Archives for category: Books

Friends, I suffer – from the feeling that Jonathan Franzen’s autobiographic “The Discomfort Zone” is completely boring. Am I the only stupid, ignorant, and non-attentative reader out here who feels like this?

Well, in his book, Franzen tells us about his childhood, namely about his mother, father, brother, and house to sell. Wait, he also elaborates on boring youth recreation trips and – linked with everything else – his continuously present feelings of inferiority.

Yes, I know that Franzen has won the National Book Award – and is seen as a Great American Novelist by the Times magazine and others. However.

Maybe I have read too much of David Foster Wallace “The pale King”, lately, with this explosive, overwhelming sentences and characters with paranoid anxiety neuroses, shooting us from day-to-day-situations into the endless universe of imagination.

Maybe I have also gotten used too much to Ian McEwan’s brilliance in the last couple of weeks, e.g. in Sweet Tooth or On Chesil Beach. Both books simply thrilling, draw you into the action, the flow, as well as into the minds and anxieties of the characters.

So how does Ian McEwan brings the magic whereas Franzen is compiling a boring sauce? Is this because of “McEwan’s skilful circling back, his ability to make everything that happens matter one way or another” – as C P Howe writes?

Possible. In conclusion – and how embarrassing to admit – I could not even finish Franzen’s “Discomfort Zone”. …maybe I should give Franzen another chance for his controversial “Freedom”.

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How embarrassing. It is really a shame. One year of reading books, going into movie theaters, hearing or playing music pieces, talking to people, inhaling scientific articles, visiting places, staying in a monastery…and I just forget.

Yes, I saw this movie from Woody, that other from Polanski, also Jim Jarmusch… sometimes went into movies twice a week – simply forgot all…read this fantastic books about “True professionalism”, some other about “Possibilities”, “Resilient leadership”…something terrifying by Paul Auster, Bukowski…something great by Ian McEwan – oh yes: “The sweet tooth”… then this lady Nobel prize winner with her short stories… read articles by Hannes Leitgeb about “belief revision”… also some other philosopher Kevin Kelly… heuristics…also the psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer…rediscovered the sex scene “Fuck me” with William Dafoe – what a great actor! – read books about Accounting, Microeconomics, Valuation of Companies…read books about the art of negotiations…rediscovered Schnittke’s choral “The Master of All Living Things” and the classic Bach piece “Ich steh an Deiner Krippe hier”…forgot for sure more than half of all masterpieces that I would need to mention here – well… and now, 2014 is ahead! So what?

Stop reading? Refuse to go to the movies? Stop doing anything? – just stay in your bed and sleep. …I wonder what other remedies one could think of.

End of the world

End of the world (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

RT reviews at least 14 “The End of …”-Stories:

Before 2000, only a few books used “The End of …”  as title, but then it started to come out ever more frequently and flooded the market from history to economics, politics, psychology, biology….you name the field there is an “The End of …” – Story. Most have a subtitle with a question mark, telling us: well if you listen to me, perhaps we can avoid that end. What a farce.

Well, the end of what? Take your pick. It all started in 1989 with Francs Fukuyama’ s “The End of History”, which came out as an essay in the National Review and – after praised and criticized –  ended as big book, telling us that after the fall of the Berlin Wall the world was bound to move towards freer markets and freer people, i.e. towards liberal democracies. He was careful enough not to set a time, so we better keep checking in this century if that is going to happen or not.

Last things in, first things out. Just published in April 2013: “The End of Sex” by Donna Freitas. Oh, my God, after we just read “The End of Men” by Hanna Rosin in 2012, this is really serious. What has the world come to? Rosin lets us know, not all is lost yet, “while the modern economy is the place where women hold the cards,” she admits that male power is far from over. As to sex, we are following Freitas through her field study in colleges, where the large majority are telling here about bad and boring sex, drunken and you don’t remember sex. Are we supposed to feel sorry for those spoiled kids and generalize from those experiences? I hope not. So why not reading the “End of Courtship” by Alex Williams, also published earlier this year. May be we can learn from that.

What about politics? With confrontation and infighting instead of compromise and action in the US and Europe, you should expect the experts coming out with their confessions and advice. Based on his own experience and interviews with the powerful of the world, assembling in Davos and elsewhere, Moises Naim considers “The End of Power” arguing quite convincingly that the limits to political power have been tightened, which may be bad for rapid decision making but probably good for real democracy. No doubt the end of power must be closely linked to “The End of Leadership.” By Barbara Kellerman, the reason of which may be found in “The End of Men.”

With the decline in political power and leadership comes “The End of the Free Market” by Ian Bremmer and “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg. So, here we have the emerging economies with state capitalism growing much faster than the market oriented economies of the West. While the authors maintain that those systems are threatening free markets and the future of the global economy, they come up with a little inconsistency. “Over time, free markets will probably outlast state capitalism.”

More good news come from such wonderful books as Jeffrey Sachs’ “The End of Poverty” and “The End of War” by John Morgan, and also very welcome are the predictions of “The End of Illness” by David Agus MD. These are falling under the category of you could get rid of those evils, if you follow my ideas or advice, some of which is interesting and some is not that new in order to deserve a whole book.

How about for a possible correct forecast in “The End of White America” by Hua Hsu, who predicts on the basis of demographic data that by 2042, the current minorities will make up the majority of the American population. He does not dare to tell us about the political and socio-economic repercussions, but raises a number of interesting issues regarding race and self identification.

So, why would everybody to jump on “The End of Something” bandwagon? First, I assume, the authors and publishers believe that in this age of self-doubt and cultural pessimism people will grab a copy of the book or essay predicting the end of something good or bad and appreciate it for helping them to understand the world better. Secondly, it will raise immediate reaction, both positive and negative and with it critiques, blogs, public discussions …and of course new books exposing the opposite thesis. After Fukuyama wrote “the End of History,” his teacher and later on colleague Samuel Huntington replied immediately: “No EXIT: The End of Endism.” Great.

So, if you get the urge to write something about “The End of Something” you better inform yourself  first who else has already written about that and secondly use a bit of empirical research which is more convincing than the majority of the above mentioned essays and books.

Dear all, I am happy to present you this hot hilarious reading tip by RT: “Love in the Time of Algorithm – What Technology Does to Meeting and Dating, by Dan Slater. Here we go:

Love heart uidaodjsdsew

The majority of us may be math-averse, no matter what sex or age, but when it can be mixed with sex who knows what may be happening. So Dan Slater is exploring that relation in modern-day dating services and the implications it has on personal relations and the economy. After all, alone in the United States it is a 2 billion dollar business. Beyond economics, Slater offers insights which should interest people interested in the fields of anthropology, psychology, sociology, business administration and yes of course math.

Can science predict love? Well, if the mathematicians can model financial flows until they collapse what do you think they do in the matchmaking business? Same thing, well not quite, since their business bosses have a big problem, because they fear that “a happy customer is bad for business.” He or she may be happy after the first round of being matched and could be used as grateful customers who are willing to spread the word, but they also drop out the moment they have found their match, and may be unwilling to bother to be used as advertising tools. So you have to diversify and develop sophisticated models for second and third attempts and – even more important – for special relationships.

Slater goes through the ever-increasing breadth of partner online services. So here we go. In the case of you know what to expect, but what about The author tells you: “Life is short. Have an affair.” You get further specialization on, if you are looking for redheads etc, etc. .

Now you say how boring, I know all that, but hold on, there is more. Of course there is a “real life” story showing up just in time to catch your attention. Alexis, a young lady (20 +) from New York, who is swinging online and off, after all she lives in the Big Apple, where people meet, right? To what these excerpts are based on a real story is for you to decide but unless you are  one of those urban hipsters who don’t care about spilling your most private acts and thoughts in public, it could be an uncomfortable look into what can be called futuristic despair.

That leads to the question which the author is considering pretty thoroughly. What does this wonderful connectivity of supposedly loving partnerships do, not only  to “old fashioned” courting, commitment and monogamy, but also to well established but threatened institutions like marriage?

In sum, no matter your age and inclination, this book is worth more than a quick glance, especially since it is well written, witty and provocative

Dear all, have fun with the first guest contribution on on:

Doomsday and Love in Manil Suri’s “The City of Devi”:

Are you ready for a frenzy story of wild mobs in India’s big business blobber city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), getting totally out of hand, as rumours from a leaked communiqué forecast an immediate nuclear Pakistani attack on India?

You better be, because this coincides with the already frenzy frictions between Hindu and Muslims, driven by a crazy adventure film, called “Superdevi” which celebrates the heroic deeds of a poor slum-girl  assuming the superpowers of the avatars and Goddess Devi to fight crime. Hindu politicians exploit the theme and preaching the invincibility of the Hindu gods, they incite their followers to engage in bloody battle with Muslims, who had been their neighbors just a little while ago.

Just when you think enough of that gorish scenario, Suri is leading the reader into a very detailed and intimate “love” story, which describes the search of a young and bright female statistician Sarita for her husband Karun, who disappeared after attending a conference two weeks earlier. As chaos is breaking out around her, she reminiscence about her relationship, wondering why they hugged more than they kissed, with their “lovemaking remaining restricted above the waist.” So she has invented not only a heavenly star system mixed with pomegranates providing aphrodisiac power, she has also – as good statistician – been following the slow progress towards eventual success with precise entries into her diary.

What do you do with a character like Karun, whom we only meet through Sarita’s eyes and thoughts but who remains nothing more than a sweet nerd, a rather passive individual consumed by his own thoughts and problems? You invent a counterpart: In this case a gay Muslim called Jaz. He has wit and sophistication, charm and lust. He is well travelled, successful, ironic and seductive. Wow…but unfortunately he finds himself at the wrong side of the battle of Mumbai, as the Hindu masses are slaughtering the Muslim infidels.

Of course, he meets Sarita, who is still searching for her husband. The place is an abandoned aquarium where all fish have been destroyed except one lonely shark. As they make their way through the increasingly mad cityscape, the story takes on a black fairy tale character of surrounding of chaos and destruction takes place, and while those horrendous pictures of burned prisoners during “religious” ceremonies and the narrow escapes of our two heroes may become too much Bollywood for Western readers, the author leads them back to an ending which is at the same time tender and bittersweet.

So, who wonders, how professor of mathematics, teaching at University at America’s East Coast can write such an exciting story? For those who want to know, read the book (and then may be take a class online). But even for those who have read his earlier publications “The Death of Vishnu” (2001) and the “Age of Shiva” (2008) this is a great third strike they don’t want to miss.

Let me quickly review my reading and entertainment with Chad Harbach ‘s US-bestseller “The art of fielding.”

Get ready. The first 20 pages I thought the story was going to be boring, but then it started off:

While Henry, the gifted, pale, thin baseball talent plays in perfection (in the beginning of the story), after 20 pages he starts to fail as hell. His college roommate, Owen, smashed by one of Henry’s ricochet shots into the face needs  to be taken to hospital. There, Owen’s mother falls in love with the president of the college. The president falls in love with Owen. Henry’s best friend, Schwartzy, falls in love with Pella, the daughter of the president. In the meanwhile, the president and Owen are having a sexual and intellectual love affair and Henry and Schwartzy start to fight  with each other. The daughter of the president start to fight with Schwartzy as well. Henry moves in with the daughter of the president, sleeps with her and becomes anorexic…

At the end, one of them is dead:

  • Owen or
  • The president or
  • The president’s daughter or
  • Schwartzy or
  • Henry ?

I won’t tell.

However, the remaining four will, drunk and at night, exhume the dead body and sink it in the lake in front of the college.

Wow! What a story.

My personal remark: the chaos of erotic interplay and love circles reminded me of “Reigen” (“La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler). The language is very light and readable, it has an entertaining flow and flashy affinity with the writing of genius David Foster Wallace. (However, much less chaotic than Wallace’s style!)

So, do not be afraid that “The art of fielding” has 500 pages!
You’ll get through it very quickly.

Enjoy reading!

Today let me briefly recall the (rather short) novel written by Gabriel García Márquez.

It is lovely and poetic. From my perspective it tells a story about human judgement, love…

For you was I born, for you do I have life, for you will I die, for you am I now dying

…weakness, the fear of people who seem to be different (people claim that the small girl, Maria, is possessed by the devil)…

Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.

…the love despite of any fear

Do not allow me to forget yo

…and faith:

What is essential, therefore, is not that you no longer believe, but that God continues to believe in you.

However, at the end the human failure wins over. The 32-years old priest, Cayetano, who loves the little girl does not dare to completely conquer his fear and fails to save her. She dies due to the exorcist’s treatment.

I like the poetic style by Márquez when he writes about feelings. For me it is quite terrifying that this type of stigmatization was nothing special in the end of the 18th century, when this story takes place.

Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning

Maybe it is even more terrifying that there are still very rigid forms of government, societies and groups of human people who like to stigmatize. Maybe our human brain just likes to stigmatize? What do you think?

However, apart from these political or psychological questions which came into my mind while reading, this novel is a light, short, enjoyable and poetic narration about love, fear and faith.

Enjoy reading!

Can we prove that god is alive? Well, in 1986, John Updike published a story (Roger’s Version) in which Dave, an evangelical graduate student, believes that he can do it. He wants to prove god’s existence with computer science.

Here my personal relation to this book: Actually, I had never planned to read it. I had even never even heard about it. However, this day in autumn I went home from work (university) and had spent the whole day thinking about the chaotic nature of the world. My research is on chaotic flow, the so-called turbulence, which we can see outside of the window in the chaotic gusts of the wind, for example.

Only a few hundred of meters from home, there lay this book on the ground, besides the path that I walked. It lay on the back and was tattered. The first word on the open page was “turbulent.” I was stuck. It was something on “turbulence of which the chaotic nature cannot be computed”.

Well, on the next day, I went to the library to get the book. I have to admit: Updike had quite a profound idea as backbone of his drama. No, I am not referring to the sexual desires, he is writing about (as always). (In this case the protagonist is Roger Lambert, a theology professor in his fifties, who becomes involved with his niece Verna.) No, instead I am talking about the student, Dale, who wants to analyze as much empirical data as he can get until he finds the hand of god. Finally, in the very moment, when the hand of god appears in the data – the computer crashes down. The student almost gets crazy and finally stops his attempts to prove the existence of god.

By the way, the theology professor also becomes obsessed with the thought that Dale is having an affair with the professor’s wife, Esther.

Actually, I think that Updike was on the track of the fiddler’s paradise and philosophy of science. From my perspective he treats the question: How can we know what we know by data-analysis? Maybe you have an answer…

Enjoy reading!

Nancy Cartwright knows how to write about philosophy of science. Are fundamental (theoretical) laws true and what is their relation to reality? This is the sort of questions Cartwright deals with.

What is her seminal publication “How the Laws of Physics Lie” (1983) about?

The primary aim of this book is to argue against the facticity of fundamental laws.

Pardon, for example?

The vector addition story is, I admit, a nice one. But it is just a metaphor. We add forces (or the numbers that represent forces) when we do calculations. Nature does not ‘add’ forces. For the ‘component’ forces are not there, in any but a metaphorical sense, to be added; and the laws that say that they are there must also be given a metaphorical reading.

Yes, I agree. It is not necessarily clear that different forces can simply be added (or how they can be added). For example, are deformation forces and gravity force in fluid dynamics ontologically the same?

We may use the fundamental equations of physics to calculate precise quantitative facts about real situations, but as I have urged in earlier essays, abstract fundamental laws are nothing like the complicated, messy laws which describe reality. […]

Ok, I see the point. What is then the “simulacrum account” for (conceptual) models?

The second definition of ‘simulacrum‘ in the Oxford English Dictionary says that a simulacrum is ‘something having merely the form of appearance of a certain thinking, without possessing its substance or proper qualities.’ This is just what I have been urging that models in physics are like.

Ok, so models are not reality either. However, models are closer to reality than fundamental theories?

A model is a work of fiction. Some properties ascribed to objects in the model will be genuine properties of the objects modelled, but others will be merely properties of convenience.

A work of fiction?

Imagine that we want to stage a given historical episode. We are primarily interested in teaching a moral about the motives and behaviour of the participants. But we would also like the drama to be as realistic as possible…

Ok, I understand. Physics as theatre!

Physics is like that. […] Adjustments are made where literal correctness does not matter very much in order to get the correct effects where we want them; and very often, as in the staging example, one distortion is put right by another.

At least, we hope so.

In brief, Cartwright states that the explanatory power of fundamental laws does not argue for their truth. She proposes a simulacrum account of explanation, namely the route from theory to (mathematical) conceptual model and from conceptual model to phenomenological law. She states that fundamental laws are only true with respect to the (mathematical) conceptual model.

Key words of the work are: “unprepared description” (first step of theory entry which is informal) and preparation of the description (with bridge principles), fundamental theories and phenomenological theories

For me, compared to other books on philosophy of science this work ist both, entertaining and illustrating. It provides the broad view and gives many references to other philosophers such as van Fraassen, Hume, Duhem and others. On the other hand it gives very specific and detailed examples of quantum mechanics.

Enjoy reading!

Können wir gesetzesartige Hypothesen überhaupt von zufälligen unterscheiden? Das fragt Nelson Goodman in seinem philosophischen Klassiker von 1955. Goodman bringt Qualitätszuschreibungen mit Zeitverlauf in Verbindung und konfrontiert die Philosophen (zu ihrer Freude oder Unfreude) mit neuen Formen des Unwissens.

Dass Begriffsgenauigkeit ihm sehr am Herzen liegt, zeigt Goodman mit seinen kleinteiligen Analysen von Prädikaten in Verbindung mit möglichen Zuständen oder Verhaltensweisen (Dispositionen). Wiederholt seziert er Prädikatbildung mit beinahe mathematischer Gründlichkeit und Akribie und die Goodman’schen Begriffschöpfungen, wie z.B. grot und rün, geistern bis heute durch die philosophische Fachliteratur.

Am bekanntesten sind wohl seine Wortschöpfungen, wie etwa grückig, gründ, grot, rün. Er bringt dadurch Prädikatszuschreibungen (in seinen Beispielen meistens Adjektive) eines Gegenstandes mit dem Zeitpunkt in Verbindung , zu dem der Gegenstand auf das Prädikat hin untersucht wird. Grot bezeichnet zum Beispiel alle Gegenstände, die vor dem Zeitpunkt, t, untersucht wurden, wenn sie grün sind, oder rot sind und nicht vor dem Zeitpunkt, t, untersucht wurden.

Interessant sind aber auch seine weniger populären Textstellen. Zum Beispiel kann man bei Goodman eine über zehnseitige Abhandlung zum ThemaBiegsamkeit” lesen. Hand aufs Herz: Was meinen wir denn wirklich mit dem Wort “biegsam”?

Bedeutet die Aussage, dass ein Gegenstand “biegsam” ist, dass der Gegenstand sich dann biegt, wenn man die passende Kraft dazu aufbringt? Ist das eine mathematisch exakte “wenn-dann”-Beziehung oder braucht man weitere günstige Umstände, damit sich der Körper biegt? Gilt das ganze auch in einer rein hypothetischen Beziehung; das heißt, kann man einen Gegenstand auch dann “biegsam” nennen, wenn er niemals gebogen wird?

Wir wollen von jetzt an für ‘biegt sich unter einen passenden Kraft’ ‘biggt‘ und “biegt sich unter einen passenden Kraft nicht’ ‘nonbiggt’ sagen. Nun schließen sich ‘biggt‘ und ‘non-biggt‘ gegenseitig aus, und eines davon trifft immer auf einen Gegenstand zu, der einer passenden Kraft unterworfen ist; doch auf andere Gegenstände trifft keines von beiden zu. […] Im Bereich der Gegenstände, die keiner passenden Kraft unterworfen sind, bilden die beiden Prädikate nicht nur eine Dichotomie, sondern fallen mit ‘biegsam’ und ‘nicht biegsam’ zusammen. […] Ein Prädikat wie ‘biegsam’ lässt sich also als eine Erweiterung oder Fortsetzung eines Prädikats wie ‘biggt’ auffassen. Das Problem besteht darin, solche Fortsetzungen lediglich mittels manifester Prädikate zu definieren.

(Im Folgenden geht Goodman dann auf die Problematik ein, manifeste Hilfsprädikate zu finden, die mit ‘biggt’ über Gesetze oder kausale Zusammenhänge auf geeignete Weise zusammenhängen, wofür es seiner Meinung nach kein allgemeingültiges Kochrezept gibt.)

Was soll man denn nun mit diesem Text anfangen? Mein persönliches Fazit geht unter anderem auf die folgende Textstelle zurück:

Das Argument, man solle besser auf die Definition eines Ausdrucks bei Erklärung verzichten, falls er nicht üblicherweise von Laien oder Wissenschaftlern definiert werde, ähnelt dem Argument, die Philosophie brauche nicht systematisch zu sein, soweit nicht die von ihr beschriebene Wirklichkeit systematisch sei. Ebensogut könnte man sagen, die Philsophie solle nicht auf Deutsch geschrieben werden, da die Welt nicht auf Deutsch geschrieben sei.

Insgesamt lese ich den Text von Goodman als brennende Befürwortung einer möglichst exakten und wohlüberlegten Begriffsnutzung. Er macht uns darauf aufmerksam, wie schwer es uns fällt, mögliche Wahrheiten von tatsächlichen Wahrheiten zu unterscheiden. Mir ist nach der Lektüre wieder einmal klar geworden, dass außerhalb von lokal definierten Axiomensystemen (die Goodman übrigens auch im Blick hat) keine absoluten Wahrheiten oder Gesetzmäßigkeiten existieren müssen. Ob das so ist, bleibt aber vermutlich eine Glaubensfrage.

Viel Spaß beim Lesen wünsche ich all denjenigen, die Freude an ernsthaften philosophischen Texten mit unterhaltsamen Wortschöpfungen haben. Biggt die grückigen groten Rünen! Prost!