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review 2019-02-17 13:23
Brief Answers to the Big Questions- Stephen Hawking

This is a great read, despite some minor repetitions. We have to bear in mind that this is really only a series of essays, some of which cover a little of the same ground. My view is that if Hawking had lived a little longer then this would have been a better compiled set of ‘letters on the big questions’, but that doesn’t much detract from the quality of the work, and certainly not from its messages. These essays run a lot wider than science, into Hawking’s hopes and fears for humankind. Some of the essays run into sensitive issues, which raise a good deal of honest debate. Well, there are just too many of us on our wonderful planet, which we are rapidly destroying, and this alone must justify our questioning of everything, even the very existence of God.

There are a few contradictions in the science, which isn’t surprising when writing about an incredibly quickly advancing field of science, cosmology, and especially when the material was compiled from words written over some spread of time. Inevitably the gravitas, the gravity of Hawking’s thoughts are also less than perfectly modulated. I was only too pleased to read every single word despite my minor criticisms.

I must add though that for me the finest words in this book were actually penned by his daughter, Lucy, in the Afterword. I quote from the many pearls among them. “I think he would have been very proud of this book.” This collection tells us a little about Hawking as a political animal, being in part autobiographical, and given yet greater insight into the man by the biography content of the other contributors. We have had a ‘Brief History of Time’, which is now augmented by this brief and personal feeling encounter with the brave genius in the electrically powered chair. Alas, the book is all too brief, and doomed now to a steady state of content, unlike our dynamic and cosmically unstable universe.


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review 2016-06-18 06:28
becuase sometimes surrendering feels so good
Blur: Embracing Distraction in a Focused World - Paul Lightfoot

Very sage advice from an author who seems to get me. Somehow, I feel vindicated by my chaotic Evernote notebook stack and my chronically low RescueTime scores. I will never again be embarrassed by my drunken tweets because they are the stuff of life. I will embrace the fact that my baristas know I eat a chocolate brownie for breakfast everyday, because dammit, I'm a champion!

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review 2016-04-15 00:00
Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues
Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues - Martin Curd,J.A. Cover I would say this book would be one of my top 5 books (or lectures) I have ever read (or listened to). I would strongly recommend it to every one. It's taught me a new way to consider the world. Every single writer of science fiction or science books should be aware of the concepts in this book before they write their book. They don't have to necessarily come out in favor of one position but they have to aware of the issues that exist within the philosophy of science.

Before each of the nine chapters there is a short summary of what the chapter will be about, followed by a series of 5 or 6 essays within each chapter, followed by a detailed summary at the end of the chapter on what each of the essay writers were trying to say. Sometimes, within the essay the editors would put clarification footnotes to help the reader, and each chapter is connected at a meta level.

The editors have arranged each chapter as if they are part of a ongoing dialog between various experts on a particular subtopic of philosophy of science. Each chapter follows a pattern similar to this: the first essay will state the thesis, the next essay will amplify the thesis, the next one will give the antithesis, and the last will give some kind of synthesis often telling you why the moderate approach is the best or sometimes it will restate the thesis and show why it is the best way to approach the topic. As the reader is progressing through the chapter, the reader will think the points being made in the essay are overwhelmingly true and they become completely convinced of that view point, until the next essay comes along and they think that is the only way to think about the problem. Fortunately, the editors will then do a summary and give an overall best way to think about the problems.

Within the best parts of philosophy and when it is presented in its best way, philosophy never gives good answers, but, rather gives good questions. So often, we create "convenient fictions" (or as one of the essays said 'facons de Parler' (always use the French instead of the English so everyone knows your pretentious)). The important thing is to understand the question and understand that there can be multiple ways of considering the ontological nature of the way to understand the question under consideration.

After having read this book, I now know Grue is my favorite color, all living Pegasus are green, that blue pen in front of your desk is evidence for all crows being black, explaining something doesn't mean it is explained away, ad hoc theories make it difficult to separate science from pseudoscience, the double slit experiment violates the mutually exclusive rule of logic, and science is always underdetermined (the facts we have can always be explained by multiple theories).

I liked all the chapters. Of all the essays there was only one that frustrated me. That was in the Bayesian chapter and one of the authors used a piece of mathematical notation I was not familiar with and within the text they didn't define the term. Though, that chapter on Bayesian math was well worth reading because it gave a splendid overview of how to think about the problem. BTW, why is Bayesian math so important in the philosophy of science? Because it's the only reasonable way to discount that your blue pen is evidence for all crows being black.

The used first edition of this book should be available for less than 12 dollars delivered to the home. The other thing I really liked about this book within the text there was a whole lot of science explained in the essays.

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review 2015-10-20 06:19
what happens when you put lots of drunk male fruit flies together?
Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior - Jonathan Weiner

Gay fruit fly sex, of course.  Enjoyable, well written, thought provoking with many details that I will probably forget.

This history of behavioral genetics is primarily presented as professional biography Seymour Benzer, a scientist who rejected the more lucrative field of solid state electronics to study the behavior of fruit flies. Benzer comes off as a part quirky professor, part inventive genius, and truly driven by the love (?, is that right) of his chosen field. The title comes from reducing behavioral genetics into three essential components - time, love and memory.


Time - we learn how the notion of clocks are built into our DNA
Love - more like mating patterns, but ok.
Memory - not just memory, but the ability to learn and change behavior because of it

Behavior is complex and understanding it is difficult. There is quite a bit written about the experimental approaches used and how behavior was broken down. Aside from the science, you learn some charming quirks that brings back memories of reading The Double Helix in high school (man those guys played a lot of tennis!). There are many featured players, including Watson and Crick of DNA structure fame.

Most important, it dances around the question of nature versus nurture. No conclusions are given, and as this was written 15 years ago, if any were they would probably be OBE by now.

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review 2015-08-20 07:22
under the banner of disturbing revelations
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer

When a man kills a woman and her toddler in cold blood and claims god told him to do it, your first reaction is he must be crazy. Because only a crazy person would do that, right? Actually, he's quite rational under the construct of his belief system. The biggest and most disturbing takeaway from this book is that those who murder innocent people, exploit women and molest children in the name of god are not mentally ill, but rather responding to their circumstance in a logical manner using their beliefs and doctrine to guide them.


Wait a minute, wasn't this a book about the LDS church and spin off fundamentalist sects? Yes! The book intersperses Mormon history with a true crime account of the events before, during and after the above mentioned murder. It's an interesting approach and helps illustrate the circumstances in which this could happen. While this is ostensibly about the LDS church, it delves into that fuzzy line that divides garden variety god-fearing people from religious fanatics.


Disclaimer - I am not a Mormon, not a church goer, not an advocate of any Christian faith. However, I have an interest in the sociology of religion and a particular interest in the LDS church. I find much about it paradoxical. I have observed that Mormons seem to want to pass as 'normal', just like me and you, only without the coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. This mainstreaming of the LDS population can probably be tied to the church officially denouncing the practice of polygamy in 1890 and Utah becoming a state. Ever since, the LDS church vigorously disavows the practice. Arguably the church's growth in the 20th century would not have happened without distancing itself from the practice of polygamy. Unfortunately, the structure of the religion as it was founded - anyone can receive a revelation from god - makes it rife for spin-off LDS sects embrace the original doctrine. Hence, you have several flavors of fundamentalist LDS groups living in remote insular communities where the men exploit, subjugate and sexually abuse woman and girls and justify it as their god sanctioned family values.


The author mentions on several occasions that the LDS church is unique in that it is relatively new and people, places and events are well documented. It is, although the Gold Plates from which Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon are conveniently missing. BTW, he translated the BOM from these plates by looking a magic stone with his face in his hat. As it turns out, you don't need an airtight narrative to amass millions of followers.

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