Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, edited by William Irwin

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on March 6, 2019 @ 3:03 pm

This is another book in the Blackwell Philosophy of Pop Culture series. In this book, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are used to discuss ideas in philosophy. I thought this would be a good book, given that almost everyone is familiar with the subject and many people have read one of the two. This book may well encourage you to reread them.

Since Lewis Carol was interested in logic and word games, that provides a lot of the material for this book. The queen, who sees time backwards and who wants to remove people’s heads, and Humpty Dumpty, who reserves the definition of words he uses to suit his immediate needs, along with many others, provide a wealth of fodder for these philosophers to help educate the reader in different philosophical ideas.

Many parts of the book were concerned mostly with logic, or the lack thereof. I found these sections a bit tedious with little new for those who are well-founded in logic.

Another large portion concerned language and words. Looking at what a language is, word definitions and context. Can you readily fix a language with dictionaries and grammars when they are always changing?

Other philosophers (in the collection), addressed feminism, social contracts and nuclear strategy. It is clear that Lewis Carol thought a lot on these ideas after seeing what these authors have found among the works.

These subjects make you rethink what you knew about the books. They are full of some interesting ideas that are lost on the young reader. The book has a lot of interesting information in small bites that make it easy to read and worth the time.

Heroes and Philosophy: Buy the Book, Save the World Edited by David K. Johnson, William Irwin

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 18, 2019 @ 1:59 pm

Yet another book in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series. I always enjoy them.

In this book, various philosophers look at the Heroes series of TV shows, books and webisodes, and explain different topics of philosophy using the actions and behaviors of the characters we’re familiar with.

I enjoyed this one a little more than some of the others. It didn’t spend as much time looking at the show and a little more on the philosophical topics. The other style is more useful when the reader isn’t as familiar with the topic, so someone unfamiliar with the Heroes characters may not get as much out of it.

50 Ethics Ideas You Really Need to Know by Ben Dupré

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 9, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

I enjoyed this book and was disappointed. It does provide a brief overview to 50 interesting topics, but it provides too little information. It does little more than just whet the appetite, not even enough to figure out if a more in-depth study would be interesting to you.

I did like the layout. Each topic is two pages. There is a block of related information, a timeline of 4-5 major events related to the topic, and the text has about 3 or 4 tipics in easy-to-see section.

The quality of information is good when you have no, or very little, prior knowedge on the topic. But it is light reading and good as a reminder or refresher.

Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 21, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

The book’s title has two meanings. The first is obvous, time travel at other than the normal rate. The other is traveling through history discussing attitudes and knowledge about time.

The first few chapters discuss historical perspectives about time, putting them in context of the local cultures. Then it gets into fiction, early suggestions of time travel cluminating with H. G. Wells and the actual consideration of traveling through time.

With Wells’ book, there is a lot of discussion about reactions to the idea, from supportive and expansive fiction to ridiculing reactions as reviews.

It expands on this idea to talk about how time travel is used to tell stories. This includes backstories and telling a story from two differnt time periods concurrently, as opposed to the current idea of time travel.

Finally, there is some discussion about the arrow of time, current ideas on time travel, and more journeys into fiction.

The book is interesting and worth reading, but didn’t provide a lot of new information of philosophical ideas.

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?

next page

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace