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/

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.

An advice to students …..

I always tell students to consider the set of problems they think are personally interesting, look around to find the set of problems the rest of the world thinks are interesting, and work at the intersection. It’s one of the biggest challenges in being a successful scientist — find the right problem to work on.
Dr. Sean Carroll

 

Naturalism : a debate worth having ….

“Over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism: the view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings.”, describes Dr.Carroll while introducing an interdisciplinary workshop on Philosophy of Naturalism (It indeed touches many aspects of being an atheist).

Moving Naturalism Forward‘  workshop will take place  at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts from 25th till 29th in October this year. You just have to visit the participants’ page to get your calender marked way in advance for this debate.

 

Dr.Hilary Bok, Dr.Richard Dawkins, Dr.Steven Weinberg and Dr. Lisa Randall – Just  to name a few among them. This is going to be a fiery debate on these (mentioned below) very topics described by Dr.Carroll in an introductory excerpt as ‘meaningful constructs around human life’.

Some specific questions included are —-

  • Free will. If people are collections of atoms obeying the laws of physics, is it sensible to say that they make choices?
  • Morality. What is the origin of right and wrong? Are there objective standards?
  • Meaning. Why live? Is there a rational justification for finding meaning in human existence?
  • Purpose. Do teleological concepts play a useful role in our description of natural phenomena?
  • Epistemology. Is science unique as a method for discovering true knowledge?
  • Emergence. Does reductionism provide the best path to understanding complex systems, or do different levels of description have autonomous existence?
  • Consciousness. How do the phenomena of consciousness arise from the collective behavior of inanimate matter?
  • Evolution. Can the ideas of natural selection be usefully extended to areas outside of biology, or can evolution be subsumed within a more general theory of complex systems?
  • Determinism. To what extent is the future determined given quantum uncertainty and chaos theory, and does it matter?

These are not just head scratchers folks, these are the quintessential factors which are grappling our own understanding of the universe in many ways. Did they start making you think again ? Well, I am just thinking how to plan my trip to Stockbridge, MA on October 25th. If you cant make it there, we have a good place to ponder on their thoughts and see these stalwarts battling it out with each other. Looks like a worth every penny isn’t it ?