Tolle Lege!.

Science, Philosophy and History. I need to know, I need to understand and I need to read books. Facebook only makes you stupid.

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng Very good book to listen to with a partner. Any one who grew up in a family or has a family (practically everyone) can relate to it on some level. My wife and I spent almost as much time talking about the story as we spent listening to it. The author was good at picking stray factoids from the time period (1960s and 70s) and putting them into the story.

The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s

The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s - Joseph Egan I knew I was going to love this book the moment the author started talking about John Barrymore. At the core of the book it's really just about a child custody case and how it plays out in a courtroom between two loving parents who want custody at any cost, but it's the tertiary stories that pop up in the telling that add so much depth to the court room events.

The only subject I consider myself a real expert at is old movies. I just love learning that Fritz Lang the German Expressionist director who had not yet made an American movie is sitting behind Mary Astor in court proceedings over multiple days in order to provide support and observe the American justice system. If you know Fritz Lang movies, you will instantly realize how appropriate that is. Fritz Lang had not made his first American movie, "Fury", but as with that movie and everyone of his other movies the theme will involve justice and how it can get confounded with vengeance or revenge, an appropriate theme for the principals within the court case going on. Mary Astor's husband, Franklin Thorpe, is friends with Clark Gable. That implies loads of things about Franklin such as he will love hunting and so on.

A couple of things, to me some of the best prose in the book is when the author was obviously quoting from Mary Astor's autobiography written in 1959 (oh how I wish Audible would make that book available, but I live in a fantasy world but I can always hope!) or when they were quoting from Mary Astor's diaries. That woman was an intellectual of the first rank and it shows. The book also gives the listener an interesting peek into human psychology by offering perceptive psychoanalytical perspectives when needed.

It's pretty much impossible for me not to like a book that brings to life all the characters who I still love today such as Groucho Marx, Sylvia Sydney (the star of "Fury"), Frederich March and his wife, John Barrymore and various other and at times bit players from the 1930s both on screen and off screen.

The Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self,

The Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self, - Leo Damrosch As I was listening to this lecture series I was telling my wife why I thought it was so important for us to understand the nature of our self. She responded "the Greeks gave us the concept of the self". This lecture starts off with the fact that when the Oracle at Delphi says "know thy self" what they really meant to ancient listeners would have been entirely different from our modern interpretation and would have meant something more like know your proper place in society and don't rise above your station and most of all play your role that society expects of you. Yes, a concept of the self but not necessarily how we see our self today.

The lecturer likes to put everything in its proper historical context before delving into a thinker or work of literature in detail. He starts with what I would call two anti-self thinkers, Pascal and John Bunyan (author of "Pilgrims Progress"). What do I mean by anti-self? Pascal with his Jansenism ultimately will conclude that one must hate oneself before one can love God, Bunyan will similarly conclude that wisdom starts with the fear of God. At this point in the lecture I ended up listening to "Pilgrims Progress' to see for myself the points he was making in the lecture. Pascal and Bunyan think in terms of a soul being attached to the body but not quite part of the body and thus something different from us. Psychology in its original meaning is "the study of the soul", more of a branch of theology than of science. It's going to take an Enlightenment to change that viewpoint.

The world dodged a bullet because the Enlightenment took us away from that brand of self to realizing that Philosophy (and natural philosophy, science) is not complete when it thought of itself as the search for wisdom instead of the search for knowledge and the understanding of the self beyond the soul.

The philosophers of the time period are covered in detail and some books considered as literature which I had never heard of are covered in detail by way of explaining how we are learning to see ourselves differently. Hume would say we should never look introspectively, but, rather we should let our social milieu be our guide. The Enlightenment is guided by logical positivist thought (the world is made up of things which the senses experience and they are the ontological foundation for the world and are the absolute ground for our being thus leading to universal, necessary and certain knowledge) and they want to try to apply the same kind of thinking to the psychology of individuals and of course that doesn't quite work. Diderot (and others) think we are always actors and are just playing a role as if we are in a play. (That statement finally lets me know what Sartre was getting at in "Being and Nothingness" when he said "Pierre is not a waiter he is only playing at being a waiter" or when Gore Vidal said "there is no such thing as homosexuals only homosexual acts". See even that kind of neanderthal thought stuck around way past the Enlightenment and still lingers around today). The reality of our unconscious mind only gets developed slowly over time.

To me, the lecture started getting exciting at Boswell and that leads to the real focal point of the whole lecture series, Rousseau. There's a line of demarcation between those two thinkers (Boswell mostly with his diaries only discovered and published in 1960, and Rousseau with his many published books) which lead to how we think about our modern self differently from previous thinkers. Before them, we would think in terms of 'character' and 'sincerity'. Character is what others give to us. In Aristotle's Ethics he'll define character as the values we have coming about through the right action of our habits and the emulation of experts and that's how we build 'character'. As for 'sincerity' one can always say that 'sincerity is the easiest thing in the world to fake'.

The turning point was going from 'character' to 'personality' and from 'sincerity' to 'authenticity'. There is a realization that sometimes our desires aren't really our own. That we might know what we want but we don't always control wanting what we want (there's an unconscious mind in play, the id in Freudian speak). Our true selves are often in conflict due to external and internal demands put upon us. (It was near this point, I ended up listening to Hume's "Dialogues on Natural Religion" because the lecture had been previously discussing it in great detail and was starting to make sense to me).

Rousseau understands (and without the sexual baggage and denial of repression nonsense that Freud brings to the table) and starts the formulation of the modern self, with its focus on the modern personality and the authenticity of the self. There is a direct line from Rousseau to Nietzsche and then Freud. (At this point, I ended up listening to Freud's "Civilizations and Its Discontents"). I don't think the lecturer mentioned Heidegger or Kierkegaard, but their focus on our authentic self obviously partly comes from some of Rousseau's thoughts too. The lecturer also devoted a lecture or two on the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and he mentions that Franklin saw "Plutarch's Lives" as a model in order to shape his own life thru his behavior, but Rousseau saw it as a noble period of a bygone era that had no relation to his time period and we must not shape our self but shape the world instead. Both ways of looking at the self and its formation are valid.

He ends the lecture with William Blake. A romantic who is not within the Enlightenment period as such, but is interesting in his own right and acts as a summary character for what was learned within the lecture. I'm not a poet but I did love hearing the lecturer explain Blake's works of art and poems, and loved the lines "prisons are built with stones of law, bordellos with bricks of religion" and how he related that to the whole lecture series. Wonderful stuff.

Most of this lecture series is talking about works of fictional literature. I seldom read fiction, because I have such a hard time understanding it, but this lecture told me why it was important and I could understand while he was explaining their relevance. This lecture flows like a book since it has not only a consistency within each lecture but a coherence of a narrative to tie them all together. That doesn't always happen with a Great Course Lecture, but when it does it makes for one of the best listens available.

Civilization and Its Discontents (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud)

Civilization and Its Discontents (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud) - Sigmund Freud, James Strachey, Peter Gay At one time it was wrongly believed that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny (i.e. the embryonic stages mirrors the development stages of the species). Similarly Freud thinks the phases that an individual goes through mirror the same phases that civilizations have gone through. Freud uses that theme to explain his psychoanalysis in describing individuals and the societies in which they live as mirror images of each other.

Yes, Freud does believe some weird things and he restates them in this book such as the early infant's whole world is the mother's breast and thus we end up fetishizing the breast when we grow up, our time in the womb means we always are looking to return to an abode of some kind, something about the anal fixation and how it never leaves us and unrepressed sex desires lead to our anxieties and other such things that sound weird to our modern ears. But those distractions don't necessarily mean that this book is not highly engaging and worth reading. I'll challenge you to read any recent biography because you''ll almost always see the author slip into Freudian speak (e.g. I'm currently listening to "The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor", and the author says that her father was strict and controlling and that made Mary Astor not trusting of men and unwilling to share her feelings with others particularly men, a very Freudian interruption). It's not a bad way of seeing the world. It's how we understand our selves or others. Now days, we just don't add on the word neurosis or repression, but it's how we cope with the nature within ourselves and others.

I like this book for the same reason I liked Nietzsche's "The Genealogy of Morals". I don't agree with what they are saying, but they provide a narrative that is compelling. Matter of fact, you can tell that Freud is really influenced by Nietzsche within this book. Freud will say something such as the "conscience of the individual gets repudiated by the instinct leading to an anxiety that gives a person guilt" and that leads them to the wanting of taking away of the power of the father. (I don't have the quote exactly, but I think its fairly close to what he was getting at). Nietzsche's "will to power" at it's most basic cries out for how the community takes away our primal instincts, takes us away from "mans instinct to freedom". What Freud does within this book is argues Nietzsche's viewpoint with the emphasis slightly different. Freud states that our conscience gets perturb from within the family and by extension within the community leading away from our authentic (not a Freud word, but I feel comfortable using it here) selves.

As I was listening to this I had to pause to see what year he wrote this book. I noticed it came before Heidegger's "Being in Time". Heidegger had a long section on 'conscience', and seemed to conclude that the conscience is the cause of itself. Freud does a similar thing (if you take his complete statement on the topic within the book and you relate it to the father of the individual as he does or as he does latter on in the book to the sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross, he makes it a complete circle thus giving itself as its own ground (I think)). "Will" is defined as it's own cause by St. Thomas Aquinas thus giving our conscience its primal place in his theology and leading to free will such that God can judge us for our moral acts in a necessary universe but which was contingently created by God exercising His will. Freud is giving us our conscience as a thing in itself and thus we can be blamed for who we are or became (even if we are schizophrenic, autistic, or predisposed to alcoholism by genetics, or whatever).

The conscience leads to guilt because of our repressed neurosis (he'll say). Nietzsche will say the guilt is not real, Heidegger says it is because of the debt we owe to the future because of the one absolute truth we always know (our own impending death), and Freud says we have the guilt always but we repress it thus leading to our neurosis. (I love using that word 'neurosis'. It's totally void of meaning and I think the DSM V doesn't use it at all as a category for that reason). All three are trying to return to us our authenticity which has been taken away from us by civilization (and the family).

Freud in this book also lays out a defense for the importance of character, community, and science and aesthetics in the development of the individual and the functioning of civilization as a whole. He dismisses religion. The neurosis (there's that word again) that exist in the individual also exist within the civilization as a whole (he'll say). By character he is getting at blaming the victim. It's the values that the individual (and species) are not learning properly from their community and will later on allow for 'refrigerator mom's' to be blamed when their child is schizophrenic or have autism. He'll even say that civilization as a whole is currently (1920) suffering from neurosis.

Freud lays all of this stuff out in this book. Do I agree with any of it? Not at all. But, there is a narrative that Freud uses that is fun to follow. I liked this short book so much, I'll probably buy "The General Introduction to Psychoanalysis" by Freud that audible offers which I would guess will cover most of this stuff in deeper detail.

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds - Daniel C. Dennett There is intelligent design. It's just not what the creationist think it is. Nature gives us competencies without comprehension. Comprehension means full understanding. Dennett gives the example of how the computer can do arithmetic without understanding as explained by Turing. His holy trinity within this book are Turing, Hume and Darwin. Each thinker provides an inversion to our 'manifest' knowledge by allowing an opening to the window to scientific knowledge. He'll explain in detail how each thinker allowed us to see the world differently but in an 'inverted way'. They all gave us an 'ontology' (his word) of the world for which we live in. Ontologies can be thought of as the furniture that makes up the world, the pieces of the things that we use to explain the world under consideration, the structure, the foundation, the ground, or the first principles.

Dennett is never afraid to talk down to his reader. Pernicious teleology is how we think naturally as humans. We always impute a reason for the way things are. We accidentally assume a 'why' for the way things are, because that's how we think because we always assume meaning. "Teleology is never free" as he says in the book. We use science to redirect us back to the 'how' things are. There is no over all meaning for the way things became the way they are (at least I don't know the reason). Dennett is really big on emphasizing that 'free will' is an illusion in as much as that cause will always precede effect within the human realm (yes, there is an exception at the quantum level, but we don't control that, and it is not at our mercy), and if there was a great Judge in the sky or any where else, he would not be able to judge us knowing that we are the way we are because we were made that way and time and chance determined who we are. And as Dennett goes on to explain in this book, we still must be held accountable for our actions on earth, but, again, a great Judge in the sky can't hold us responsible for our actions because we don't happen in a vacuum we are a result of the world we are thrown into. Dennett doesn't say it but St. Augustine created the concept of free will as to be the analogous power that God had when he freely created the universe and that similarly resides in us in order that God can judge us. Yes, I know Aristotle uses the word 'free will' but he meant something different and closer to Dennett's compatibilitist definition.

There's a template to the story that he's telling within this book that could be found in another book that I've read, "Master Algorithm". My mind kept referring back to that book as I was listening to this book and in the last chapter or so he tells you about that book in detail. I really loved that book but only rated it three stars because of two reasons 1) I didn't like its conclusions and 2) it was concise but overly complex in its presentation. I don't mind complexity in my books but I would not really recommend it to others because it could be very hard to follow. But, all the themes that were in that book are in this book. He called them tribes in the book "Master Algorithm".

One of the tribes was Bayesian statistics. Our expectations based on prior experiences shape how we accept the present. That's what Bayesian statistics do for us. There is a really formal definition but it would involve probability functions, but at the heart that is what it is. Dennett relies on the heuristic to explain this. So I will too. The "Master Algorithm" shows how we are currently taking 'the inverse of the program and using machine learning' to solve complex problems through the aid of the computer. Dennett talks about Google and its language translation program which has done that brilliantly. It's a bottom up approach instead of a top down approach. Our mind and evolution both seem to work from the bottom up also. Cool stuff. But, Dennett only saved this stuff for the last chapter.

Dennett definitely has a mind set that I tended to disagree with in this book. His very long section on the meme and culture over looked the reality of epigenetics and just briefly noted it and that was only to tacitly ignore it. Epigenetics are real. Just read Science News or check up on the Belgium babies born at the very end of WW II (June 1944 to May 1945) under the needlessly cruel Nazi occupation and see the analysis which is explained by epigenetics. Dennett takes TOM (theory of mind) and mirror neurons more seriously than I think should be warranted. He's trying to explain that our consciousness comes about through by the shaping of our environment by our behaviors. It's one way of looking at the problem, but maybe not the best. Popper (logical positivist) and Skinner (behaviorism) are probably not the right way to frame the extremes (imo) as he seems to do within the text. There just seems to be a another story that could be told.

I really love Dennett. I've read four of his other books, and three of them are in my favorites list. I was little bit disappointed in this book because most of it was review for me, and I don't really agree with his behaviorism point of view in the development of consciousness, and I didn't really agree with his development of language as he presented it. Also, one can argue there is no proper ontology to the world (see Wittgenstein for details, e.g.), and embracing Hume (who is my favorite philosopher) leads to 'facon de parler' (Dennets phrase, means 'convenient fiction'), which doesn't bother me, but needs to be reckoned with in the context of the philosophy of science. I don't mind reading some one who I disagree with but I do mind not learning much more than what I've read in other books on the same topic.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) - Dennis E. Taylor This book appealed to both my wife and myself. We made time to listen to it beyond our normal listening routine because we found it entertaining, humorous, and actually informative. It does delve deeply into the nature of identity of self and even hints at how a supreme being could be created from us instead of for us. Overall, a very satisfying read. Both my wife and me do not feel the need to listen to the next book in the series, and we felt any thing more would be just Bob showing his ego beyond the point we would be interested in and the next book would just drift into typical science fiction territory.

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity - Wm. Paul Young, Brad Cummings, Wayne Jacobsen "If anything matters, then every thing matters". The author said that line twice within the book. The first time he said it, I did not know what he meant. In the last page or so he repeated that line and by that time I understood what he was getting at. The book is not a mystery or murder or kidnapping story, it's the author's device for telling how he understands Christianity. I didn't see much original thought within the book. The author through his characters dream believed that God had knowingly put the apple tree in such a place that He had known before hand that Adam would eat from the tree of knowledge leading to the necessity of God to send his Son as a sacrifice in order to have us be forgiven for 'original sin' and also that God loves us dearly and is always with us and His Son will guide us always.

I could go on and explain more of the author's beliefs, but they all just seemed to be not that original (as I was listening to this story I was also listening to Hume's Dialogue's on Natural Religion, and Hume (thru Philo) was really refuting a lot of the points this author was trying to make, and that book was written before 1800). Also, I was reading "Pilgrims Progress" while listening to this book and there is some overlap with the story telling except Pilgrim's Progress would say 'to fear the lord is where wisdom begins' and this book ("The Shack") would emphasize God's love instead, and that forgiveness is one of our highest virtues. Though in-spite of their differences there were similarities in the narrative approaches and some of the conclusions and in the end both books seem to conclude that us humans need to outsource our ethical foundations to the divine instead of ourselves.

The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan Bunyan leaves nothing to the imagination. All the characters that "Christian" meet on his journey to the Celestial Kingdom are named so you know who they are (Mr. Atheist, Piety, Faith,...., and towns are named Destruction, Vanity Faire and so on). It is an easy book to read and follow.

"Man is the measure of all things" is a formulation for humanism. Bunyan strives to take people out of the equation. We must outsource our authentic selves (he says). Truth lies outside ourselves and we can never know who we really are and what we should believe unless we have faith from a set of core principles which came from a book, revelation and tradition (he says).

I love the Enlightenment and this is a perfect book for why I love it so much. We would have never had gotten away from Bunyan's world view of "character" and "sincerity" which are formed from outside of ourselves and into "personality" and "authenticity" which comes from within us by not rejecting Bunyan and his comic book characterization of the world. Funny thing is I still see this kind of thought popping up in mega best sellers such as the "Shack", a really vile book which I was unfortunately reading as I was reading this book. Yuck. I've got to stop reading these Christian books. They will start to make me brain dead. (Though, I am currently reading 800 pages of the selected writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and absolutely love it. Good logical arguments never go wasted on me! and this book ain't that).

Once again, it's really easy for me to make the obvious modern political reference from this book. Republicans would absolutely love Bunyan. Character and sincerity in their world view is always the responsibility of the individual. Bi-polar people or the 47% lazy moochers (those who pay no income tax, just ask Paul Ryan or Rush Limbaugh for clarification) are each to blame for their situation. Time and chance play no role. In their world, who we are is always blamed on the person themselves and nothing else. God can judge because he gave 'free will' according to them and since God is not really judging they will judge for Him in His stead. Trump (and his white supremacist aides) are the most judgemental people in the country. Patriotism is code for blaming others.

Bunyan's encounter with Mr. Atheist illustrates a problem with his presentation. For the life of me, I have no idea why he thinks Christian won the encounter. Faith doesn't keep Mr. Lion away. Actions, time and chance do. I would like this book much more if I hadn't read part two which he wrote after this book had been a mega best seller in its time period. His dogmatism just comes thru too much. I just can't start something without completing it, but would strongly recommend only reading the first half of the book for those who don't have my completion obsession.

The Birth of Tragedy

The Birth of Tragedy - Friedrich Nietzsche, Michael Tanner, Shaun Whiteside Nietzsche is really speaking about the death of tragedy not its birth. He really doesn't like humanism in any of its variations. He says that it's our experiences which give us our understanding (a very Husserlian Phenomenological thing to say). The instinct, emotion, passion, the mysticism within us, and our intuitions are what really empower us (he says) not our reason. Music and dance lets the real person who lies within come to full actualization. Knowledge of the real world is not truth and it is the disclosure (as in the Homeric myths) that gives us our understanding (according to him).

The metaphor he uses to describe the development of tragedy throughout history could just as easily be applied to within a person in themselves and almost for sure could be used by Freudian psychology and its various off shots to explain the conscious verse unconscious selves within us and for both Freud and Nietzsche reaching into the unconscious will give us our true selves. In the end, he thinks the individual is master of his own domain and the primal instinct within us has been extinguished since the time of the Socratics, and we are all the worst for it.

The Republican's who embrace a neanderthal like Donald Trump would do well to read Nietzsche. They would understand how to frame their arguments better than they usually do. There is a part in this book where he'll speak about the special character of the Germans. Patriotism always means the group you belong to is special because you are in that group. By definition, you have to make some other group less special. Republicans under Donald Trump definitely are trying to do that. But, there is more than just the patriotism that would appeal to Republicans in this book. He also wants to feel his way to the right answer so that facts can be replaced with 'alternative facts' (whatever those are?) as long as you can feel the answer then it is better than knowing through reason.

Reason is definitely not a virtue for Nietzsche or any Republican who is a climate change denier Also, Republicans mock Freud, but seem to love to blame the victim too. Everything in their world view is the fault of the individual. (They loved thinking, refrigerator moms caused autism. They love blaming the mother when they can. Little realizing sometimes people are born that way and there is no one to blame except the universe. They believe that you are the master of your own fate. The captain of your own ship. Time and chance play no role in their world view).

This book is slightly different then the other ones of his that I've read recently. He doesn't show contempt for the reader, he wants to be taken seriously, and he doesn't hate women overtly (yes, he does mention 'feminine traits' as being bad, after all, 'virtus' originally meant 'manly excellence', so that which is worthy of being imitated was according to the man not from the woman, but overall that kind of thinking is within the time frame he was writing in. I'd be even able to site modern people who say stupid things like that such as a previous governor (Schwarzenegger) of California who said "don't be a sissy man" and that was within the bounds of most Republicans and they even like that kind of talk, but that's not what I think nor believe).

Nietzsche's fluency with Greek Gods and Titans was overwhelmingly elegant. He also seemed to be even more pessimistic than Schopenhauer within this book. I liked it when he quotes someone as to the one thing we should all know is "that we would have been better not to be born".

If you do read this one, I would suggest reading "Genealogy of Morals" first even though it was written latter. Nietzsche hasn't yet flushed out many of his thoughts within this book (Birth of Tragedy) and "Genealogy of Morals" will fill in those obvious gaps making this book easy to understand.

Giant's Star

Giant's Star - James P. Hogan This author really likes educating his reader about science and the moving parts that go into making up possible theories about the world from justified true beliefs and lays the ground work for explaining how science really works while telling a passable sci-fi story.

One also gets a peek into the angst that defined the 1970s and how at times we thought there would never be a future. The Russians are still the Russians in the future he describes and are a super power to be reckoned with. Oh yeah, he did something that Time Magazine used to always do in the 50s, he used the expression while describing someone as "Mediterranean looking" and "swarthy looking". With Time they would always say that when describing an Italian because they just didn't seem to like Italians (for whatever reason, I have no idea why). In this case for this author, I'll just say that we are always victims of the world we are thrown into and sometimes we are that world, but fortunately, we move ahead.

This book does propose one of my all time favorite theories regarding religion. According to a possible interpretation, all previous religious beliefs with their accompanying superstitions were enabled by aliens so that humanity would progress at a snails pace and not be a threat to the aliens when they return in the future. That explanation just cracked me up.

I once was talking with a neighbors and one had mentioned that Mars might have a fossil of a fish on it's surface. The other neighbor had mentioned that would be impossible, but I wanted to illustrate that science is always underdetermined by the facts, that there is always more theories possible than the known facts and one always bump up to the Quine Duhem thesis and not know it. This book with its alternate theories could fully explain the phenomenon of a fish on Mars.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion - David Hume, Martin Bell I don't like most of the New Atheists (Dennett is the exception). They take their arguments beyond the point they should. They seem to open up a needlessly indefensible special hatred towards Muslims hence allowing for a non-tolerant person to occupy the White House and appointing a white supremacist to the NSC. This book shows in nuanced ways how to argue against dogmatist while not also becoming a dogmatist in the process. Nothing really changes under the sun, and Hume's book is still as relevant today as it would have been if it were published in his life time (which, of course, it was not).

I've got a really special affection for this book and Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems". Hume was obviously influenced by that book and one can tell by the way he gives it special mention within this book. He mentions that within Galileo's book much of the first part of the book is meant to refute the Peripatetic notion of sublunar substance verse the heavenly perfect essence ('quintessence'). Much of this book is also to defend against the pernicious teleology and the special pleading for an immaterial nature of an undefined substance that magically interacts atemporally (often referred to as God) that permeated his time and still lingers today.

A simple book. A brilliant dialogue. I really wish they would make a movie of this book. I can say with certainty that all the apologia that gets presented in the God exists debates I watch online would get shot down by Philo (the skeptical philosopher in the dialogue). The modern debaters use different formulations but the kernel of their arguments always rely on some variation of a Thomas Aquinas/Aristotle final cause with a prime mover argument and something only known to them "objective morality" whatever that may be.

Philo is always reasonable. He'll use reason as his guide. The typical arguments used by apologist fall into at least one of the following categories: 1) ontological, 2) cosmological, 3) objective morality only comes from God, 4) meaning of life must be outsourced to a God to avoid nihilism 5) I feel it in my bones and know it is true 6) or we are in the best of all possible worlds therefore some evil is possible. Hume refutes them all within this short text.

1) is the question of being. It's a variation of Anslem's proof of God. I've been reading St. Aquinas lately and he quickly dismissed those kind of arguments. Hume (through Philo) will say that for any dichotomous statement to be true that the negation thereof must lead to a contradiction. If 'being' is a necessity it follows that 'not being' must lead to a contradiction. It will not. Therefore, the necessity of being (or God) is not provable ontologically. Aquinas rejects them differently but just as effectively.

Hume points our how the dogmatist must often resort to infinity to make their point. That is God must be all knowing, all wise, or another omni. Since likes must come from likes (their language) our mind must come from an infinite mind or similar logic which leap into eternal or infinite spheres which add nothing to the defense except confusion and obfuscation (as pointed out by Hume).

Hume yields on design (a variation of the cosmological argument, and today we might even call it fine tuning). He knew evolution is a fact and calls it such within the text but doesn't have the explanation of natural selection in order to fully grasp its full meaning and implications. According to Hume (through Philo), the world is too complex, humans, animals, the eye, and nature work too well to not have been designed by something. He'll grant a designer or multiple designers but nothing more.

I've never have been enthusiastic about the 'theodicy' argument. Hume thinks it refutes a Christian God and that's why I cited Liebnitz's "best of all possible worlds" above. Because, it can be a response to evil. I liked Liebnitz's "Monadology" and would recommend it. Hume is fair and gives Liebnitz a mention for it. Hume does take the presence of evil and superstition further then I would in his arguments against religion.

Hume is a good presenter for all sides. For me, I favor the position of "hard atheist". It just means that I don't reject all notions of God, but only the ones for which I've heard about so far. There could be a rational and reasonable story to be told for which I am not aware of. Hume, at least within this book, gives credence to a creator God(s). He ultimately would not be swayed by 'a priori' arguments (before the fact, or from first principles, deductive, or without empirical data) and is opened to 'a posterior' arguments (after the fact, derived from data, inductive, or from particular to general). I'm always open for good arguments and Hume is an expert at tearing apart poor reasoning.

Intolerance of others leads to white supremacist in the White House and on the NSC. Hume shows how to defeat the dogmatist while not becoming one.

Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Ecclesiastical History of the English People - Bede, Leo Sherley-Price, D.H. Farmer, Ronald E. Latham If two brothers had married two sisters and one of the brothers and sisters have died can the survivors marry? I liked the book when it dwelt with all important questions such as that. I liked it when Bede would say that we go to church on Sunday because that is the day the lord arose and it has nothing to do with the Sabbath commandment. Also, entwined within the story there is an interesting history of the early development of Great Britain, who would have known that Pope Gregory would have been so puny? I didn't.

The best thing I can really say about having had read the whole book is it's one of those books that I knew I had to check off my list. I wish that I didn't have that kind of personality for which when I start a book I feel obligated to finish it.

All the miracles reported in this book sort of got tedious. I found a strange parallel between this book and the Book of Acts (by far, imo, the most important book in the bible and is the must read book of the bible). There is a multi-volume work on how Acts must be true since there are over 50000 other confirmation of all the events, places and people are confirmed by other sources. Bede has that same kind of phenomena going for it. There is as history inside the story but also fantastic events entwined. There was even a magical (i.e. divine intervention) of some body who gets out of chains while locked up in prison just as Peter did in Jerusalem with the aid of the Holy Spirit. There are also Tempests at sea which abate because God (or the Holy Spirit) answers the prayers and so on.

In Bede's defense, he never really says anything that's not strictly true. He'll say stuff like "I've been told by the most reliable monk 'A' that he saw 'B' who performed a miracle while 'C' was gone and related it to me". There's not a lie in the book and he's reporting them as fact. Or he'll say that 'miraculous events are still being reported there today'. I just kept thinking how Bede is not a Liar, or Lunatic, or reporting truly about the Lord, but is reporting on legends (or what we call urban legends) which are at best third hand hearsay. It's up to an author to write about what they think is credible because all acts of creation means something will be left out and what is put in the author is giving some credence to (a very obscure example would be to re-read the NYT to the run up to the Iraq War of 2003 and pay particular attention to the articles of Judith Miller. Everything she says within the articles are true, but the 'sin of omission' still lingers and what she wasn't telling meant she was wrong. Yes, I'm mad about that war and the lies that led to it and one day I'll get over it, but even a book written over 1000 years ago can illustrate the same kind of problems that journalist who want to mislead!).

Another thing about this book. Bede had a weird fixation on when Easter should be. I bet you he mentioned that over 20 times within the book. You ever wonder why October is the 10th month and December is the 12th month even though 'oct' means eight and 'dec' means 10. March used to be the first month since Christ was annuciated on March 25 (exactly 9 months before Christmas). The first month of the year was said to be March. Having forgot that fact at first I wasn't always following his Easter arguments.

There is some history in this book, it also tells you how people thought uncritically during this time, and if fables dressed up as real is your thing this book could be fun. For me, I wish I hadn't started it or I wish I could have stopped it. I clearly would not recommend it to anyone to read because there is a tedium to it that is hard to ignore.

A Companion to Hegel

A Companion to Hegel - Stephen Houlgate, Michael Baur I love Hegel. I only discovered him last year when I had stumbled upon his Phenomenology quite by accident where on a whim I decided to listen to the three minute snippet for which Audible had provided. I was hooked.

This volume is incredibly listenable. I thank audible for providing it. Each of the thirty chapters are written by scholars for students.

I would never entertain undertaking 'a companion to' any other philosopher but Hegel. Often it seems as if he writes like James Joyce did with "Finnigans Wake", but the thing to realize is that no matter how complex the sentence seems because of the odd use of the words that compile them there is always a meaning that can be extracted. It just has to be found.

These authors of the independent essays step you through beautifully by what they think Hegel really was getting at. For me, the key is to realize that Hegel is talking about how thought leads to thinking and the concrete is what he's getting to only at the end of his philosophical musings. I felt like this volume was like taking a whole Junior year level worth of courses in philosophy because in the guise of talking about what Hegel thought about the topic all of the major topics within philosophy are discussed so that the listener understands every major area that would be included in a year of advanced philosophy courses.

There is a reason I really have enjoyed reading Hegel and about what people say about what he is saying. At the heart of what he's getting at is usually one of four things, a) the start of consciousness within the individual (the 'I/we' within us), b) the relation of the self to the other (the 'I/we' between us, c) the other in relation to the whole and d) the relation that being, becoming and nothing have to each other. In other words, Hegel explains in understandable but abstract language the here, the now, and the I and how the I is the we and the we is the I and the other is as important as the self from within ourselves, between ourselves, and within society throughout history.

The fourth item, 'd' is covered mostly by Hegel within his book, "Science of Logic". I had read it last year and thus previously to having had listen to this Companion. Sometimes, I had wished that I had read that book after having had listened to these essays. They did such a good job at elucidating what Hegel was really trying to say in his Logic that I would have gotten more out of the experience by reading the Logic after having listened to this book.

I found all the chapters edifying. I was always grateful when they ended because just one more item on the topic would have seem to have been one topic too many, but they all seemed to have ended before they caused an overload.

The real point I'm trying to make is that this series of essays really worked together. The authors never snuck in arcane philosophical words or terms, and if they did they would explain what they meant, and if I started not to understand something within an essay it would end up being re discussed latter in another essay clearing up any difficulty I might have had earlier.

This companion goes way beyond just Hegel and ties together many diverse topics within Philosophy thus making it one of the best text on Philosophy I've come across.

Humboldt's Gift

Humboldt's Gift - Saul  Bellow What a shallow author. He longs for a world that never was and is a wanna be for the ways things aren't. The story is decent enough but the author really wrote the book to muse philosophically on the nature of life and to offer philosophical insights on the nature of mortality and offer a refutation to the Myth of Sisyphus. This is where he fails miserably.

A good author should be able to dazzle you with his wit while baffling you with his bullshit. This author (or his characters) are incredibly lacking in the philosophical foundation they are pretending to have. They mention Hegel and his Phenomenology repeatedly but they have certainly never read it nor do they really understand Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Nietzsche, ... or any of the other thinkers gratuitously named dropped through out the story. BTW, Arnold Toynbee is completely forgotten today because his Christian Teleological process to history is stupid, and only pseudo-intellectuals from 1976 would have thought he was worth reading or having him on their shelf.

I couldn't help but think of two books while listening to this story. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, one of the worst books ever written. Both Bloom's and Bellow's books oozed a contempt for the way things are today (at least when they were written) and how things ought to be in their pretend fantasy world which includes a lot of references to great thinkers but never getting beyond things used to be better within their closed to progress minds. Then I had remembered Bellow had written the forward to the book. How appropriate. The other book, "Gravity's Rainbow", a somewhat contemporary book to this one. Pynchon, the author, was able to grasp the fine points of different schools of thought (I never read better explanations for the memory less probability distribution function , and Pynchon is not a mathematician but knew how to weave the threads of the story into a coherent whole like a Persian rug) and make them coherent and tie them together under one rubric something that Bellow just can't bring himself to do, because he really doesn't understand what's behind the thinking within the author's and books he continuously seems to name drop (except for Walt Whitman, he used him correctly).

I didn't hate the story. I hated the shallow approach to life's question the author gave. I hated the longing for the way things used to be but never were. I hated the conservative mind set the author embraced. I find it hard to believe that the author for this book was voted rewards of sorts. I can only guess that judges who think that the musing of college freshman who have only read summaries by other people about great writings dazzled them because they never took the time to read the great thinkers themselves.

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals - Immanuel Kant Never trust what modern writers say about classic works of Philosophy. Kant is not only relevant because of the influence he had on latter day thinkers, but, as with this work, he has something to say which makes mince meat out of most of the present day writers. If this book had been published for the first time last year, most readers would have thought it was the greatest book they had read in the decade (or even in their lifetimes).

There is a little bit of getting used to the special language that Kant uses, but it's really not hard to follow if you are familiar with Kant (I am not a philosopher but I want to learn my purpose and how best to be 'good'). He'll use 'synthetic' and 'analytic', the trick I use is since 'synthetic' starts with 's' think 'senses', and analytic is another word for math so think 'math', for 'a posteriori' and 'a priori' (I put them in this order because 'a posteriori' relates to the senses (synthetic) and is after the fact or after experience, 'a priori' relates to 'analytic' before the fact or from first principles or deductively as in a mathematical system. Two other Kantian words are 'subjective' (think 'self' sense it starts with 's' and 'objective' is an 'object' (or thing) outside of yourself.

Kant is really not hard to follow and this work in particular was clearly written such that any one can really follow it because he obviously wants as wide an audience as possible for what he is going to tell the reader. (Now, I will admit that "Critique of Pure Reason' was hard at first but once I looked up those words in the above paragraph I ended up loving what he had to say and how he said it. With Kant you always get a unique way of looking at something and it's not always as important what he concludes as how he gets there. He even says something like that at the end of CPR, but with this book how he gets there and what he says are both well worth the effort).

The reason he wants such a wide audience is because what he's going to tell the reader is an answer to one of the two great universal truths we all seek: 1) knowledge (justified true beliefs) about the world (Aristotle starts his Metaphysics with this fact), and 2) knowledge of the good (or divine) (Plato's formulation). This book is all about the second truth we all want, and to know about the 'good' one must first understand what the good is. This is what he does within this book.

Kant builds a 'ground' based on reason to get at what our unconditional duties are in which we need to grasp the unconditional practical reason (morality) as maxims (universal laws) or as he says 'categorical imperatives'. Or in other words, he uses the infinite to get at our finite understanding of how we should approach life. His methodology is always a pleasure to behold and will teach anyone (including me) how to think better, and his conclusions are one of the best guides on how to live a moral life that I've encountered. I like the Golden Rule (and parts of the Sermon on the Mount), I like J.S. Mill's utilitarian philosophy, and I just love Kant's Categorical Imperatives. A combination of all three is how I choose to live.

In the end, we earthlings, need to understand what it means to be good. All moral philosophy at its root combines empathy with reciprocity of some kind and call for us to be 'good' in some fashion, but 'what is the good (or divine)' is not obvious except usually in some circular fashion, and this book gives an extraordinarily good account for it. Don't worry about the technical language, because overall it is written to be understood, and is an incredibly good self help book that could easily replace almost all the rest of the current best sellers especially the vile self help books which I walk past in the bookstore.

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves - Walter Alvarez I just love Alvarez. He did more to change my world view than almost any other living person. He opened my eyes (and countless other peoples') by providing for an explanation that transcended my ability to initially accept. Before his explanation for his comet, creationist roamed the earth, now they are rarer but unfortunately not extinct (sure in America they are about 45% creationist but they hide that fact from rational thinking beings. It used to be they were in your face, but seldom anymore). The understanding of the earth and human's place on it was remade because of that comet 66 million years ago for which he offered proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The pieces of the puzzle were put in place and the narrative was provided principally by Alvarez (and a few of his colleagues), and he knows way more about Geology and minerals than I'm capable of ever understanding. BTW, I give him a great compliment by providing the world as he saw it has a solution like a puzzle. It's possible the world has no structure (see Wittgenstein's Tractacus, e.g.).

But my gratitude does not make a great book. To make a great book tell me things I don't already know. I read all books and Great Course lectures with "Big History" in the title. I can't get enough on the topic. I'm always more interested in the universal rather than the particular. There's a story to be told about the universe as a whole and how there is this incredibly contingent and chaotic component that gets created from a recursive (a function that calls itself) algorithm (logos as John the Apostle would say).

There's hints of a great narrative within this book, but it never gets flushed out. The pieces that are needed in order to bake an apple pie from scratch (from Gods perspective) or end up creating you or me can not be easily created. The comet that destroyed the dinosaurs, the creation of the moon, the Alps as a barrier, the placement of the Ohio river, the 3 billion year journey from single cell to multi-cell, the acquisition of the mitochondria at some unknown time by an eukaryotic cell, everything has to be just right and all, as everything (within our universe), has to be because something caused it to be that way and the sensitivities due to initial conditions (chaos) made the prediction impossible. Laplace and his mechanistic universe with an all seeing and all knowing machine (God) would never really be able to predict it since it can never predict its own effect caused by its observing. All of those items are within this book, but only loosely cohesively.

The author mostly has just threads that could be tied together. Sometimes he sneaks into 'pernicious teleological' thinking by assuming the existence of something had a purpose in it of itself ("the hand is made for grabbing because it does it so well", not his example, of course, but he does seem to give too much credence to fine tuning). The contingent universe and the contingent making of an apple pie (illusion of "apple pie" is borrowed from Sagan) may not never be. I think the author clearly leans towards a contingent universe. His example of the failure of the Spanish Armada leads me to think that.

I was reluctant to read this book because I expected there would be little new in the book for me, and I was right. For all authors, assume your readers are interested in learning about the topic so much that they have already read books that cover the same kind of topics. Give me things I don't already know, or give me a narrative that ties the pieces together in such way that I've never had thought about it before. The author is infinitely smarter and wiser than me, but wow me with a narrative.

Currently reading

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, and What It Means for Your Health, the Law, and Human Nature
Lisa Feldman Barrett
Finnegans Wake
James Joyce
Now: The Physics of Time
Richard A. Muller
Selected Writings
Ralph McInerny, Thomas Aquinas
The Great Courses, The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity
Kenneth W. Harl