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Full title The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Categories Astronomy, philosophy and science
Publication year 1996
Pages 416
Synopsis

The Demon-Haunted World deals with human imagination, science, and scepticism, in a nutshell. In reality it's so much more: It's a defense of scepticism, an advertisement for science, a crash course in wonder, and an explanation of science and what it's all about. My favorite chapters, I think, are The Dragon in My Garage and The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.

Full title Free Will [permalink]
Language English
Author Sam Harris (author)
Category Philosophy
Publication year 2012
Pages 96
Synopsis

Using psychology, results from neuroscience, and clever reasoning, Sam Harris shows how free will is an illusion.

Full title Freedom Evolves [permalink]
Language English
Author Daniel Dennett (author)
Publisher Viking Books
Categories Philosophy, psychology and science
Publication year 2003
ISBN 0-670-03186-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 347
Images Back flap of Freedom Evolves.Back of Freedom Evolves.Spine of Freedom Evolves.Front of Freedom Evolves.Front flap of Freedom Evolves.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface

Chapter 1: Natural Freedom

  • Learning What We Are
  • I Am Who I Am
  • The Air We Breathe
  • Dumbo's Magic Feather and the Peril of Paulina

Chapter 2: A Tool for Thinking About Determinism

  • Some Useful Oversimplifications
  • From Physics to Design in conway's Life World
  • Can We Get the Deus ex Machina?
  • From Slow-motion Avoidance to Star Wars
  • The Birth of Evitability

Chapter 3: Thinking About Determinism

  • Possible Worlds
  • Causation
  • Austin's Putt
  • A Computer Chess Marathon
  • Events without Causes in a Deterministic Universe
  • Will the Future Be Like the Past?

Chapter 4: A Hearing for Libertarianism

  • The Appeal of Libertarianism
  • Where Should We Put the Much-needed Gap?
  • Kane's Mode of Indeterministic Decision-making
  • "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything"
  • Beware of Prime Mammals
  • How Can It Be "Up to Me"?

Chapter 5: Where Does all the Design Come From?

  • Early Days
  • The Prisoner's Dilemma
  • E Pluribus Unum?
  • Digression: The Threat of Genetic Determinism
  • Degrees of Freedom and the Search for Truth

Chapter 6: The Evolution of Open Minds

  • How Cultural Symbionts Turn Primates into Persons
  • The Diversity of Darwinian Explanations
  • Nice Tools, but You Still Have to Use Them

Chapter 7: The Evolution of Moral Agency

  • Benselfishness
  • Being Good in Order to Seem Good
  • Learning to Deal with Yourself
  • Our Costly Merit Badges

Chapter 8: Are You Out of the Loop?

  • Drawing the Wrong Moral
  • Whenever the Spirit Moves You
  • A Mind-writer's View
  • A Self of One's Own

Chapter 9: Bootstrapping Ourselves Free

  • How We Captured Reasons and Made Them Our Own
  • Psychic Engineering and the Arms Race of Rationality
  • With a Little Help from My Friends
  • Autonomy, Brainwashing, and Education

Chapter 10: The Future of Human Freedom

  • Holding the Line against Creeping Exculpation
  • "Thanks, I Needed That!"
  • Are We Freer Than We Want to Be?
  • Human Freedom Is Fragile
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Lying [permalink]
Language English
Authors Annaka Harris (editor) and Sam Harris (author)
Categories Essay, philosophy and psychology
Publication year 2011
Original publication year 2011
Pages 66
Synopsis

Lying is a very short book about the implications and morality of lying. In short, Harris argues (successfully, in my opinion) that one should never lie, even about the smallest things, if what you're trying to do is build good relationships with people. He even goes into border cases, such as a wife asking her husband if she looks good in a dress (one can answer the sub-text of a question, not necessarily the literal meaning of it) and someone hiding a Jew when a Nazi comes a-knockin' on the door (in that case, you're not really trying to build a lasting relationship with the person).

Review

Sam Harris is a really talented writer, and reading his material is never boring. This book is no exception, and the fact that it's as short as it is, is a point in its favor. It's the perfect length when all you're doing is making an argument, not laying out in detail a theory. (I wish more writers would be similarly inspired to brevity.)

Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • What Is a Lie?
  • The Mirror of Honesty
  • Two Types of Lies
  • White Lies
  • Trust
  • Faint Praise
  • Secrets
  • Lies in Extremis
  • Mental Accounting
  • Integrity
  • Big Lies
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
Full title The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values [permalink]
Language English
Author Sam Harris (author)
Publisher Black Swan
Categories Philosophy and science
Publication year 2012
Original publication year 2010
ISBN 978-0-552-77638-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 380
Images Back of The Moral Landscape.Spine of The Moral Landscape.Front of The Moral Landscape.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction: The Moral Landscape
  • Chapter 1: Moral Truth
  • Chapter 2: Good and Evil
  • Chapter 3: Belief
  • Chapter 4: Religion
  • Chapter 5: The Future of Happiness
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
Full title Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes [permalink]
Language English
Authors Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Humor and philosophy
Publication year 2008
Original publication year 2007
ISBN 978-0-14-311387-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 215
Synopsis

The book is divided into ten chapters, each dealing with a different area of philosophy. The chapters explain concepts concerning each area, interspersed with banter and jokes.

Review

As many people have observed, a session of jokes can often illuminate a subject more than hours of discussion can, and this book is an example of that. The book is essentially a string of jokes with banter to connect them and explain the concepts introduced in the jokes. The explanations themselves are light-hearted and full of puns. An example of a joke illustrating the difference between what philosophers call essential and accidental attributes:

"Why is an elephant big, hairy, and wrinkled?"

"Because if he was small, white, and round, he'd be an aspirin."

And another on skepticism and the scientific method (or inductive reasoning, if you will):

A scientist and his wife are out for a drive in the country. The wife says, "Oh look! Those sheep have been shorn."

"Yes," says the scientist. "On this side."

In the section on the philosophy of religion are also jokes, of course, and I found this Jewish one pretty funny:

Two women are sitting on a bench. After a while the first woman says, "Oy!"

The second woman replies, "Oy!"

The first woman says, "All right, enough about the children."

And a final one, on the relativity of time:

A snail was mugged by two turtles. When the police asked him what happened, he said, "I don't know. It all happened so fast."

Go read it if you've got time to kill.

Images Back of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar....Spine of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar....Front of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar....
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Philogaggin: An Introduction
  • I. Metaphysics
  • II. Logic
  • III. Epistemology
  • IV. Ethics
  • V. Philosophy of Religion
  • VI. Existentialism
  • VII. Philosophy of Language
  • VIII. Social and Political Philosophy
  • IX. Relativity
  • X. Meta-Philosophy
  • Summa Time: A Conclusion
  • Final Exam
  • Great Moments in the History of Philosophy
  • Glossary
  • Suggestions for Further Reading
  • Index
Full title The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer [permalink]
Language English
Author Christopher Hitchens (foreword)
Publisher Da Capo Press
Categories Anthology, philosophy and religion
Publication year 2007
Pages 499
Synopsis

A huge collection of writings by atheists about religion, faith, non-religion, reason, science, and logic, with biographical information on each author. Some of them are pretty dated, but they're interesting nonetheless.

Images Back of The Portable Atheist.Spine of The Portable Atheist.Front of The Portable Atheist.
Full title The Reason-Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? [permalink]
Language English
Authors Robert M. Price (author) and Julia Sweeney (foreword)
Publisher Prometheus Books
Categories Bible, philosophy, religion and skepticism
Publication year 2006
ISBN 978-1-59102-476-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 363
Synopsis

The Reason-Driven Life is written as a response and critique of Rick Warren's similarly-titled book, The Purpose-Driven Life. It's structured in much the same way as Warren's book, with 40 chapters meant to be read over 40 days. At the end of each chapter is a Point to Ponder, a Quote to Remember, and a Question to Consider. It's written mainly for Christians who have actually read Warren's book, which I'm not and which I haven't.

Review

It's a somewhat interesting read in that Price is a Bible scholar and really knows his stuff, however the book is meant for someone with a different mentality than my own. So I had to imagine I was a fundamentalist Christian for most of the book. The tone of the book is very respectful, though forceful and to-the-point (all this to say that it's a very personal and honest book). I imagine a wavering intelligent (fundamentalist) Christian would really enjoy it, and maybe even be deconverted by it. Go for it if you're curious, but if you're like me (skeptical and non-religious by nature) you can safely skip it! There are other, better, Price books.

Images Back flap of The Reason-Driven Life.Back of The Reason-Driven Life.Spine of The Reason-Driven Life.Front of The Reason-Driven Life.Front flap of The Reason-Driven Life.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  1. It Is about You
  2. You Are a Work of Art
  3. One-Track Mind?
  4. Sons of Dust
  5. My View Is God's View
  6. No Changes Are Permanent, but Change Is
  7. The Mystery of Everything
  8. God: Planned for Our Pleasure
  9. What Makes Me Sick
  10. The Achilles' Heel of Worship
  11. Becoming Imaginary Friends with God
  12. Providence and Superstition
  13. Worship That Creates God
  14. I Can't Get No Sanctification
  15. Joining the Sect
  16. The Greatest of These
  17. A Place to Conform
  18. Heretics Anonymous
  19. Price's Ten Commandments
  20. Healing Religious Divisions
  21. Damage Control
  22. The Character of Christ
  23. When Is a Religion Not a Religion?
  24. This Paper Idol
  25. Jesus with a Jackhammer
  26. Satan's Sunday School
  27. Temp Job
  28. Jerusalem Wasn't Built in a Day
  29. Service Industry
  30. Cut Out the Holy Ghost Noise!
  31. Cogs for Christ
  32. Being Who You Are
  33. How Twisted Texts Scream
  34. Meetings with Unremarkable Men
  35. Was Is Peace/Freedom Is Slavery/Weakness Is Strength
  36. Made into Missionaries
  37. Fabricating Your Life Message
  38. The Hidden Agenda of Witnessing
  39. Juggling Your Life
  40. Not without Reason
  • Bibliography
Full title The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature — Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901–1902 [permalink]
Language English
Author William James (author)
Categories Philosophy, psychology and religion
Publication year 1902
Online version Link
Synopsis

This is the manuscript version of a series of lectures that the Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James gave in Edinburgh between 1901 and 1902 (the so-called Gifford series of lectures given annually at a number of Scottish universities). It explores, as the title implies, varieties of religious experience, from different parts of the world in different times and by different means (although, perhaps only to modern readers, the absence of a full discussion on animistic or primitive or tribal religion is conspicuous). These lectures contain a plethora of case studies, excerpts, and poignant vignettes on whatever the subject happens to be, which really helps give the expositions more context.

Review

I think I will have to re-read this book eventually, as I don't feel I can give a proper review not having really understood it completely.

Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • LECTURE I: Religion and Neurology
  • LECTURE II: Circumscription of the Topic
  • LECTURE III: The Reality of the Unseen
  • LECTURES IV AND V: The Religion of Healthy-mindedness
  • LECTURES VI AND VII: The Sick Soul
  • LECTURE VIII: The Divided Self, and the Process of its Unification
  • LECTURE IX: Conversion
  • LECTURE X: Conversion—concluded
  • LECTURES XI, XII, AND XIII: Saintliness
  • LECTURES XIV AND XV: The Value of Saintliness
  • LECTURES XVI AND XVII: Mysticism
  • LECTURE XVIII: Philosophy
  • LECTURE XIX: Other Characteristics
  • LECTURE XX: Conclusions
  • Postscript
Full title Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time [permalink]
Language English
Authors Michael Shermer (author) and Stephen Jay Gould (foreword)
Publisher W. H. Freeman and Company
Categories Philosophy, science and skepticism
Publication year 1997
ISBN 0-7167-3387-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 306
Images Back flap of Why People Believe Weird Things.Back of Why People Believe Weird Things.Spine of Why People Believe Weird Things.Front of Why People Believe Weird Things.Front flap of Why People Believe Weird Things.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword: The Positive Power of Skepticism by Stephen Jay Gould
  • Introduction to the Paperback Edition: Magical Mystery Tour: The Whys and Wherefores of Weird Things
  • Prologue: Next on Oprah

Part 1: Science and Skepticism

  • 1. I Am Therefore I Think: A Skeptic's Manifesto
  • 2. The Most Precious Thing We Have: The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience
  • 3. How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things

Part 2: Pseudoscience and Superstition

  • 4. Deviations: The Normal, the Paranormal, and Edgar Cayce
  • 5. Through the Invisible: Near-Death Experiences and the Quest for Immortality
  • 6. Abducted!: Encounters with Aliens
  • 7. Epidemics of Accusations: Medieval and Modern Witch Crazes
  • 8. The Unlikeliest Cult: Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality

Part 3: Evolution and Creationism

  • 9. In the Beginning: An Evening with Duane T. Gush
  • 10. Confronting Creationists: Twenty-five Creationist Arguments, Twenty-five Evolutionist Answers
  • 11. Science Defended, Science Defined: Evolution and Creationism at the Supreme Court

Part 4: History and Pseudohistory

  • 12. Doing Donahue: History, Censorship, and Free Speech
  • 13. Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened, and Why Do They Say It?: An Overview of a Movement
  • 14. How We Know the Holocaust Happened: Debunking the Deniers
  • 15. Pigeonholes and Continuums: An African-Greek-German-American Looks at Race

Part 5: Hope Springs Eternal

  • 16. Dr. Tipler Meets Dr. Pangloss: Can Science Find the Best of All Possible Worlds?
  • 17. Why Do People Believe Weird Things?
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Letters to a Young Contrarian [permalink]
Language English
Author Christopher Hitchens (author)
Publisher Basic Books
Categories Journalism and philosophy
Series Art of Mentoring (1/14)
Publication year 2005
Original publication year 2001
ISBN 978-0-465-03033-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 141
Synopsis

A collection of imaginary letters to a young contrarian. The beginning of each letter imagines that the reader has sent a reply to the previous one, and the current one is a reply to that, so that reading the book seems to be a conversation. The book deals with how to be a public intellectual with contrary views, and how to deal with all the hardships that come with that obligation.

Review

It's a very short book, and once started, it's very hard to put it down. Hitchens is a very eloquent writer, besides being knowledgeable and engaged. In the book he deals a little bit with his public confrontations (his criticism of Mother Theresa and Henry Kissinger, for instance), really as examples for pontificating on the life of a contrarian. There's a little part of the book that I liked where he explores various words for a contrarian, such as rebel, revolutionary, and an "angry young man".

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