Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on September 5, 2017 @ 3:01 pm


Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

The book seems to be trying to present a philosophical argument and to be a work of fiction at the same time. It succeeds at neither.

Philosophically, Robert Persig is presenting his idea of the Metaphysics of Quality as a philosophical concept. Yet he uses the emotional tie-ins of his fictional story to sell the idea. From the start, it bothered me that his use of Quality is quite different from our usage. I would think another term would be more appropriate, but I believe he wants us to associate his idea with our idea of quality without having to say it.

His initial ideas are interesting, and it started to look like it may have some merits. However, after the mid-point of the book he tries to sell rather odd ideas. He redefined science from a set of objective truths to subjective truths, because that fits better in his philosophy. Now science can have different truths in different cultures, which is the opposite of the goals of science.

Psychology, likewise is defined as culturally dependent. He sells his ideas using Lila, a psychotic young woman who responds beautifully to the predictions of his philosophy. She is not likable and not very believable. Some of her behavior doesn’t feel consistent, the author would describe her as following a value system that is not consistent with that of society, but has “value”. In his philosophy, value comes from experience.

As a work of fiction, Robert Persig is constantly talking to the reader. The characters are one-dimensional and I eventually lost interest in them.

It only got worse. I have not been able to finish the book.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Filed under:Philosophy,self-help — posted by Randolph on April 5, 2017 @ 3:27 pm


Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

This book is slow and I find the author demeaning. He isn’t teaching about how to improve your skills, it is more about choice architecture. It itself, that could be interesting, but the author is ‘nudging’ the reader toward libertarian paternalism. He starts arguments with ‘givens’ that the reader is supposed to accept, and I couldn’t accept them. He draws conclusions about medical care and retirement with his socio-political views that I don’t agree with.

He talks down to the reader, it felt like a waste of time. I will not finish this book.

The Mythology of the Superhero by Andrew R Bahlmann

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 9, 2017 @ 5:36 pm

The Mythology of the Superhero by Andrew R Bahlmann

This books posits that the superhero story has the same relationship with culture as does mythology. The author breaks the superhero story into unique tropes, then shows how they relate to a variety of superhero stories.

The book has four distinct sections:
In the first section, chapter 1, he defines the different tropes and discusses them in the scope of one or more superhero stories.

In the second section, chapters 2-5, he performs more of an analysis of four series that he considers marginally superhero stories, these are Green Arrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alphas and Beowolf.

The third section, chapter 6, discusses the core ideas of a superhero story. It is similar to the first chapter in some ways, but approaches the idea from a different direction.

The last section, the appendix, is a list of the relevant tropes. This is inadequate, but is supplemented by a web page with a lot of information on it.

Overall, the book is interesting, he mentions that it is a common topic among some researchers and the boundaries of what constitutes a superhero story are not well defined.

I felt the second section was a bit slow. The book had to provide sufficient details on the storyline for a reader unfamiliar with the story can keep up. A lot of the information on various storylines was provided several times through the book.

He built arguments that stories (myths) correlate to culture. He built on that commenting that the superhero story had supplanted the western in our culture, and would eventually be replaced with something new. I was surprised that he did not discuss the possibility that the marginal superhero stories he did discuss could be part of this new and upcoming story. Theses stories, excluding Beowolf, are newer and have a strong tv influence. This influence was probably intentional by the directors translating a comic to the screen. But this does correspond to a culture change, where the screen is replacing most written forms of communication.

I did find the book interesting. I felt it was too short, it had too little information and too much redundancy to be excellent.

X-Men and Philosophy by William Irwin & Rebecca Housel

Filed under:Fantasy,Philosophy — posted by Randolph on October 21, 2015 @ 5:13 pm

X-Men and Philosophy by William Irwin & Rebecca Housel

Another book in the Blackwell Philosophy and pop Culture Series focusing on the X-Men. This book uses the X-Men comics and movies to introduce several philosophical concepts. Different authors touch on topics such as the meaning of being a person or mutant and what we can know about mutants – an idea that easily extrapolates to classes or cultures. Others touch on morality, identity, women’s issues, synthetic biology, among others.

Authors will help you see Magneto’s point of view, and why Magneto and Xavier can maintain a strong friendship in spite of significant philosophical differences. What is the human role, and what is the meaning of race.

As usual, I’ve found all of these books easy to read and interesting. They each introduce philosophical concepts using icons of pop culture making them easy-to understand and to remember.

In general, I thought this book had better philosophy than others, I found it more interesting. A couple of authors seemed to talk more about the X-Men than of philosophy, but they were interesting to read as well.

Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang — Rewriting Cosmic History by Paul J. Steinhardt, Neil Turok

Filed under:Philosophy,Science — posted by Randolph on January 4, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang -- Rewriting Cosmic History by Paul J. Steinhardt, Neil Turok

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Filed under:Philosophy,self-help — posted by Randolph on December 8, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

I was disappointed in this book, it seemed to have promise. It approached reading in a dictatorial style, there are things you must do or you don’t have a right to judge the book. It feels pedagogic and somewhat demeaning, like a teacher instructing young kids. There is no discussion of alternative opinions or ideas, very little argument even in support of its positions.

Most of the book is just common sense. It is slow, the writing is tedious. I won’t say its advice is bad, but if you’ve read much, you already know it.

Will you enjoy it? Many comments are quite favorable, people seem to like it or hate it. I think if you’ve read much, you probably won’t get anything from the book. If you don’t read, why would you be interested?

Science Fiction and Philosophy edited by S. Schneider

Filed under:Philosophy,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on December 4, 2013 @ 8:11 am

Science Fiction and Philosophy edited by S. Schneider

This is another of the popular culture and philosophy books, but not part of that series. Perhaps comparing it to that series is a mistake, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. Although similar at some levels, it didn’t have the same depth as the other series.

The book posits that science fiction is closely tied to philosophy. Science fiction often poses questions originally posed by philosophy. Sometimes these questions are raised directly, and other times they just form a foundation for a story. One of the strengths of this book is that is lists the stories most of the works are drawn from, this makes for easy reference and one can find the books for more information.

One interesting approach taken by this volume is that each section begins with a science fiction short story that exemplifies the topic of that section. It really helps bring home the point.

The book touches on topics such as machine intelligence, the possibility of super intelligence, what machine ethics might mean, personality and personhood, and time and the logic of time travel. Naturally, the book discussed Asimov’s laws of robotics, why they are insufficient, and what is needed in their place.

A couple of the topics didn’t touch much on philosophy. The authors used the opportunity to discuss their own research and goals. I found these of interest, but overall detracted from the book. They felt out of place and sometimes didn’t even discuss real philosophy.

Although I found the book enjoyable, I cannot recommend it either as science fiction nor as philosophy. I’m inclined to seek another book on the same topic for comparison, I feel a much better job could have been done.

Doctor Who and Philosophy by Courtland Lewis

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on March 24, 2013 @ 7:09 am

Doctor Who and Philosophy by Courtland Lewis

As with the others in the series, this book presents philosophical concepts that are not only easy to grasp, but easy to remember. Unlike the others, this one places less emphasis on individual philosophers and a bit more on the philosophical concepts.

Much of the book looks at identity and existence, something the Doctor deals with time and again. It examines who we are and why we believe that, and how we decide the identity of others. What would make us change our minds? They delve into the common issues such as creating two of a person or the slow replacement of body parts until the original is gone.

The book continues to look at time and ethics, two more topics that are big in the series. The last section of the book examines culture. Throughout the book, anecdotes and stories involving many of the Doctor’s opponents from early episodes through the latest and occasional references to the comics.

This is a great book for any Dr. Who fans with a passing interest in philosophy, or not.

Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy by Bill Clinton

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on November 14, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy by Bill Clinton

Bill CLinton makes the case for a “right-sized” government. Our government has jobs to do that require certain resources and costs, and that too much or too little will adversely affect it. He discusses waste that comes from resource mismanagement and people playing politics.

The book looks at government over the past few years, with a few glances into the past. He keeps returns to attack the small government movement, but he is not always partisan in his attacks nor in his praise. He always returns briefly to the subject of jobs on each issue he addresses.

The last chapter addresses changes he believes would move our country forward.

The book is interesting, but either won’t provide a lot of new information or the reader won’t be ready to accept it. I can’t say I’d recommend it to many people.

Imagination and Meaning in Calvin and Hobbes by Jamey Heit

Filed under:Humor,Philosophy,Technical — posted by Randolph on September 20, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

Imagination and Meaning in Calvin and Hobbes
by Jamey Heit

This book is an analysis of the Calivin and Hobbes comic strip through the eyes of philosophy. In some ways it reminds me of the popular culture and philosophy series, but here the focus is on building a better understanding the comic rather than philosophy, philosophy is the tool for the understanding.

At first glance, the book does remind me of more traditional philosophy books. It has a smaller font, dense pages with few breaks, and a serious list of footnotes. On starting to read it the same impression continued, high information density and heavy at times. Sometimes it became difficult to follow, but the focus on the comic brought recurring themes of humor.

Difficult as it may have been, I never considered giving up. The book reveals a lot of information about the comics, calling on specific themes and even individual strips to support its arguments. While reading the book, I gained insights in to the strips, and a great desire to reread the series with my new understanding.

Watterson drew heavily on philosophers for his inspiration, from the very name of the strip and characters. The book discusses themes and how they relate to philosophy, from flying dinosaurs, Spaceman Spiff, Calvin as god of his snow creatures, and Hobbes appears real to the reader so long as an adult isn’t in the strip.

My two issues with the book is that I would have liked some comics included to help break up the book’s text, and having just finished it, I’m already having trouble remembering many portions of it due to its heavy content.

I do recommend the book for anyone who has enjoyed the comic and has any interest in philosophy. I’m going to reread the comics, and my try tacking the book for a second time, some day…


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace