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20 09 2006

I just realized it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve posted here! You may have noticed trouble leaving comments in the last month or so – apparently my host site updated something in their system, and only today did I find the change I needed to make to make it work again.

Anyway, after finishing up at the Canada/USA Mathcamp, I visited some friends in Bellingham and Vancouver, and then had the beginning of the semester to deal with, which all distracted me from blogging for a while. Last week I was in Berlin for a workshop, Towards a New Epistemology of Mathematics, attached to the Gesellschaft für Analytische Philosophie’s large conference. An overview of the workshop by David Corfield is here.

A few talks caught my attention that he didn’t mention, so I’ll briefly mention those here. Tatiana Arrigoni presented some discussion of the candidate set-theoretic axiom V=L, mentioning that although many philosophers of set theory argue that it should be rejected, there are some (like Ronald Jensen) that argue in its favor. Her idea seemed to be that there might be at least two different ideas of set-theoretic intuition that lead to different sets of axioms.

Curtis Franks suggested that although Hilbert is traditionally regarded as a mathematical formalist, some of his early writings suggest that his program was motivated by a sort of naturalism, perhaps in Maddy’s vein. He objected to the intuitionists and others by saying that standard mathematical practice is just obviously justified, because it’s been so successful and hasn’t led to any problems – in a sense, their philosophical arguments are no better than those of the skeptic. However, Hilbert wanted to reformulate the consistency of mathematics as a mathematical (rather than philosophical) question – Gödel just showed that this was impossible.

And in the main conference, Øystein Linnebo suggested that John Burgess’ system inspired by Bernays and Boolos, although it very elegantly derives all of ZFC (and large cardinals up to indescribables) just by means of a fairly straightforward plural quantification system together with something like Cantor’s limitation of size principle, doesn’t provide a much stronger justification than Bernays’ original system. The particular plural logic used here does matter, and a seemingly similarly justified limitation of size principle leads to Russell’s paradox. I’m not convinced that Linnebo undermines Burgess’ system terribly much, but it’s definitely interesting to see how these systems develop.

Anyway, now I should return to more regular posting.

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APA Blogging: Blogging Panel

27 03 2006

One interesting but not totally related point – during the second half of last week, the number of hits on my blog dropped by about 1/3 to 1/2 (it’s hard to tell, because the ordinary traffic ranges from about 65 to about 90 views a day, while several days last week were between 45 and 70). I’m not sure if it’s because everyone else was at the APA in Portland too, or a whole bunch of spring breaks lining up at this time, or something else. (I suspect it’s not the spring break thing, because the number of hits recovered today, when at least Berkeley and Stanford started spring break.)

The panel on blogging was a lot of fun, even though it almost didn’t happen, because Jon was an hour late due to flight delays, and Brian, Gillian and I only managed to get through the lineup to register (and incidentally find out what room we were in) about two minutes before it started. And in the end, since it was the first session on the first day, there were only about six people in the audience.

Some good suggestions did come out of the discussion though. Brian recommended blogging as a tool for grad students to practice writing for public consumption – though with an interesting caveat. He suggested that one start a blog but not publicize it, so that one doesn’t necessarily expect people to read, but makes things a little bit more polished in case anyone does randomly find it through Google or whatever. Coincidentally, this is basically what I did with my blog – for basically the first three months of its existence, I don’t think anyone knew about it except me and one or two friends, until I left a comment on Gillian’s blog. Some advantages of this approach are that it gives you time to decide if you really want a blog (a lot of people decide in a week or a month that it’s not really for them), it means that when people first find the blog they’ll have several posts to look at rather than just one (so they find something interesting and decide to keep coming back), and gives you a chance to practice a few times and figure out what you’ll want to write about and how you’ll want to say it before really facing a public.

Here are some tips for starting a philosophy blog (which I suppose should apply to any academic blog). I’ve put a little thought into this, but not so much that I can’t be convinced some of them are bad ideas, so leave a comment if you have different thoughts.

  • Never blog drunk!
  • Start the blog secretly (as I mentioned above), and possibly anonymously – you can always move to publicity and add your name, but you can’t really go the other direction.
  • When you do decide to publicize the blog, do it by mentioning some relevant post in the comments of a blog on relatively similar topics, or by e-mailing the author of such a blog, or something like that. While a link from Brian Weatherson or Brian Leiter would be the easiest way to get wide publicity, you’re more likely to gain readers by appealing to people who already read a somewhat less widely-read blog and have shown some interest in your subject area.
  • Try to stay within a relatively well-defined subdiscipline and away from “metaphilosophy” – while a wide range of subject areas, and discussion of how to do philosophy, might be interesting, one isn’t generally likely to have interestingly new ideas on that wide an area, and it’s easier to attract an audience if they know that almost every post will be on topics close to their interests.
  • Link to books on Amazon, papers that are publicly available online, and posts on other interesting blogs whenever possible – it makes it easier for people who aren’t already familiar with the literature to get fully up to speed on the discussion.
  • Try to maintain a relatively stable posting frequency – if you normally post about once a month (as several of the blogs I read do), then posting four times in one day makes it easy for people to miss the first two posts, since they’re not expecting more below the newest one.
  • Assign categories to your posts and have category archives available, so that new visitors later on can easily find posts on a particular topic.
  • Post about papers you read (especially ones that are publicly available online) and conference talks you go to, so other people can benefit from what you’ve learned (and so you can consolidate your own thoughts on the matter). Posting about colloquia and seminars is probably fine, though you might want to get permission from the person or people involved. Posting about ideas that came up in more informal conversations you should definitely ask permission from the people involved, and/or leave out their names in case they don’t want to be publicly associated with off-the-cuff remarks.
  • Don’t post much about strictly personal issues. (You can have a LiveJournal or something similar for that.) People who are there for your ideas won’t generally care about what happened to your brother on the way to work yesterday. Of course, there are exceptions. If you get married or get a new job, by all means post that. If anything comes up that will get in the way of your regular blogging schedule, mention that too. And there seems to be a common blogospheric tradition of “Friday Cat Blogging” (any other day of the week only has a couple hundred hits, except Monday, which has about 1/10 as many as Friday) – I suppose that only makes sense though if your regular posting frequency is at least a couple times a week.
  • Try to encourage comments, especially from people in neighboring fields that might have interesting perspectives on your ideas – this is probably the biggest benefit of putting one’s ideas on a blog, apart from name-recognition.
  • Don’t blog drunk!

Any other suggestions?





Blogging as a Tool for Philosophical Discourse: the State of the Art

15 03 2006

Next week in Portland, I’ll be on a panel with Jonathan Kvanvig, Gillian Russell, and Brian Weatherson, with the title as above. Since Brian has already said something about what he’ll say, I figured I’ll post a bit as well, especially to elicit more suggestions.

I figured, since I’m still in graduate school, and therefore know less about the profession at large than the other panelists, I’ll mainly talk about blogging per se. (Most of the data below I gathered by using the list of blogs that Dave Chalmers maintains.)

When I began graduate school, only 6 of the blogs currently on Chalmers’ list existed, and half of them were non-philosophy oriented. Projecting current trends, by the time I graduate there will almost certainly be over 200, with over 150 on philosophical topics.

There have been some changes in the pattern of blog creation – in the first two years, there were only 6 or so blogs (out of 25) that focus on a particular topic (Will Wilkinson, Brian Weatherson, Greg Restall, Wo Schwartz, Clark Goble, and Jeremy Pierce – to the extent that BW and WS can be said to be topical), and more than half of the blogs were primarily non-philosophical. But in early ’04, a few more topical blogs were formed, and there was a burst in May/June ’04 as 17 topical blogs (and four others) were formed. This brought the total of all blogs from 38 to 59, with almost half of them topical.

Interestingly enough, the second half of 2004 had about the same rate of blog creation as the period before May/June, and was again about equally split between philosophical and non-philosophical blogs, mostly non-topically focused. However, in 2005, the pace of blog creation picked up (with another burst in January, that included my blog) and has tended to be more topically focused.

Interestingly, the topics have grown more specialized. Whereas blogs from before May ’04 that I counted as “topical” often talked about general language/epistemology/metaphysics/mind topics, some more recent ones have focused on philosophy of “real mathematics”, science ethics, and contextualism in epistemology.

Another interesting development has been the rise of group blogs. The first group blogs in philosophy appear to be the grad student blogs at Rochester, Brown, Syracuse, and Arizona as part of the burst in April and May of ’04, followed in June by topical group blogs on free will, religion, epistemology, experimental philosophy, ethics, art, and biology.

It’s interesting to compare the development of blogging in philosophy with that in other academic disciplines. In physics, the major blogs I glanced at mostly seemed to get started in ’04 and ’05, a bit later than in philosophy (though John Baez has been posting This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics since 1993!), while the major linguistics blogs seemed to get started around ’02 and ’03, just as in philosophy. I know less about where to look in other academic disciplines, but maybe Brian can use some of his connections at Crooked Timber (established in July ’03) to find out more about the history of blogging in other academic disciplines.

I’ve certainly found it quite interesting glancing through all these different blogs to find out when they were started; whether they focus on a particular topic, are about general philosophy, or primarily non-philosophical topics; and who writes them. The main philosophical benefits I’ve gotten (besides some quite useful comments on ideas I post!) are running into people at conferences who already have some idea of what I work on, and starting up e-mail conversations with people about my interests. I don’t think anything I’ve first written in a blog post has (yet) ended up in a larger paper, but some of it probably will before too terribly long.

Anyway, if other people have thoughts, I’d be glad to hear them (and possibly share them next week, if you can’t make it to the discussion in Portland yourself!)





Domain Name Trouble

28 01 2006

Sorry about the blog being down most of the past week – it looks like I started the blog over a year ago, and the domain name registry expired after a year. It seems to be intermittent right now, but hopefully it’ll be working fully again soon. I have two posts that came up after the domain name went down, so you may want to check them out.





Philosophy Blogs

9 01 2006

I’m participating in a session on blogging in philosophy at the Pacific APA in March, with Brian Weatherson, Gillian Russell, and Jon Kvanvig, so I spent a large part of this weekend glancing through the blogs on Dave Chalmers’ list. Sorting them by date created, I noticed some interesting patterns – for instance there were big bursts of new blogs formed in May/June 2004, and January 2005 (including this one). The May/June 04 burst is when most of the group blogs were formed (though a few of them really only have one person who does almost all the posting), and is also the time when topically focused blogs (like basically all the ones in the sidebar here) started becoming common. It looks like December 2005 may also have been a burst of new blog formation, but it remains to be seen how many of them last and how many just haven’t been noticed by Dave Chalmers (or any of the blogs he does list) yet.

Anyway, I discovered some other interesting links:

Someone else has discovered the Frege hair coloring salon, which I meant to take a picture of last time I was visiting near UCLA.

The list of papers for the USC/UCLA Graduate Conference is up. (In addition to me on this blog, you can find Neil Tognazzini at The Garden of Forking Paths and Aidan McGlynn at The Boundaries of Language. I don’t think the other three have blogs.)

David Corfield has a blog! Somehow I didn’t notice this (and neither has Dave Chalmers yet), but I’ll certainly have to start reading it. (And maybe this means I’ll finally get around to reading his book, which I’ve been meaning to read for almost two years, since a friend pointed me to John Baez’ review.





Statistics

26 11 2005

This post has no philosophical (or really mathematical) content – hopefully I’ll soon have a finished draft of the talk I gave last week to the Berkeley math grad students on forcing and the Continuum Hypothesis. It’s got no original material, but I think it should be a fairly accessible introduction (well, as accessible as it’s going to get), and I don’t know of any that exist elsewhere. If anyone else knows of one, let me know! I’ll put mine up soon once I’ve proofread it and such.

Also, I started using Google Analytics to check my viewing stats, and they’re finally available. I’m getting far more views than I expected – 51 on Monday, despite no new content in over a week! In addition to the unsurprising clusters in college towns, like 5 from Stanford, 4 in Ann Arbor, and 3 from Melbourne, there’s 3 from Iasi, Romania, and several from South America. I’m guessing the latter is because of a link from this blog by Juan de Mairena – unfortunately I don’t read enough Spanish to understand much of what’s going on there, or why he linked to all the logic blogs I know of, plus one in Spanish (which seems to have interesting liar- and Yablo-type paradoxes).

I suppose it might be a bit spooky that I can see how many visitors I get from various locations, and from which referrers, etc. But I think most bloggers have some way of checking this – I just hadn’t signed up for such a service until now, and I might be able to get a bit more info about readers because I have so many fewer than some of the bigger blogs.

Anyway, real content soon, I promise.





Academic Blogging

24 07 2005

The philosophy blogosphere has gotten extremely large now (just check out Dave Chalmers’ list of philosophy blogs in the link on the sidebar). There are so many now that there are even relatively well-defined subcommunities, like the collection of logic blogs. But at the same time, it’s become clear that just as philosophy is far ahead of most other academic fields in terms of number of blogs, certain subfields of philosophy seem to be pulling ahead as well. For instance, I often stumble across blogs talking about epistemology or language, but much less often metaphysics.

In other academic disciplines this seems to be repeated. Most of the physics blogs I’ve ever stumbled across have been about string theory. I can’t help but wonder if these concentrations of blogs will reshape the disciplines. (Certainly Brian Leiter and Brian Weatherson are both more well-known than they would be without their online presences, though in both their cases, their target audience is a broad range of philosophers, rather than just epistemologists, or philosophers of language, or logicians, or philosophers of mathematics, or whatever).

Just as prominent females have helped make certain subdisciplines more gender balanced (for instance, Vera Serganova seems to have attracted a large proportion of the female math grad students at Berkeley to her area), I’m sure early-adopting bloggers will have some shape on the way methods of communication develop in certain subfields.

But as academic blogging matures, we’ve got important methodological questions to consider, in addition to these sociological ones. An interesting post I meant to link to a while ago by Anthony Widjaja To suggests some important starting points. Related to those, I’ve often wondered what balance I should have between stating a question most simply and giving enough background information to allow a much larger audience to read. For instance, when I planned my last post, it was going to be two sentences, until I realized that I should probably say what surreal numbers are. But meanwhile, a lot of my posts also react to some book or paper I’ve been reading without much explanation of what the author was actually saying. I’ve been more open to doing that with important papers by figures like Quine and Lewis than recent work in philosophy of mathematics, but I think I’ve also had some discussion of dense papers by Dummett that I can’t assume many people to have read. I think this issue relates quite closely to Anthony’s suggestions for reshaping academic discussions for the blog format.

The more direct inspiration for this post was a suggestion for The Blog as a Sharp Tool for Research by physicist Clifford Johnson at one of those string-theory-ish blogs I mentioned. He suggests an interesting model whereby a blog (or blog-like enterprise) can help focus discussion in a subfield by changing hands periodically, allowing different individuals or groups working on some field to be the host at different intervals. I believe Left2Right and Certain Doubts originally intended to have a function somewhat like this, but based on the natural tendency for some participants in a group blog to post more and some to post less, they’ve ended up being more like much smaller blogs by David Velleman and Don Herzog at L2R, and Jon Kvanvig at Certain Doubts. This new model of giving each person or group a specific period to be in charge seems like it might work better at achieving this end. Also, it will probably encourage more posting about specific breaking research, as each person or group will only have to talk about their own stuff for a small amount of the time, rather than scattering it constantly between posts about smaller thoughts the way it happens on individual blogs. Such a model shouldn’t replace the individual blogs we have, of course, but it would allow for yet another type of discussion. (I should also at least briefly mention the Philosophers’ Carnival started by Richard Chappell, though that serves yet another function, to help more widely circulate the discussions in the large philosophical blogging community, rather than to develop one particular subfield.)