A couple of weeks ago, super-blogger Tyler Cowen asked
whether there has been any progress in philosophy, given that we’re still trying to answer the same questions Plato had. (Cowen’s answers, in the same post
, are typically interesting and eccentric, listing everything from behavioural economics to the state of Singapore as examples of philosophical progress Cowen specialises in the provocative and opaque, you might say… Straussian
, he would say)
Some philosophers have offered their own answers
, but the most interesting comes from Arjun Narayan, who has written a brilliant essay
on the links between philosophy, computational complexity and real world impact. It’s not an easy read - you could lose a day just following the Wikipedia links - but it’s fascinating and worth persisting with.
In short, Narayan argues that the future of humanity will be determined to a very great extent by an apparently philosophical question: what kind of computational universe do we live in? As Narayan shows, this question is equivalent to asking, “is cryptography possible?” - which given that it underpins almost everything that happens on the internet - is rather a big deal: