Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Summer Reading

I've been going through these books. Some I finished. Some almost. Some nowhere near ...

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

A friend loaned me this one. I was hoping to write a review but I don't think I'll have the time. Suffice to say it is an exhaustive, comprehensive and devastating exposé of the Doubt Industry which also includes a plausible explanation for the reasons why otherwise intelligent, respectable scientists would debase themselves the way that they did. (Basically it was a dogmatic adherence to the "freedom" of "free markets." Also, a lot were nuclear physicists who owed their careers to the US government and still saw their job as being to defend said government and the US-American way of life.)

Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo

This was quite interesting. Galileo was a pretty smart dude. Amazingly observant. The way he discovered the moons of Jupiter and the way he speculates on the surface of the Moon and the nature of sunspots .... incredible. There's also a summary of the actions of his critics that eventually ended up with his being placed under permanent house arrest. (He chose that over being tortured. And he was lucky that the Pope liked him because he could have just been sentenced to death.)

The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness

This I got at the bargain table at "Coles" in Jackson Square. David Gelernter is a path-breaking computer programmer. (He was one of the unabomber's targets. He's also religious, a climate change denier and a Trump supporter! I found out all that a few minutes ago.) Maybe I'll finish it. But not on the subway on the way to or from work. Because I'm tired during those rides. And a lot of the first chapter is him describing the incoherence of the state of consciousness we're in as we're about to fall asleep. Some of the reviews I just looked at say it's an amateurish, overly "artistic" look at the phenomenon of consciousness. That made me think that it's like a couple of other books I've read recently wherein the authors seem more concerned with showing off their breadth of culture than with sticking to the point.

The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten and 99 Other Thought Experiments

This book would make a good undergraduate's introduction into philosophical thinking. The writing is clear and concise and the summaries of the philosophical source material is fairly accurate. But three-quarters of the way through it's gotten repetitive. Then a chapter on whether the President of the USA should break the law (assassinate a genocidal dictator somewhere) to promote the greater good (preventing a massacre) rubbed me the wrong way. The premise that the USA is a force for good in the world is clearly nonsense. Then, not long afterwards there was an incoherent thought experiment based upon the supposed wisdom of serial fraudster Bjorn Lomborg. I'm not sure I'll finish it.

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