Full disclosure: I cannot speak to Chapters 15 or 16, as they were not part of my course. It was an advanced graduate level course on analysis of vari...moreFull disclosure: I cannot speak to Chapters 15 or 16, as they were not part of my course. It was an advanced graduate level course on analysis of variance.
This is probably the clearest and most thorough statistics textbook I've ever come across. It tackles analysis of variance from the ground up, presenting it in terms of the statistical model comparisons that underlie stats packages like SPSS or SAS (and the theory that built them) and in this way demonstrating the ultimate cohesion of all analyses, for any design, based on the general linear model. Maxwell and Delaney write with impressive patience and clarity on increasingly challenging topics-- each one is broken down in turn and shown to be a logical and mathematical extension of the basic concepts. Examples are used throughout to illustrate concepts, and exercises are given at the end of every chapter. Moreover, syntax for stats packages is occasionally provided.
Though the course was heck of tough, it was also incredibly rewarding, and this textbook perfectly complemented the lectures and assignments to ease my understanding. I had only two small complaints about the text. First, that it grows a bit repetitive in extensions from lower- to higher-order designs of the same type; while I understand they were trying to be as explicit as possible, it felt redundant at times. Second, especially further on, that some sections involved drastic leaps in complexity certain to flummox readers with a lesser grasp on the materials. I came to this book with several upper-level statistics courses under my belt, but the book is meant to be used with undergraduates as well. Even so, the optional endnotes regularly flummoxed me, and I found myself wishing they were written with just a touch more consideration for readers without mathematical backgrounds-- I was terribly interested by the ideas, but often could not follow the maths.
Aside from those two details, however, I found an unexpected enjoyment in learning from this book, and would recommend it as required reading (or at least required owning, for reference) for any graduate student in psychology.(less)
An eery and unsettlingly accurate depiction of the American dream as seen through a thick veil of drugs. Like the experiences recounted within, the re...moreAn eery and unsettlingly accurate depiction of the American dream as seen through a thick veil of drugs. Like the experiences recounted within, the read was easy to accomplish-- as if attained through a blind and stumbling luck--, disturbing to behold, largely undernourishing for all that it was fun, and somehow without much consequence for all its apparent weight. Hunter S. Thompson was either a satirical genius, or else a lazy hack cashing in on those who thirst to recapture the hindsighted glory of their former drug experiences (or to gain those experiences without having to experience them). I'm still optimistically inclined to think it's the former, in light of his other non-drug-related work, but I honestly wasn't terribly thrilled by Fear and Loathing-- fun though it certainly was.(less)
Rather than profane this marvelling ode to Nature-- pure poetry from the lifestyle it chronicles to the words painstakingly arranged to capture it-- w...moreRather than profane this marvelling ode to Nature-- pure poetry from the lifestyle it chronicles to the words painstakingly arranged to capture it-- with my fumbling praise, I've chosen to simply share some of its most breathtaking phrases, with the promise that this far from exhausts them and the hope that this illustrates how I feel about Walden in general:
"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I now as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience."
"A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky."
"I fear that we are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, the divine allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, and that, to some extent, our very life is our disgrace."
"The farmer is endeavouring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his shoe-strings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair springe to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it."
"We know but few men, a great man coats and breeches."
"So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant."
"There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes."
"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, and end which it was already but too easy to arrive at"
"I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself."
"...a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."
"Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep."
"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep."
"Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business."
"The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can ear them. They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically."
"Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost."
"Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and make no mistake."
"At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snow banks, and the sun dispersing the mist smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and white smoking with incense, through which the traveller picks his way from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter which they are bearing off."
"At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable."
"There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate such incredible dulness."
"I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good."
"By this fluctuation the pond asserts its title to a shore, and thus the shore is shorn, and the trees cannot hold it by right of possession. These are the lips of the lake on which no beard grows."
"I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which the rivers of society empty, that for the most part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment was deposited around me."
"You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plough out again through the side of his head."
"What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another."
"The echo is, to some extent, an original sound, and therein is the magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of what was worth repeating in the bell, but partly the voice of the wood; the same trivial words and notes sung by a wood-nymph."
"They are the spirits, the low spirits and melancholy forebodings, of fallen souls that once in human shape night-walked the earth and did the deeds of darkness, now expiating their sins with their wailing hymns or threnodies in the scenery of their transgressions."(less)
Okay. This book and I didn't get along terribly well, but the experience was nevertheless a valuable one. So, 3 stars, even though I disagree fundamen...moreOkay. This book and I didn't get along terribly well, but the experience was nevertheless a valuable one. So, 3 stars, even though I disagree fundamentally with some of the theory and the style of presentation. This will be a long one; bear with me.
To put it simply.... Jeff Hawkins is a very intelligent computer engineer who thinks he understands brains in ways that no neuroscientist ever has before, mostly because he is willing to stand by a grand picture where most neuroscientists want to investigate every small chunk before declaring they've solved brains. He has read a lot of books about neuroscience and has spoken to a lot of neuroscientists, and has trudged up a (not patently incorrect) theory from the 1970's and used it as a foundation for what he considers the first general theory of cortical brain functioning (it isn't). He then equates "cortex" with "intelligence" and takes off on a grand tour of his theory: that we can build intelligent* machines to perform complex pattern recognition tasks in much the same ways that he proposes an organic cortex does.
*NOT human-like, though you wouldn't know it from the wording in any blurb you read about the book, including the book's own jacket summary.
There are a lot of theoretic assumptions in this book, and unpacking them is quite unfortunately left up to the reader, who may not have the requisite background knowledge to separate out responsible assumptions, backed by data that Hawkins rarely mentions in order to keep it digestible to a lay audience, from irresponsible ones. There are many of the latter, detectable only by those who know the field or the scientific method well enough to know a red flag when they see it. Hawkins plays loose on owning up to these assumptions, even when they are cornerstones without which his theory loses a lot of its appeal. I was relieved when he admitted to the oversimplification of his view at the end of the chapter on neurology, but it felt like an afterthought that could (should?) have been used to temper his conviction and factual flippancy up to that point. The tone of the book is occasionally that of a conspiracy theorist who has figured it all out, against all conventional belief, and pulls you along a fast sequence of premises and conclusions while waving his hands and telling you the details of the premises are too complicated to get into.
One of the bafflers that stood out to me (this is a bit technical, sorry) was the notion that the basal ganglia and cerebellum are old structures whose functions have been largely subsumed by the neocortex, and thus were unnecessary for a theory of intelligent motor behaviour. The balls it takes to make that claim, when such vastly debilitating diseases as Parkinson's, Huntingtons, or Ataxia exist, blew my brains out a bit. At that point, it became clear that Hawkins was so fixated on the neocortex that he was willing to push aside contradictory evidence from subcortical structures to make his theory fit. I've seen this before, from neuroscientists who fall in love with a given brain region and begin seeing it as the root of all behaviour, increasingly neglecting the quite patent reality of an immensely distributed system. It's pretty natural, and honestly not limited to neuroscientists: when you stare too closely at one piece of a puzzle, you begin to forget that there are other pieces. For most scientists, however, this view need not be a detriment, because they generally aim their research programs at very specific questions-- questions that this atomized focus are fit to answer. In the case of Jeff Hawkins' general theory of brain function, however, it's entirely disingenuous.
Putting aside my qualms with his approach to the theory, there is actually some overlap between his views my own, and some points of valuable and probably instructive disagreement. Hawkins views intelligence as a result of hierarchical and recursive neural organization: basically, there are higher and lower levels, with communication tracing both upwards (from sensory input) and downwards (from higher levels of analysis) via patterns of activation. What we experience is a complex interaction between external input and internal input from memory, resulting in a continuous stream of online prediction. Up to this point, my theories of what we might call consciousness match his theory of intelligent pretty well. Where we differ is in the details (and in our respective convictions that we are correct!).
In neuroscience, there is a theoretical construct called the 'grandmother cell,' to illustrate the ludicrous idea that there is a single neuron in your brain that represents your grandmother, another for your cat, and so on. The grandmother cell has been disproven time and time again: the brain is a HIGHLY distributed system, and a given representation is the result of patterns of activations across many cells, not one cell. Jeff Hawkins acknowledges this.... before proposing instead that representations in the cortex are handled by (my term, not his) grandmother cellular columns. Briefly, the visual cortex has been shown to have a columnar organization that traverses six parallel layers of anatomically and biologically different cell types, such that cells at Point X of layer 1 respond to the same sorts of basic visual information (e.g., line angles) as cells at Point X of layers 2 through 6. Because the rest of the cortex also seems to be organized in six distinguishable layers, Hawkins suggests that the entire cortex operates in columns, such that the composite idea of your grandmother should be represented by a given cellular column in a high-level area of cortex. He never states these logical conclusions outright, but they follow from the way his theory proposes hierarchical organization to work. He briefly admits the oversimplification at play, and then nevertheless uses the oversimplification as the foundation for the rest of the theory. This is not a novel theory so much as it is an outdated theory with the goalpost pushed back one step. And while oversimplifications are a necessary evil in scientific progress*, they need to be acknowledged and admitted so that they can be refined, again, especially where a general theory for a lay audience is the goal.
*as my advisor says it, the goal of a scientist is to maintain a productive level of ambiguity.
The rest of the book was (to me) less controversial. There was the requisite chapter to answer such questions as "does this mean animals are intelligent!?" for readers who've never thought about the implications of a physical and evolutionarily-derived brain before. Yawn. This was followed by a chapter on what I assume is the whole reason Hawkins wrote the book: the prospect of intelligent machines.
Having defined 'intelligence' as 'cortex,' he rather plainly announces that an intelligent machine will be one organized with recursive and flexible hierarchies, a reveal that will shock or excite no cognitive scientist. He very clearly explains why current artificial intelligence built on existing computer memory structures are not up to the task, an argument that AI researchers have been ignoring for decades. Much to my pleasant surprise, again given the blurbs on this book, he then laments the cold hard reality that we will never have viable machines that are intelligent in the way humans are: humans are intelligent the way humans are because of all the sensory and proprioceptive input coming in from their human bodies to shape their brains. Unless we build almost impossibly costly and cumbersome human-like bodies to go with our fancy intelligent machine brains, it's a moot point trying to make machines like humans-- and why would we want to anyways? Hawkins outlines some realistic goals that are achievable (e.g., self-driving cars, diagnostic machines, weather prediction machines...), none of which I particularly disagree with except for the optimistic time-frames forecasted.
However, I can't help feeling that most readers are set up to be vastly disappointed by the propositions. With the majority of the book devoted to neurological theory, it's hard not to anticipate that the machine intelligence he will eventually propose will mimic neurology. The book jacket itself claims that Hawkins' theories will "make it possible for us to build intelligent machines, in silicon, that will not simply imitate but exceed our human ability in surprising ways." But nothing about the analogical applications of his neurologically-based theory are intended to imitate humans. He expressly states, in fact, that the aim to build artificial humans is wrong-footed and fated to fail. The message is a bit confusing, and while I would have personally been offended to hear him say what most readers likely wanted to hear-- that we can build human-like machines by analogy to human cortex-- I again get a sticky sense of disingenuity, this time to sell book copies.
Overall, this was an interesting but infuriating book that takes some great ideas from existing cognitive science, laudably exposes them to a lay audience in ways that most cognitive and neuroscientists won't bother to, shoves them into a flawed neurological framework, and then announces brains to be solved. The ego involved is staggering, the conclusions less so, and the applications underwhelming. I am admittedly very interested to see, hopefully in my lifetime, just how intelligent Hawkins' intelligent machines can get with only an analogical neocortex. Since he never discusses this fact, spoilers: a neocortex is not enough for either humans or nonhuman animals to function, let alone intelligently. The (rather expensive...) exercise of trying to evoke intelligence from cortex alone could provide us with a better appreciation of subcortical structures, much needed in this species-self-congratulatory era of cortical fixation.(less)
Chilling. This was the first Poe I have ever read, and I find myself immensely impressed by his skill with words. At a time before thesauruses, he kne...moreChilling. This was the first Poe I have ever read, and I find myself immensely impressed by his skill with words. At a time before thesauruses, he knew how to turn words to his needs, reshaping each one to pull a horrified fascinating out of what is ultimately a simple, predictable, and oft-told narrative.(less)
It's terribly amusing that the majority of reviewers have tossed this fifth part to the trilogy aside, banished it from their men...more(mild spoilers ahead)
It's terribly amusing that the majority of reviewers have tossed this fifth part to the trilogy aside, banished it from their mental schemata of the series so as to acknowledge only that which ends well. I think it says a lot about the readership that they took in the entirety of the first four books without picking up on the melancholy and nihilistic subtext to Adams' writing. I mean, the first book ends with the discovery that the meaning of life is 42.... how much clearer does it need to be in order convey the ultimately meaningless adventure that Adams saw life in this universe to be? More importantly, at what point did that fact ever stop him from telling a spectacular story?
It is the journey, more than the end, that defines us and the worlds we live in. I think Arthur's encounter with the man on the pole in Hawalius can be taken as a pre-emptive response to those who would invariably decry the novel to be "too bleak": humans seek to be protected from knowing the things we don't want to know about, and it leads us to miss a great deal of understanding, experience, and acceptance, sometimes with dire psychological consequences. A reader may not want to know how the story of Arthur and his companions ultimately ends, or how any story that goes on long enough must end, but it's a blind and willful ignorance that serves no purpose but to save us seeing reality, in all its complicated and multidimensional depth of cause and effect and pure probability.
Personally, I found this book to be a brilliant and thought-provoking conclusion to a sharp, touching, and gloriously honest series. The ending of the novel, with Arthur at peace and Ford laughing wildly, is the most honest part yet. I pity any reader who doesn't get that.(less)
After hearing George R.R. Martin laud this series as the "original Game of Thrones," I was compelled to check it out. Ultimately, however, the resembl...moreAfter hearing George R.R. Martin laud this series as the "original Game of Thrones," I was compelled to check it out. Ultimately, however, the resemblance is minimal, extending only as far as its Medieval subject matter. The Iron King is a history lesson thinly veiled in fictional but extremely conservative characterizations of King Philip IV of France (circa 1300) and his court.
I'm of two minds on this book. On the one hand, framing the tale from from the point of view of its players renders it a more engaging way of learning history than wikipedia or a textbook. I admit I was wholly ignorant of this era of France's history, from the persecution of the Knights Templar to the death of King Philip amidst biblical curses. I genuinely think the book has value as a light history lesson, wary as I am of accepting fictionalized motives as accurate depictions of fact-- not being familiar with the history, it's difficult as a reader to parse the embellishments from the known facts.
On the other hand, the book is not a novel. It is not engaging as a story and reads with a spectacular dullness, using simple sentences and a constantly shifting perspective that moves freely between various characters' internal perspectives, often within a paragraph. It's incredibly difficult to become immersed, because the omniscient narrator is always just telling us plainly what all characters involved in a given conflict are thinking and planning. I'd liken the level of narrative complexity here to that of a children's book, and I'm not sure how much of that can be realistically blamed on the translation. I think the author just wanted to write a history book but had to call it fiction because he made assumptions about the internal thoughts that set the action in motion. Moreover, because it is history, the author includes a number of footnotes to elaborate upon details, but overlooks the fact that the footnotes often spoiled the later parts of the story for the reader (to whatever extent spoilers for history can exist). There is very little tension in the narrative to begin with, but this dull laying out of events that won't occur until later in the story renders impotent whatever excitement there was to be pulled out of the narrative.
I was pretty disappointed by the read, and rather than continuing with this series, I will probably just read up more on this era of France on wikipedia, as that was the only aspect of the book that compelled me.(less)
I'm not really sure what I thought about this classic piece of fiction, hailed as life-changing by probably half of the kids forced to read it in high...moreI'm not really sure what I thought about this classic piece of fiction, hailed as life-changing by probably half of the kids forced to read it in high school, and disregarded as a bore by the other half. As someone who never read it for school but whose friends in the other classes did, the book has for a decade held a sort of mythological status in my mind: as if I knew what its contents would be, but hadn't yet gotten around to confirming my expectations. Surprisingly, however, the book didn't match my expectations at all-- and I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing, or neither. On the whole, I feel neutral.
On the one hand, I found myself wrapped up in Holden's internal monologue. I pretty much read the damn thing in one sitting because I enjoyed his mind so much. I've learned about myself that the one thing I can't handle in fiction is boring protagonist. He can be a bad person. He can be a hypocrite. He can be an academic just as well as a waiter or a drug addict. He can be a garbage truck collector, so long as his mind paints an interesting perspective of the world. For all that the book's critics seem to center on Holden's (many) negative traits, they cannot say with any legitimacy that he is uninteresting. His thoughts, though sad and misguided, are never boring, unexamined, nor average. I even found the cynic in me agreeing with him on many points.
On the other hand, I had come to expect something more of it, from all the "life-changing" praise I'd heard uttered over the years. I thought something would happen. I thought the character would succeed or fail or evolve or fall fully apart, or learn to experience the world through some lens other than the one he found himself so completely trapped in. I understand that the denouement hints at the latter possibility, but I had expected to see the arc more clearly throughout.
I guess I really enjoyed reading it, but don't feel I've taken much away from the experience. He is a sad character that I relate to on some levels, and pity on others, and to see him do anything would have been a more fulfilling end to his story. I'm glad I read it anyhow, if only to fill in the gaps in a solid education that gave me the freedom to choose my own university-level books to study (a glorious fact that led to my early acquaintance with esoteric classics like The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) but left me out of touch with most of the traditional young adulthood staples of my generation.(less)
This was a curious book, a collection of short vignettes from a Polish immigrant who, like Nabokov, seemed to have speedily acquired an ungainly maste...moreThis was a curious book, a collection of short vignettes from a Polish immigrant who, like Nabokov, seemed to have speedily acquired an ungainly mastery of English prose. The tone is haunting, terse, and poetic, the topics surreally inhuman. It reads almost like an autobiography of a sick mind, a sense brought to the fore by the many similarities between the life of the narrator(s) and Kosinski's own life. But where it begins as a tour of nonstop depraved sexuality, it ends with the slow, heavy weight of tragedy, almost as if the narrator grew up and found little more than emptiness beyond the promiscuity of his youth. I've heard reviews call it profoundly disturbing, but by the end I just found it woefully sad.
The imagery his writing evokes is remarkably precise for such concisely written work. Throughout, one gets the sense of a crucial, harrowing human emotion at the bottom of a very deep well, that one can hear with perfect clarity but simply cannot touch.(less)
I never knew I had it in me to follow formal philosophical logic, not to mention ENJOY it.... I should by now just learn to trust David Foster Wallace...moreI never knew I had it in me to follow formal philosophical logic, not to mention ENJOY it.... I should by now just learn to trust David Foster Wallace to make any topic equal parts fascinating and accessible.
This book collects together a history of publications, replies, and counter-replies on the topic of fatalism, the idea that one is rendered incapable of doing anything other that what one does do by the constraints of future realities. For example, if there will be no puddles on the ground tomorrow, it is impossible for it to rain today. It's an unintuitive idea that demands time to operate with bidirectional symmetry and presents "troubling" realities about free will (air quotes because I'm a determinist-- though with regard to a string of past causation, rather than future constraints-- and so don't find the negation of free will troubling). Although these dialogues were interesting to read, I found the academic replies to Richard Taylor's original argument for fatalism severely lacking, to the point that without any formal training in philosophy, I could see how badly they missed the mark. The collection culminates in a reproduction of David Foster Wallace's undergraduate thesis in philosophy, some 20 years after the original debates, in which he applies reasonable constraints of unidirectional time to Taylor's arguments to show that fatalism does not follow.
I've seen arguments that his thesis was not that impressive, that it could have been boiled down to 3 pages of argumentation instead of its 40-some pages of formal systems, diagrams, and deconstructions of the historical publications. To those dissenters I point out the night-and-day difference in clarity and style between the original papers and DFW's refutation; the marvel of his work is that he managed to produce such a thorough, compelling, lucid, and articulate piece of formal philosophical theory AS AN UNDERGRADUATE THESIS, while simultaneously writing the preeminent Broom of the System as an English thesis. That his work would not have served as a strong standalone academic publication is as irrelevant to its impressive and preternatural quality as it is to the talent he showed from a very young age for translating even the most opaque topics into good writing.
Aside from my undying DFW admiration, I enjoyed comparing the emergence of formal mathematical logic in philosophy to the emergence of the same in cognitive science, both of which occurred around the same time. The impact of formal theory is plain in Wallace's treatment of fatalism: where professional philosophers spent countless journal volumes riposting to and fro with verbal reasoning, Wallace destroys the notion swiftly and cleanly with the use of symbolic logic. Providing formal frameworks sets definitions for terms concretely, allows the derivation of predictions to be tested, and puts an end to the sort of "talking past" into which academic dialogues can so quickly devolve in the humanities. It was a joy to see one of my favourite authors come to the same conclusions so early in his career :)(less)