Monday, June 28, 2010

Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett (again)

I recently finished re-reading this excellent work and I just finished re-reading my review of it from four years ago. I do not have too much to add to the previous review except that it was interesting to observe Dennett’s wise tactics regarding how he approached the issue of religion and the arguments he provided to indicate that it should be studied. During the second reading of Breaking the Spell I had the interesting experience of thinking that a lot of the content wasn’t novel (obviously) but that I was surprised by how much I had forgotten.
The chapter “Belief in Belief” was probably the most useful to me. It was the most interesting and insightful because it dealt with how/why people might believe what they do and Dennett made a distinction between believing and understanding. It does seem that there has been a division of labour in that some people believe very strongly in something that cannot even decently describe..
Breaking the Spell is a welcome difference from the more divisive Harris, Hitchens or Dawkins. If you haven’t had a chance to read it… well, what have you been doing? I suggested you do so 4 years ago! ;)

CBC 1967 Massey Lectures by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1967 Martin Luther King gave five 30 minute lectures about issues of race, politics, social justice and Vietnam. As a wonderful bonus, there were two panel debates following the lectures; the first had several people debate his final lecture and the second was just two people debating the validity of Vietnam and King’s stance on it.
These lectures were interesting to listen to for their content in general, to better understand King’s perspective, to increase my knowledge of history and the context of the 60s and the war in Vietnam.
I found them thought-provoking and inspiring. I do find King speaks a bit slowly (although I realize many find his cadence soothing and almost hypnotizing). Additionally, I understand why he says “we are all children of God” but even understanding that he should not be using as a logical justification for social action (e.g., We should help the poor because we are all children of God). I think he’d be sympathetic to my criticism as in the lectures he actually states he dislikes people who hide behind faith instead of acting better. Same goes for our rhetoric.

Great listen if you can find them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

An excellent analysis of the viability of many possible technologies as well as cosmological events, such as invisibility, force fields, phasers, time travel and alien contact. All too often someone decries something to be impossible when perhaps they just mean it is improbable. Tsk tsk! There are numerous amusing stories of some famous thinker stating that some technology or event is impossible only to be proved wrong within years or decades.
Kaku investigates myriad phenomena and classifies one of three was: Class I Impossibility (impossible now, but possible in the next 10-100 years), Class II (impossible now, but possible in the a thousand to a million years) and Class III (impossible now and forever unless (what we know about) the laws of physics is fundamentally changed). Those with some exposure to these ideas or who have read previously on cosmology will find much of the content to be a review, but it is nicely segmented and would make a good book for the interested lay person.
Additionally, one is often reminded of things one has previously learned. For example, I had known that increases in size have differential increases in strength and mass, but I hadn’t connected it to the fact that if an ape were 10 time bigger, it would actually end up weaker because its mass increases by a cube while its size increases by a square. More simply, King Kong would break his leg; so would a large ant.

Friday, June 11, 2010

TimeQuake by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Vonnegut fans will enjoy this pseudo-novel that is composed of fragments of a novel Vonnegut wrote but later decided wasn’t sufficiently worthy to be a novel. Yet, he wanted to salvage some of the ideas. The result is Timequake: the best parts of the initial novel presented with introductions and various other thoughts and musings on life.
The plot, which matters even less in this work than in other novels, is about everyone being shifted back in time 10 years and having to relive those 10 years without being able to do anything about it.
As usual, there are some wonderful stories and thought experiments that make you laugh and provide perspective. Enjoy it! Ting-a-ling!