Saturday, March 24, 2012

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

(Finished, but only 90%)
An impressive attempt to convey a story in a unique manner by using three different styles: 1) Fictionalized account of events over time; 2) correspondence between a character and the author; and 3) the narrative according to the aforementioned character. The first starting in the 1700s and the other two basically in the present.
Parts were funny, and creative, and there were poignant, well-written phrases and thoughts. The problem is that I started not to care what actually happened. In fact, this was a strong enough urge that I only read about 90% of the book, having to skip parts near the end.
There was a line on page 186 from one character to another that I almost saw as a warning to me: "(Jonathan, if you still do not want to know the rest, do not read this. But if you do persevere, do not do so for curiosity. That is not a good enough reason.)"
High expectations didn't help things, either.
Disappointing fiction leaves a bad neuronal activation trace in the brain.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The End of Food


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Free Will by Sam Harris

This extended essay that gives a brief overview of the main aspects surrounding the 'free will' topic will likely only be useful to those who have not explored the topic. Harris covers the main ground (i.e., how could you act independent of prior causes?) but does not offer scientific nor philosophical depth. In this way, it was disappointing, but I take solace in the fact his work will contribute to a larger (increasingly necessary) discussion we should be having as a society.
Given that the piece can be read in under an hour, you see it as a refresh or as an introduction to other readings.
Then again, you could probably just read the parts of The Moral Landscape where Harris talked about free will (and if you don't have the book, someone has put the audio on youtube).

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch

 This is an interesting big book about big ideas. Deutsch offers an epistemological exploration of different realms of inquiry and understanding, eventually arguing for the notion that we create conjectures within ourselves (i.e., brains) and these are tested in the world. These explanations are how we progress as a society. It isn't so much that our explanations are testable, it is that good ones are hard to vary.
He discusses different types of infinities, the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory, group decision making and constraints to political representation, memes and genes, the importance of technology and many, many more ideas.
The book also provides a highly unnecessary dialogue modeled on Plato and a brief, but decent, dismissal of Diamond's environmentalist approach to understanding the world.
Deutsch reaffirmed my belief in the importance of science and technology as it is only recently that if an asteroid were going to hit Earth we might be able to deflect it (instead of just watching it hit us or hiding in caves/bunkers). It makes sense to develop our science and technology to address potential catastrophes like climate change or flu pandemics, and even more sense given that there may be problems we cannot anticipate.

While I don't agree with all his theses, I would recommend this book for those who want to think a bit deeper about how they come to know things and how good explanations impact the world.

ps: I did like his suggestion of renaming 'hypothesis' with 'misconception.' As in, "Einstein's misconception of gravity has fewer errors than Newton's misconception of gravity."

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

Not a great work. Moyo makes some decent points and isn't against all forms of aid, but her overall thesis wasn't sufficiently supported to have me convinced. After a couple instances where she presented misleading information or perspectives, it made it harder to trust other aspects of the work.
Collier's Bottom Billion would be a better usage of your time.