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Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles and the Frailty of Knowledge

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  582 ratings  ·  30 reviews
This sharply intelligent, consistently provocative book takes the reader on an astonishing, thought-provoking voyage into the realm of delightful uncertainty--a world of paradox in which logical argument leads to contradiction and common sense is seemingly rendered irrelevant.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 1st 1989 by Anchor Books (first published 1988)
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Ami Iida
Jun 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: puzzles, philosophy
the collections of "paradox ,philosophy ,thought experiment".
It is one of the best experimental book I've ever read for all my life.
I can acquire the frameworks of thought and understand human can do possibility and impossibility.

Karl Geiger
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
A popular introduction to the problems of knowing (epistemology) and the limits of human explanation and reasoning. Poundstone's book is a must-read for anyone interested in mathematics, logic, argumentation and debate, science, and the fragility of human reason and understanding. ...more
Peter Lewis
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full of great paradoxes, variations, discussions, and criticisms. Also a very accessible read!
Gabriel Pinkus
A fascinating read, William put together a collection of puzzles, thought-experiments, paradoxes, and other fascinating stories meant to test your mind and question your basic assumptions.

My favorite story is the 100-foot man story. If you were asked to estimate the probability that there has lived a human who was more than 100-feet tall, you'd probably put it at a very, very low probability. This is a result of having lived in the world, learned about things like the square-cube law, etc. You'v
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For science nerds this is a good read. But it is dated. There are several logical paradoxes related to computational algorithm which modern computers have made irrelevant. Nevertheless most of what is in this book is quite relevant - and will remain so forever. This book covers almost exactly the same material as a college course in formal logic did that I took at Univ of Pennsylvania in 1971. It was interesting then - and remains interesting now. But it gets formal sometimes and can be slow goi ...more
Oct 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the best high level overview of epistemology that I have read. In terms of value to rational thinker, it compares favourably to GEB. I recommend it to anyone who is concerned with why we know what we know, and in particular what the valuid methods of
John Jaksich
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read the book many years ago and I still own the hard back edition. Found it to be a very good read. Gives much insight on epistemology for the lay reader. I could not put it down.
Nov 15, 2020 rated it did not like it
Stopped reading after Poundstone committed (I believe) a gross error while discussing Hempel's Paradox on p. 26: "An observation cannot confirm two mutually exclusive hypotheses." If he means "fully confirm," then his preceding example of the genie is a misrepresentation of the case, since the genie's observation "All non-black things are non-ravens" does not *completely* confirm the hypothesis "All ravens are white," since to do that you'd have to examine black things too, not just non-black th ...more
The quality of writing does not live up to the quality of the title.

This book was in need of a more forceful editor. Perhaps if I had a mind that was more interested in thought puzzles, I would have liked it better. Though in that case, probably a collection of thought puzzles would be a more efficient read than the hot air surrounding these mildly interesting thought problems. Please note, though, I stopped reading about 1/3 in.
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
3.5 Stars

A Good introduction into the problems of knowledge and its arising paradoxes, although a bit slow at times, drawing too much into what may seem as unnecessary problems before reaching the more obvious train of thought.

Two thirds into the book it starts to be an intro into Computer Science (P-NP, Exponential growth, cryptography) which gets a bit tedious if you already have a CS background.
Julio Pino
May 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"If everything in the world were to grow by three times overnight, would you be able to tell the difference?" (Poincare)And, "How do we know the world is not the dream of a mad scientist who keeps a brain inside a glass bubble?" (Descartes). W. Poundstone tackles paradoxes in science, philosophy, and just plain sense to demonstrate that reason ultimately bounces back on itself. A treat for thinkers and jokers. ...more
Ken Grant
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Challenging read. Delves into the mysteries of how we know and the puzzles that challenge our thinking. Introduces the reader to the limitations of human knowledge and gave me an increased appreciation for God's revelation. Without such revelation we are unable to truly know anything at all. ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really loved it, he shows exactly what's in the title, paradoxes, puzzles and the frailty of knowledge. It's a must read, wish I had read it sooner in my life, as it does change many of your points of view. ...more
Sean Hall
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not really a clever fun puzzle book, but more of an elongated intellectual slough through exercises of thought that are basically a waste of time.
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Poundstone is really good at writing these "complex subject in layman's terms" books. This one is no exception. ...more
Steve Losh
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Another great book by this author. It starts out mostly as just a jumble of interesting paradoxes, but after the first third of the book it starts to get a lot more coherent. It's got one of the most lucid explanations of P/NP I've read yet, and talks about a lot of really mind-bending topics in a way that makes them seem obvious. ...more
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A popular introduction to epistemology using paradoxes and thought experiments: Putnam's brain in a vat, Descartes's evil genius, and Russell's suggestion that the world has been created 5 minutes ago complete with memories and artifacts. It also forays into such topics as the paradoxes of infinity, NP-completeness, the Voynich manuscript, and the algorithm for exiting a labyrinth. ...more
Adrian Herbez
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I expected that it would cover some topics I'm already familiar with, and it did, but it also covered a great deal that was new to me. I also found the coverage of topics I had already encountered to add to my understanding.

Overall, I thought it was a thoroughly enjoyable collection of interesting problems, presented in a great way. Recommended
Jul 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Entertaining book that delves into some fundamental problems of logic. It is unfortunate that the reader comes away with bewilderment towards "reality," with no hint that the formalization of logic generates its own paradoxes which are only "real" in as far as we perceive them (and logic itself) as real. ...more
Sep 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book. Lots of conundrums and paradoxes. Started getting harder to follow towards the end ... and I'm still not entirely sure that I understand what an NP-Complete problem is. So .... early chapters more interesting than the last few, but definitely worth a read. ...more
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to really breakdown the nature of knowledge, and what can truely be known, you should check this out. Parts are entertaining, others tedious, and others still will send your mind spinning off into some crazy deep s#!t (Pardon my e-cursing).
Marc Hobbs
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
I love this book. It's easy to read and it bends your mind into strange shapes. Highly recommended. ...more
Josiah Miller
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
A great interesting read on logic and paradoxes.
Sep 22, 2009 added it
Not as good as the excellent The Prisoner's Dilemma (which was written a few years later), but still interesting and pretty good. More given to philosophical angles. ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Just great. I have read this over and over again!
Mar 14, 2009 rated it liked it
This book contains the ibkt brain teaser I have ever run across that requires inductive reasoning or logic to solve.
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Best read in small doses as you then have time to ponder each paradox/puzzle described. Entertaining and easy to follow.
Mahek Mody
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read.
rated it it was amazing
Apr 28, 2014
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Jan 26, 2014
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William Poundstone is the author of more than ten non-fiction books, including 'Fortune's Formula', which was the Amazon Editors' Pick for #1 non-fiction book of 2005. Poundstone has written for The New York Times, Psychology Today, Esquire, Harpers, The Economist, and Harvard Business Review. He has appeared on the Today Show, The David Letterman Show and hundreds of radio talk-shows throughout t ...more

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