Summer full of books!

I read some books ! It might be better to write something about each of them. I wish I could write a long  form of a book review but time dictates otherwise.

A Mathematician’s Apology is one those rare books which makes you very uncomfortable and at the same time add so much more to your understanding, that you feel unfettered gratitude towards the author for offering that unique experience. It reads like a poetry. You will find an unlikely friend in an aging mathematician who in his own words had past his peak of mathematical powers.

Second Creation is for those who love history of science or just plain history. In this painstakingly detailed and accurate yet lucid account of modern physics (unification of three fundamental forces into a workable and mathematically consistent framework;  without gravity, of course), development of Standard Model of Particle Physics is the center of attention. I immensely enjoyed this book. It has a well carved out ‘afterword’  and ‘notes’ section and one would not go unrewarded for the effort to stroll through it.

For all those ardent DFW fans out there, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace is such a valuable addition to his readers and frankly, to everyone who loves behind the curtain stories and escapades of a creative writer. I am still in awe of his New York Times piece about US Open Tennis finals ! His ‘ Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ and  ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ are one of my favorites. DFW’s interview on Fresh Air about his book ‘Infinite Jest’ is quite telling about the very person he was. I really wish he was alive today! I wonder how he would have responded to the chaos ‘This‘ 2016 Election cycle is.

Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos made me absolutely furious. It is such a bad critique of Neo-Darwinian point of view that non-naturalists will be thrilled of this conclusion of Nagel’s. Way too disappointing, and  I am not even a mad dog naturalist to hold it against my own point of view!

Jerry Coyne’s Faith vs Fact is a good read. It is a very well researched and to the point polemic which covers many topics including an important yet ignored in popular discourse i.e. Critique of accomodationism in ‘Science vs Religion’ for non-academics.

Sean Carroll’s ‘The Big Picture’ is an extremely accessible and well-written book. It is presented in a manner which immerses you in an ordinary language philosophy of non boring kind without you noticing it, and at the same time it also satisfies your hunger for scientifically informed dialogue with an ignited mind of a leading scientist doing the research at the forefront of Physics. It is a book which stays with you long after you are done reading it. I follow Carroll’s writing on his blog, So I was waiting for this book to come out for a while now. I enjoyed every page of it. Caution for fellow ‘Naturalists’ who share similar point of view – refer Carroll’s account of ‘Naturalism’ in comparison with Paul Horwich’s Naturalism as opposed to Alexander Rosenberg’s ‘Mad Dog’ flavor of Naturalism. Non- naturalists also have plenty to enjoy in this delicious treat of a book.

A word on the “progress” made by “great” branches of learning – Philosophy and Science! Let’s revisit what Peter van Inwagen (Freedom to break the laws, 2004) is trying to allude to here.

Disagreement in philosophy is pervasive and irresoluble. There is almost no thesis in philosophy about which philosophers agree. If there is any philosophical thesis that all or most philosophers affirm, it is a negative thesis: that formalism is not the right philosophy of mathematics, for example, or that knowledge is not (simply) justified, true belief. That is not how things are in the physical sciences. I concede that the “cutting edge” of elementary-particle physics looks a lot like philosophy in point of pervasive and fundamental disagreement among its respected practitioners. But there is in physics a large body of settled, usable, uncontroversial theory and of measurements known to be accurate within limits that have been specified. The cutting edge of philosophy, however, is pretty much the whole of it.

David Chalmers’ argument about ‘glass half full view’ is less than convincing. I am pretty much with Peter van Inwagen when it comes to ‘glass half empty’ view of progress in Philosophy. I am currently reading his ‘The Problem of Evil: The Gifford Lectures’. Let’s see if next few months of reading some philosophical texts change my point of view or fortify it more.

I enjoyed Chalmers’ the Character of Consciousness. His writing on Philosophy of Mind is much more appealing for non-Philosophy majors like me than his contemporaries. I was not much drawn to Philosophy of Mind before, but Chalmers’ appearance on Sam Harris’ podcast changed that.

I found out that ending every post with an adage or a wise quote often makes that post worth much more. I also find it hard to disagree with myself.

As Camus would put it – ‘In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.’

Happy Reading     \o/

Albert Camus’s ‘Human Crisis’ read by Viggo Mortensen

Video

Camus was as badass of a writer as any in the history of the humankind ! Enjoy …

 

 

 

 

 

Nature of Knowledge

Just finished reading  Word and Object by the eminent Philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine. It was published in 1960 and MIT press’s 2013 edition has a foreword by Patricia Churchland. Churchland’s foreword has a very interesting tone to it. Naturalizing epistemology was an obvious  (possibly even older problem in philosophy than I know of) aim for decades now but what it meant for Quine to criticize ‘conceptual analysis’ and go forward with writing this book and face the outburst of criticism was very admirable. Experimental psychology favors Quine’s understanding of Meaning. “Meanings do change”, writes Churchland, “..and that was precisely Quine’s point”.

Quine’s holistic view on scientific method and how language can be understood in terms of naturalistic world view is worth exploring. This book was his best contribution to date and a landmark event in the history of epistemology, according to many. His student, Daniel Dennett’s account of his own journey into Philosophy of Mind and what ‘Word and Object’ meant for him as a philosopher is very enlightening.

Next in the list to read are Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Goldstein and Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein!

On immunity by Eula Biss, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli are great reads. Daniel Dennett’s The Intentional Stance demands a separate post to justify its relevance in ‘Free Will’ and ‘Folk Psychology’ debate. So, meditations on that topic soon to follow.

Also, can’t wait for Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs’ “The Penultimate Curiosity“. Soon to be published in April, I suppose.

Happy Reading!

 

Inner Everettian !

Hugh-Everett

Once we have granted that any physical theory is essentially only a model for the world of experience, we must renounce all hope of finding anything like “the correct theory.” —Hugh Everett III,  (1973)

Naturalism at hand

Elegance goes directly to the question of how the laws of nature are constructed. Nobody knows the answer to that. Nobody! It’s a perfectly legitimate hypothesis, in my view, to say that some extremely elegant creator made those laws. But I think if you go down that road, you must have the courage to ask the next question, which is: Where did that creator come from? And where did his, her, or its elegance come from? And if you say it was always there, then why not say that the laws of nature were always there and save a step?

—Carl Sagan, Conversations with Carl Sagan

How do we know who WE are !

Experimental Philosopher Joshua Knobe talking about the idea of ‘True’ self …. Weekend divergence with a pinch of ‘Philosophical’ salt.

Seems like Experimental Philosophy is a very new branch of Philosophy, nonetheless, it is fascinating to know how can we find the connection between the abstract ideas of Philosophy of human mind and cognitive behavior of humans from Psychology perspective.

Edge

2013 HeadCon seminar was arranged by Edge and the state of the art in Social Sciences was the topic of discussion. 

List of speakers is pretty fascinating :  Sendhil Mullainathan: “What Big Data Means For Social Science”; June Gruber: “The Scientific Study of Positive Emotion”; Fiery Cushman: “The Paradox of Automatic Planning”; Rob Kurzban: “P-Hacking and the Replication Crisis”; Nicholas Christakis: “The Science of Social Connections”; Joshua Greene: “The Role of Brain Imaging In Social Science”; Laurie Santos: “What Makes Humans Unique”; Joshua Knobe: “Experimental Philosophy and the Notion of the Self”; David Pizarro: “The Failure of Social and Moral Intuitions”; Daniel C. Dennett: “The De-Darwinizing of Cultural Change. Also participating: Jennifer JacquetDaniel KahnemanAnne Treisman.

Don’t forget to get a double espresso shot before engaging yourself with any one of the videos ! I found Knobe talk worth mentioning among all. Well, all are very well put to say the least.

“A life in letters”

The most beautiful thing about English is that it has a way to bring you all those wonderful works of wonderfully beautiful minds crossing the boundaries of culture, country and prejudice !  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s  ‘A Life in Letters’ is such an example of brutally honest yet profoundly meaningful collection of writing. I wish I could have read it in high school. Yet, here I am.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s endearing letter to his daughter touches you instantly. There are few things about the world that you want to tell everyone as soon as you understand them. This is no different …..

 

Fitzgerald

(Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters ; Image: Fitzgerald with both his daughter, “Scottie,” and wife, Zelda, via.)

 

August 8, 1933

Dear Pie:

I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?

I will arrange the camp bill.

Halfwit, I will conclude.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about. . .

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

Daddy

P.S. My come-back to your calling me Pappy is christening you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudimentary state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your contemporaries. “Egg Fitzgerald.” How would you like that to go through life with — “Eggie Fitzgerald” or “Bad Egg Fitzgerald” or any form that might occur to fertile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why borrow trouble?

Love anyhow.

 

Let the (word) War begin …

It has been nicknamed – “A Highly Anticipated Debate” !

Dr. William Lane Craig Vs  Dr. Sean Carroll !

greer

Source : Greer Heard Forum

“Next month I’ll be doing something related, although under quite different circumstances. On February 21 I’ll be debating William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum, an event sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It will actually be a two-day event; a debate between Craig and me on Friday night, and follow-ups on Saturday from other speakers — Tim Maudlin and Alex Rosenberg for Team Naturalism, Robin Collins and James Sinclair for Team Theism. I believe the whole thing will be streamed live online, and it will certainly be recorded for posterity.” —said, Dr.Carroll, about this debate.

It will be fun for sure ..  If you are lucky enough to be in New Orleans register here.

Specious notion …. Radical Idea !

This image has been making rounds around which got my attention, quoting Buckminster Fuller involving his radical idea about the twentieth century social norms ! I do understand that free thinking and loving what you do is very important but isn’t it worth noting that if enough people in the society can find their zeal in respective fields without getting bog down or distracted by the social anxiety of unemployment, huge strides will be made in diverse fields of civilization throughout ! Though I am not sure it will be a very efficient society representing the collective wisdom of humankind. There are enough kinds of drudgery out there which are disliked or maybe hated by many, yet very essential for betterment of society. The very idea is still worth pondering ….

bucky

On ‘origin of the most important mathematical symbol in the history of mathematics …’

inpursuitoftheunknown

An equation derives its power from a simple source. It tells us that two calculations, which appear different, have the same answer. The key symbol is the equals sign, =. The origins of most mathematical symbols are either lost in the mists of antiquity, or are so recent that there is no doubt where they came from. The equals sign is unusual because it dates back more than 450 years, yet we not only know who invented it, we even know why. The inventor was Robert Recorde, in 1557, in The Whetstone of Witte. He used two parallel lines (he used an obsolete word gemowe, meaning ‘twin’) to avoid tedious repetition of the words ‘is equal to’. He chose that symbol because ‘no two things can be more equal’. Recorde chose well. His symbol has remained in use for 450 years.

— Ian Stuart,  In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World

Refer : Brain Pickings Article on this !

David Deutsch on Gregory House

David Deutsch, FRS, on the epistemology of House,M.D. ! and Why it was so fascinating ?? !!  Joy to watch ….   ( Seek at 20:20 )

Golden lads and girls all must …… as chimney-sweepers, come to dust

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,                                                                                        Nor the furious winter’s rages;                                                                                           Thou thy worldly task hast done,                                                                                       Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:                                                                              Golden lads and girls all must,                                                                                               As chimney-sweepers, come to dust

—-  William Shakespeare (The Tragedy of Cymbeline )

Just like what these words suggest, the more we know about the nature, we tend to thing that all of this is ‘Pointless’. Knowing more about the nature has not given us a motive or a purpose to live our lives happily, but actually it has given us a reason to introspect more closely why it is immaterial to think in that way.

The illusion of an organized lie (often known as a belief or mass hysteria) is so infectious among us that it is almost impossible to run away from it –  Religion. Yet, everyone has experienced ‘indifferent nature of the Nature’. Sometimes it gets on our nerves when someone try to touch upon our beliefs by questioning them, like one may be invading our privacy without our consent. It is so personal, its pristine for everyone. Whatever may be the reason, the different belief systems are there in different parts of the world, with twenty odd prominent ones. None of them make sense if you test them rationally. Yet, everyone try to defend their own by enlisting the positive influences of it. Its like a weird obsession but with an acceptable social conduct.

Not so long ago, Shakespeare was just an another poet for me who lived a long time ago and probably it will not matter whether I should be knowing about him or not. Instead, there was a sense of urgency to know more about what this journey of understanding the universe is. There is no better way to pursue it other than opting for the tools of science. Things start to fall in places, stupid things start to get ignored. Then, comes a sense of righteousness. But also, it comes with an awe of observing something more than what one has experienced. Calling it a creation is going further than you can understand and making it a simple and cyclic conundrum (For example, if there is an architect, then is he thinking about his own existence ? and so on) calling it an accident is ignoring the coherent events involving this journey perhaps belittling that fact for a purpose or to avoid the other conclusion. There is no satisfying answer to that, yet. This particular feeling is a tragic stroke in the canvass of life. Shakespeare’s sonnets are a get away drug to satisfy that curiosity and sometimes knowing different shades of a ‘tragedy’ in real life.

When I visited Austin, TX in 2010, there was a banner at the entrance of convention center at the capitol,  saying ‘Curiosity is the authentic Happiness’. It seems that ‘Curiosity’ is the half the truth. Satisfaction which comes from knowing something profound is the other half of it. Its not weird that the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ exist rather than just ‘happiness’. But, How long will this journey last ? Certainly, not in my lifetime ! Perhaps not for many generations to come, or Perhaps, never ? Saying ‘never’ has a very unsatisfying/ unsettling experience to have. But, nonetheless a good possibility to consider. This is something similar to what Spinoza’s “Deus sive Natura” or in other words, ‘indifferent Nature’ says.

Everyone has their personal journey to complete and everyone want it to make it special or worth remembering. But, the mere indifference of the Nature does not seem to bother us. This humongous ego with which we carry ourselves during the journey often betrays the reality in many ways. Still, the journey is worth enjoying. I have tried and failed to maintain the curiosity driven attitude towards this journey. Yet, ‘something’ makes me want to pursue it often than not. And I want to know what that ‘something’ is !

  “Corona Australis” Courtesy : APOD

Quote of the Day – Steven Weinberg

Quote

The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.  —-   Steven Weinberg

Quote of the Day – Immanuel Kant

” When Galileo caused balls, the weights of which he had previously determined, to roll down an inclined plane; when Torricelli made air carry a weight which he had calculated beforehand to be equal to that of a definite volume of water; or in more recent times, when Stahl changed metal
into oxides, and oxides back into metal, by withdrawing something and then restoring it, a light broke upon all students of nature. They learned that reason has insight only into that which reason produces after a plan of its own; that reason must not allow itself to be constrained, as it were, by nature’s reins, but must itself show the way… thereby constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason’s own determining. Accidental observations, made in obedience to no previously thought-out plan, can never be made to yield a necessary law, which reason alone is concerned to discover… Reason must not approach nature in the character of a pupil who listens to everything the teacher has to say, but as an appointed judge who compels the witness to answer questions that he himself has formulated. ”

—  Writings of German Philosopher Immanuel Kant

Quote of the Day – George Santayana

“All of our sorrow is real, but the atoms of which we are made are indifferent.” — George Santayana (1863-1952)


Source : An interview with Dr. Leon N Cooper