Reading Targets – Summer’17

A lot of good books have been published recently, which demand attention and some commentary. Here are some which I mulled over and simply couldn’t ignore anymore:

  1. Terry Eagleton’s Materialism
  2. Derek Parfit’s On what matters: Vol III
  3. Roger Penrose’ Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe
  4. Archie Brown’s The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
  5. Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
  6. Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds
  7. Lawrence Krauss’s The Greatest Story Ever Told .. So Far
  8. Hugo Mercier’s & Dan Sperber’s The Enigma of Reason
  9. Todd E. Feinberg and Jon M. Mallatt’s The Ancient Origins of Consciousness
  10. Eric Kandel’s Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures
  11. Priyamvada Natarajan’s Mapping the Heavens
  12. Sara Lewis’ Silent Sparks : The Wondrous World of Fireflies
  13. Peter Thiel  & Blake Masters’ Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
  14. Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies




Summer’16 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/

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!