Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Underneath every revolution lay a zero — and an infinity

September 12, 2007

“Zero is powerful because it is infinity’s twin.  They are equal and opposite, yin and yang.  They are equally paradoxical and troubling.  The biggest questions in science and religion are about nothingness and eternity; the void and the infinite, zero and infinity.  The clashes over zero were the battles that shook the foundations of philosophy, of science, of mathematics, and of religion.  Underneath every revolution lay a zero — and an infinity.”

Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

Great Book = Interesting Information + Arguments

July 29, 2007

What is the longest argument you’ve ever made? What is the longest argument you’ve ever read?

By an “argument” I mean: collect together some information nuggets, show how they are related, and then draw a logical conclusion from them.

Most of the (engineering) books I read are oriented toward providing information and techniques, not toward forming arguments.

Recently, however, I have been reading two outstanding books:

— Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

— Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred Whitehead

And through careful reading I have become aware of the arguments being made in these books.  I say “careful reading” because their arguments aren’t immediately obvious, at least not to me.

After reading a page I pause and reflect on the ideas presented.  Slowly I am seeing how the arguments are being constructed.

In Smith’s book the arguments are well contained; at the end of each chapter he ties together the various parts of the argument.  Whitehead’s arguments are more complex and subtle; they can span multiple chapters.

Whitehead’s book is on mathematics.  It occurred to me, “Why are there arguments in a book on mathematics?  Shouldn’t it just contain information and techniques, like my engineering books?”  I’ve been puzzling over why I like Whitehead’s book so very much, particularly since I am not especially interested in mathematics. Now I think I know why: because it contains both information and arguments.

The realization that I have come to is that I like books which contain both interesting information as well as arguments.

Whitehead was both a mathematician and a philosopher.  Smith was both an economist and a philosopher.

A philosopher is a master of arguments.

I think great books are those that contain interesting information and are also philosophical (i.e. contain arguments).

In our sound bite society we don’t see many long, elaborate, elegant arguments.  That’s a shame.

I want happiness because …

June 30, 2007

Complete this sentence: I want happiness because …

It is impossible to complete the sentence!

The word happiness is used to name that which is desirable solely for itself and not as a means to anything else.

Of anything else that one wants, it is always possible to say, “I want it because it will contribute to my happiness”. That is, the thing he wants is not the end of his striving, he has not arrived at his ultimate good — his happiness.

Definition of “Ultimate”: for something to be ultimate in any dimension or direction, it must be that beyond which one cannot go.

Happiness is an ultimate.

— From Six Great Ideas, by Mortimer Adler