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mad_humanist (UK)

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Creative EP-630 Noise Isolating Earphones (Black)
Creative EP-630 Noise Isolating Earphones (Black)
Price: £22.33

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars just one small problem, 17 Feb. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Since I bought these earphones I have noticed that the quality of the music is much better. I do have one small problem. Now I find that members my family keep tapping on my shoulder and when I turn to face them, their mouths move up and down as if they were saying something. I really wonder how such an item can induce such behaviour in people who are not even wearing them.

The Ledge [DVD]
The Ledge [DVD]
Dvd ~ Liv Tyler
Price: £3.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars climbing high to see the depths of the soul, 22 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Ledge [DVD] (DVD)
"The Ledge" is a philosophical thriller that starts with a man climbing to the top of a building clearly intending to jump. A police officer is assigned to talk him down and the conversation that follows - the core of the film in flashback - explores questions of morality, courage and the meaning of life without belief in God. Thus one reason I like this film is that is speaks for me.

Importantly other perspectives are offered and I think given fair treatment. The only real issue I have is that the evangelical never came across as likeable. True he was censorious and intrusive over homosexuality and that I think was fair and accurate. But all evangelicals I have known have been ordinary, likeable people despite their belief system. So I am struck by the thought, that the evangelical that this character was modeled on, was a younger, more religious me.

Salvation Boulevard [DVD]
Salvation Boulevard [DVD]
Dvd ~ Pierce Brosnan
Price: £5.73

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars religious romp, 22 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Salvation Boulevard [DVD] (DVD)
Salvation Boulevard is a comedy built around the age old argument between religion and reason. The central character is a Grateful Dead fan reborn as an evangelical. His pastor accidentally shoots a local atheist professor and entertaining chaos ensues that happens to be extremely awkward for our hero.

All the characters are presented sympathetically and quite accurately within the context of a comedy. It was critical for me that I could watch it with my Catholic wife, partly so that I could show her something of what it was like when I was an evangelical. It worked very well in this regard.

My only gripe is that there were no subtitles for the hard of hearing.

The European Mind: 1680-1715 (University Books)
The European Mind: 1680-1715 (University Books)
by Paul Hazard
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars nothing new under the Western sun, 21 Jan. 2013
I bought this book in apparently pristine condition, apart from a 1965 signature on the first page, from a stall on the South Bank. I have succeeded in reading it just before the front cover secedes from the rest of the dog-eared book.

The book can best be described as doing for Europe 1680-1715 what God's Funeral does for Victorian Britain. That is it provides a survey of the intellectual movements of the period. At one level the similarity is striking - both between the two and with our own. In both cases a new generation is rejecting and attacking religion, whilst the enemy either counterattacks or retreats defensively. In both this time and ours people are predicting terrible events based at passing astronomical objects and are being debunked by skeptics. Both make me realize that my own struggles are but a pale reflection of earlier battles fought by people with stronger hearts and minds than I. In both cases I am most drawn to the angriest exponents of freethought - in this case John Toland.

Toland was raised as a Catholic (which I could say though somewhat more tenuously). Like me he converted to Evangelical Christianity (though his version was more anti-Catholic than mine) in his youth. And like me he arrived at the conclusion that all religions are "one colossal imposture" passed on by the indoctrination of youth - though I hope I am making more efforts to understand the religious viewpoint and engage with it without rancour. In him and me the falsity of religion has been known to inspire "ungovernable rage". However I would not be ashamed to die as he did swearing opposition to all superstition to his last breath.

Another similarity between the two periods is that there was an enthusiasm and optimism about science. Cases are even cited where young ladies refused to consider suitors who had not made specific contributions to science. In our present day science is tragically often viewed as the problem or as something dry and boring.

There are differences between the two periods of course. In the Victorian period the impetus was the theory of evolution and industrialization. In this period it is more motivated by comparative religion and developments in astronomy. Also in the 1700s the wounds from the break up of Christianity were still fresh and Leibniz seriously attempted a reunification.

The two books also differ in style. This is a more exciting read - and possibly a little less for it.

The weakest feature for the modern reader is that the text is splattered with Latin and French quoutes and book titles that are often left untranslated.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 20, 2013 3:30 PM BST

Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins unwoven, 1 Jan. 2013
On rereading this book I found it to be a good solid piece of work but I found my mind blank as to how to review it. Then I realized that I could refract the book through a prism of chapter by chapter summarization so that the smooth transition from one stage of the argument to the next might be more clearly perceived:

* The first chapter attempts to blow away our familiarity with the world by demonstrating how remarkable life, the universe and our very existance is.
* The second chapter draws the explicit analogy that it is poets who are professionally adept at blowing away our familiarity with the world but who tend at best to ignore and at worst oppose science. It is this chapter that lays out the plan of the book - to show that people should not be fearing, loathing and despising science but rather holding it in awe and wonder.
* The third chapter centres around the title. "Unweaving the rainbow" comes from Keats' poem "Lamia" in which he attacks Newton for destroying the beauty of the rainbow. Dawkins describes refraction, how a rainbow works in detail and how Newton's work led onto Fraunhoffer lines, the "barcodes in the stars", which has provided enough awe and wonder to make up for the loss of ignorance many times over, by telling us so much about the universe that humans may never actually see.
* The fourth chapter moves from light waves to a good exposition of sound waves and hearing. Another Keats' poem "Ode to the Nightingale" provides an excuse to peer into Dawkin's nest subject. The poem compares the bird's song to a drug, and the author points out that the effects of birdsong on a bird's brain may follow the same pathways that a drug would and that so Keats may have been closer to the truth than he ever imagined.
* The fifth chapter moves from the encoding of information in sound waves to the encoding of personal identity in DNA. This is really an excuse to show how much people suffer from not understanding science better.
* The sixth chapter concerns the roots, and the consequences thereof, of the general public's discomfort with science. The roots are the way evolution has programmed children to believe their parents and other authority figures - and that very few of usually grow out of this larval stage to emerge as freethinking adults. The consequences are the general public's fascination with pseudoscience and the tenacity of religion.
* The seventh chapter explores why coincidences appear so significant.
* The eighth chapter considers the same human biases but from the perspective of their influence on science itself. Too many scientists appear to suffer from cognitive dissonance between science and the wider public perception and resolve it by cloudy thinking. This is discussed with various examples that Dawkins calls "bad poetry".
* The ninth chapter zooms in on the bad poetry within genetics. This starts off with the overly simplistic views on altruism and selfishness but goes onto explain how the other genes in an organism are part of the environment of each gene. This move neatly allows Dawkins both to emphasise a neglected argument from "The Selfish Gene" and to explain his view of the organism.
* The tenth chapter considers how the different environments a genepool has experienced in its evolution leave different imprints.
* The eleventh chapter moves from imprints of the world in DNA to models of the world in the mind. It focuses on the question of the how the mind handles so much information. Roughly the conclusion is that the mind has a virtual model of the world; the nervous system only sends state changes and the model is updated accordingly.
* The twelfth chapter goes from models in the mind to the evolution of the mind itself. The theories offered substantially concern language and offer us a possible glimpse into the origins of poetry and other arts.

From what I recall when I first read this book, it worked its magic. It was at the time one small shaft of light amongst many. However as I read it now, many years later, it is somewhat more depressing. For now I can see how fiercely truth is contested and I can see how confused I had been for forty years.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2014 9:00 PM BST

The Rule of Law
The Rule of Law
by Tom Bingham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Law is King - Long live the King, 19 Dec. 2012
This review is from: The Rule of Law (Paperback)
I have never read a book more enlightening with respect to how the world of humans works - and how it got to work that way. It starts with a very broad overview of the concept of the Rule of Law:

"...that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally ) in the future and publicly administered in the courts."

and its origins and formulation:

"It is better for the law to rule than one of the citizens" - Aristotle

and what happens when it fails:

"The hallmarks of a regime which flouts the rule of law are, alas, all too familiar: the midnight knock on the door, the sudden disappearance, the show trial, the subjection of prisoners to genetic experiment, the confession extracted by torture...."

The second chapter describes the legal milestones in its development from the Magna Carta to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A key feature is that it seems few of the participants thought they were being especially innovative. The bulk of the book is concerned with working through the various aspects such as due process and a fair trial. A lot of attention is paid to human rights and I was actually surprised how uncontroversial they should be. It becomes obvious that really not even the poorest countries have any excuse not to uphold these ideals.

Inevitably there is a long chapter on the US and UK response to the terrorism, in which it becomes clear that both countries in different ways have helped the terrorist cause by gnawing away at our liberty. There is a final chapter on the peculiar situation of the Westminster Parliament, whose sovreignty means that the Briton's liberty could theoretically be undermined by the will of that Parliament.

Altogether this is a surprisingly readable book - and one which must be extremely useful to any skeptical reader wanting to know what is really at stake in the world of law.

Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford World's Classics)
Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford World's Classics)
by Edmund Burke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars pass the after-dinner port, 21 Nov. 2012
This book is like a ramble through a dark forest on a summer's day. There is no sense of climbing to get a good view of the surrounding countryside. Every now and then a gap opens up and the sunlight floods in filtered by the green leaves. For example:

"By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than flies of a summer."

Mr. Burke uses his eloquence to make the following points:
1.) We should be forgiving of other people's faults.
2.) Reforms need to be thought through and should not be so rapid as to destroy people's lives.
3.) Separation of powers and independence of the judiciary
4.) Religion is a useful tool for making people sacrifice their lives for the greater good, and to make people obey the government.

It's the last point that irritates me. Nowhere does Mr. Burke indicate that he actually believes in Christianity. Even though he seems to regard "atheistical philosophes" as mad, amoral and conniving, it can hardly be said that he takes theology for granted. So his model of government is that the aristocracy and clergy should paternalistically lie to the vast mass of the population. This model might be the best that can be achieved in an agricultural illiterate peasant economy. Maybe even this is a step forward over the slave-based economy of ancient times. However surely if society progresses at all, it must be a reduction in the slavery of the mind as well as that of the body. If not then surely trouble is being stored up and the revolution - when it does come - must surely be all the more terrible.

Maybe that is what really made the French Revolution so terrible. But I would not know because almost all that I know about the French Revolution I have learnt from reading this book. The notes and introduction are adequate and the book might be seriously misleading and obscure without them. However more space devoted to context in the introduction would not have gone amiss.

In conclusion I feel sure that - perhaps over a beer or brandy - I would enjoy Mr. Burke's company and that if I managed to discuss with him all the reasons for atheism, I would succeed in convincing him that I am quite mad and possibly dangerous.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2013 10:07 AM BST

How To Stay Sane: The School of Life
How To Stay Sane: The School of Life
by Philippa Perry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hard to stay sane, when the rest of the world is mad, 6 Sept. 2012
This is a clear and straightforward account of a certain way of thinking about the mind, and practical ways to think that help one to avoid falling off the end of the pier. I especially like the early chapter. The author describes the brain as being split into three. There is the reptillian brain that generally keeps us alive and stops us from walking head on into speeding racing cars. The right brain governs emotions and is generally in charge. The left brain governs reasoning and generally thinks it is in charge.

This account really built a few neural pathways back to my review of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Penguin Science). That book discusses the lengths people will go to to pick holes in the theory of evolution. Now it becomes clear. Many people's right brains are oozing in a cranial fluid of distate for Natural Selection. The task of coming up with post-rationalizations of this is delegated to the left brain.

I also like idea that our emotions are not there to be judged as good or bad. Our emotions are to be acknowledged and respected, but reflected upon carefully before we decide - rationally and morally - how (and indeed whether) to act upon them. I worked this out for myself - or at least it seems like the counselling played little role - about twenty years ago and it has helped down the years. I shall however gloss over the bits of advice that I stuggle with such as the value of small talk.

The book ends with simple exercises.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 27, 2013 7:51 AM GMT

The Prince (Penguin Classics)
The Prince (Penguin Classics)
by Niccolo Machiavelli
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars your kingdom - an owner's manual, 3 Sept. 2012
"Welcome to your new kingdom. We hope you will enjoy a long and productive ownership, and to facilitate this please read the following instructions carefully. Firstly please study the art of war carefully and personally take charge of your citizen army. Do NOT use forces from other suppliers as that would invalidate your warranty. In diplomacy avoid alliances with stronger powers if at all possible, but protect and support weaker powers without permitting them to increase territory. Treat your subordinates well but make sure you always delegate the unpopular tasks to those not closely identified with your Personage. It is vital to have a sound economy and a reputation for generosity would hinder you in this. It is however important that you are regarded as a pious, honourable and religious man but you must be able to lie and break promises without getting caught.

Your eternal servant, Nick 'Oldie' M."

These are some of Machiavelli's key recommendations. A first reading is striking and shocking for the abscence of moral value judgements - as if he aspired to be a pure political scientist indifferent to how the knowledge might be used. A careful reading suggests a harsh utilitarian morality: it is better to kill people now if it firmly establishes your rule and allows your subjects to live peacefully and safely in the long term, than that in attempting to be good now you should promise more than you can deliver, leading to dissatisfcation and disorder.

Like any brutal honesty Machiavelli's words are hard to listen to - even if we disagree with him. However they are well worth the effort. For a start they are a wake up call as to what the world of politics is really like and we can test our moral convictions against his understanding of the world.

Pincher Martin
Pincher Martin
by William Golding
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a rock hard read, 3 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Pincher Martin (Paperback)
It's the second world war. A convoy of ships and naval escorts is sailing across the Atlantic. One of the naval ships is sunk, but a lone officer manages to reach a small rocky barely inhabitable island. From the beginning he applies his education, intelligence and shear will to live to the problems of survival and maximising chances of rescue. However the limited food, lack of shelter and depressing prospects of rescue wear down his sanity and sense of identity. As we peer into the geological strata of his subconscious we find that whilst on the surface he is likeable, sober and socialable young man, his inner world is a maggot-eat-maggot race to be first at all costs.

But that naive reading has sunk by the last sentence of the novel. You are much more likely to reach the other shore, if you have an inflatable lifebelt with you. For that I would suggest viewing it as an exploration of the tension between Promethean ideas of the human urge to survive and conquer nature with modern religious ideas.

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