An amazingly written book. The author really know how to explain things well and tie it into an overriding narrative. If you have any interest in black holes and galaxy formation (and who among us doesn't!), this book is a must listen. You will become completely up to date in the subject.
Usually, I don't like it when the author does his own reading, but Mr. Scharf does an excellent job and makes the reading as exciting as the subject matter deserves.
I can't recommend this book strongly enough. He explains flawlessly. For example, he explained Einstein's gravitational equation in words in such a way that for the moment I was listening to it, I really understood what it meant. He is that good at explaining.
The author starts with the major premise that the bible is the inerrant word of God. The bible tells us that in multiple places therefore we know it's true. He'll go on to tell the reader, we are born with sin and the only way to overcome that is through belief in Jesus. Paradoxes within scripture are only because of lack of faith. The more holy we become, the more we realize how unholy we were. Faith leads to justification and salvation. He quotes a lot of scripture to prove his points. Prophecy is perfect and the Old Testament prophesied Jesus. The ressurection is true and proves the divinity of Christ. He'll argue that God has a plan for all of us. The story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates how God has a perfect plan for us. Moses in the desert demonstrates God's wisdom and shows us why we should rest on the sabbath. Obedience is part of God's plan. Free will is a gift from God and that proves the truths in the bible. Christianity must be true because it's the only religion that uses grace from God to save us from our sin which we are all born with and we must be born again in order to be saved.
He uses Kierkaard to defend his point on the value of reason for our faith. He probably shouldn't because Kierkegaard would argue faith isn't necessary because it's correct, but faith is necessary because it keeps us balanced. The author does comment on my favorite book of the bible, Ecclesiasties, but he says "almost certainly it was written by Solomon".
There is not much to recommend in this book except for those who do believe in the authors major premise. He has no doubt in his certainties, but makes weak arguments in support of his major premise.
The author gives a fairly good look at how Virologist think and see the world. He'll explain in general terms how they see the world and what kind of work they do. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who thinks they might want to enter the field or for those who have not read any other books on similar topics.
It's obvious to me that the author knows a whole lot more about the subject, but in order to keep the book interesting for the widest possible audience he usually only explains the field in the most general terms.
For me, I wish the author would have written a more detailed book and my expectations weren't met.
The author tells a series of stories from 1492 until today, and he tells the stories so well that if I were to pick a random year, I could tell you which story the author told and also tell you the chapter that came before and the chapter that came after. He tells his story so well that I can in my mind recreate the book from the first chapter to the last and not miss a chapter in the telling. Within each story the author will put the story into the context of the time and then tie the pieces together.
The best way to illustrate his technique is to highlight one of his chapters, Mary Moody Emerson, known as the baby who was at one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War, saw a Hindu give a talk at her boarding house, this made her aware of beliefs beyond her own, and while she lived with her nephew, Ralph Waldo Emerson, she taught how one could think beyond their own certainties, and that led to the Transcendental Movement and led to Moby Dick by Melville. He ties the connections of each of his stories, gives the context, and always entertains. (A chapter after will be about San Francisco and the Chinese, and a chapter before was on the burning of the Capitol in the War of 1812 and Jefferson's library. Everything connects within this book, both within the chapters and between the chapters).
Within each chapter he ties each piece into a coherent whole and puts the context around the story, and between each chapter he relates it to the previous chapter such that he writes an incredibly interesting set of stories which gives everyone a peek into how a country is seamlessly woven together into a tapestry of different pieces which only makes sense after the whole is observed.
I found each of the stories awe inspiring. He is that good of a story teller, and he'll always tell you why the story matters today.
This prize winning book from 1973 has immense value today because it captures how very smart people explained the world in those days and it is amazing we ever got out of the self referential tautological cave that was being created to explain who we are. There is nothing more dangerous than using just intuition and strong arguments without empirical data to reach your conclusions. That's what this author does.
He ties existential and psychoanalytical thought and the necessity for beliefs in God in to a worldview. He will tell us that it is our repression and our denial that end up giving us our neurosis. He does not use the psychoanalytical system developed by Freud because he makes our neurosis more than just dependent on sexual repressions, but nevertheless his system ends with 'castration', 'transference', and other such psychoanalytical belief systems. (That's why I feel comfortable characterizing his system as self-referential tautological. He's creating a system, some what like mathematics, by assuming truths within the system and using the system to justify the system. There's no way to refute the system unless one steps out of the system. That is to say, there is now way to show the system is incoherent within the system itself and there are things within the system which can neither be shown true or false).
He's just taking a pseudoscience and working within the system and uses the same techniques to develop his similar system of pseudoscience but he's going to call it post-Freudian. He will conclude things such as the schizophrenic and psychotic are 'neurotic' principally because they see the true reality better, the reality of the absurdity of life, the fact that we live with the certainty of death, and the inadequacy of life, the inability to live with the freedom we our given.
He will go into a whole host of reasons why we are inadequate. He'll even explain how LGBTQ people are perverted because fetishes created while growing up has led to that extreme denial of themselves (probably something to do with their lack of character).
The author emphasizes that character, culture and values determine who we become. Those who lack any of those three end up with 'neurosis', because under his psycho-dynamic system we know everyone is neurotic to some degree because one who denies his own repression must be neurotic and out of touch with reality. (There is a beautiful tautology within his belief system).
Unfortunately, to understand the 1970s one must understand how smart people did embrace the kind of thinking presented in this book. It's amazing that we as a society got out of that psychoanalytical trap. Now days, neurosis is not used as a category in the DSM for a reason.
I can highly recommend this book since it gives such an interesting window that psychoanalysis mistakenly provided to human understanding in 1973. It clearly gives a great peak into how psychiatry got off the rails. I would highly recommend reading "Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry" before attempting this pseudo-scientific book. "Shrinks" documents how psychiatry got so far off the rails and how it found itself by becoming a real science by including the empirical. This book, "Denial of Death", marks the start of the beginning from which a new era for human understanding began to finally find itself and jettison junk like this book contains.
Most of us today have a warped view of what psychiatry does based on its early history and the way it has been portrayed by popular media during earlier time periods. Psychoanalysis (think Freud) was pseudoscience. It thought that diseases of the mind and brain were caused by repressed memories and such, and that it had no empirical data to support it. The author really doesn't dance around the problems inherent within Psychoanalysis. Each psychoanalyst needed to be psychoanalyzed before becoming a psychoanalyst a perfect way to create a pseudoscience.
Psychoanalysts were arguing that all mental problems were behavioral problems and everybody suffered from some sort of mental problem. They had lost touch with reality. The media was right to mock the profession. Things started to change in the 1970s when Washington University in St. Louis, MO started emphasizing the role that data should play in diagnosis instead of tradition and intuition. They even started developing CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as an antidote to the meaninglessness of blaming the patient for his neurosis. With data it was shown to work.
The first step in developing science is to first define categories. In this case, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) III started insisting on scientific categories instead of the pseudo classifications that the psychiatrists (mostly psychoanalyst) had been using previously. The tenor of the times had tarnished the image of the psychiatrists and something needed to be done to put the profession back on a scientific basis.
The next step comes about through the realization that the mind and the brain both effect mental health. The first major step (early 1900s) was introducing malaria into patients who had severe mental problems due to advance syphilis. The ensuing fever cured the patients. Unfortunately, lobotomies started being performed, and had no data to support their efficacy. Ultimately, a whole slew of drugs are discovered which led to control of some mental related diseases.
The author shows how today the profession really does add value. Many people's perceptions about the profession were warped by what they saw in popular media while growing up, but the world has changed and so has the profession of psychiatry. For those who want to remain in the dark and only offer criticism they should skip this fine book, for all others who want to enter the 21st century and unlearn their misconceptions I would highly recommend this well written book.
This book was a lot like the TED conferences. While you're watching them you think they're the most brilliant thing you've ever seen and just wonder why you didn't come up with thinking about the problem that way on your own. But, when it's over you start to think maybe that wasn't worth my time after all. This book was fun while doing it, but I strongly suspect it wasn't worth my time.
Some essays were very good. I really liked Alan Alda's on why true and false should not be how we look at things. Richard Dawkin's (and a host of others) also thinks Essentianism should be retired. It just muddles our way of thinking since nature doesn't always fall into neat categories (Darwin dances around what a species is for a very good reason). When the theme of the essay was on the real nature of science being particular to the data available, and contingent to the current understanding of nature that we have and science is never absolute (back to Alan Alda's essay, e.g.), the essay would work nicely and would fit into an overall narrative.
Overall, I would recommend skipping this book and reading Marcelo Gleiser's "Island of Knowledge", who did give the second essay presented in this book and will give the listener a more coherent sense on the limitations of science than this book does.
The book's theme is Science and Religion have non overlapping domains, Science can't give ethical and moral truths and that religion should be respected when it stays within it's own domain.
I'm glad this book is not influential today. When it was written (in 1998 according to the book itself) marriage equality was completely being shot down by the imprimatur of religion. Science actually refuted each of the arguments used by religion ("it's not natural", "people aren't born that way", "it's Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve who were in the Garden of Eden", and other statements which Religions defined as moral truths), and Science showed their statements to be false thus changing the dialog. Science didn't need to go into the ethical or moral sphere directly, but rather provided arguments to refute statements based on authority only. This book would have allowed the science but seems like it would have suggested it remain silent instead of challenging the religious dogma which was based on authority alone.
Another example, a current senator from Oklahoma has written a book on how climate change is impossible because his revealed religion tells him so based on his moral beliefs and his interpretation of his bible. That argument by itself deserves no respect. The science is speaking loud and clear and global warming is real and is man made. Once again, on strict reading of Gould's book he would have allowed the science to proceed, but he would have required respect in challenging the assertions. I would suggest the arguments put forth in that book should be attacked and shown no respect whatsoever.
He did say a couple things in the book that highlight its anachronistic nature. He says, what happened before the big bang is best left to religion since nobody can say what happened before. The overwhelming majority of today's physicist ignore that statement and give reasonable theories and speculate what happened before the big bang. Also, he thinks ID (intelligence design) is not significant (as he was writing in 1998). It is very relevant today. We even had a president since that time who thought Russia was Gog (or Magog) and is part of the 'end times' as prophesied in Daniel and Revelations.
Morality and ethics are complex. Reason, rational thought, experience and our empathy and concepts of reciprocity are good starting points. People who pretend to know things they don't know and thus have no doubt do not make for good starting points and are best ignored if possible, but unfortunately anti-Marriage Equality, Climate Denialism, Intelligence Design, and other such items have real world consequences and must be considered for what they are: absurd positions not worthy of respect.
Overall, the book is silly and is best ignored.
This author has done it again. I read books in order to find out about our universe and our place in it, and this book does better than any other book since his last book "A Tear at the Edge of Creation". I have no idea why his books do not become instant classics and aren't more widely read. He really relates well to my way of thinking and leaves no stone untold while telling his story. And what a story he tells with this book!
Yes, we are in Plato's Cave, but we do manage to get out from time to time. It is our ignorance that leads us to knowledge. It is the things we don't know that leads to our further understanding. Our very foundations of reality are based on the constructs that we use to explain the patterns we see in data. Particles are made of matter (electrons, quarks,..) and forces. Fields describes these forces and matter and their interactions. The definition of the field is not precise but we continue to use it in our explanations.
The author covers all of the physics that's exciting to me. The Greeks lay the foundations by using intuition and argumentation but never quite adding the empirical. It becomes the void verse matter, the being verse becoming which leads to matter verse energy. Before Einstein, matter needed matter to travel through giving us the aether. The aether makes sense until it's not needed. The Morley Michelson experiments were at first explained by the natural compression of space as objects flow through the aether. The narrative's we use change as our understanding improve and our scientific definitions expand.
There is large problem with the understanding of physics. The measurement problem, the dual nature of light (wave and particle), double slit experiments, that darn dead and alive cat, and how does "spooky action at a distance" (now known as real and called Entanglement) fit into our narratives. Einstein thought reality had to be understandable and that nature at the most fundamental level had to make sense and it must be our operational levels that were failing us. David Bohm and Einstein thought there must be hidden variables to explain the cosmic complexity at the quantum level. At the local level,they have been shown to be wrong.
This book covers all of the controversies associated with the Copenhagen Interruption, and how the act of measuring does change the system being measured. At the heart of understanding nature with the current narratives we have in place there are mysteries that can't be resolved. The more we find out we don't know, the better stories we can end up telling.
Our nexus of knowledge doesn't lie outside of us, it lies within us. We our the ones who determine how we understand and when a light flickers in our cave we find another way to describe what we see.
He's got a nice section on mathematics, Godol's theorem and Turing's universal machine and the Halting Problem. Plato with his cave says math is always discovered not invented. The author will explain why it's best to think of it as being invented not discovered. The incompleteness, lack of coherence as proof for a system, and the problem of the self realization for a finite solution ('Halting Problem') leads to a better understanding of math. By the way, the author does point out for my hero, Mr. Spock, with his logical consistency and understanding will really never be attainable.
This is a book that just keeps on giving. He'll tell the reader about Higgs Bosons, Dark Matter, Dark Energy , expanding universes, what advanced AI can mean for us and a host of other just as interesting things.
Needless to say, I would strongly recommend this book and his other book available on Audible ("A Tear at the Edge of Creation"). Regretfully, this author's books seem to be ignored by the public at large, but if I can convince just one more person to read this book, I would have made the world just a little bit better!
The book listens like a series of lectures given to undergraduates (or maybe even graduates) in the liberal arts who want to understand how science developed and how we finally got to Newton. Newton changes everything, and the author will explain why the greatest book ever about the physical world is Newton's Principia ("Principles of Natural Philosophy"). The author outlines the steps that it took for the world to create a Newton. But just like in a college course you have to learn a lot of difficult things (which you'll quickly forget after the class) in order to understand the big picture.
In the process of getting there the author will describe in detail the theories of the early thinkers. To get to that understanding the author steps the listener through the Early Greeks, the Hellenic Period, the great Islamic thinkers (and they were great!), and through Thomas Aquinas, and to the start of Modern Science.
I now know in excruciatingly detail the wrong theories from the history of bad science such as the Ptolemaic system, the Aristotelian theory of motion, and Galileo's erroneous theory of tides. That's sort of a problem with this book. It's hard enough to keep today's less false theories about the world straight than it is to try to learn the fine points about the previously more false theories from the past.
The biggest crack in the armor of superstitious thinking and absolute knowledge comes with Thomas Aquinas. He takes the theology of his time and uses the logical principles of Aristotle to support his faith. At first the Pope forbids that approach but then the next Pope commends the approach. Allowing the logic and the reason that Aristotle represents (but not quite allowing for empiricism), allows the West to create a Newton.
The real theme of the book is along these lines: Plato is silly with his complete reliance on absolute knowledge; Aristotle puts science on the right path by categorizing the real world, but mars it with his final causes; Bacon's empiricism is still not relevant since he is striving for absolute knowledge by divorcing the individual from the world; Descartes's methods of thought leads no where, but his science (and math) are quite impressive; Galileo makes incredible strides but still doesn't realize the universe is not made up of mathematics, math is just a tool for understanding. Newton takes Kepler's empirically derived laws, idealizes them and derives them from first principles and shows how they can explain as well as describe.
Science needs to be understood as studying the particular, contingent and probable, and it never proves anything it just makes statements less false and this book helps one understand how we finally got to this point and out of Plato's Cave.
I got to learn a lot about elephants with this book. They never forget and they care for their young and their dead . They probably have "theory of mind" and they wrestle with death (hey, they're just like us humans). I saw the elephants in the story as a character and mostly they just seemed to keep me interested in the story since they are so very interesting to learn about.
The story itself is mostly about unfinished business the characters have and how sometimes we define ourselves by the mistakes we have made in life, both the psychic and detective need to rediscover their authentic selves before they can actualize their potentialities.
With all that aside, I say this story mostly is a detective story (with some psychic twists) led by two flawed characters and a young girl in search of who she really is who all have unfinished business to take care of. For me, just an okay story but I would have been better served listening to a Dean Koonzt novel instead even if he doesn't teach me about elephants.
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