At one point while listening to this and driving across rural southern California I became convinced that I was in Oregon with the protagonist. ReallyAt one point while listening to this and driving across rural southern California I became convinced that I was in Oregon with the protagonist. Really engaging and provided an almost euphoric experience. Before I was even finished I was already excited to read (or listen to) it again....more
Information was not communicated well (midway through what I consider a normally attentive reading I was unable to answer questions about what his steInformation was not communicated well (midway through what I consider a normally attentive reading I was unable to answer questions about what his stepfather did and whether he had siblings). It wasn't clear what were his major accomplishments - nowhere does it say "first optics, then calculus, now gravity" (are those them? Did I get them in the right order?) The book reads too much like a journal, "in the shit" the whole time with little attention to the past and future. I feel like the author hasn't mastered the material. Then again maybe I just don't read well....more
Lots of good "is", but not much "should", which is a fine and respectable decision but might be less than some people want. The biggest "should" wouldLots of good "is", but not much "should", which is a fine and respectable decision but might be less than some people want. The biggest "should" would have to be: if you want to know whether a choice will make you happy, don't try to guess, because your imagination is biased. And don't ask someone who's done it whether they're happier now than before, because they don't remember how they felt before. Instead, ask a lot of people A) whether they did it and B) how they feel currently. The average will tell you the truth.
Also this was the first book I read on my Kindle. Thanks dad!...more
Here's what I think: Roger Penrose is wrong, and smart enough to convince himself he's right. I know he's smart because the journey he provides to hisHere's what I think: Roger Penrose is wrong, and smart enough to convince himself he's right. I know he's smart because the journey he provides to his thesis is so rich with disparate concepts (I awarded an entire extra star just for the chapter that introduces quantum mechanics, for example). Unfortunately the logic that ties the whole thing together doesn't speak to me.
The purpose of the book is to argue that strong AI is fundamentally impossible. He argues this from the last place I think is left for such a position. If we can simulate the action of a neuron, and if it's possible to know how neurons are connected, then in principle we can duplicate a brain and thus, it seems, a mind. Therefore, strong AI is possible, UNLESS brains depend on exotic physics not yet understood. He's very careful to distinguish between intelligence and consciousness: technical advances may make it possible for software to write symphonies, but that software, he claims, won't be conscious without taking advantage of certain quantum gravity effects which have not yet been observed and which are currently explained by no rigorously tested theory.
There's a lot of suspense building to the thesis at the end, which he keeps well hidden up to then, intentionally or not. The author doesn't jump ahead to give a peek at how the chapter in question fits into the big picture; rather, he restates his thesis and promises again and again that he's about to prove it. In the end, the logic is underwhelming. Part of his argument actually rests on the impossibility of genetic programming, a technique that became popular a decade after publishing.
I can easily allow the possibility that brains take advantage of exotic physics to perform computations; biology is a top down discipline, and in many respects the bottom, the basic physical reality of the phenomena in question, is nowhere in sight. But I'm less convinced that consciousness can't arise without those effects; and, anyway, it remains possible to simulate THOSE effects in a computer, and thus to build a strong AI. The whole thing smells like the scientific writings of an intelligent, scientifically read creationist, doing whatever logical gymnastics are necessary to prove the desired point, as much to oneself as to anyone else.
One possibility the author allows for is that the quantum gravity effects he's postulating are deterministic, but non-computable. That is, that the state of a system, if it were known, implies how the state will evolve next with no possible randomness, yet the state in the future cannot be CALCULATED, even in principle. It's a neat idea that may or may not be sensible and I don't have any more to say about it.
It's a good book. The math, physics, and computer science are all intensive, but Penrose is a good writer and pleasant to read. I don't regret the several weeks it took me to finish....more
Magueijo is a pretty competent science writer, but his manner can get so crass. "Kaufmanian" is the adjective that comes to mind. I liked the book, buMagueijo is a pretty competent science writer, but his manner can get so crass. "Kaufmanian" is the adjective that comes to mind. I liked the book, but I don't know why God needs to pee his pants from laughter, or why superstrings have to be pubes. In honor of JD Salinger being dead I think it's worth comparing the author to Holden Caulfield....more
This book is not so much an explanation of the Big Bang itself as a historical event - at least not directly. But the truth of the matter isn't so simThis book is not so much an explanation of the Big Bang itself as a historical event - at least not directly. But the truth of the matter isn't so simple as to allow that anyway. Not all questions have yet been answered, the context isn't fully understood (it never is in science), and not everyone agrees even on the basics (Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who went to his grave as the most prominent critic of the Big Bang despite having inadvertently named it, has been dead for less than a decade). A more contextually rich understanding is called for, requiring the story of how the knowledge was obtained, and it's that which this book provides. It's a scientific history book.
The narrative opens with examples of human creation myths, and goes on for 500 pages to trace how they were supplanted by scientific observation and interpretation. The story isn't strictly chronological, and at times I didn't know what century I was reading about; the author's strategy is to follow several independent threads (prescient developments in theory, the growth of telescope technology, relevant advances elsewhere in physics, etc) and keep the flow of time in each one without precise regard for overall synchrony. The result is a bit confusing, but it would probably have been even worse to mix events that aren't part of the same story.
Simon Singh frequently takes pains to summarize what's just been explained. For example, each chapter (100 pages or so) ends with a two page graphical spread reminding the reader of key points. This makes comprehension easier and helps to distinguish the most important concepts and contributors from the incidental ones. There is, naturally, a good deal of science to wrestle with in this story of science, but it's always well explained, in text as well as images, and I doubt anyone with genuine interest combined with knowledge of high school science will be left behind. But science is only half of the story; the other half is the story of the rivalries and alliances that brought us the knowledge we have.
The last chapter, an epilogue, helpfully recounts the major points once more before covering the notions and problems on the fringe of human cosmological understanding. This is always my favorite part of science literature. Concepts include the horizon problem (why, if different parts of the Universe are too far apart to have ever exchanged information, do they look so similar?), inflation (hey, maybe they were once close enough to exchange information but spread apart very quickly), the fine tuning of natural constants (why, when a slightly different universe wouldn't have allowed for the sort of matter we observe, is ours so precisely as it needs to be?), the anthropic argument (hey, maybe there are many universes and we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves in the one that allows for our existence), the question of the Universe's ultimate fate (Big Crunch, or Big Rip?), and dark matter / dark energy. It leaves one with a healthy grasp of the duality between the solidity with which we have deduced what we do know vs. the wealth of knowledge we haven't yet toiled enough to enjoy.
I like Simon Singh's writing. The material covered in Fermat's Enigma would have been miles over my head as described by a less capable author, and I found Big Bang captivating from beginning to end. I think I'll be seeking more of his work in the future....more
An investigation of the phenomenon of multiple independent units becoming spontaneously synchronized, including fireflies, audiences applauding, and cAn investigation of the phenomenon of multiple independent units becoming spontaneously synchronized, including fireflies, audiences applauding, and coronary muscle cells. I especially liked the chapter on the author's own research....more