What is the purpose of reading? Is knowledge an end in itself or should it serve an ultimate purpose. I always have a purpose for my reading. Being a determined, goal-orientated person, the focus of my reading tends to be garner information to help me get ahead, as opposed fiction intended to entertain. I prefer sports and divergent purposes for recreation.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

'The Challenge of Why' by Doris Hamill

This is one of the more interesting books that I have read in recent times. The book offers an interesting perspective on how philosophers might address the issue of 'how many ought to act' by studying 'how the universe actually is. the scientific evidence gathered I think is the greatest value by this book. It actually reminded me of a 300 page report I wrote when I was a mining analyst. I was too tired from editing my research to actually analyse it. I was burned out. In this case, the author has gathered a great deal of research, but I think ultimately failed to answer the question. I of course can have some sympathy because I know how difficult it is to write a book. In her case, she loves writing more than me, but I dare say she lacks the critical thinkers around her to tear her book apart. Starting with the negatives of the book:
1. Evidence: In areas the book's assertions are not well supported by evidence. This is particularly so in the area of ethics.
2. Loophole: The author seems to be claiming to have found a loophole to justify her ethics. I did not find the argument compelling. There was utterly no theory of values, and we have to accept with faith that humans should serve the 'common good' wherever that might lie.
3. Structure: The good was generally structured well, though not consistently so. I note that she was addressing issues of identity rather late in the debate.
4. Epistemology: I dont think she made a compelling argument for the exitence of instincts, nor did she display a good understanding of thinking-emotions. I think this reflected a limited understanding of psychology. In fact early in the good she suggests humans have instincts, though by the end of the book they have miraculously disappeared. She refers also to human innate knowledge.
5. Physics: The author did a very good job explaining the physics of the universe and shev employed it well in her discussion of values.
6. Mind-body dichotomy: I was not convinced by the mind-body dichotomy implied between the brain and spiritual worlds. Indeed she seems to accept the existence of a 'God' and reincarnation, though is unable to present evidence for either.
7. Ethics: The topic of ethics was dealt with particularly badly in the sense that no consideration was given to context in which force is applied. Taking her argument, you would have to conclude that the West was equally as reprehensible for facing Hitler, Hitler was for initiating force against neighbouring European states. She is clearly anti-war, blindingly so.
8. Economics: The author made a number of arguments against capitalism which I suggest highlight her lack of understanding of markets.

In general I believe the author is an avid reader who has pieced together some very poignant facts in support of her arguments, though I think as soon as she reaches more 'complex' topics such as economics, psychology and ethics, she struggles to make a meaningful case.

I gained a great deal from her understanding of physics, and was even pleased to read her interpretation of numeroous philosophers, who are rendered much more readable by virtue of her interpretation. Perhaps the greatest attribute of this book is its readablility. I think it makes a great introductory book to philosophy, and I recommend it with the latter qualifications. I have yet to meet a reader or author who has all the answers, and one can often derive meaning from where writers make errors. Its a foundation for new insights. One of the most refreshing aspects of Doris Hamill is that she was not at all predictable. I did not expect her to end up where she did.
'The Challenge of Why' - Buy The Book!
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com

Eat Right for Your Type by Dr Peter J. D'Adamo

This book had a big impact on my health. The central premise of the book is that the type of food that is good for you depends on your blood type. This is not qwackery from some deregistered doctor. He makes some very compelling arguments for his position. Consider the following:
1. Human blood types have developed over time in response to the various diets that we have been exposed to as humans moved out of Africa, into Asia and Europe.
2. The blood provides the conduit through which energy is delivered to your cells, so it therefore makes sense to assert that there should be a relationship between your blood type and your dietary needs.

The book is well written, you it does not have the voracity of a scientific study. See Wikipedia. I would have appreciated more info on the science behind the dietary advice, as opposed to offering alot of recipes. Mind you it was helpful to have a list of foods which are beneficial, neutral and harmful, as well as information on which foods and supplements you can take to avoid vitamin deficiencies.

This book can provide both nutritional or weight loss advice since it describes how your stomach can ingest various foods. When you read through the list of foods you can & cannot eat, you will not be totally surprised, as you will have empirical evidence of the validity of this book. I actually came close to the 'right diet' living in Australia - apart from some leg ham and red meat for dinner. I was able to get my cholesterol level down from 5.7 to around 3. Its a lot hard finding the same range of foods in the Philippines, and almost impossible to eat my 'vege-rich' diet in the Philippines. Vegetables in this country seem like a taboo. No sugar or fat! Hence the low life expectancy in this country. We all know there is a strong correlation between diet and life expectancy, though I suspect that this diet advice could do with some more research, thus I would suggest that readers do some further reading.
Eat Right for Your Type - Buy Now!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This is the 2nd fiction book I read by Ayn Rand. This book is important - more so than The Fountainhead - because it spells out in greater detail the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The dialogue is very clever - it had me in laughter - and not just the first time I read it. The 1260 page thickness might put some people off this book, but that is no reason to ignore it. Again, I know people who have been given this book and put it aside. My girlfriend's father never made the time to read this book. He should have.

The story is set in 20th century USA, during a period when statism is taking hold in the country. Free markets are being distorted by price fixing schemes, government programs and welfare. The scheme is developed not just by the economic backdrop, but by the heroes and villians that form the central focus of the plot. Never before in the history of the world have the producers of wealth gone on strike. The plot describes what happens when they do.

This book was one of the books that greatly changes my philosophy of life. You will greatly appreciate its value if you subject it to critical judgement. On reflection I wish I appreciated the importance of empathy at the time of reading it. In a sense I think this book made it more difficult to see the value of it, despite being a pro-reason philosophy. A great many scientists lack integrity because they dont have the clarity of thinking that this book could give them. Like The Fountainhead, this book has never been out of print. Its not an anti-religious book, its a positive philosophy that is not entirely original in its philosophy, as no progression is, but it makes some important steps for philosophy. I think the most important is her Theory of Values, but you would be equally interested in her ideas of money, sex, all enunciated through her characters and villians.
Atlas Shrugged - Buy It Now!

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I first read the Fountainhead at the tender age of 20yo. It was the 2nd book I had read by Ayn Rand, but the first fiction by her. Since the book was released in 1949(?) I believe it has never been out of print. It literary sells like the Bible, which is paradoxical because its underlying philosophy is a repudiation of religion and the ethics upon which all religions are based. That is one reason to read the book. The others I think are that:
1. Its a story about heroes
2. Its an exploration of what makes humanity great and/or deprave
3. Its clever

This is a book that divides people. They either love it for life or they hate with equal passion. The reason is the philosophical values expressed in the book. Really it divides people between those that give primacy to reason and objectivity from those that emotions and intuition are a more tangible cognitive tool. Its easy to dismiss this book. Most people that read this book rationalise that it doesn't apply to reality. If that is the case, then its hard to understand their hatred for it. You need only read the reviewers comments on Amazon.

The book traces the life of an architect who rises to prominence despite his unique perspective on the role of architecture. He stands alone as an advocate of architectural 'form' when other architects are trying to mimic the traditions and standards of another era. The philosophical mood is developed by the champions and villians who seek to help or destroy him.

This book is perhaps Ayn Rand's 2nd best 'novel' in terms of its literary strengths, but the book is not without its flaws. I found the book to drag on a bit with excessive description. But then I prefer my stories conceptualised rather than in the gritty detail. I prefer to fill in the gaps with my own imagination. For this reason I was tending to skip over the descriptors to read the dialogue between the characters.

Another aspect about the book which people dont like is the 'tinny or 2-dimensional' characters. I think this was intentional by Ayn Rand, as I think she was writing in a romantic or symbolic fashion. A flaw in her philosophy and her books I think is the lack of empathy. I think her books would be better understood if it was there.

This is one of the most important books I have read. It amazes me how many people have been introduced to it, but never read it. Some 10 years after I read it, I discovered it among my mother's books, though she never got around to reading it. Some guy had given it to her whilst she was studying at university 2 decades earlier. What a missed opportunity.

The Fountainhead - Buy It Now!