Books

Robert Lanza : A New Theory of the Universe

In his essay A New Theory of the Universe, published in The American Scholar in 2007, Robert Lanza expounds his theory of Biocentrism. It was the most interesting essay I’d read in a long time (I seem to keep on saying that!), and very relevant to my own ideas.

According to Wikipedia the theory of Biocentrism states that ‘life’ or consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around (as has been traditionally assumed), and that “there is no independent external universe outside of biological existence.” Just like Kant, Lanza maintains that “what we call space and time are forms of animal sense perception, rather than external physical objects”. He says that the behaviour of particles “is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer”, and that what we perceive as reality is “a process that involves our consciousness”. He backs up this view with (among other arguments) the fact that “the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life”, or as he puts it elsewhere “the laws of the world were somehow created to produce the observer”, and “there are over 200 physical parameters within the universe so exact that it is seen as more probable that they are that way in order to allow for existence of life and consciousness, rather than coming about at random.” I looked up that ‘fine-tuning‘ business and was quite impressed by its implications: if it isn’t evidence for Lanza’s theory that consciousness creates the universe, then it points to something along the lines of ‘intelligent design’; the very least it seems to indicate is that there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the universe. And the idea that the internal and external, subjective and objective worlds seem to be a lot more connected, and in a more complex way, than has generally been thought, is a very plausible explanation for such a set of seemingly unlikely facts (although there are others, such as the anthropic principle). (more…)

Advertisements

Bertrand Russell : In Praise of Idleness

Bertrand Russell’s essay In Praise of Idleness was a surprisingly quick and easy read. It fitted in perfectly with several other things I’d read recently, and it was as obvious that Russell had read Proudhon as that Bob Black had read this essay. Basically this reads like a very condensed and simplified version of The Abolition of Work, which surprised me: I’d have expected an aristocratic English philosopher writing in 1932 to use more words and more complex ideas to make his point than an American anarchist writing in 1981, but it was exactly the opposite. Russell’s essay is amazingly sharp and to the point, almost as if he’d absorbed all of Black’s ideas, distilled the most essential elements and expressed them using as few words as possible – as if he’d taken a book and turned it into a poem. (more…)

Will Self : The Quantity Theory of Insanity

Will Self’s collection of short stories ‘The Quantity Theory of Insanity’ was not only his first book but also the first thing of his that I ever read, way back in 1998. I’d always intending re-reading it, but had lent the book to a friend at some stage and never got it back. I was glad I’d bought it again and renewed my acquaintance, even if, after reading so much more of Self’s work, I perhaps wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I had been the first time. His writing style is brilliant, and in those days still lacking the deliberate search for obscure words which makes some of his later work a lot less readable. But the best thing about this book is the ideas, and the ease with which he can make the most weird and surreal possibilities so plausible. He creates his own world, and it’s a very special one. It was interesting to see how themes and even characters which were elaborated on in later works make their first appearance here. I also very much like the way London is always present, almost as another character in the stories, and so vividly and accurately portrayed – although not in a way which would make me want to ever live there again!

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Details:

author Will Self
title The Quantity Theory of Insanity
first published 1991
language English
read 30/06/2014 – 10/07/2014

Sandra LaFave : Thinking Critically About the “Subjective/Objective” Distinction

Sandra LaFave is a lecturer in philosophy at the West Valley College in Saratoga, California, and this essay has obviously been written as an educational tool, i.e. it is aimed at her students (and perhaps her potential students, or philosophy students generally) rather than at fellow professional philosophers. The ‘”Subjective/Objective” Distinction’ is something in which I’ve been interested for a very long time, and about which (I’m rapidly drawing to the conclusion) I have some ideas which are unusual, perhaps radical, and (it’s just possible) maybe even slightly original, so I was very interested to read what a professional philosophy instructor had to say about it. What I was expecting from a document like this was a review of what philosophers had said on the subject through the ages, rather than her own personal opinion, but I actually got much more of the latter. Right from the start, Ms. LaFave makes it very obvious what she thinks on the subject:

The words “subjective” and ” objective” cause lots of confusion. Their misuse is responsible for subjectivism in ethics. Ethical subjectivism is the view that moral judgements are nothing but statements or expressions of personal opinion or feeling and thus that moral judgements cannot be supported or refuted by reason. Careless use of the terms “subjective” and “objective” also leads to odd views in metaphysics, e.g., the denial of material reality (idealism); and odd views in epistemology, e.g., the claim that all statements are equally warranted. In other words, if you’re careless about how you handle the concepts of subjectivity and objectivity, you can end up saying there’s no such thing as morality, reality, or truth!

What she’s really saying here is that such things as morality, reality, and truth obviously do exist, and that a philosophical viewpoint which implies otherwise must therefore be the result of confusion, carelessness and misuse of language. And I thought philosophy was about keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions! (more…)

Bob Black : The Abolition of Work, and other essays

Before coming across The Abolition of Work, and other essays I’d never even heard of Bob Black, but by the time I’d finished (in fact by the time I was even half way through my first reading of the title essay), I could definitely count myself a fan.

The Abolition of Work started life as a speech, and even though it was changed and expanded before appearing in print, it still has s strongly oratorical feel about it. That means it’s designed first and foremost to impress and convince the first-time listener or reader, sometimes sacrificing points of detail, scientific evidence and background information to “the majestic breadth and sweep of [the] argument”. This can give the impression that Black perhaps isn’t aware of, or isn’t interested in, the obvious objections to his ideas, and that he’s just sketching a vague and superficial picture of some sort of utopia without bothering too much about whether his ideas could ever be put into practice. It’s obvious from the start that Black is an intelligent guy and a good writer (or speaker), with a good sense of humour – even if he’s slightly too addicted to word-plays and to phrases such as ” If you’re not revolting against work, you’re working against revolt” and “In place of ‘majority rule’ we see an increasingly unruly majority”! It’s also clear that what he writes can be interesting, entertaining and even inspiring, but is there more to him than that? In other words, does he really know what he’s talking about? And does he deserve to be taken seriously ? Reading more of his essays, many of them more or less directly related to his ideas on work, was enough to convince me that he’s done his homework: he’s read widely, studied deeply and thought long and hard about everything he writes in this essay, and yes, he definitely does deserve to be taken seriously! (more…)

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein : Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar – Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

This is a very quick, easy and amusing read, with at least much space devoted to jokes as to philosophy. It also tries to cover pretty well the entire history of western thought, which means that the information given about any particular discipline, school or philosopher is very brief indeed – in fact generally limited to one or two basic ideas. Those central ideas, however, are often expressed very clearly in just a couple of sentences, and anyone not very familiar with western philosophy might gain a lot from reading this book. (more…)

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon : Qu’est-ce que la propriété ?

I’ll start this essay with my final conclusions: Although written in 1840, Qu’est-ce que la propriété ? contains ideas which are very relevant today, and should be compulsory reading for anyone who’s at all interested in politics or economics. As far as I’m concerned (and judging only by this one book), Proudhon deserves to be as much a household name as people like Rousseau, Voltaire and Marx, and it’s very unfortunate that his ideas weren’t more influential.

It was certainly the most interesting and thought-provoking book I’d read in at least a couple of years. I took extensive notes while reading it, in fact I’m pretty certain I’ve never before taken so many notes on a book – and that wasn’t only because I was reading it on the computer, which made note-taking particularly easy. By the time I’d finished I’d collected enough material for a pretty extensive essay on Proudhon’s ideas… (more…)

Samuel Butler : Erewhon

After reading the back cover and introduction of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon I found myself wondering why I’d ever bought the book, but in the end it proved to be unexpectedly interesting. This is nothing if not an unusual work. It’s generally described as something between utopian fiction such as Thomas More’s Utopia or Aldous Huxley’s Island, and satirical works such as Gulliver’s Travels. I’d say it’s much nearer to the latter and also contains elements of dystopian literature. Unlike More or Huxley, Butler rarely presents any aspect of Erewhonian life as being unmitigatedly good, i.e. as something which he thinks the Europeans ought to adopt. Like Swift, he uses the book as a vehicle for his personal opinions on various subjects, and specifically to criticise what he doesn’t like about his own society, but he isn’t the least bit consistent in the manner in which he goes about this… (more…)

Mel Thompson : Understand Philosophy

This book in the ‘Teach Yourself’ series was certainly worth reading, and I did learn a thing or two from it, but my final impression was still one of slight disappointment. I was probably hoping for too much. So far I’d picked up most of my general information on Western philosophy haphazardly, indirectly and via-via, from the background information offered by people writing on related or much more specialised subjects. I’d read a rather difficult book on the philosophy of time (Craig Bourne’s A Future for Presentism), a book on logic, and over the last four decades countless books on Eastern philosophy, meditation, astrology, psychology, politics, etc., etc., etc., written by or about people as diverse as Aldous Huxley, Colin Wilson, George Gurdjieff, Carl Gustav Jung and the Dalai Lama, to mention just a very few examples. You can’t read all that (plus a wide range of literature and literary criticism) without picking up a fair bit of information about people like Plato, Kant and Marx, and in more recent years I’d read countless Wikipedia articles on most of the better known Western philosophers and their ideas. And last but not least I’d read Sophie’s World twice! I’m pretty certain, however, that this was the first general textbook I’ve ever read on the subject, the first book written for adults which claimed (in its very title!) to enable me to ‘Understand Philosophy’, and for some reason I seem to have made the unconscious assumption that this book was going to change my life… (more…)

Thomas More : Utopia

I’m pretty certain that, apart from Aldous Huxley’s Island, this was the first utopian novel I’d ever read, and that in spite of the fact that, according to Wikipedia, “More than 400 utopian works were published prior to the year 1900 in the English language alone, with more than a thousand others during the twentieth century.” They didn’t provide any statistics on dystopian literature, but when I read down the page devoted to it I came across lots of books I’ve read, including very well known works such as Brave New World and 1984. I’ve always been under the impression that dystopias are much more popular than utopias (just as people find bad news more interesting than good), so it would be interesting to know how many of those have been published! (more…)