Great exposition of Zen Buddhism, its history, philosophy, practice, and cultural/artistic influences. Alan Watts is definitely an awesome writer who'Great exposition of Zen Buddhism, its history, philosophy, practice, and cultural/artistic influences. Alan Watts is definitely an awesome writer who's capable of not only clearly explaining the intricate concepts foreign to Western sensibility but also respecting and handling fine linguistic and conceptual differences between cultures. Aside from his gripes with Soto and Rinzai Zen practice resembling boarding school discipline, I loved it, especially Zen's Chinese and Indian philosophical roots as well as its influence on Japanese and Chinese arts (Sado, Kendo, Sumi-e, and poetry). My discoveries and new must-reads include: Bankei, Takuan, Hakuin, and Ryokan. And of course I'll definitely read Watt's other writings....more
Note to self: The first chapters are a real slog to get through, with a litany of neurobiological and psychological differences between the left and rNote to self: The first chapters are a real slog to get through, with a litany of neurobiological and psychological differences between the left and right hemispheres, but after McGilchrist sets down all the facts as he found them, it's a fascinating read. Though he repeatedly cautions the reader that the hemispheric differences are not to be considered absolute in any way (as they depend on each other and we are almost always using both hemispheres in our day-to-day lives), his book ironically reinforces the folk psychology view of the brain in terms of right and left. But then that's a infinitesimally minor issue. His sheer erudition is simply mesmerizing and what I often appreciate about erudite minds is that they approach problems carefully, tentatively, allowing for fuzzy boundaries and uncertainties, the way, say, Wittgenstein approaches philosophical problems, or Montaigne ruminates on various issues of how to live life better, or my translation theorist hero Douglas Robinson compares the act of translation to spirit channeling (which would be, in McGilchrist's terms, left hemisphere trying to describe a right hemisphere activity). In other words, McGilchrist is subtle and expansive and enlightening and—most importantly—anti-dogmatic. The huge takeaway from this book is that we have two diametrically opposed modes of living and looking at the world, represented by our different brain hemispheres. Our LH likes to look at the world and ourselves as machines (epitomized by scientific materialism a la Daniel Dennett and the other three Horsemen of new atheism), but the problem is that the metaphors we use to describe/understand something alters the nature of what we are looking at and what we eventually find from it. So if we think of the world as a huge machine, then we will only see the machine-like aspects of the world (helped by what psychologists call confirmation bias, theory-blindness, and self-fulfilling prophecy). On the other hand, the RH way of looking at the world is, familiarly enough, holistic, contextual, interdependent, and—dare I say this?—spiritual (as opposed to serial, isolated, linear, & mechanistic). It's always reaching out for the Other, seeking what lies beyond the literal. Metaphor is key here, and the crucial thing about this mode of living/seeing the world is that it needs to remain implicit & intuitive (just try explaining a joke or a metaphor without killing it) in order for it to function well. So what happens when LH tries to explain this thing that it doesn't understand? It kills it. RH is concerned with reciprocity, holiness, relationships, contexts, individuals, concreteness, etc. while LH is all about competition, control, power, acquisition, abstraction, overconfidence, and, of course, UTILITY. For LH, everything—altruism, artwork, religion, creativity, food, etc.—is reducible to utility. How do you get people to meditate? You tell them 15 minutes of daily meditation will decrease the risk of heart attack by so-and-so percent. Utility. How do you sell artworks? You tell them their relaxation effects will help them get through a nerve-wrecking business meeting.
Basically, this book put into words everything I've felt wrong about our over-reliance on science (you can smell the reek of dogmatic condescension when you hear people categorically dismiss any "unscientific" phenomena with an air of epistemological superiority). Atheism, to me at least, misses the point (it's not whether God exists—a factual claim I really don't care to argue about—but HOW you see the world and live your life. It's your disposition toward the world we're talking about when we talk about spirituality and religion and belief (but alas, LH, being literal, doesn't understand the difference). I for one wouldn't want to live in a mechanistic world drained of mystery and wonder). I've always admired Wittgenstein, not only for his way of thinking, but also for his passionate yearning to believe in something larger than himself despite being unable to do so (too much philosophizing/LH thinking hampers RH activity; rationality kills faith, as it did for me in college).
Once I realized that the scientific view is just that, a view and not THE view (clarity is not a degree of perception but a type of knowledge), and that the metaphors we use and the attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of what we are looking at, then all my intuitions and impulses and instincts I couldn't really verbalize (because they probably came from my RH self, which has a poor vocabulary and not so adept at language and expressing itself, and because it's in their nature to remain implicit) made A WHOLE LOT OF sense.
Cool facts I learned (notes): -music as the precursor of language, acting as a way of uniting social groups -LH sees a whole made up of aggregate parts, while RH sees a whole as a whole (seeing individuals as belonging in a contextual whole, an aggregate from which they are not divided) -LH as an interpreter and confabulator who needs to be certain and right. -Altruism as a necessary consequence of empathy -"We can never make others understand something unless they already, at some level, understand it" (p.153) -"How we see the world alters not just others, but who we are" (p.167) -Clarity as a type of knowledge (p.182) -"We do not see paintings, as much as see according to them...We are aware of them but see through them, see the world according to them" (p.183) -paradox as a way to truth (p.200) -imitation vs. copying: "...imitation is imagination's most powerful path into whatever is Other than ourselves" (p.248); the superiority of an imitation gene over other genes that code for a trait that happens to enhance the likelihood for survival (pp.251-256) -the change in the direction of writing from vertical to horizontal (LH likes horizontal lines) and right-to-left to left-to-right, a shift favoring LH processing -3 kinds of remembering: 1) remembering the long perspective of the historical past; 2) a projection forward to a time when you can see yourself retrospectively through the eyes of others after you are dead; and 3) the remembrance of your own past and its losses (p.302) -longing vs. wanting (longing happens between us and another thing, a desire for re-union; wanting is unidirectional, clear) -"The world is not a brute fact but, like a myth of metaphor, semi-transparent, containing all its meaning within itself, yet pointing to something lying beyond itself" (p.312) -LH's either/or thinking vs. RH's metaphorical thinking at work in iconoclastic reasoning during the Reformation: "Either the statue is God or it is a thing since it is 'obviously' not God, it must be a thing, and therefore 'mere wood,' in which case it has no place in worship. To see that 'mere' wood can partake of the divine requires seeing it as a metaphor, and being able to see that, precisely because it is a metaphor rather than a representation, it is itself divine. It is not just something non-divine representing the divine, it is something divine" (p.316) -2 types of union/division: 1) LH: "there is at one level the part of fragment, and, at the other, the generalized abstraction, aggregated from the parts"; and 2) RH: "there is the individual entity in all its distinctness, at one level, and the whole to which it belongs, at the other." RH can deal with specificity/particularities as well as wholes -communion vs. agency (David Bakan): "Agency manifests itself in isolation, alienation, and aloneness: communion in contact, openness and union. Agency manifests itself in the urge to master: communion in non-contractual co-operation" (p.321) -rationality vs. reason. Rationality can't ground itself according to its own principles of proof. The value of rationality has to come from outside itself (Godel, Escher, etc.). Reason: "flexible, resisting fixed formulation, shaped by experience, and involving the whole living being"; Rationality: "rigitd, rarefied, mechanical, governed by explicit laws" (p.330) -"We are, and outght to be, obscure to ourselves, turned outwards, and working upon the world which surrounds us" (p.356) -"We rush to the meaning too quickly in its subject matter...: (p.373) -fancy vs. imagination / novelty vs. newness: fantasy "presents something novel in the place of the too familiar thing, and imagination clears away everything between us and the not familiar enough thing so that we see it itself, new, as it is." (374); or "Newness (seeing afresh what one thought of as familiar, as though for the first time) and novelty (deliberately disturbing the representation of reality in an attempt to 'shock' oneself into something that feels unfamiliar)" (412) -the mythos of science: 1) myth of the sovereignty of the scientific method (vs. tinkering); 2) science as above morality coupled with the idea that it's the only sure foundation for decency and morality (history of its harm to humans notwithstanding); 3) myth of its brave stand against the forces of dogma (blind to its own dogmatism?) -"straight lines exist nowhere in the natural world, except perhaps at the horizon, where the natural world ends" (p. 387 -Delacroix) -the story about a Benedictine monastery in South France. With their usual daily sleep of 4 hours and relentless work, all the monks were exhausted and sick until they were allowed to chant (p.417) -RH and LH in conversation: "One says 'I do not know,' the other 'I know—that there is nothing to know.' One believes that one cannot know: the other 'knows' that one cannot believe." (427) -RH's way: The RH's "disposition is tentative, always reaching painfully (with 'care') towards something which it knows is beyond itself. It tries to open itself (not to say 'no') to something that language can allow only by subterfuge, to something that reason can reach only in transcending itself; not, be it noted, by the abandonment of language and reason, but through and beyond them. (p.427) -happiness in the developed countries is best predicted by "the breadth and depth of one's social connections" (435) -How we moderns see ourselves: "We now see ourselves in largely mechanistic terms, as happiness-maximizing machines, and not very successful ones at that" (436) -"We might have to revise the superior assumption that we understand the world better than our ancestors, and adopt a more realistic view that we just see it differently—and may indeed be seeing less than they did" (461)...more
I got this book back in my college days at the recommendation of Cornel West (I was fortunate enough to take his cCan't believe this is out of print--
I got this book back in my college days at the recommendation of Cornel West (I was fortunate enough to take his class on tragicomedy), and it does not disappoint. Kerr, an eminent drama critic of his day, vivisects comedy and tragedy with so much insight that I could not help underline SO many passages, all delivered in the old-school generalizing/ruminating tone that's irresistible for me. One e.g.:
His main argument is that tragedy is intertwined with comedy, or more specifically, that comedy is born of tragedy and hence secondary in the sense that the clown needs someone and something to make fun of. His argument is much more multifaceted and complex than that, but that's the nutshell.
To quickly illustrate comedy's reliance on tragedy, imagine an old lady in a wheel chai and send her spinning down a slope toward a stone wall. Funny?"[T]here is something terribly funny—something quite terribly funny—about the real old lady racing toward a wall... Dare we laugh? We want to. The impulse is there, dark, beckoning, conspiratorial. We are even aware that if we can laugh, the laughter will be deeper more centrally located, more candid. But see here, now. The old lady may be hurt. She may be killed. Comedy at is most penetrating derives from what we normally regard as tragic."
While he deploys his lyrically and philosophically pleasing argument, he corrects some misconceptions of the genres along the way. Hubris is one. He argues that tragedy isn't really about a hero falling from grace because of hubris or other tragic flaws (as is commonly understood in lit classes). In tragedy, the hero recklessly claims something divine and suffers, but in the end may be granted that divinity or achieve something equally good. Thus: "Arrogance, even hubris, may—after a searing period of transformation—end in sanctification, as it does with Oedipus."And the whole idea of "tragic flaw" is not borne out by the evidence at hand—it's substantiated only in Christian moral plays, but not so much in Greek or even some of Renaissance plays, such as Shakespeare's Othello or King Lear. If Othello's tragic flaw was that he was innately jealous, Kerr points out, then why did it take the malice-incarnate of Iago to drive him to his tragic act?
Or take the comic endings, and he nailed it with Molière's Tartuffe—a comedy I loved but felt flawed because of its deus-ex-machina ending. The artificiality and arbitrariness of the endings of many comedies, Kerr argues convincingly, is really a mockery of all happy endings. "The very fun that is in them resides in the fact that they are patently not true." Fixing the plot is easy, he claims, because "any hack, any amateur could do it—if he cared to. The obvious fact of the matter is that Molière, who possessed as much skill in plotting as any man who ever wrote comedy, is simply being cavalier." So it makes sense to assume that the artificial ending of Tartuffe was intentional and it was supposed to be preposterous.
There are many, many other insights in this book (such as the characteristics of comedy and how Chekhov's plays are not tragedies but comedies that make fun of the human intellect), and this is a must read for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of drama and its twin genres. If you can find it at the library or a used copy somewhere, I'd get it and see if this is you cup of tea....more
Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible, I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share: an utter lack of inAmazing--
Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible, I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share: an utter lack of interiority, of introspection by the characters. I brushed it aside as the literary style of the times in which they were composed (orally and then textually), but Julian Jaynes has quite a different take: the characters—like the rest of their contemporaries—were not conscious at all.
This claim alone was enough reason to pick this book up. His thesis is simple. Consciousness, like everything else in evolution, must have arisen sometime in the history of the human race. When? Not until 1,000 BCE.
But wait a minute, you might ask, how in the world did we live before 1,000 BCE? What about those pyramids, the kingdoms, the ancient scripts? Jaynes has an answer: we created them all unconsciously, in the pre-conscious mentality he calls "the bicameral mind," where we were practically unconscious automatons obeying the hallucinated voices of gods. If you go through the book, these mind-obliteratingly strange claims stop being so ridiculous. He backs up his claims with a panoply of diverse evidence, from the philological (The Iliad, The Oddysey, the Bible among others) and the archeological (Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Mayans), to the neurological (the lateralized brain structure) and the psychological (schizophrenia and hypnosis).
Another important task he sets for himself is explaining the causes of consciousness. If bicameral kingdoms were doing fine without consciousness, what factors and forces selected the trait of consciousness to emerge in our evolutionary past? He attributes it to a few possible causes: 1) overpopulation; 2) chaotic social disorganizations (caused by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption and subsequent mass migrations and conquests); and 3) the rise of writing to replace the auditory mode of bicameral command.
The best part of this book in my opinion is Book I where he discusses what consciousness is and how it must have emerged. Short answer: language and its capacity to create metaphors. The long answer is that metaphor is the way we understand things in the world and that consciousness is essentially the metaphor of the world we have created in our mind. To understand this quite paradigm-and-mind-shifting argument, you need to grasp that consciousness really doesn't do as much as you think it does (which, by the way, is consistent with the recent "passive frame" theory of consciousness proposed by this psychologist). We do all sorts of activities rather unconsciously. From driving to learning any new skills, we do them unconsciously. Even the representative activities of consciousness—thinking and writing (and I can attest to this from experience)—are done without consciousness. Words come to us, or bubble up to consciousness from somewhere else. So do thoughts. And have you ever been in a situation where you were playing a sport you had been playing competitively for a long time and then in the middle of a game, you started becoming conscious of some aspect of it—such as the way you serve in tennis, for example—and you just crumble? Consciousness, it turns out, is detrimental to athletic performance beyond certain competence.
So what does consciousness do? Goal setting for one. And several other operations Jaynes lists in this section of his book: 1) spatialization (including of time), 2) excerpting (or the visually limited way we imagine and reminisce things), 3) the construction of the "I" (which, he argues is an analogue of the body—there's nothing in consciousness you can't find in the external world), 4) the construction of the metaphor "me" where we can look at ourselves doing things; 5) narratization, in which we are always telling stories about ourselves and things happening in the world; and 6) conciliation, which is basically the way we interpret the world to be consistent with what we believe.
One major dissatisfaction with this description of consciousness was that some of these "operations" purportedly done by consciousness seem to be done un- or subconsciously, such as narratization, the construction of the unified self, and conciliation. Do we consciously create an "I"? Do we not tell stories almost automatically? I mean think of the time when you saw someone cut in in front of you in traffic. You must have cursed under your breath or shouted, "Ass hole!" But what would have happened if you had learned later that the driver in question was rushing to the hospital to save his/her daughter who lay unconscious in the back seat? The point is, we automatically construct narratives all the time, unconsciously. So what does consciousness really do? That's something anyone serious about Jaynes's theory must address in the future.
Overall, it was a fantastic read—with a long middle portion that was rather bogged down but necessary. Given the nature of the investigation—I mean, how do you prove or disprove the existence of consciousness from what must be a fraction of the entire ancient artifacts and texts created by human civilizations of the past?—however, I came away still somewhat skeptical in the end, not just because the lack of evidence for consciousness can't be equated with the evidence for lack of consciousness (they are very, very different things), but because of Jaynes's propensity to exclude alternative explanations whenever he has a chance in order to affirm his position. E.g.: "It is difficult to understand [human effigies'] obvious importance to the cultures involved with them apart from the supposition that they were aids in hallucinating voices" (165), or discussing ancient chariot burials: "Why all this? Unless the dead kings were thought to still live and need their chariots and servants because their speech was still heard?" (163) And one more for good measure: "I find that the only notion which provides even a working hypothesis about this matter [of the tendency of schizophrenics to take hallucinated voices as authoritative and even religious] is that of the bicameral mind, that the neurological structure responsible for these hallucinations is neurologically bound to substrates for religious feelings..." (413). Then there's his obsession with hallucinated voice (which, incidentally, made me so interested in the whole topic that I went ahead and bought the audiobook for Oliver Sack's Hallucinations). It is a fascinating hypothesis to be sure (that we heard hallucinated voices of gods back in our bicameral days), but I got the impression that he makes way too much of the phenomenon, though of course there's no way to tell (yet?) if he was right or wrong in making it a cornerstone of his theory.
Whatever the weaknesses of his theory, though, this book is definitely worth reading for the sheer number of insights it contains about our consciousness, ancient Greek literature, psychology, history, and our modern world that may or may not exhibit relics of our bicameral past.
The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difAnother excellent book on learning science--
The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difficulty, the necessity of forgetting in learning, testing as a learning technique, illusion of knowing, and spaced & varied practice—but the emphasis is more on the practical side of learning and offers some concepts, studies, and insights not found in Make It Stick.
Some of the things I took away from this book and will be applying to my own learning and teaching include:
1) Interleaved/varied practice. The book drives home the clear advantage of varied—or random—practice over massed or even serial practice, even though the learners thought otherwise.
The reasons for the advantage are not known. The effect may simply come from simulating the real situation: a math problem on the real test where you don't know which equations to apply, or a badminton game where you have to hit the shuttlecock from varied spots. Meaning it might be restricted to those cases where you can expect some degree of randomness (which would, theoretically speaking, counter what Taleb calls "the ludic fallacy," where skills and concepts drawn from a well-ordered environment don't and can't work in a chaotic environment). Or maybe you learn better because your brain has to make more effort and adjustments when dealing with different skills/concepts/problems. Or it might be that the brain learns better from differences than from more of the same thing.
Whatever the real reasons, though, I'd like to try applying it to at least two of my learning areas: 1) reading multiple books at the same time; and 2) writing different things—fiction, essay, poetry—in one sitting. For the former, like in the painting studies, I will be reading at least two books from a similar genre (two to three poetry books from different authors, for example) as well as books from different genres (e.g., history, philosophy, fiction).
2) Context. While it's true you remember better in the same internal state you were in (e.g. high, caffeine-buzzed, or drunk) when you learned something, one effective way of countering this is to introduce contextual interference, where you vary the location/environment in which you study. By studying in a variety of situations/locations, you become independent of the environment.
I'll be experimenting with this and try to read/write at different cafes/libraries.
3) Incubation and the importance of distraction when it comes to problems and projects involving "insights," or "Aha" moments. Takeaway: when you reach an impasse in some problem (and you have to reach an impasse for this to work), it's actually more productive to take a break and do something else. The kind of activity that's effective in initiating the process of incubation depends on the kind of problem you're dealing with: any activity—relaxing (e.g., lying on the couch), mildly active (e.g., surfing the Internet), and highly engaging (e.g., writing a short essay)—is effective for math or spatial problems, mild activity (video games, solitaire, TV) works best for problems involving language. On the whole, "longer" breaks (about 20min) are better than shorter ones (5-10min).
I sort of knew this from experience (and from another study on the subconscious), but it's good to know I've been doing the right thing.
4) Percolation. For long-term projects, it's actually good to interrupt your activity because anything interrupted lingers in your mind and you'll be scanning the environment for any hints/clues to solving the problem or improving the project.
5) Perceptual learning & immediate feedback. This is sort of an application of deliberate practice involving immediate feedback, but you can learn something subconsciously by studying a bunch of slides and getting the answer right away. Application: being able to distinguish different painting styles without—and this is the fascinating part—knowing exactly why. Would like to try with 20th century paintings myself.
6) Sleep. Achieving higher understanding and memory consolidation after a night's sleep. I knew this from another book (Josh Kaufman's The First 20 Hours).
7) Spaced practice. Good numbers to remember: a) when trying to memorize something, spend about 1/3 of the time studying and 2/3 rehearsing (recalling from memory); b) to memorize vocab or any fact, it's best to review the material 1 or 2 days later, then a week later, and a month later; c) max interval for lifetime learning is once every 2 months. d) Optimal study intervals:
Time to test: 1 week; first study interval: 1-2 days (meaning: study today, then again tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and if you want to add a third session, study the day before the test) 1 month: today, 1 week from today, then about 3 weeks later, on the day before the test 3 months: 2 weeks 6 months: 3 weeks 1 year: 1 month
Overall, another highly recommended book on learning....more
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what sGood!
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what science has to tell us about learning in general and it is good. And it is owing to this book that I'm resuming my old practice of writing book reviews (retrieval & elaboration) to better retain what I read.
Some concepts that will prove particularly useful in my own learning and teaching include:
1) Desirable difficulty: how the right amount of difficulty and thus exertion of effort etches whatever you're trying to learn deeper into your long-term memory (e.g. trying really, really hard to remember a word, say). A massively applicable example is having students try to solve a question before teaching them how to solve it.
2) Interleaving/variable practice (contra "massed practice"): how, even when learning the basics, it is desirable to mix things up and go to another topic/skillset BEFORE you get a hang of it, and then come back. The reason is that it is more difficult: you have to try hard to remember the topic/skill, driving it deep into your long-term memory. Massed practice—i.e. cramming or practicing the same swing over and over again—*does* improve your skill, but the effect is short-lasting.
3) Retrieval practice and the stunning effectiveness of frequent quizzing (at the beginning and end of a lesson, for example) to forestall forgetting. Application: frequently quizzing yourself when you're reading something you need to understand/memorize.
4) Spacing out practice. This goes back to the principle of desirable difficulty: once you let some forgetting to set in, it becomes harder to retrieve/execute whatever you learned, and thus leads to better learning.
Other takeaways include the illusion of knowing (we don't know what we don't know until we quiz ourselves); the importance of trying to infer a rule underlying whatever topic you'r learning; and elaboration (trying to explain something in your own words and connect it to what you already know).
Because of this book, I've introduced frequent quizzing into my teaching, begun to interleave practice more often, and started to engage in elaboration (such as by writing this review).
I wonder if the notion of variable practice makes reading multiple books at the same time a better learning strategy than reading them serially (a method I usually prefer). I've tried it before, but I *just* didn't like it. But the book reassures us that the students didn't like interleaving practice either, so I suppose I should stick it out for a little while.
Overall, a must-read for any serious learner/educator.
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer andPretty good--
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer and Switch lack, such as the neurological explanation of habits, the simple habit loop model (cue, routine, reward), two other important factors in changing habits (craving and belief), the concept of organizations as bundles of institutional habits, and the three necessary elements of when societal changes occur.
The three elements are: 1) a movement begins because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances; 2) it grows because of the habits of a community and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together; and 3) it endures because a movement's leaders give new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership (p.217).
Some facts were interesting, too. How weak ties (acquaintances) are a powerful connecting force, how accidents and crises tend to make organizational changes easier, how a sense of control helps preserve one's willpower.
But the book fails to show exactly how to make changes in habits, and so it gets the three stars.
Combined with Influencer, Switch, and Change Everything, this will deepen your understanding of how change is made. Overall, recommended....more
This little book is just so good—not only does it give you just enough math to make you feel curious and satisfied, it teEven better the second time--
This little book is just so good—not only does it give you just enough math to make you feel curious and satisfied, it tells a ripping good story about probability theory and statistics, providing along the way compelling portraits of the eccentric scientists and mathematicians who contributed to the fields. This time, I wanted to refresh my memory of all the thorny problems probability and statistics give us (we are really, really bad at intuiting probability, as psychologists have again and again shown us).
One good refresher among many was the fallacy we make in dealing with conditional probability, mostly prominently manifested in conspiracy theories and paranoid thoughts: these events happened, therefore there is a huge conspiracy. Or close to home (for me at least): an agent hasn't gotten back to me yet, therefore she must not like my work. Probability-wise these are based on the wrong probabilities, and logically, these are equivalent to the fallacy of affirming the consequent (if P then Q, Q, therefore P). So from the valid, highly probable inference, "If there is a huge conspiracy, these events happen" or "If an agent doesn't like my work, she will not respond for a long time," we see the consequent—these events happened, or the agent hasn't responded in a long time—and draw the mistaken conclusion that there is a huge conspiracy. Or the agent doesn't like my work. What's wrong with this is that there are so many possible reasons why a series of events occurred other than due to a huge conspiracy, or why the agent hasn't gotten back to me in a long time (she's just busy!). In probability terms:
the probability that she he doesn't respond to me in a long time GIVEN she doesn't like my work
is high and valid, whereas:
the probability that an agent doesn't like my work given she has not responded to me in a long time
is low (because there could be all sorts of reasons why she hasn't responded to me).
Just to hammer it home, this can be illustrated with a simple example:
If you are human, you eventually die.
is a perfectly valid conditional, but
You (pointing at a squirrel) eventually die, so you (the squirrel) must be human.
is definitely not.
More importantly, what I for some reason failed to write about in my 2012 review and totally forgot about until I reread the book is Yale sociologist Charles Perrow's normal accident theory Mlodinow mentions in the last chapter, how disasters in complex systems occur when many little human mistakes just happen to coincide at just the wrong (or right—depending on your perspective) time. I was so interested in this theory that I actually bought the seminal book by Perrow himself (and duly put on the shelf for "read immediately").
Excellent, excellent book.
[Read 1/5/2012] Awesome--
This book made me admire what modern statistics—a topic I couldn't care less—is capable of doing and convinced me, like Taleb's The Black Swan and Burton Malkiel's Random Walk Down Wall Street how randomness really rules our lives and it's important to recognize chance events and not mistakenly assign them some causality that's not there. The history of probability theory and statistics Mlodinow tells in this book is nothing short of fascinating, and I was floored by the answers to some of the problems he so deftly presents.
1) there are three doors. Behind one of them is a treasure, and behind two are geese. You pick a door. The host of the show opens one of the doors you've picked and show geese behind it. Is it better to switch your choice?
The answer: yes. You will increase your probability of winning from 1/3 to 2/3. Why? Read the book to find out why.
2) The Attorney's Fallacy. Take the O.J. Simpson trial. The prosecutor argued O.J. Simpson was an abusive husband. The defense attorney Alan Dershowitz then argued that the probability of an abusive husband killing his wife is so low, the prosecutor's argument for O.J.'s propensity for violence is misguided. In more detail:
4 million women are battered annually by their husbands and boyfriends in the U.S. Yet in 1992, a total of 1,432 women (or 1 in 2,500) were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Therefore, few men who beat their wives or girlfriends go on to murder them.
Convincing, but that's not the relevant probability. The relevant probability is rather: the probability that a battered wife who was murdered is murdered by her abuser. And of all the battered women murdered in 1993 in the U.S.some 90% were killed by their abuser.
Then there's the reassuring implication that success comes to you largely by random—publication, prizes, business success, fame, etc.—and that means the longer we persevere, the better our odds are of succeeding. As an aspiring writer, this non-deterministic paradigm of looking at the world has helped me boost my confidence and determination.
I knew instinctively exercise was good for the brain, but this book goes into great detail about how exercise inA GREAT tool to have under your belt--
I knew instinctively exercise was good for the brain, but this book goes into great detail about how exercise influences the biology of our brains and hence our minds, all backed up by science.
I learned all sorts of cool and useful facts—e.g. the calming effect of exercise lasts up to 1.5 hours, aerobic exercise increases brain capacity by growing new capillaries, exercise an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and how the mind stays sharp even in old age as long as you're exercising—and you should know them, whether you like or don't like exercise.
The only regrettable point is that the author drops what he calls the "Paleo pattern" of exercise—the scholars' estimate of how much prehistoric human beings exercised—in the beginning of the book and never mentions it again. His recommended dose of exercise doesn't seem to bear any relationship to how much our Stone Age ancestors reportedly exercised, and I would've liked to see a study comparing the exercise regimen Dr. Ratey recommends with a high-intensity regimen based on the Paleo pattern. But it seems we have to wait for further research and study to know—if there's such a thing—the optimal exercise regimen.
A must read for anyone who wants to stay mentally sharp and healthy....more