The fine Colombian

Are any of you following the Colombian elections? It really looks like mathematician/philosopher Antanas Mock may end up as president. I may as well say up front that I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher, but he certainly sounds like a candidate we at Balloon-Juice could get behind:

As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as “Super Citizen.” But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.

I don’t follow Colombian politics at all, so I have no idea who I would vote for if I lived there. Given how poorly my foreign friends understand American politics, I’m loath to express opinions about other countries’ politics. But the idea of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies has a deep, deep appeal to me. Of course, the clown who tells the truth is something of a literary cliché, but it’s a cliché that I like.

85 replies
  1. 1
    mark boggs says:

    Colombian or Columbian?

  2. 2
    mark boggs says:

    you changed it

  3. 3
    DougJ says:

    @mark boggs:

    Yes, I did. I thought I’d use whatever the articles I was linking to were using and the first time through I thought they were using “Columbia”, even though I thought it was “Colombia”. But then I realized I was misreading it.

  4. 4
    Sheila says:

    Why would you be suspicious of anyone who describes himself as a mathematician and philosopher? It is a particularly salubrious union. Mathematics is an abstract way of patterning the cosmos and philosophy is humanistic musings about the nature of the cosmos and how we fit into it. What could be better than having them temper each other?

  5. 5
    DougJ says:


    You’ve perfectly described what I don’t like about the designation.

  6. 6
    NobodySpecial says:

    In Colombia, people with a reputation for honesty end up dead way too early.

  7. 7
    Bill H says:

    I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher.

    I’m not sure that I entirely agree with Shiela, either, but why do you insist that a human mind can think in only one dimension? Why would you want to insist that a human mind cannot apply itself in different ways to different problems or in different diciplines?

    You must have a very poor impression of human thought. Is modern man so greatly diminished from the likes of DaVinci, or Newton, et al?

  8. 8
    Allison W. says:

    But the idea of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies has a deep, deep appeal to me.

    Really? you sure about that? Sorry, but images of glenn beck came up as I read your post.

  9. 9
    New Yorker says:

    Mathematician and philosopher? Bah, an elitist from that cauldron of vice and sin known as Bogota! He’s not a Real Colombian, and I bet he doesn’t even know how to shoot and dress a llama in the field!

  10. 10
    Lee says:

    Tangentially, I read awhile back that Math majors are the happiest of all the majors in college.

  11. 11
    SeanH says:

    Lots of people are mathematicians and philosophers. At advanced levels of logic you basically have to be both. I did Gödel’s incompleteness theorem in my philosophy undergrad degree, and that wasn’t out of place or peculiar in any way.

  12. 12
    DougJ says:

    @Allison W.:

    There’s a difference between fighting lies and bullshit and perpetuating lies and bullshit.

  13. 13
    scav says:

    @Sheila: They are both, at base, about abstracted structure — and logic. I can easily see the same person being attracted to both. some born computer coding types are similar, only with this whole power thing: they like being in control of things (logic plus control).

  14. 14
    Violet says:

    @Allison W.:
    And not Jon Stewart?

    Glenn Beck isn’t really a very good example of “of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies” because he doesn’t fight bullshit and lies. He uses bullshit and lies to push his point of view.

    Glenn Beck and the truth have a very distant relationship. I’m not sure they’re even acquainted.

  15. 15
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Lee: That’s because since getting laid can’t be described mathematically, they aren’t even aware of the concept.

    @Allison W.: Glenn Beck doesn’t use jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies; he uses bullshit and lies to fight, well…I’m not really sure. Reality, I suppose.

  16. 16

    As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as “Super Citizen.” But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.

    I hope he wins. I hope he wears his Super Citizen costume when he meets President Obama. That would make my week.

  17. 17
    debit says:

    Great, now I have to go to itunes and buy Gaucho. And Aja. And Katy Lied. Okay, and Can’t Buy a Thrill. Thanks a hell of a lot.

    I would like to add that I had all of these on vinyl once upon a time.

  18. 18
    Walker says:

    At advanced levels of logic you basically have to be both. I did Gödel’s incompleteness theorem in my philosophy undergrad degree, and that wasn’t out of place or peculiar in any way.

    I was in both math and phil in undergrad and did mathematical logic in grad. Sure there are many connections, but the fields are a lot less close then they used to be. Phil departments stop at Goedel, and do not recognize Cohen’s groundbreaking work with the Continuum Hypothesis. As for math departments, the Axiom of Choice is no longer contoversial, and no other than Computer Scientists pay attention to Intuitionism anymore.

  19. 19
    scav says:

    @Violet: Glenn got the circus-grade emo down though. All that’s needed for leadership according to some, no?

  20. 20
    Violet says:

    Indeed. He can cry on cue. That’s all he needs to be President.

  21. 21
    LiberalTarian says:

    Interesting you would distrust philosophical mathematicians. Are you saying classic philosophers, i.e. Plato and Aristotle, don’t deserve respect as the association of math and philosophy indicates a shady character?

    Is this a fully informed opinion, written up and challenged by intellectuals? Or is this statement merely a drive-by pejoration, like throwing a dirty diaper out a car window in a national park because it stinks and there’s no trash can nearby?

  22. 22
    Xboxershorts says:


    Can’t you just digitize them and add them to your library? Every computer audio hardware today includes a line in port. Just hook the old turntable up to the line in. Does iTunes support formats other than DRM crippled formats?

    God I hate Apple.

  23. 23
    DougJ says:


    I don’t think much of Aristotle’s mathematical and scientific achievements, no. And I don’t think Plato did anything mathematical or scientific, not that I am aware of.

  24. 24
    Xboxershorts says:


    Glenn can count to 21 (I assume he has the digits available, of course) and wax poetically about the unfairness of public assistance.

    He qualifies as a (not so accomplished) mathematician and philosopher too!

  25. 25
    scav says:

    @DougJ: ok, so what about Pythagoras?

  26. 26
    Cerberus says:

    Yeah, math/philosophy hybrids can sometimes be a warning sign.

    I think it’s because the hybrid tends to breed too many damn libertarians and thus people assume that’s all the hybrid can produce and I think it is also because people can assume that the easy “everything has one answer and solution” world of math needs only philosophy (which can often be the science of debate and raw thinking rather than any actual study of humanity) to understand any and all real-world actions.

    Need to know any actual history, any sociological study of the groups involved, any personal narrative of the histories of various oppressions?

    Nope that makes issues complex and muddled and they need to be cleaned up to a simple conclusion that the person can delude themselves into believing is the one true answer by philosophical techniques used for evil.

    Now, this is not at all the mindset of all or even most of those who are interested in either subject or both at the same time. But the subset who really suck can set the bad impressions we all respond to instinctively and thus why it prompts hesitation before “that sounds awesome”.

  27. 27
    DougJ says:


    Great mathematician(s), not so sure about his (their) philosophy.

  28. 28
    debit says:

    @Xboxershorts: Sadly, I no longer have anything on vinyl or a turntable anymore. Part of it was split up of property during the divorce (I got 10 inch Sansui reel to reel, he got the Bang and Olufsen turntable).

    I actually love Apple and there is no DRM. My only complaint is the lossiness that I sometimes find; but then I suppose I could just go buy the cds if I’m going to be that picky.

  29. 29
    Shell Goddamnit says:

    If he was ineffective it would be one thing, but it sounds like he is NOT ineffective. He’ll be dead, deposed or neutralized within a year.

    Oh crap, looks like I let my inner evil cynic out again, sorry.

  30. 30
    Cerberus says:

    Again adding to my comment @26, this isn’t all those interested in both subjects or even most of them. I imagine most are interested in both the same way most people are interested in most dual subjects. That is, they are both interesting independently to different aspects of a person. They want to study philosophy because it’s interesting and makes them think in one way and they want to study math because it’s interesting and makes them think about these interesting topics.

    Same as being into Biology and writing or Art and physics or Sociology and Greek. People tend to be complex people and it is only bad luck that some disciplines seem to gather more assholes than others that end up making people wary at first glance.

    I pity Marxists with MBAs for that reason.

  31. 31
    Cerberus says:


    Don’t know about the philosophy, but was big on seeing women as people, opening his early university to both sexes and believing both sexes equally capable of learning math and various other subjects.

  32. 32
    jwb says:

    @DougJ: Surely, you have to grant Leibniz, even if this is not the best of all possible worlds.

  33. 33
    scav says:

    @DougJ: apparently good enough to have influenced Plato to some degree. And as for the hybrids, I think it depends more on the person doing the work. Philosophy can just as easily temper the so-called absoluteness of the lower types of arithmetic rulesets. Furthermore, once you get to higher maths, I think things get far far messier. Any good scientist / thinker should have an appreciation for where and when the system they are working in begins to break down. Sorta like the absoluteness of the garden variety big-box evangelical worldview and the humility and nuance of some theologians.

  34. 34
    DougJ says:


    I’ll give you Leibniz.

    But generally speaking, mathematician/philosophers are too much like actor/singers, liberal hawks, and blogger/activists for me.

  35. 35
    soonergrunt says:

    A Columbian politician with 0 tolerance for corruption? And he’s still alive? The guy must have balls the size of church bells.
    And one hell of a loyal and skilled personal security detail.
    And no family.
    And independent wealth.

    It can’t be easy being an honest politician in a country where the biggest industry is illegal, and that industry’s representatives will offer you a briefcase with more money than you could make in three years for your one-time cooperation, and kill your whole family if you decline.

  36. 36
    Cerberus says:


    Ugh, I really hate the worldview that the only possible thing one needs to understand humanity is philosophy. I mean, philosophy is interesting and everything and can prompt a lot of discussion, but most of it is the art of argument and the art of deconstructing bullshit.

    For really understanding people, especially on a “logical X leads to Y” sort of keel, you sort of need a big different set of humanities (sociology, the various X studies, psychology, history, and even a little of the arts).

    And I always bristle a little at anyone who sort of goes, well, philosophy is all I need of the humanities and then I’ll have all the temperance I need to be super smart about any possible topic I’ll explore in the future.

  37. 37
    Dr. Wu says:

    I’ll stick with the Cuervo Gold, thanks.

  38. 38
    scav says:

    @Cerberus: didn’t mean to say that whatsoever. philo’s got all sort of limits and failures and in no way is a substitute for studying the actual world. hell, I don’t like sociology because it’s too abstract when dealing with actual human societies. I just meant to point the influences between the disciplines could work in both directions.

    “For really understanding people, especially on a “logical X leads to Y” sort of keel”, has got some serious limits when people’s preferences can’t even be trusted to hold to the triangle inequality, by the by. But then, I manage to combine behavioral and quantitative geography and anthro (archaeo emphasis) so I bump hard against people’s not behaving according to abstract logic rather often.

  39. 39
    DougJ says:

    @Dr. Wu:

    Well, you’re just an ordinary guy.

  40. 40
    Cerberus says:


    I’ve always liked “people are like napalm to abstract models”.

    Personally I’ve preferred just being open to knowledge. Learning what’s interesting to us, specializing where we want, dabbling where we want and continue to just improve. If we’re wrong in X way, we can learn from that. If we’re weak on Y knowledge needed to understand something we can ask for help from some people who know the subject better.

    I suspect a number of people are similar in how they gain knowledge and my comment was mostly about closed people who want to reinforce it and this sort of weird general belief that of the humanities, only philosophy won’t emasculate you so it’s the only one that “matters” and the only one necessary to understand anything related to people or politics.

    I guess, in short, I’m saying I hate libertarians.

  41. 41
    scav says:


    “people are like napalm to abstract models”.

    I’ll need to remember that quote.

  42. 42
    ppcli says:

    Liebniz, Descartes, Pascal, Riemann, Dedekind, Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, Edmund Husserl, David Hilbert, Henri Poincaré, A.N. Whitehead, Kurt Gödel, Alfred Tarski, Saul Kripke, L.E.J. Brouwer (a.k.a. Mr Brouwer Fixed point theorem), Turing, Hans Hahn (a.k.a. half of the Hahn – Banach theorem), Bernhard Bolzano, …

  43. 43
    Triassic Sands says:

    …I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher…

    Wow. Just wow.

    If I avoid winger sites (and mainstream media) today, this will undoubtedly be the dumbest thing I will read all day. I know nothing of the person in question, but the idea that mathematician and philosopher are incompatible is profoundly ignorant. Shame on you, DougJ.

  44. 44
    DougJ says:

    @Triassic Sands:

    I’m not here to flatter your totebag sensibilities.

  45. 45
    El Cid says:

    I think what’s important is to end the near death-blow that Uribe, for all his pacifications of the cities, has dealt to Colombian democracy and the rural population by embracing a mafia approach to governance which basically involves the right wing death squad narco-paramilitaries in not only assassinations, land-clearings, and assuming much of the drugs trade, but the vast manipulation of rural area politics to support the Uribe coalition.

    For example, people continually cite the safer cities, free from most all leftist narco-guerrilla attacks, while Colombia has over 3 million internally displaced refugees from rural lands, 2nd only to the Sudan, and mostly from paramilitaries throwing peasants off land desired by large land-holders.

    All in a Reaganite plausible deniability style which, no matter how directly it comes out of Uribe’s appointments or his own offices, Uribe blames on ‘criminal elements’ corrupting his nice clean regime — now including saying this about The Washington Post since it (finally) ran a good investigation about Uribe’s brother having likely long run the death squad narco-paramilitaries off the Uribe family ranch — where they were largely launched in the 1990s by Uribe as governor of Antioquia (the state which includes Medellin) as a security program.

    For example, over the last 2 years, crusading Colombian journalists have uncovered a nation-wide electronic surveillance operation by the national intelligence agency, run out of Uribe’s offices and by his own former campaign chief, which spied on nearly every sector of society not in the Uribe coalition — international diplomats, human rights agencies, journalists, professors, prosecutors, even Supreme Court justices — and in several cases now under prosecution, passing this info on to the death squads to either threaten or in 3 known cases, assassinating two union organizers and a professor.

    You can’t run a crusading anti-guerrilla government by embracing a mafia/death squad strategy and expect to remain a real democracy, particularly not if you think anyone living outside major cities is worth the slightest damn.

    So, good luck to Mockus, and here’s hoping not only that he beats the Uribe inheritor Santos, but that the spies aren’t currently helping the death squads complete their assassination threats against Mockus.

  46. 46
    ppcli says:

    Hermann Grassmann, André Weil, J. Penrose, Hilary Putnam (Mostly a philosopher, but I would think his contribution to the solution of Hilbert’s 10th problem counts as “mathematics”, not to mention his early work on what we now call “fine structure theory”) Gian-Carlo Rota (OK, a bit crazy as a philosopher), Harvey Friedman, Alonzo Church, Kronecker,…

  47. 47
    Allison W. says:


    My point is that there are many people who follow Glenn because they think he is fighting bullshit and corruption. You yourself said that you do not have an understanding of Colombian politics and neither do I so that is why I am skeptical of this guy.

  48. 48
    Allison W. says:


    see my reply to DougJ. The people that follow Glenn think he is the defender of the truth. Jon Stewart is one example of how to do it right, but I offered up Glenn beck as an example that people need to slow their roll before electing someone who jokes and pulls stunts as a way to expose the truth. And if you think 30%+ can’t be wrong about something or someone: See the results of the 2008 elections and the percentage of people who still think that whacko Palin can be president.

    Just sayin’ we shouldn’t be so quick to claim this guy as all noble.

  49. 49
    Funkhauser says:

    It’s Mockus, not Mock. Mock not lest ye be mocked. Pointed out above, of course.

  50. 50
    SeanH says:

    Okay, it seems pretty clear that DougJ wasn’t advocating a serious objection to maths/philosophy intersectionality so much as articulating a prejudice, much like “FTFY”. So overly literal “OMFG are you saying NOBODY EVER can do sums and read the Meditations?!?!” objections are probably a waste of time (for all that I did exactly that up-thread.

  51. 51
    DougJ says:


    Thank you Sean, that is exactly right.

    I don’t why I let myself be drawn into arguing with the commenters about this, especially since I know many, many people who describe themselves as mathematicians/philosophers and they are all wankers.

  52. 52
    DougJ says:


    I’ll only grant you Putnam as an actual mathematician/philosopher. He’s the best contemporary example I can think of.

  53. 53
    ppcli says:

    And I can’t believe I forgot Frank Ramsey, who tossed off (what we now call) Ramsey’s Theorem in finite combinatorics in passing in an article on elementary logic.
    But I’d better stop there. I could fill up the internets with mathematician-philosophers, leaving no room for making fun of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Then what would we do with our spare time?

  54. 54
    ruemara says:

    I’m just concerned he’ll get killed by druglords/corporate interests. Other than that, he sounds awesome.

  55. 55
    Green says:

    “he certainly sounds like a candidate we at Balloon-Juice could get behind”

    He is the Green Party candidate for president. Lots of American liberals could get behind Green party candidates for office, if only they would cease supporting the Democratic wing of the corporate welfare, global warfare party.

  56. 56
    DougJ says:


    I don’t think he’s a philosopher either.

    I do like these examples, though. Thought-provoking.

  57. 57
    Egypt Steve says:

    Many moons ago, the year before my freshman year at University of Texas – Austin, student government was voted out of existence, which happened one year after some group of anarchists or something like that got a dog elected as student body president. I remember that they were kind of disillusioned after the experiment, and one of them remarked in the school paper that “trying to run a government as a comedian is like tap-dancing in mud.”

    Unfortunately, in my senior year, some bunch of politco-assholes voted to bring it back. But I lived for for blissful years in a true libertarian paradise.

  58. 58
    socratic_me says:

    That’s okay Dougj. My best friend is black, so I can speak as an authority on what black people are like as well. I feel you.

    Seems the most telling part of my degrees in mathematics and philosophy was the ability to provide concrete examples of fallacies.

  59. 59
    ppcli says:

    Well, he died at age 26, so he didn’t have a chance to write much.
    But “Facts and Propositions” is regarded as a classic in the philosophy of language, and “Universals” as a classic piece of metaphysics.

    He was also cited by Wittgenstein in the *Tractatus* as a profound influence, which would normally count against Ramsey in my opinion, except that apparently most of his contributions consisted of poking holes in Wittgenstein’s crazier ideas.

  60. 60
    Tonal Crow says:

    Apropos of the Palinization (Palinizing?) of our political discourse, this gem from NYT:

    “We are doing this to crush any boycott against the free market,” said Tina Loudon, a Tea Party member from St. Louis who helped organize [an anti-immigration] rally.

  61. 61
    Mike Schilling says:

    @ppcli: WVO Quine (at least, I’d call anyone who can invent two new axiomizations of set theory a mathematician)

  62. 62


    Don’t forget Pretzel Logic.

  63. 63
    Walker says:


    Whatis your criterion for a philosopher if you reject ppcli’s list? Do they have to go on about metaphysics? Is epistemology insufficient. Because it sounds like you are rejecting the formalism vs logicism vs constructivism movements as philosophy.

  64. 64
    DougJ says:


    I don’t consider logicians to be philosophers, mainly because none of the logicians I know would describe themselves as philosophers. So Godel is not a philosopher, etc. etc. I’m making a fine distinction, I realize, but I’m just going with how people describe themselves.

  65. 65
    DougJ says:


    Interesting. So you’re not a fan of the big W?

  66. 66
    scudbucket says:

    DougJ: I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher

    DougJ: I don’t consider logicians to be philosophers … I’m just going with how people describe themselves.

    Any ‘deep suspicions’ about the consistency of these two sentences?

  67. 67
    Mike Schilling says:

    @Sator Arepo: And Countdown to Ecstacy. The Royal Scam is optional.

  68. 68
    DougJ says:


    You guys today…….

    I have never heard a logician describe himself as a philosopher.

    I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher.

    How are these two inconsistent?

  69. 69
    mcmillan says:

    One of my friends is half-Colombian and has been following the election. I wouldn’t say I have much of a sense beyond what was in the linked articles, by my friend has been pretty impressed by this guy.

  70. 70
    Walker says:

    I don’t consider logicians to be philosophers, mainly because none of the logicians I know would describe themselves as philosophers.

    This is an artifact of modern academic segregation. Because they are different departments, with their individual means of assessing scholarship, the fields have drifted more and more apart. However, historically, many of the logicians in Goedel’s time did consider what they do to be philosophy. Hence ppcli’s list.

    But I agree, the logic done in philosophy departments now is, by and large, crap. Intuitionism and model logic is better done by computer scientists (because they are important to automated theorem solvers). And the fact that mathematical philosophers have largely ignored Cohen’s work, and the massive change this has had on our perception of set theory is a crime.

  71. 71
    Walker says:

    Err, “modal logic” not “model logic”. Damn spell-checker on the iPhone (which is not edit-button friendly).

  72. 72
    scudbucket says:

    @DougJ: How are these two inconsistent?

    In the one case you tacitly accept the appropriateness of self-description, in the other you don’t.

  73. 73
    Walker says:

    To follow up on my las post, my favorite philosophy Professor in undergrad used to say that “whenever philosophy produces something of practical value, that study ceases to be philosophy.”. This was partly a dig at the fact that philosophy is left with the unanswerables. But it was to also point out that many of the things that we think of as “not-philosophy” were once philosophy”.

  74. 74
    Ella in NM says:

    But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.

    That’ll last about two days in that government….

  75. 75
    Triassic Sands says:


    DougJ: Philosopher of sweeping generalizations based on…nothing.

    You got me, Doug. I was wrong. Your response to my criticism of what I thought would be the dumbest thing I’d read all day, was, in fact, dumber than the original. You’re on a roll.

  76. 76
    someone says:

    I certainly hope Mockus wins. I suspect most people in the US can barely imagine having a candidate like him. If you know nothing about him, here is what everyone in the US should know:

    Cities on Speed – Bogotá Change

  77. 77
    Brian says:

    With 32% of the vote in, Santos has 47% to Mockus’s 22%. Looks like there will be a run-off in June, but that Santos will eventually be the next president.

    IMHO, that’s good for Colombia. It is still a country where realism trumps idealism.

  78. 78
    JMC in the ATL says:

    A good source for info on the colombian election is Charles Lemos, who grew up on Colombia. He is a front-pager at And Al Giordano is pretty invaluable for Latin AMerica on general.

  79. 79
    Napoleon says:

    There was a story on him in the last week on NPR and he sounded really interesting and the type of person at least in theory would be exactly what I would like to see.

  80. 80
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher

    He can philosophise or clown as much as he likes, but as soon as he gets in the way of those US backed allies in the War on Drugs in Colombia, the drug dealing right wing paramilitary death squads, he is a dead man.

  81. 81
    mclaren says:

    A guy who runs around in spandex tights and calls himself a superman would fit right in here at the Balloon Juice commentariat.

    All he has to do is start screaming incoherent obscenities, and he’ll be ready to add his deep wisdom to this forum.

  82. 82
    Dimmic Rat says:

    Dougj, the man who fancies his powers of intuition greater than Aristotle. This site has become a fucking joke as of late.

  83. 83
    DougJ says:


    Yes, exactly.

  84. 84
    Nancy Irving says:

    In fact, the foundations of mathematics is an important topic in the major branch of philosophy known as epistemology, the study of how we can know things.

    Most people get into the philosophy of mathematics through the study of mathematics, so “mathematician and philosopher” is not at all an odd combination. And certainly not some kind of affectation, as you imply.

    (So there! :) )

  85. 85
    Steeplejack says:

    @Mike Schilling:

    The Royal Scam is optional.</blockquote
    Mandatory for "Don't Take Me Alive."

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