This is a great book. It is hard-hitting, insightful, entertaining, and neatly crafted - almost like a fairy tale. At first, the language is a pain inThis is a great book. It is hard-hitting, insightful, entertaining, and neatly crafted - almost like a fairy tale. At first, the language is a pain in the arse - my copy came with a handy glossary of Nadsat (the teen slang that Alex and his 'droogs' speak), but it really slows down your reading to have to look up every word. However, although you might start off wanting to tolchock yourself in the gulliver, persevere, and by the end of it you'll pony every malenky slovo. In fact, I think I now know more Nadsat than French.
The book was once banned in many countries - and still is in some. It's easy to see why it might offend those of lesser subtlety of understanding. The depictions of unsavoury acts, though not especially graphic (by today's standards), are recounted by Alex with evident glee and without remorse. When the Lodovico technique forces him to behave himself, he is nothing less than gutted that he can't indulge his former pleasures. All this paints a very bleak view of human nature, and there is nothing reassuring or rose-tinted about its view of morality - priests, politicians and social do-gooders are all depicted as driven by the same animal drives, their only difference being in hiding and channelling them better - to engage in socially acceptable ultra-violence: it's OK for the millicents to tolchock Alex!
The most shocking thing about the book, therefore, is not so much it's alleged glorifying of violence (which, incidentally, it doesn't), but it's exposure of moral hypocrisy and it's refusal to provide false solace. Alex's cure is a false one, so what does this say for the rest of us? Is our conformity any more genuine? Burgess provides no answers - which isn't to say there aren't any (I think there may be), but in laying bear the soul of an honest delinquent he gives us a truer sense of the problem. ...more
This is quite a fascinating book. It doesn't perhaps have the most compelling narrative - Narby traces quite a 'serpentine' path through science, anthThis is quite a fascinating book. It doesn't perhaps have the most compelling narrative - Narby traces quite a 'serpentine' path through science, anthropology, evolutionary biology, etc, and whilst these observations are frequently fascinating and thought provoking, they don't especially make for a coherent 'story'.
But it's Narby's overall hypothesis which is most intriguing. The shamans of the Amazon - along with other native cultures - profess a detailed knowledge of botany and the effects of various psychotropic substances that is difficult to account for rationally. This, of course, is a disputable claim, but if true it demands an answer: How did they come by such knowledge? But it is an answer which, Narby argues, traditional anthropology and science are not in a position to provide.
Narby's proposed solution is that we should take the claims of the shamans seriously: they say that 'the spirits tell them', so why not believe them? But 'spirits', in Narby's interpretation, are not the traditional immaterial entities of myth and religion, but the mechanism of life itself - specifically, DNA. Highlighting the prevalence of serpent symbolism in shamanic cultures (especially in the Amazon), Narby argues that shamans have found a means to 'interrogate' the information held in DNA (the snake-like double helix), and in fact to 'converse' with it. In his words, the biosphere which is controlled and moulded by DNA is 'minded' - it is conscious and intelligent.
It is to Narby's credit that, whilst endeavouring to make his case in robust scientific terms, he recognises that his argument will do nothing to convince scientists and rational sceptics, their world view being one inherently opposed to even considering his hypothesis. Here, he makes some good observations, I think, concerning how the method and principles of modern scientific materialism (of which Darwinism is an expression) necessarily exclude such possibilities: that nature is conscious and purposive; that - even if we are not talking of divine design - there may be other principles at work in evolution than the mechanistic theory of natural selection (which he considers woefully inadequate to account for biological complexity and intentionality).
This is, obviously, an unpopular view (the majority of evolutionary biologists being firmly in the mechanistic/materialistic Darwinian camp). Add to this Narby's openness to the meaningfulness of shamanic-type hallucinogenic experiences, and it is easy to see how the book will be summarily dismissed or ignored by those who would be best placed to consider his arguments (biologists, anthropologists, scientists in general). However, this would be a great shame. This is far from a 'quack' book. Narby is personally and passionately invested in the issues he raises - he talks hallucinogens himself, under supervision of a native shaman, and through his involvement in the indigenous culture he comes to realise the threats and dangers they face from Westernisation and the exploitation of big business. Furthermore, his sincere and thoughtful appraisal of the topics raised, always seeking to phrase his ideas in the terms of science and rational discourse, make this a valuable contribution not only to literature on shamanism and hallucinogenics, but also to those seeking to appraise the biases of science and the Western perspective....more
A great little book. Gives a neat overview of Bacon's life and thought, and is not afraid to make a clear, positive link with the 'irrational' - namelA great little book. Gives a neat overview of Bacon's life and thought, and is not afraid to make a clear, positive link with the 'irrational' - namely, Bacon's indebtedness to contemporary views on 'natural magic' and millenarianism. ...more
A fascinating book. Bacon is much underrated as a philosopher. His vision for the reform of philosophy and science - well, of learning in general - isA fascinating book. Bacon is much underrated as a philosopher. His vision for the reform of philosophy and science - well, of learning in general - is quite breathtaking in its scope and audacity. He's also a great writer.
The one thing that spoils it is the quality of this edition. There are no notes, no translation of the extremely frequent Latin quotations with which Bacon illustrates his points, which makes for a very frustrating experience.
Also, this is the original English text. Bacon later translated and augmented The AoL, so it might be an easier and more enjoyable read in an English translation of the later Latin edition....more
I did enjoy this book - I'd probably give it a 3.5, if the rating system allowed. It is meticulously researched, and throws interesting light on the dI did enjoy this book - I'd probably give it a 3.5, if the rating system allowed. It is meticulously researched, and throws interesting light on the development of science in the 17th and 18th centuries. It shows that science is not some abstract pursuit, divorced from real concerns, but tied up with military ambitions, commerce, colonialism. The first authors of guides to aspects of the natural world - fishes, plants, insects - were as concerned with turning a profit from selling specimens and drugs as they were in furthering knowledge. Also, the first pioneer scientists are an eccentric bunch. Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle shared an interest in alchemy. Robert Hooke, the Royal Society's foremost inventor and experimenter, was a talented artist, who supplied the engravings for his own Micrographia, one of the first collections of everyday objects (fleas, plant seeds) as seen through the microscope. He was also a keen self-medicator, dosing himself with everything from opium to mercury and lead (a practice also maintained by many of his contemporaries). We also learn interesting facts: St Paul's Cathedral was originally designed with a view to providing means to conduct scientific experiments; scientific collaboration continued between scientists of different nationalities, even when their countries were at war. Lisa Jardine writes well, and succeeds in giving fresh life to this early stage of the scientific revolution, and the book is a worthy read for anyone interested in the history of science. However, I do feel that it lacks commentary, to an extent. Whilst tracing the complicated web of influences upon the development of science, she rarely stands back and draws any explicit lessons or observations - which is fine, in a sense. Some may applaud this lack of editorialising. Personally, however, I think this survey would have benefited from more of this type of commentary. Without this, the book tends to degenerate at times into a mass of data - a sea of names, projects, publications, incidents, dates. And the history of science, like science itself, is more than just data collection....more