Profile for Peter Ells > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Peter Ells
Top Reviewer Ranking: 315,213
Helpful Votes: 17

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Peter Ells "PeterE" (PeterE)

Page: 1
Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of
Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of
by Stephen Hawking
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.06

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable sourcebook but with typos, 12 Sep 2013
This ~1100 page work is a sourcebook of seminal papers intended to give a historical overview of the development of quantum physics over the course of the twentieth century. The selection of papers (translated into English) is excellent (although some reviewers have complained about omissions), and they have been skilfully arranged into chapters by theme. In addition there are historically important lecture notes and book extracts. There is a good, brief introduction by Stephen Hawking, and also useful commentaries at the start of each chapter, written by Joel Allred (and presumably approved by Hawking). Despite the publisher's blurb, this is certainly not aimed at the typical lay reader. Only someone who has substantive previous knowledge of quantum theory up to at least the equivalent of undergraduate level will be able to benefit much from it.

[The following paragraph is too harsh - I will correct it in a comment.]
What might have been a superb book has been marred by shoddy proofreading. There are numerous glaring typographical errors that unfortunately extend to the formulae. Phi and psi get mixed up, subscripts or exponents are printed in normal font or vice-versa, and so on. I do not think that this makes the book unreadable - if you know the maths you will usually be able to work out what is wrong. But it makes reading these papers even more challenging and wastes considerable time. Moreover one cannot be confident that any equation taken from the text is correct.

Chapter five on philosophical issues is representative of the others. The first item is Max Born's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he describes his statistical interpretation of the wave function. The second is Erwin Schrodinger's discussion of his famous thought experiment involving a cat. Sadly, essentially only the paragraph quoted in every popular science book is given. Next is the Einstein, Podolski, Rosen (EPR) paper arguing that the description of reality given by the wave function cannot be complete. Niels Bohr's reply follows. His paper asserts that the inevitable interaction between the apparatus and the quantum state being measured prevents us having full knowledge of all physical quantities. Both EPR and Bohr frame their discussion in terms of conjugate variables. Next come two papers by David Bohm describing his hidden variables interpretation. This is important philosophically - its ontology is highly non-local and deterministic. Bohm explains how EPR type experiments are to be interpreted, and where John von Neumann's argument, that quantum theory is inconsistent with hidden variables, goes wrong. In the final paper John Bell focuses on another concern of EPR - that there cannot be `spooky action at a distance' as this (prima facie) contradicts the principle of relativity. Bell proves that if locality holds then a certain inequality must follow. Quantum theory disobeys this inequality. Bell gives examples in which Bohr's explanation for the EPR paradox is no longer reasonable.

The commentary for chapter five is somewhat slanted towards orthodoxy: Bohr and the `standard' Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics are vindicated; Bohm is pooh-poohed; EPR were simply wrong; Schrodinger's cat is absurd; and all is well with the world. But it was the theoretical work of the `realists' - Einstein et al. (fruitfully wrong) and Bell (who elsewhere wrote, "The aim remains: to understand the world. To restrict quantum mechanics to be about piddling laboratory experiments is to betray the great enterprise.") - that led to the experimental proof of entanglement. EPR, Bell, Schrodinger and Bohm were all deeply committed to attempting to find a comprehensible ontology for quantum mechanics. Bohr on the other hand took the attitude that from now on physicists should merely explain how our knowledge of the world changes. His active and influential discouragement of any scientist wishing to investigate `the nature of reality' delayed the discovery of how radically entangled our universe actually is. Despite its success as a calculating tool there is still no uncontroversial interpretation of quantum theory.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2013 6:26 PM BST

Mind, Brain, and Free Will
Mind, Brain, and Free Will
by Richard Swinburne
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heroic defence of Cartesian Dualism, 7 Mar 2013
This is a book that can be considered as having three parts: first an introduction to metaphysics and a critique of physicalism; second an account and defence of Cartesian substance dualism; and finally a defence of human (libertarian) free will and moral responsibility.

The first part of the book is admirable and very clearly written. It is refreshing to read a philosopher who is willing take a metaphysical approach to the subject, instead of the currently over-fashionable analytic method. Some definitions are made in non-standard ways, such as allowing an event to have an arbitrary duration, so that, as Swinburne says, his `event' is ether an instantaneous event, or a very brief event like an explosion, or a `state of affairs'. Whenever Swinburne makes a non-standard definition, he explains and motivates it clearly. He discusses topics such as the ontological character of the laws of physics: are these just observed regularities (as Hume claimed), or are they descriptions of the causal powers and liabilities (= `propensities to behave') that belong to physical entities, or are they something else? He argues in some detail against mind-brain identity theories. There are thorough, interesting and informative discussions of many other topics. Extended additional notes at the end of the book are also useful.

The second part is a defence of Cartesian substance dualism. This is a welcome, detailed and clear account of this minority position. At university I had been led to believe that substance dualists had been extinct for several hundred years, so it is good to know that one or two are still alive and kicking. Swinburne's first tactical step is to make the mental/physical distinction in terms of our privileged access to mental properties. Along the way he discusses the alleged causal closure of the physical world, and whether or not there are any purely mental events. He goes on to argue that human persons are pure mental substances. He defends basic beliefs (such as `the delicious flavour of the chocolate mousse is the cause of me reaching for another spoonful') using his controversial `Principle of Credulity', roughly that one should give credence to such beliefs unless there are conflicts with other basic beliefs. I believe that this principle has some value, but it has to be applied with extreme care, taste and discretion. The system you arrive at could depend a great deal on what you initially believe about the world. (The same critique could be made about its polar opposite, `Occam's razor'.)

In the end, partly as a result of the clarity of Swinburne's writing, I have come out firmly against Cartesian dualism. But now at least this is no longer an ignorant prejudice of mine! Having two distinct substances - with four different types of causation (mind-mind, body-body, mind-body & body-mind) - results in a very clunky universe. Swinburne admits that his theory allows for the logical possibility of zombies. Among the difficulties of dualism there are the questions of which animals have minds, and how minds remain `appropriately attached' to brains.

The final two chapters are an excellent defence of human (libertarian) free will. My only quibble with this part is that, because he considers mind and body to be distinct substances, Swinburne's account underplays the degree to which our moral responsibility might be diminished either through brain damage or an appallingly abusive upbringing.

It is not necessary to agree with everything in a book in order to find it full of stimulating and worthwhile ideas.

A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World (Philosophy of Mind Series)
A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World (Philosophy of Mind Series)
by Gregg Rosenberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 27.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly original and important book, 3 April 2012
The first half of this book argues against physicalism and makes a preliminary case in favour of panpsychism - or rather pan(proto)experientialism. Here the arguments are well-known: physics only deals with "facts of a functional, structural, or evolutionary sort" and such facts cannot entail facts about the existence of qualitative experiences such as the feeling of pain or the taste of orange juice. He gives physicalist responses and makes rebuttals to them.

In the second half he develops an important and highly original theory of causation. Rather than attempting to characterise which event or fact caused a given event, he argues that: (i) what actually occurs in our universe is a `selection' from a wider domain of possibilities. This domain is in some sense real; (ii) there are real links between possible events in this domain - these links can occur in hierarchies; (iii) there are universal causal laws at every level of this hierarchy that, at each level, further `narrow the selection', or make more determinate, the selections made at the levels below. He uses mathematician John Conway's "Game of Life" to illustrate these ideas. Later, in what he calls the "Carrier theory of Causation", he goes on (iv) to ontologically base events and the links between them respectively upon protophenomenal properties and upon the range over which they can be immediately experienced.

There are several advantages to his theory of causation. First, there has always been a metaphysical problem in understanding what gives our universe its unity, and how we can know of this unity. (For example, Leibnitz required God's foresight to constrain disjoint monads to always be in harmony.) Provided we accept Rosenberg's rule (ii) the universe is unified, and, with rule (iv), we have hopes of developing a rational account of perception. Second, his rule (iii) ensures consistency so that, for example, although the human brain, considered as a whole, has its own causal effects, these cannot conflict with the laws of physics as these apply to each tiny portion of the brain considered in isolation. Third, rules (ii) and (iii) divide the universe into what Rosenberg calls `natural individuals': this allows him to refer to, say, a `cat' and literally and strictly mean exactly this. (In contrast, as William James pointed out, a hard-line materialist and reductionist would have to explain how it is that the term `cat' can refer to a genuine object rather than being merely convenient shorthand for an incredibly complex system of atoms.) Fourth, Rosenberg begins to address the difficult combinatorial problem of panpsychism, namely How could the separate micro-experiences of physical ultimates be combined to give a sufficiently unified high-level experience such as may be found within the human brain?

The theory is, as Rosenberg concedes at the outset, no more than a framework that is open for development and revision. Here I would like to point out some of my main disagreements with him. First Rosenberg describes his theory as being a type of dual-aspect monism, yet it is clear that his laws of causation determine the laws of physics and are thus more fundamental than them. Indeed he even sketches how time and space might be defined in terms of his laws of causation. His carrier theory of causation is moreover grounded in the experiential. For these reasons it would therefore be more accurate to characterise Rosenberg's theory as a form of `pure mentalistic panexperientialism': one in which experience and causal laws are fundamental, and upon which physical laws supervene. Physical laws merely express law-like regularities in the perceptive fields of natural individuals.

Second, Rosenberg characterises his theory as holding that consciousness is `strongly emergent'. Here he does grave disservice to his theory. Although consciousness emerges at level n rather than at level 0, it does this on the rational basis of the causal laws that hold for our universe at levels 0 through n (by his rule (iii)). [In contrast, a physicalist who is also a strong emergentist holds that radically novel, sui generis properties come into being in a manner that is wholly unpredictable - this is magical thinking and certainly cannot amount to an explanation.]

Third, Rosenberg opts for panprotoexperientialism rather than panexperientialism. This has led some to reject his ideas immediately on the grounds that he does not avoid the radical emergence of qualitative experience from non-experience. I would prefer to argue that qualia existing at the level of physical ultimates are identical to or analogous with those found at the human level, with the exception that the former are experienced `naked' whereas the latter are always `clothed' in cognitive associations. For example, for humans certain shades of red are associated with blood.

Fourth, hierarchies of individuals in the domain of possibilities are taken as given by Rosenberg in all his examples. The theory would have to be developed to explain how hierarchies come to have the particular structure that they do.

Finally, although free will and agency are mentioned in a few places, the theory is biased towards a deterministic view of the universe, or at least towards compatiblistic accounts of free will. My own preference would be to attempt to adapt it towards a libertarian position.

To sum up, this book is both important and highly original. Although Rosenberg's theory is intended to be a preliminary framework, subject to development and amendment, certain portions of it are likely to remain. These include: understanding causation in terms of real linkage between events; panexperientialism in which experience is the carrier of causation; and the theory of natural individuals.

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Buyer Beware, 21 Aug 2011
This is no more than an outrageously overpriced collection of Wikipedia articles. See the Wikipedia article "VDM Publishing". Amazon's reputation would be enhanced if they did not stock this or similar items.

eMachines E528 15.6 inch Laptop (Intel Celeron 925 Processor, 3 GB RAM , 500 GB HDD, DVD-Super Multi DL drive, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit)
eMachines E528 15.6 inch Laptop (Intel Celeron 925 Processor, 3 GB RAM , 500 GB HDD, DVD-Super Multi DL drive, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit)

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value for money, 31 July 2011
I have found this machine to be well suited for my needs (I use MS Office [not included with the laptop] for word processing and for presentations, and I also use the internet). It is excellent value for money and has performed reliably since I bought it a couple of months ago. The only negative I can find is that the internal speaker is very quiet.

Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument
Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument
by J. P. Moreland
Edition: Paperback
Price: 29.93

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A (mostly good) curate's egg, 14 Jan 2011
I found this book to be a bit of a curate's egg: excellent in parts, but having serious weaknesses in others. James P. Moreland argues that because no naturalistic/physicalist explanation of consciousness can be given, then theism must be true. It is thus a "God of the gaps" type of argument, which has the weakness that one must show that the purported gap is such that it cannot be closed - even in principle - in the future. This is a difficult task to say the least.

Two great features of the book are:
1). Robust realism about the facts of mental life that have to be explained (experiential qualities, agency, human freedom, and so on). The author (rightly in my view) criticises those who "solve" the problem of consciousness by denying such facts.
2). An on-the-whole excellent and representative survey and critique of various approaches to solving the problem of consciousness, as presented by leading experts in their respective fields. These are John Searle on biological naturalism; Timothy O'Connor on emergent necessitation; Colin McGinn's mysterianism; David Skrbina on panpsychism; and Philip Clayton on pluralistic emergentism. Moreland's analyses are fair, astute, and penetrate the weaknesses of each approach.

Flaws of Moreland's book are:
1). A lack of any proper specification or defence of dualism against its critics. He says "[T]he main problem for dualism has been the causal interactions, but in my view, this is the most exaggerated problem in the history of philosophy", page 125. But he gives no argument, just a reference, for this opinion. He mentions without explanation "the pairing problem" for dualism, and claims that Thomistic as opposed to Cartesian dualism solves this - again there are no explanations, just references.
2). A weakness in distinguishing various types of naturalism and physicalism. He equates both with one another and with scientism (the false claim that science is the only route to knowledge). An atheist must be a philosophical naturalist, but need not be a physicalist, and need not accept scientism.
3). He also fails to discuss alternative ways in which God might relate to the cosmos. Need God work in the clunky manner of associating a soul/additional-properties-of-agency to each human? This would result in an in-principle scientifically detectable change in the behaviour of humans. Suppose on the contrary that the human brain, admittedly complex, belongs to the same ontological category as any other piece of matter in the universe, and that it obeys exactly the same laws. Given robust realism about the human mind, this implies panpsychism. Wouldn't this be a far more elegant universe, and more worthy of a wise God, presuming God indeed exists? Moreland's discussion of panpsychism is notably weaker than his discussion of other theories of mind, but at least he does not dismiss it in a few words.

Moreland's key argument from consciousness to God fails. Overall I enjoyed this book for its robust realism about the mind, and its on-the-whole excellent survey of theories of mind.

The Healing Word
The Healing Word
by Bishop Basil
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.57

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Milestones for your spritual journey, 31 Oct 2008
This review is from: The Healing Word (Paperback)
My wife Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu says:

"This book offers necessary milestones and signposts for anyone making their spiritual journey. The unifying theme connecting the various parts of the book is, in good scriptural, liturgical and Patristic tradition, the divine love which underlies and binds together all levels of existence. People, both corporately and individually, can experience this love through the sense of `oneness' with God, with the world, and within their own being. Thus, it is the key for reconciliation and healing."

Page: 1