Review: Exploring Metaphysics

Exploring MetaphysicsExploring Metaphysics by David K. Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Great Courses have lived up to the name on each of my previous selections, so perhaps I should chalk this up as an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation and move on. I am a nerdy kinda guy and very intrigued with physics, cosmology and some of the more esoteric questions about how life the universe and everything got started. Exploring Metaphysics should be a logical expansion of my interests. Questions about the nature of self, personhood, time, and reality are fantastic questions. I spend more time then I should admit debating and filling notebooks with my musings on these subjects, but apparently the actual discourse of metaphysics is indistinguishable from philosophy and utterly irks me. It is a dizzying knot of conjecture which in each case seems to present absurd dualities citing again and again, “if this is true, then the opposite must necessarily be false”. This maxim and many like it create logical levers which pry at and build on each preceding supposition until we ramble into some “QED” which invariably is qualified as “still very much in debate”… no shit.

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Review: The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age
The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrifying, without being sensationalized; Nathan Wolfe describes the world of infectious diseases in clear context. Wolfe’s research spans several continents and decades. His investigations have taken him to the epicenter of numerous lethal breeding grounds for trans-species viruses. As he describes the method of transference, process of genetic recombination, and life cycle or various viruses, it becomes clear that large scale outbreaks are inevitable. Wolfe does also provide hope through initiatives that should effect our response times and cultural adjustments which could disrupt transmission, but it is still fairly bleak. Knowledge is always preferable to ignorance, but I will miss my blissful self-delusion.

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Review: Classical Mythology

Classical Mythology
Classical Mythology by Elizabeth Vandiver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Vandiver’s lectures focus on why we create myth, and what we can infer and deduce from from the historical and contextual references within classical mythology. Through the lectures she does outline several examples of specific myths, traces ancestry of both fictitious and historic persons, and the psychology of myth-making. This was all fun and educational material, but the clear take-away was that I need to read some works by Ovid. He was the Oscar Wilde of ancient Rome and a total badass.

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Review: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Flatland is an ambitious concept book. When I started reading it I knew it was a thought experiment in conceiving higher dimensions, but had not realized its scope was even greater. I was surprised to see all of the class/caste distinction; shocked to see the religious criticism; astounded to see sexism incorporated into the satire as well. Unfortunately Abbott only actually investigates the geometry and religious aspects, and the classicism and sexism was just the reality of being British in the 1880s. I guess that is mostly what soured me on the story. So much time is spent establishing the rigid caste system and degrading the females that I expected enlightenment within those arenas as greater perspective is afforded. Sadly this is not the case. The principal subject is geometry and the conception of higher dimensions. As this was written roughly 100 years before broad acceptance of String Theory and M-Theory, I appreciate that the conjecture is not limited to imagining 4th dimension. The thought game described in the book is to imagine a two-dimensional point of view describing a second dimension to a one-dimensional character and attempting to do the same with a non-dimensional point. Our character is then confronted with a three-dimensional character who reveals the third dimension and together they discuss higher dimensions. As a mathematical progression they imply an infinite progression of dimensions. If you have read Jules Verne| then you should be prepared for the laborious dialogue and circular exposition common of that genre and era. Flatland is a little tedious, very sexist and only marginally successful at framing the thought experiment, but the fact that it exists at all is the real marvel. I love that the experiment was attempted at this scale and has persisted for generations. It is a landmark achievement in science and science-fiction.

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Review: Language A to Z

Language A to Z
Language A to Z by John McWhorter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Highly Recommended. Any good survey course will provide enough information to ignite your curiosity and give you a little something to take with you. John McWhorter’s 24 part lecture series is pure enjoyment. He is an engaging speaker and is able to present a clear understanding of the field of linguistics, the history of language and writing and it’s effect on our understanding of both, the breadth of communication structures, modulation of grammar and lexicon, and numerous other fascinating insights, each with very specific and illustrative examples. The series only about 6.5 hours (at 1x speed) and well worth the listen.

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Review: Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos

Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos
Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parallel Worlds is very engaging and does delve into some interesting concepts especially in regard to black holes, wormholes, and of course parallel worlds. Definitely re-hashes (and sometimes lifts intact) chapters in other books by Kaku. This is understandable but somewhat tiresome if you are familiar with the other works. He can be quite illustrative and willing to imagine beyond what can be easily projected. The speculative aspects of the Future of the Cosmos sets this apart from others writing in the field.

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Review: Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time

Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time
Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kaku infuses humanity into the paragon of modern physics while revealing the kernel of inspiration for each of Einstein’s most notable achievements. Einstein’s belief that any concept can be embodied in a simple picture both underscores his genius for conceiving of his illuminating scenarios, but also begins to lay the foundation for his lifelong unease with the quantum theory which defies simple distillation. When you expose all of his fears, failures, ego and doubt you cannot help but ground him in a simple humanity which makes his impact all the more immense.

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Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an absolute pleasure to read. Bill Bryson takes his travel journal charm and peels back the curtain on the history of science and our understanding of life, our planet and the cosmos. He manages to balance the explanation of the discovery and place it in context without feeling overwhelmed with the data dump. ASHoNE is perhaps a little more accessible than the already brilliantly accessible works by Brian Greenebut with greater breadth. I would recommend this to anyone who has curiosity about science, where we come from and the nature of the universe. It would be a great companion to the Cosmos television series (both new and old).

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