Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: philosophy

Homo Deus by Yoval Noah Harari

It took me a while, but it was definitely worth it !

An insightful, intelligent and witty book.  Yoval Noah Harari suggests that as science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing, human nature will be transformed because intelligence will be uncoupled from consciousness. The advances in sciences, more specific to neurosciences, nanotechnology and computer science, will change fundamentally the society, politics and our daily lives.


The brilliance of Hannah Arendt

Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience on Violence, Thoughts on Politics, and Revolution,  Hannah Arendt, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972

A student of Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt was one of the leading political philosophers of the 20th century. “On Violence”, first published in 1969, as a separate book, is one of the most  influential essays on the inverse relation between power and violence.

…. – the greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence.  In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressure of power can be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule of Nobody is not no-rule, and where all the equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.

The Missing Shade of Blue or the dangers and the delights of philosophy

It was the title that made me pick up this book off the shelf in the library. The Missing Shade of Blue refers to David Hume’s thesis, or rather objection to his thesis, that simple ideas are derived from corresponding simple impressions. But Hume also argues that under certain conditions it seems possible that an idea can emerge without being caused by an impession.  We can imagine a purple horse without having seen one. As he describes in the ‘missing shade of blue’ thought experiment

Suppose, therefore, a person to have enjoyed his sight for thirty years, and to have become perfectly acquainted with colours of all kinds except one particular shade of blue, for instance, which it never has been his fortune to meet with. Let all the different shades of that colour, except that single one, be placed before him, descending gradually from the deepest to the lightest; it is plain that he will perceive a blank, where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible that there is a greater distance in that place between the contiguous colours than in any other. Now I ask, whether it be possible for him, from his own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up to himself the idea of that particular shade, though it had never been conveyed to him by his senses? I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can: and this may serve as a proof that the simple ideas are not always, in every instance, derived from the correspondent impressions; though this instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth our observing, and does not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.*

Jennie Erdal’s book , “The Missing Shade of Blue. A philosophical mystery”   refers to our ability to make sense of something that we have not experienced. Happiness, perhaps!

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The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age by John Horgan

How can science be approaching a culmination when we haven’t invented spaceships that travel at warp speed yet?

John Horgan is pursuing some provocative questions.

  • Has science been entered an era of diminishing returns?
  • Is physics moving towards absolute truth?
  • Would be able physicists to prove a final theory in the same way that mathematicians prove theorems?

His thesis is that we are coming to an era where all the fundamental scientific theories have been discovered and science as we know today is coming altogether in an end. Horgan considers fundamental, theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, Einstein’s general relativity and quantum electrodynamics. That means theories that can apply, to the best of our knowledge, throughout the entire universe at all times since its birth.

In order to prove his thesis, Horgan has interviewed interesting scientists and philosophers from the entire scientific and social-philosophical landscape. Roger Penrose, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Popper, David Bohm, Edward Wilson, John Wheeler, Lynn Margulis, Andrei Linde, Daniel Dennet and many

Horgan is not the first or the last person to argue over the-end-of-science-era. At the end of the nineteen century, physicists also thought they knew everything. But only two decades later Einstein and other physicists discovered relativity theory and quantum mechanics. These theories transformed physics and opened up vast new vistas for modern physics and other branches of science.

The end-of-science argument and timing (millennium and link with Fucuyama’s End of History) have caused wide-range and “confusing” reactions and responses form science critics, scientists themselves, and even from Clinton’s Science Advisor who publicly repudiated Horgan’s argument. We can safely say that it is a discussion/debate that still goes on.

The value of the book is not in the message and if we are/ or not denouncing it. Horgan is a science journalist with an education in literature and his background makes the difference in the way he writes about science. With his prose style, he manages to fill gaps that other science writers fail to do, and make scientific writing an interesting adventure. He has the gift not only to make scientific theories understandable for the non-scientists readers but also to reveal beautifully his interviewee’s personalities. These interviews, the presentation of scientists as human beings, are the most interesting insight for me in the book.

Reading the book I had the feeling that Horgan tried to construct a psychological and ideological profile of each one person and it was fascinating to “discover” the eccentricities of the scientists who invented?/developed? some of the most interesting scientific and philosophical theories in the 20th century.

As for the end of science, I am optimistic. The best in science are still to come. But my view is possibly distorted by what Horgan call in his book the Star Trek factor.

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