In 1910, G.K. Chesterton (one of my favorite authors -- I highly recommend The Man Who Was Thursday and the Father Brown mysteries) diagnosed all the world's problems. You can read his famous diagnosis, What's Wrong With the World, at Project Gutenberg. And if you do so, you'll find that Chesterton was a bit of a monster.
If you don't want to read the whole thing, you can read Scott Alexander's excellent review. Chesterton's ideas are wildly conservative, but they are beautifully written:
Chesterton goes on to explain why modern (liberal) values are wrongheaded; he is against feminism, he opposes educating the masses, he is appalled by socialism and against industry. His opposition is rooted in appeals to what he believes are universal values: the desire for order and prosperity, for equality, for each child to have a chance at happiness. Of course he twists these values in the service of (what I believe to be) awful ends.
It is heartening, though, to see how thoroughly his brand of conservatism has lost. Chesterton concludes his essay with a description of contemporary technocratic attempts to reduce the prevalence of lice among poor children:
He ends with a beautiful appeal to what he believes must be a universal value, desired by all:
That is, he believes it incontrovertible that little girls should have beautiful long hair! If you ever doubt that we've come a long way in the last century, remember: the last, unquestionable value, the denominator of Chesterton's thought, is just unimportant today. That red-heard she-urchin should be able to cut her hair however she damn well pleases.
In June 2016, Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed (not entirely seriously, as this series of tweets should make obvious) the creation of a new country: Rationalia, governed by the dictum "All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence." To Tyson and the other citizens of Rationalia (including physicist Brian Greene, whose office I briefly occupied while mine was under construction this summer), this was obviously a good idea...Read More
A dilemma is a difficult choice between two alternatives. I recently learned that there is a word for a choice between three alternatives: trilemma. But what if I have a hard choice between four options?
I was curious, so I did some googling. It turns out that there's some disagreement as to what a choice between four options should be called -- is it a quadrilemma or a tetralemma? (The Greek and Latin prefixes for "three" are both "tri-," so there's no conflict in that case.) I'd argue for the Greek tetralemma, as the suffix -lemma comes from the Greek word for premise, and Google seems to agree: there are 25,100 hits for tetralemma and only 6,940 for quadrilemma.
I was curious as to how this played out for more -lemmas; the Greek "tetralemma" and "pentalemma" dominate the Latin "quadrilemma" and "quintilemma," respectively. However, the internet seems to have found the Latin-Greek mix "sexalemma" irresistible, for obvious reasons, and the Latin "septalemma" easily won out over the Greek "heptalemma." There are a huge number of "nonalemmas," apparently, and almost no "ennealemmas." And apparently people with 100 choices prefer the Latin-Greek creole "centilemma" to the pure Greek "hectalemma." I was unable to find either the Latin or the Greek prefix for 99, but I'm sure that for those linguists with 99 problems, this ain't one.
Some interesting multilemmas:
- The Lewis Trilemma: the argument that Jesus was either "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord." The eponymous Lewis is C.S. Lewis of Narnia fame, who was also a famous Christian apologist.
The Charleston Mercury argued, reported the New York Times in 1861, that the Confederate States were caught on the horns of a quadrilemma: their options were to negotiate, engage in privateering, fight on the sea, or use the economic power provided by the cotton trade to forward their interests.
On the other hand, the "non-classical logic of India" preferred the tetralemma, or catuskoti, which was the claim that a statement could be either true, false, neither, or both(!). This seems to be an originally Buddhist idea which has made its way into other parts of Indian philosophy.
Perhaps following Lewis, contemporary Christian apologists have come up with quintilemmas and other myrialemmas. The pentalemma seems to be largely of interest to online dictionaries.
Please don't google "sexalemma." On the other hand, there are several interesting hexalemmas -- for example, this paper by Campbell Brown argues that it is better to exist than not, rebutting previous depressing work of Benatar (David, unfortunately, not Pat). Brown postulates the existence of a person, named Jemima, who exists in many worlds, and compares those worlds to one in which she does not exists. He extracts six alternatives from this comparison -- if you are interested despite my description, feel free to read more.
Apparently the problem of time in quantum gravity leads to an octalemma.
And most of the hits for "decalemma" are the result of Google generously interpreting my search as an interest in "decal Emma."
I've been thinking recently about typefaces -- the four to eight readers of this blog may have noticed that the font used in the body text of these posts has changed. I've also been thinking about best practices for mathematical typesetting, for my next paper. I might write a more serious post on this topic another time.
While researching the topic, I ran into a few interesting articles:
- Adam Townsend has written a nice article about choosing a font for mathematics writing at Chalkdust Magazine.
- Dan Rhatigan wrote an interesting master's thesis about mathematical typesetting -- one of the pleasures of reading these sorts of documents is that they are almost invariably beautifully typeset -- Dan's thesis is no exception.
- In sadder news, I just found out that the venerable type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones (now Hoefler & Co.) has split up in what this article refers to as "the legal equivalent of a knife fight in the street." My CV is typeset in Hoefler Text; the Rhatigan thesis above is typeset in Whitney, also created by the firm. Frere-Jones alleged that Hoefler promised him a 50-50 partnership and then delayed giving him equity for 13 years, even after Frere-Jones transferred ownership of valuable typefaces to the firm for a nominal sum of $10. You can see Hoefler and Frere-Jones, enjoying happier times, in the clip below (from the hit documentary Helvetica).