Harris, (grades 5 to 7) who taught these values. He was born in India where his father and grandfather were surgeons in the British Army. He could tell great stories and command great respect. The school motto was mens sana in corpore sano. Harris died with a sound mind and remarkably sound body at 105.

joel said...

Thanks for the reference on athletics and the Greeks, Howard. I'm biased, but I wrestled in college and was never interested in team sports. Generally speaking I'm a loner, so that's why I say I'm biased.

When I tried as a whistle-blowing professor to make a case against the university president, the administrators from deans on up "stonewalled." They accused me of not being a "team player" though they admitted there was a problem. I believe this kind of mentality derives or at least is encouraged by team sports. The management metaphors we use are often derived from football. (Hold the line, stonewall, punt, win one for the Gypper, sack their quarterback, hail Mary pass, do an end-run) Now that I think of it, it seems to me that the ancient Greeks applauded track and field type sports (and wrestling). I can't remember any mention of a team sport in Greek literature.

Howard Pattee said...

Joel, wrestling was also my favorite sport in college. In my opinion it requires the integration of more muscles and brains than most sports. That of course is an obvious bias. It certainly requires dealing more intimately with the muscles of your opponent than any other sport. (I do not consider sex a competitive sport, although some evolutionists might.)

As I said, I could also do without team sports because it is badly practiced in most schools today. But where else other than the military can you learn the values of cooperative team effort? I don't think the values of personal sacrifice for the benefit of the group is as effectively instilled by classroom lectures.

My guess is that the Ancient Greeks didn’t enjoy artificial team sports because they were usually at war.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard and Joel:

According to this:

"The games of the Olympics were individual competitions. They did play team or group games in other contexts. Especially at Sparta there were team sports involving a ball."

So team sports existed in ancient Greece but were not elevated to the heights of the Olympics.

Starting in the mid-1990's, while Howard and I were at Binghamton University, there was a push to get into NCAA Division 1 sports. Expensive preparations including a new stadium were funded. I had not heard of the scandal until Howard linked to it in his last posting but I am not surprised to hear of an assistant writing part of a paper for a jock, cash payments to jocks, the head coach successfully lobbying a professor for a grade change, drug possesion, stolen credit cards, etc.

Back in 1956, as a freshman at City College of New York, my gym teacher (for bare-assed swimming) was Nat Holman who, in 1951, had been the hapless (and apparently innocent) coach during the basketbal scandal there, which involved point spread shaving at the behest of criminal bookies.

Howard is correct that big universities cannot do without national-level sport competitions. Yet, while a few big-time sport jocks can handle it, I think it is unreasonable to expect most big-time sport jocks to be both star athletes and successful scholars, or for coaches to resist the temptation to help the jocks by pressing for passing grades. Therefore, why not drop the fiction that they are actually students and overtly pay them? That would avoid academic scandals, improve the level of competition, and yield benefits in college spirit and alumni support!

While I commend Joel for being a "whistle-blower", I cannot go along with him in opposition to team metaphors in management of organizations. While at IBM and Lockheed Martin, I was rewarded, and I recommended others for promotions, for being "team players".

To me a team player will express his or her opinions collegially and be heard by the leader and other members of the team. However, once a direction or design approach or solution has been chosen by the leader, the team player will accept it as if it had been his or hers all along. The team player will not say "I told you so" nor will he or she torpedo team spirit when the going gets tough. If another member of the team fails to do his or her part for any reason (illness, mistake, family problems, ... what ever) the team player will jump in, work overtime, and help "get'er done". There is no type of legal job or manual labor that is "beneath the dignity" of a team player.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

What would be the difference between your proposal and universities simply owning a professional team. Boston University could just own the Celtics.

joel said...

Ira, I totally agree with you when it comes to a technical team or a military team. The trouble is that that sometimes the activity involves questionable legality or ethics. What I'm talking about is more like Enron than engineering R&D or taking a military objective. Protecting the "quarterback" at all cost can mean the entire team ends up in jail.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard: Boston University owning the Celtics would just be a business venture. However, if the name of the team was the Boston University Terriers and if they wore university colors and played homegames at a stadium near the main campus and if students were involved as fans and cheerleaders and the band and perhaps business students in that end of the team's activities and if the alumni had tailgate parties at their games, and so on, it would be just like current big-time college sports except the players would have more time to do their jobs on the field and practicing and they would still be paid but this time legally.

And, most important, professors would not be under pressure to give jocks preferential treatment, and no one would graduate from a quality university without congruent academic achievement. In other words, the integrity of a college diploma would be maintained. And school spirit and alumni support would remain intact.

Joel: Enron was, or became, a criminal enterprise. Had I at IBM been aware of illegal activities I would have reported them to my management and, if serious enough, to the police and the press.

The closest I came to that was as a young engineer on a trip with my manager, Bob, and some co-workers. We had teamed with another company and were jointly visiting a government facility. While my manager was meeting with government managers, and my co-workers were at meetings related to their specialties, I was with an engineer and a marketing person from the company we had teamed with.

We were in the office of a government employee when he left the room to get something. The marketing person opened a couple drawers of his desk and poked around, joking about how he was getting inside information as part of his job. I was quite disturbed by this conduct but I did not verbally object. Perhaps I would have had the marketing person removed something from that desk.

That evening my manager had dinner with a management group and I with an engineering group so I did not have a chance to talk to him about what happened.

So, the following morning, when our company group met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I was eager to tell my manager about the event. I sat down and asked the engineer sitting next to me "Have you seen Bob yet?" He laughed and pointed to Bob, sitting directly across from me at that four-seat table!

This was the first (and only) time I ever experienced what I guess would be called "hysterical blindness". I was four feet from someone I knew very well and liked and desperately wanted to talk to, yet I could not see him until he was pointed out! As I thought about it then, and now, I cannot believe it happened, but I know it did!

The situation was resolved in two ways. First, Bob and I agreed the marketing guy was just a wise guy fooling around. Second, we soon decided not to continue teaming with that other company.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, you sound like one of these wild liberals trying to throw the baby out with the bath while trying to re-invent the wheel. The classic ideal of a well-balanced education― Juvenal’s mens sana in corpore sano― has been accepted for millennia. It was expressed by the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales. Plato accepted it in The Republic.

In American colleges and universities this ideal has been codified for over a century. Anyway, how could you possibly expect to change the basic NCAA rules? My father was a football coach at Pomona College in his youth. Later he was Dean of Pasadena City College and then Director of Admissions at Pomona. Of course he helped recruit students that were athletic but there was never any question that they also had to be academically qualified.

The basic rule that is accepted by almost all schools is that a student athlete must obey all the academic requirements of the school to be eligible to play in competition with other schools. Granted, the rules are too complicated, but the basic principle is clear, and if you cheat (like Binghamton) your school suffers. For small colleges that don’t try to go big time there is seldom any problem, nor is it a problem at schools like Stanford that have huge numbers of qualified applicants. Some of the best athletes are also A students.

Your assumption that you could get the same enthusiasm in class spirit and alumni loyalty with mercenary athletes I think is contrary to our deepest instincts to belong and participate in a group. Many students remember their athletic achievements and the big games along with some of their classes. Here at Williams College there are loyal alumni from the class of 1936 who still come to watch us beat Amherst College. That is one reason Williams has more endowment per student than Harvard.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, sorry I "sound like one of these wild liberals trying to throw the baby out with the bath while trying to re-invent the wheel."

I noted with approval the Greek ideal of a "sound mind in a sound body" in my second comment in this thread. I do NOT favor changes to NCAA rules except for Division 1, and there only for "big-time" sports. (Meaning sports carried on the major TV networks, etc.)

Both Amherst and Williams are in Division III and would not be affected at all. The chance of scandal there is close to zero. Players who are academically qualified should continue to develop their sound minds and sound bodies.

Binghamton had no sports scandal until they moved up to Division I and there only in their Basketball team. I think it is inevitable that there will be cheating on NCAA rules in "big-time" sports. How many "big-time" athletes and colleges have violated NCAA rules and got away with it?

I would not change Binghamton's Division 1 Baseball, Cross-Country, Golf, Lacrosse, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Track, or Wrestling in one iota, because there is almost zero chance of scandal.

I am not suggesting that any college hire "mercenary athletes" - except for NCAA Division 1 teams in sports that are "big-time".

Ira Glickstein

PS: My suggestion is akin to favoring the legalization and regulation of alcohol when Prohibition was shown to generate big-time organized crime. I now favor the same for marijuana but not other mind-altering drugs for the same reasons.

joel said...

Howard said: "Then gradually, with the discovery of phage, transduction, the double helix, and the genetic code, it became clear that information and communication, not matter and energy, were the unique characteristics of life. As a consequence, today’s popular fields are genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics and biosemiotics. These areas turned out to be much more complex than physics and chemistry, and the goal of understanding the meanings of codes and symbols in organisms is far from accomplished."

Joel asks:
When one explores the action of phages and the dynamics of enzymes, at active sites in cells, it would appear that they are key in accomplishing your goal of seeking the origin of life. In turn, the field of stereo chemistry would seem to have great value as it reflects the action of arrays of charges in the formation of proteins. Unless you are using the terms "physics and chemistry" to be limited to classical reactions and macroscopic body motion, I find it hard to understand what you mean in the above paragraph when you say "more complex than physics and chemistry." What does mean? A la Marshall MacCluen, aren't the messages derived from the nature of the chemical medium?

Howard Pattee said...

Joel asks: “I find it hard to understand what you mean in the above paragraph when you say "more complex than physics and chemistry." What does [this] mean? A la Marshall MacCluen, aren't the messages derived from the nature of the chemical medium?”

I understand your difficulty if you are a reductionist and believe that every event has a lawful deterministic cause. Laplace was famous for his statement that laws could predict everything if he had a big enough computer. Reductionism is the belief that all events are in principle derivable from physical and chemical laws. Philosophers still argue endlessly about the metaphysical issue of Causal Determinism.

Nevertheless, I know of no modern physicist who believes in either reductionism or determinism. They have many profound reasons, but the pragmatic reason is that neither reductionism nor determinism is compatible with present theories.

Biology is more complex than physics because as Murray Gell-Mann (who with Richard Feynman and others invented quark theory) has explained (e.g. in The Quark and the Jaguar: “The science of biology is very much more complex than fundamental physics because so many of the regularities of terrestrial biology arise from chance events as well as fundamental laws.” Gell-Mann is referring to evolution. To be effective in evolution these regularities from chance events must be heritable. That means they must be reconstructible from a genetic memory that has accumulated the complexity of billions of years of natural selection.

Modern complexity theory has recognized that it isn’t just biology that is more complex than physics. As Gell-Mann emphasizes: “The effective complexity [of the universe] receives only a small contribution from the fundamental laws. The rest comes from the numerous regularities resulting from 'frozen accidents'."

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, if you can employ non-student athletes only in Division 1, then a rich college like Williams could buy a team and become Division 1.

It seems the only criterion here would be whether the sport can make a profit. That's not a sport, that's a business. Maybe that's your point.

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, the only reason I said you were sounding like a liberal was because I thought you are trying to impose rules and regulations that would drastically change well-established academic and professional sports relations. These relations have evolved over many decades as a fairly stable competitive free-market system that is too complex to rationally improve without unpredictable consequences. That doesn’t sound like a conservative’s approach.

Ira Glickstein said...

While researching Karl Popper (triggered by Joel's Wittgenstein's Poker Topic where Popper was the pokee) I found the following:

"Popper's falsifiability resembles Charles Peirce's nineteenth century fallibilism. In Of Clocks and Clouds (1966), Popper remarked that he wished he had known of Peirce's work earlier."

Aparently my kind of negative view of Peirce was too harsh, given Popper's endorsement of his fallibilism in the form of Popper's falsifiability which I have been familiar with and support as the ultimate test of wether a given discipline is scientific.

It appears Popper's view of QM also parallels mine (and Einstein's :):

"Popper also wrote extensively against the famous Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. He strongly disagreed with Niels Bohr's instrumentalism and supported Albert Einstein's realist approach to scientific theories about the universe."

Ira Glickstein