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Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Tuesday December 3, 2002

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 1:45 PM

Symmetry, Invariance, and Objectivity

The book Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World, by Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick, was reviewed in the New York Review of Books issue dated June 27, 2002.

On page 76 of this book, published by Harvard University Press in 2001, Nozick writes:

"An objective fact is invariant under various transformations. It is this invariance that constitutes something as an objective truth…."

Compare this with Hermann Weyl's definition in his classic Symmetry (Princeton University Press, 1952, page 132):

"Objectivity means invariance with respect to the group of automorphisms."

It has finally been pointed out in the Review, by a professor at Göttingen, that Nozick's book should have included Weyl's definition.

I pointed this out on June 10, 2002.

For a survey of material on this topic, see this Google search on "nozick invariances weyl" (without the quotes).

Nozick's omitting Weyl's definition amounts to blatant plagiarism of an idea.

Of course, including Weyl's definition would have required Nozick to discuss seriously the concept of groups of automorphisms. Such a discussion would not have been compatible with the current level of philosophical discussion at Harvard, which apparently seldom rises above the level of cocktail-party chatter.

A similarly low level of discourse is found in the essay "Geometrical Creatures," by Jim Holt, also in the issue of the New York Review of Books dated December 19, 2002. Holt at least writes well, and includes (if only in parentheses) a remark that is highly relevant to the Nozick-vs.-Weyl discussion of invariance elsewhere in the Review:

"All the geometries ever imagined turn out to be variations on a single theme: how certain properties of a space remain unchanged when its points get rearranged."  (p. 69)

This is perhaps suitable for intelligent but ignorant adolescents; even they, however, should be given some historical background. Holt is talking here about the Erlangen program of Felix Christian Klein, and should say so. For a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion, see this web page on Klein's Erlangen Program, apparently by Jean-Pierre Marquis, Département de Philosophie, Université de Montréal. For more by Marquis, see my later entry for today, "From the Erlangen Program to Category Theory."

1 Comment

  1. For a cocktail-party discussion of turbulence, click here.

    “Art is the bartender, never drunk.” — Peter Viereck

    Comment by m759 — Wednesday, December 4, 2002 @ 7:33 PM

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