Fermi Society of Philosophy

What is Rationalism? Part I

by alexeyburov

A special philosophical branch is defined, which gave birth and nourished cognition of the universe. I start the talk from a paradigmatic story, from a problem Plato suggested to his student Eudoxus, and then show that this question implied a whole worldview responsible for the main achievements of humanity.

Slides are here.

At the next meeting, in two weeks, we’ll discuss a relation between Rationalism and scientism.

Daniel Gruber, “Structuring Reality through Human Law”, June 7.

by alexeyburov

Dear friends,

our next meeting will be the last before the Fall, most likely, before the October. It will be devoted, first time for our society, to the philosophy of law.

Daniel Gruber has written 10 books, and has taught in numerous countries on 5 continents. His books have been translated into Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Dutch, Spanish, German, and French. In this talk, he focuses on the intersection of Government, Law, and Values in legal, political, and religious systems.


Hans Kelsen was considered by many in the 20th century to be “the formative jurist of our time,” influencing many who now teach and legislate. His “Pure Theory of Law” takes a multi-discipline approach that dispenses with the need for observation or correspondence to any objective reality. He based it on a Basic Norm which he said “not only contradicts reality, …but is also self-contradictory, …a fiction. …accompanied by the awareness that reality does not agree with it.” Rather than conforming his theory to reality, he conformed reality to his theory. In this way, he made the State free to forbid or command anything it chooses. His philosophy received “unqualified admiration” in much of the world. This talk examines Kelsen’s claim that an approach such as his, which measures everything by human cognition, must reject the existence of any objective reality. It argues that this claim is well-founded.

The time and place are same, 12:00, Req Room (WH4NW).

See you then and all the best.

Donna Adler on Plato’s Cosmology, Apr 26

by alexeyburov

Friday, Apr 26 we’ll have our regular meeting, usual place and time: Req Room (WH4NW), 12:00. Our speaker will be Donna Adler Altimari, PhD in philosophy. In her own words:

Introduction to Plato’s Cosmology: Presuppositions, Aims, Ends, Method.

In this presentation, Dr. Donna Adler will introduce members of the Fermi Philosophical Society to a classic text of the Western tradition, Plato’s Timaeus, focusing on the aims and ends of the text’s cosmological speculations, as well as the dialogue’s importance for the history of Western music theory. She will talk about Plato’s basic epistemological approach; the mathematical riddles in his work and the reasons for them; his fascination with number as a primary vehicle available to human beings in the effort to come to truth; the important role that symmetry played for him as a criterion for determining correctness in human judgments; and his effort to suggest a governmental order on the level of human community incorporating what he took to be a set of natural harmonic laws applicable to the cosmos. The scientific community, although it has come a long way from Plato’s cosmology, may recognize, in Plato, a kindred spirit in his love for mathematics and his use of it in physical speculation. The presentation should also touch upon issues of recent interest to the group, particularly the questions how the quest for mathematical beauty might lead a theorist astray and how a cosmos governed by mathematical laws can avoid determinism on a human plane. Dr. Adler will draw on her book, currently in production at Brill, entitled Plato’s Timaeus and the Missing Fourth Guest, for much of the substance of the presentation. The Timaeus is the touchstone, in Western tradition, for the basic faith persisting to this day, in physics, in the efficacy of mathematics to reveal the secrets of nature.

Everybody is welcome.

“Lost in Math”, part 2 and discussion

by alexeyburov

Dear society friends,

First, many thanks to those of you who came today, and my special thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion.

Second, the slides of my full talk are here. Hopefully, Lev will make the video soon.

Third, I’ll try to summarize below the questions and objections to my talk with my answers. Feel free to correct possible inaccuracies in my address.

  1. Donna expressed her disagreement with Bergson’s statement “As a matter of fact, the mystics unanimously bear witness that God needs us, just as we need God. Why should He need us unless it be to love us?” According to her, this statement is wrong. God does not need anything or anybody, and mystics do not bear this witness. The objection to Bergson was noted, but I tried my best to minimize the purely theological debates, trying to stay closer to the book.  
  2. Mike, in addressing to my last slide, asked a question, on what ground do I assign to God happiness or unhappiness. My answer was that I suggest this question for contemplation. Since the only reasonable explanation of the very special laws of nature is theistic, there is a reason to suppose that the discoverability is conditioned on something.
  3. Mike pointed to the multiverse as a reasonable answer to the question of why the laws of nature are what they are. On that, I’d like to remind him of our refutation of this hypothesis: https://pythagoreanuniverse.com/ ; also, note slide #3.
  4. Jim described his favorite Darwinian answer to the discoverability problem, why the fundamental laws are discoverable. His answer consists of two parts. First, he noted our Darwinian ability to recognize patterns, and, second, to answer the question why nature has had patterns available to be recognized, he stated that our knowledge of the laws of nature is approximate and contains misconceptions. In my answer, complemented by Lev, I stressed, first, the huge span of parameters  where the discovered laws are valid with tremendous accuracy, which is counter to the idea that the laws are simply convenient approximate formulas, fittings, etc. Second, the old laws are exact limit cases of new ones: the Newtonian physics is a limit case of the relativistic mechanics with c->infinity, etc. The old theories are asymptotically correct cases of the more general new theories. If the old laws were but approximations, they would be simple misconceptions, but in fact they are different ways of looking at the same logic structure of the universe.

“Lost in Math” by S. Hossenfelder, part 1

by alexeyburov

In my talk on this book I do not try to give its balanced review. Instead, I make a focus on what I see as philosophically significant aspects of it, stressing and commenting them. The first part of my talk (actually ~2/3 of it) was given Mar 29, and I will finish it Fri, Apr 12, at our regular meeting starting 12:00, same place, Req Room (WH4NW). I think I’ll need about 30min to remind the part 1 and to finish my talk, and the rest 30min will remain fo the open discussion.

Everybody is welcome, as usual.

The slides of the 1st part are here.

Donna M. Adler: The Book of Kells and its Analogical Vision of Reality

by alexeyburov

Our next meeting, Friday, March 1st, we’ll hear a talk of our external participant, Donna M. Adler, PhD, on the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated Gospel in Old Latin, ca. VIIIc. A detailed abstract is here.

The place and time are usual, Req Room (WH4NW), 12:00.

Everybody is welcome; feel free to come with your lunch.

More comments on the same book

by alexeyburov

Dear all, today we had apparently the last meeting on the book of Jimena Canales about Einstein-Bergson debates on the nature of time. Jim Hylen and myself gave the talks on that, trying to be complementary to Leo’s presentations. Also, we had a vivid discussion associated with all that. The presentations are publicly available:

Jim Hylen: My impressions of and take-aways from “The Physicist and the Philosopher”.

Alexey Burov: Is Time Illusory? A dispute of disguised theologians.

See you in two weeks, the topic will be announced soon.

Leo Michelotti: It Was about Time, III

by alexeyburov

The last, 3rd part of Leo’s report on the book of Jimena Canales on the Einstein–Bergson debate is linked here.  Many thanks, Leo, for sharing with us your favorite facts, ideas, comments about the book and about all that.

Our next meeting will be at Friday, Feb 1st, same place and time (12:00, WH4NW), and it will be devoted to an open discussion on the book, its heroes and the nature of time. Those who will send me at least a slide will have a privilege to speak first.

Everybody is welcome.

Leo Michelotti: It Was about Time

by alexeyburov

November 9 and December 7, Leo Michelotti presented his 1st and 2nd parts of what he called a book report of Jimena Canales’ The Physicist & the Philosopher. The book is devoted to discussion on the problem of time; in the center are figures of A. Einstein and H. Bergson. Both times our room was as full as it rarely happened. Below, the abstracts and links to the slides are given for both parts. The part 3 is scheduled on Friday, January 4th, same time and place.

Part 1.

In the first of these sessions, Alexey Burov lamented the modern rupture between physics and philosophy, with special reference to the differences in overlap and attitude before and after World War II. It can be argued that the process of separation began in the 19th century, perhaps starting in 1833, when the word “scientist” was first used to distinguish a specific subset of philosophers from the rest. But it was in the decades preceding World War II that the split entered its “exponential growth” phase, gaining strength from international arguments between physicists and philosophers on the nature of time. The book “The Physicist and The Philosopher,” by Jimena Canales, recounts that era: the people involved, the ideas they defended or attacked, and how they were influenced by the time in which they lived. It identifies April 6, 1922 as the date on which this great debate was catalyzed. On that day Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson met in Paris to discuss time. In the author’s words, “The meeting had been planned as a cordial and scholarly event. It was anything but that.”

Slides to part 1


Part 2

“The Physicist and The Philosopher,” by Jimena Canales (2015), tells the story of scientists and philosophers engaged in international debates on the nature of time during the interbellum years between two World Wars. In my first talk, I quickly overviewed the book’s style and content, summarized the competing positions of Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, and emphasized the roles played in sparking the controversy by Paul Langevin’s introduction of the twin paradox in 1911 and Einstein’s “incendiary” statement, made in the public debate of 1922, that “there is no philosopher’s time,” that time is nothing but what is measured by clocks. In this second talk, we shall examine some of the more prominent disputants highlighted in the book and their legacies. If the clock permits, we also shall touch upon the effect of quantum theory on these debates; if not, that discussion will be part of a third and final session.

Slides to part 2

Many thanks for all those who participated in these meetings and see you all at the 3rd part in the new year, Jan 4th.

Everybody is welcome.

C. Klemaier on “Courage to Be” by P. Tillich

by alexeyburov

Carl Klemaier gave a book review on the “Courage to Be” in our first meeting after the summer break, Sep. 28. Many thanks, Carl!

Our next meeting, Oct. 12, same place and time, will be devoted to an open discussion of this material. Everybody is welcome.

Carl’s quotations from this book and some other sources are here.