PHILOSOPHY IN CLASSICAL INDIA: An Introduction and Analysis by Jonardon Ganeri

Lest you think that all I read are mid-twentieth century noir detective stories, I bring you…. ta-da ….. philosophy.  I read a while ago an article which I now cannot find, the gist of which was our idea of philosophy is western-centric.  It is all about Aristotle, Plato, Hegel, Kant, etc. etc. with nothing about Eastern philosophy, which we tend to dismiss as ‘religion’, or ‘mysticism’,  not ‘philosophy’.

Gameri, a Fellow of the British Academy,  has set out to set us straight on this by way of this original work which focuses on the rational principles of Indian philosophical theory, rather than the mysticism more usually associated with it. Ganeri explores the philosophical projects of a number of major Indian philosophers and looks into the methods of rational inquiry deployed within these projects. In so doing, he illuminates a network of mutual reference, criticism, influence and response, in which reason is used to call itself into question. This fresh perspective on classical Indian thought unravels new philosophical paradigms, and points towards new applications for the concept of reason.

Some of that is from the official blurb, and it explains it very well.  This was certainly interesting reading, a lot of it concerning how to think about how to think.  Consciousness, ideation,  and what makes a rational thought.  Made me think of AI and how possibly we are approaching the task of trying to teach a robot to think when we don’t ourselves know how we think.

Just one quote for you, should you be in the mood for some mind bending:

… a sophisticated theory of content.  It is alleged that a person witnessing a mirage does not see the refracted sun’s rays, even if in the right sort of physical connection with them.  Neither does he see water, for there is none to be seen.  Someone witnessing a mirage does not see anything, but only seems to see water.  And a person who witnesses a ball of dust in the distance does not see the dust if he is uncertain whether it is dust or smoke.  An object is not seen if it is not seen distinctly.

So when you ‘see’ a mirage of water, you are not seeing the water, because there is no water to see, and you are not seeing the defracted particles, because they have been converted into the ‘water’.  What exactly are you ‘seeing’?

How do you teach an AI about mirages?

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EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE by Walter Isaacson

This is the definitive biography of Albert Einstein.  At least, that is what the blurb tells us, and after having read it, I can say it sure is a dandy, definitive or no.

How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk—a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate—became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom, and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.

These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

Issacson obviously admires Einstein tremendously, and the book is filled with all kinds of trivia about his personal life, in which he emerges as the quintessential absent minded profressor, as well as an emotionally distant family man.  He was married twice, and Issaacson seems to dance around the issue of his many affairs.  He was something of a womanizer,  and was married twice.

The book is also filled with lots and lots of explanations of his theories and the quantum concepts, which I really loved as much as the info on his personal life.  He really did say God doesn’t play dice!  Who knew.  I thought that was just one of those internet memes somebody made up.

What I especially found fascinating was the fact that he developed his theories from visualization in his head … thought experiments, …. rather than from mathematical equations.  In fact, he disliked mathematics, and often acquired coworkers to do the math stuff for him.

Great book, extremely readable, wonderful especially considering the esoteric target of Einstein’s genius.

THE INNOVATORS by Walter Isaacson

The tag line on the title is How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.   If you are interested in the history of how computers came to be, with the contributions of the women actually included, then this is the tome for you.  It is a doorstop of a book,  and is  an overview of the history of computer science and the Digital Revolution.

It is an overview.  Keep that in mind.  It is not a thoroughly comprehensive setting down of the minutiae of every little tiny contribution to what today we know as computers and the internet.  For a non-hacker such as myself, it was enough.  700 pages of this stuff is enough.  Really.

But it was truly fascinating for me, since I am the kind of person who wants to put a key in the ignition of a car and have it turn on. I don’t need or want to know the history and ins and outs of the combustion engine in order to drive to Walmart to pick up some sliced turkey.  I want to turn on my computer and have stuff appear on my screen without too much effort on my part.  I don’t need to know the history of bidirectional information transfer.  I just want to get on Facebook and write my email.

Nevertheless, I really DID find it all interesting.  Isaacson’s main point, which frankly he beats to death, is that computers and the internet were not invented by one lone nerd working solo in his mother’s basement.  It was a collaborative effort, each advance working off the ideas of others until it became difficult to assign credit for just who was responsible for what idea.  OK.  I get it.

The author also wrote a biography of Einstein and an examination of his theories, which I am one-third through and enjoying immensely,  and he wrote possibly the definitive biograph of Steve Jobs.  Also bios of Ben Franklin and Kissinger.   I have the Jobs bio in the queue to read.

Nerds, geeks and those who are very familiar with all the history of computers will no doubt find sebendy lebendy things to take issue with, because this, that or the other thing, issue, person wasn’t mentioned or given enough screen time, but frankly, for the lay person sitting in the congregation, it is just fine.  The acolytes can find another priest to write an even MORE detailed account.

ENIAC, considered the first computer. All of this computer power is today in your cell phone.

 

An early HP offering.

THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE by Bessel A. van der Kolk

I bet you thought this was another mystery, right?  Fooled you.  It is a treatise on trauma and its effect on the brain by a noted  trauma expert. Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors of trauma.  He transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives.

It is beautifully readable, and although fairly long, so interesting so that the reader keeps turning pages.  Yeah, it’s that good.  It is a  thorough exploration of trauma and its effects, written for both practitioners and laypeople.  I have been interested in PTSD for some time, and when I have the opportunity, like to read on the subject.

If trauma and its effects interest you, I highly recommend this book.

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

And over here to your right, ladies and gentlement, we have the quintessential dysfunctional family, with the requisite alcoholic father who drinks up all the family money, and steals from his kids to buy more alcohol.  Seems like a common theme, doesn’t it.

This is a memoir,  sad, engaging, and full of questions like why?  why?  and WTF?   The two parents are basically hippie types, they live off the land, meaning they don’t pay their rent and are always moving, sometimes living in camping style out in the desert.  Mom has a teaching certificate which doesn’t do much good as she doesn’t like to work, preferring to stay home and paint.  Dad works sporadically, that is until he gets fired, usually for anger management issues.  Well, that and drunkeness.

The four children are left to raise themselves, and the book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, but also spotlights that not everyone has the same amount of resilience in their bucket.

After living in horrifying poverty in Appalachia,  where the kids ate by foraging in trash cans and being fed by neighbors, the kids manage to escape, one by one, to go to college.  All of the kids became successful, while the parents never rose above their addiction and poverty, and never really wanted to.   One day in Manhattan, the author came across her parents rummaging in the trash on the street.  All efforts on the part of the kids to help them were in vain.   The parents wanted no help, and preferred their homeless lifestyle.  Eventually, they ended up as squatters in an abandoned building, where they found a community of other squatters, and lived there for years.  The youngest sister developed mental problems, and spent a year in a psychiatric institution after trying to stab her mother with a knife.  On her release, she disappeared into California.

It was a truly compelling story, one you couldn’t put down, something like watching a train wreck.   Loved the book.

The author was a  former gossip columnist for MSNBC.com .  This memoir was made into a movie, with a bunch of famous actors.  It is supposed to be released in August, this year.

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SPOOK by Mary Roach

Mary Roach writes non-fiction about some fun topics.  You can read about Packing for Mars here.   And Stiff here,  Six Feet Over-Adventures in the Afterlife here,  and My Planet here.

Now here is a curious thing, in a world of curious things.  Spook seems to be the same book as Six Feet Over.   As I was reading Spook, I kept having the idea I had read some of it before.   I read Six Feet Over  in 2015, which is 14 years ago in Old Lady Years.  So I went to her website to see if I could find anything about the book being retitled.  Nothing.  There is no reference at all to Six Feet Over on her site.  I tried Wiki, my Lazy Goto for all purposes.  Same result.  I find this very spooky.  So to speak.  When you ask for Six Feet Over on Amazon, you get Spook.

Well, all I can say is thank Buddha for a short memory, because although quite a bit of it felt familiar, some was seemingly ‘new to me’.  Perhaps, back in the days when I watched television, that was why I always liked reruns, because I pretty much didn’t remember the original broadcast.  New to Me TV.

So if you want to know what Spook is about, and what I thought of it, pop on back via the handy dandy link to Six Feet Over.  Maybe I am just living in an alternate universe in which Six Feet Over is marketed as Spook.

 

THE DEEP STATE by Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren’s cogent and frightening jeremiad against the forces which are chiseling away at the country and at democracy strikes a warning bell for us all to open our eyes and see what is really going on.  The strapline is The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, and he proceeds to show us just how this is happening, and how it started back during the Reagan years.

He says  that the political theater that is endlessly tweeted and blogged about has nothing to do with actual decision making. The real work gets done behind the scenes by invisible bureaucrats working for the vast web of agencies that actually dictate our foreign policy, defense posture, and security decisions.

Actual power lies in the Deep State, Washington’s shadowy power elite, in the pockets of corporate interests and dependent on the moguls of Silicon Valley, whose data-collecting systems enable the U.S. government to spy on our every move, swipe, and click.

He laments the rise of corporate profiteering in the “War on Terror,” calling back to warnings from decades’ past about the U.S. military industrial complex, which warnings go back as far as Eisenhower. Corporate and political actors profit from hundreds of billions a year spent on a bloated “national security” state, at the expense of social spending on education, health care, and infrastructural needs. In an era of record inequality, the fixation of U.S. political and economic elites on militarism exacts a huge cost, draining much needed financial resources that could be allocated toward rebuilding the country and providing for the basic needs of the citizenry.

He focuses on the dangers of the growing national security state, coordinated largely through the NSA and other agencies, and to condemn their assault on citizens’ privacy rights.

He voices his concern about  the rise of Wall Street power,  stating that financial deregulation is one of the greatest threats to our economy, and the failure of both political parties to limit the power of financial elites is one of the great tragedies of modern times. The American banking system has historically been a parasitic force in the American economy. Wall Street’s speculation on vital goods such as oil, housing, internet stocks, and other goods has fed stock market bubbles, the collapse of which wreak havoc on the economy and American workers, draining their retirement savings, and fueling the rise of unemployment and underemployment. Financialization undermines the economy – which is now largely driven by speculators and characterized by anemic to non-existent economic growth. What profit gains exist are now largely captured by financial and other corporate elites. Meanwhile, the masses of Americans find themselves working longer hours, with increased productivity, for stagnating to declining wages, amidst huge increases in cost-of-living via out-of-control health care and education costs.

What he says is scary and he has the references to back it all up. I found it a very hard book to read, because of the bleak picture it presents not only of our present time, but of the future as well.

Lofgren is well qualified to address these issues.  He is an insider, he knows the principal players.  He was military legislative assistant to Republican former House representative John Kasich in 1983. In 1994 he was a professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee. From 1995 to 2004, he was budget analyst for national security on the majority staff of the House Budget Committee. From 2005 until his 2011 retirement, Lofgren was the chief analyst for military spending on the Senate Budget Committee.

In September 2011, Lofgren published an essay entitled Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult on the website Truthout. In it he explains why he retired when he did, writing that he was “appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them.” He charged that both major American political parties are “rotten captives to corporate loot,” but that while Democrats are merely weak and out of touch, the Republican Party is “becoming more like an apocalyptic cult.” He particularly described Republicans as caring exclusively about their rich donors; being psychologically predisposed toward war; and pandering to the anti-intellectual, science-hostile, religious fundamentalist fringe.