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Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation
Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation
by Joao Magueijo
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars short on science, long on autobiography, 11 Mar 2004
Radical breakthroughs in scientific thinking are becoming more and more difficult to achieve, not least because any new theories are increasingly concerned with what is at or beyond the limits of measurement and therefore are difficult to ground in the usual way. Consequently, the notion of a variable light speed, seemingly at odds with the basic tenets of special relativity, is highly speculative since such variability could only be detected in an early universe, near or in black holes, or at planck scales of measurement. While theoretical therefore, it is not entirely metaphysical.
Unfortunately, very little time in this book is spent on exploring these speculations in any depth, and could probably account for about fifty of its pages. The larger bulk of the work is dedicated to the task of pouring scorn on the peer review system, the administrative structure of scientific institutions and the semi-political and ego-oriented nature of research. One imagines that the pursuit of knowledge was akin to the pursuit of sports, and that a budding scientist had a useful life of only a handful of years before being put out to grass.
The problem is that the book seems to have been written with this as its main driving force, and it reads like an adolescent’s list of grievances against his parents. The book is liberally peppered with four letter words, and it is written in a manner which suggests that the author, after years of insults and ill-treatment, is finally getting his own back.
It is part of the fabric of living in the modern world and not a situation peculiar to science alone. But in this respect, he shoots himself in the foot, for he has unwittingly presented the world of science as a modern day priesthood serving the church of knowledge in terms which confirm the views of it by philosophers such as Feyerabend. But it is a church recreating the dogmatic form of religion in which the author aspires to become a kind of rebel bishop, having a say in the creation of new dogmas.


Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy
Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy
by Alain Badiou
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy's radical return to grass roots, 7 Mar 2004
In this collection of essays, Alain Badiou addresses the problem of the current end-state in philosophy and attempts to re-invigorate it with something of its older, classical character. He identifies the source of malaise in the major branches of modern philosophy and pleads for an interruption to these practices in order to take a different position and find a way to allow a notion of truth, as opposed to meaning, to re-emerge as a legitimate philosophical concern.
This is not philosophy looking for employment in the face of redundancy. Philosophy has always been a counterbalance to excess and should be so now, in the current political climate. ‘Interruption’ is a key word here, for it is only through this kind of breaking that the word suggests a radical shift back towards truth and not meaning, things and not words.
But philosophy must take a position if this interruption is to take place. Truth is not to be conditioned by any prevalent habits of thought. This is an absolute, for any condition thrust upon it will turn it once again into a familiar pattern that is the province of an existing body of knowledge, and so be removed from philosophical speculation. But this in itself says something about truth, since what now counts as knowledge is defined in statistical terms which smooth over difference and plane down truth to a categorical sameness. Truth must therefore be of a singular character, and the problem is how to universalise it, given that this is a pre-requisite of philosophy. How does the singular maintain its character, faced with the current trends of thought that tend to fold everything into preformed packages?
Statistics are subjectless, but the singular truth, arising in an event, happens to (or calls into being) a subject. Indeed, the subject has long been a casualty in philosophy, and its re-emergence through the notion of event is overdue and welcome.
Truth occurs in an event to a subject, and it cannot fold itself into preformed or known categories. It proceeds in the subject in an act of faith on the one hand, but (being unknown and therefore unsayable) proceeds by chance and adhering to the lessons of the event. What is unnameable thereby becomes a kind of tabula rasa upon which the singular event and subject force their existence, generating something new in the face of the unknown.
This is a crude and much oversimplified account of truth as Badiou outlines it in his essays. He is to be commended for attempting to revitalise philosophy and recognising the need for such a radical departure. But it is not as radical as it at first appears. His notion of the indiscernible is strongly reminiscent of Jasper’s notion of Existenz, while his concept of the ‘count-as-one’, the structure of event or situation, is not so different from the notion of an ‘actual entity’ as formulated by Alfred North Whitehead in process philosophy.
The problem is that Badiou is unable to free himself entirely from the tradition which he seeks to interrupt. Consequently, although the claim for truth in the singular state is unconditional, he conditions it nonetheless by assuming that universality is synonymous with thought.
This is the crux of the problem. What he fails to recognise is that the one universal principle which is also singular is the presence of death. It is the most singular event in a life, a feature of existence which is the source of separation and the background which in-forms the structure of Being. For Badiou, death is all too predictably defined in its phenomenal guise as an indifference to existence and a non-event.
Here lies the problem with his philosophy. Without death, there could be no events, for it is in a relation to death that anything at all comes into being. By this I mean that desire, consciousness, striving, unrest, sense of lack, love and even stones would not have any kind of being. Indeed, in the absence of death, there would be no need of sexuality, nor genes by default either, nor any kind of memory structure, and no ‘innameable’.
Certainly, it is unnameable, for it is not an event that is part of experience, but its presence in-forms experience through an inverse of itself. It is not a set among sets. It is not that the barber who shaves the beards of men is not part of the set; it is the error in assuming that the barber is male in the first place. Death is a part of all sets, but does not belong to any set. It is an unspeakable presence that is probably better served by the unconscious than by conscious thought, but only in a form which is an inversion of itself and which consequently generates conscious thought.
Without reference to this inversion, conscious thought acts to suppress it as an agency of change and reduces thought to non-thought. Such suppression is the opposite of Badiou’s notion of forcing, and ultimately reduces thought to subjectless non-thought. Ironically, it is in this way that science has come to resemble the very metaphysics it loathes and avoids, and in so doing has created itself on a metaphysics of inertia and neutrality. More seriously, the subscription to scientific methodology in all areas of social concern, usurp the unnameable by assuming death in passive mode and totally phenomenal. In this way, it is easy to adopt a position in which death becomes a solution to many political problems, as witnessed by the inordinate expenditure in military hardware as a way of guaranteeing security.
But for all its flaws, Badiou’s cry for interruption, and the basic form of the event, represent an important departure from the current tendencies in philosophy. His ideas have a weight and a seriousness about them that cannot be ignored. They offer a route to involvement in the practical world of affairs in a way that could make a difference to it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 12, 2012 2:52 PM BST


The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-century Philosophy
The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-century Philosophy
by Colin McGinn
Edition: Paperback

9 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars intersting autobiograpy, uninspiring philosophy, 11 Feb 2004
This book lends itself readily to comparison with Bryan Magee's 'Confessions of a Philosopher' since it follows a similar line - a sense of exasperation with analytic philosophy and the excitement of American philosophy, but there the comparison ends. It is unfortunately a less weighty book in terms of the ideas it explores, and seems to be rooted in only a few strands of philosophical enquiry that are peculiarly British and fixed in the 20th century. Even here, the half page given over to existentialism is not only woefully inadequate, it is a dreadful interpretation that cannot begin to approach the significance of this line of enquiry.
Thisa is hardly surprising. Despite his own protestations, one gets the feeling that whatever modern philosophy has become, or is becoming, it longs to become a science, and knows simultaneously that this could never happen. Despite this quandary, one feels there is a constant pursuit in philosophy to find some logical scheme that could make this happen, just as theories of everything are pursued in science but fated to be forever out of reach. But in the case of philosophy, the elusiveness of this holy grail is threatening philosophy with a sense of its own redundancy.
The irony is that it is the very status of science that philosophy should be challenging, and this is an enquiry notable by its absence in this book. Such a challenge could help invigorate both categories of understanding and could, I feel, throw a better light on traditional problems such as, say, the body/mind dichotomy, and could go further in understanding it than is possible with McGinn's 'mysterians'. These come across as modern day equivalents of the noumenal, the very notion that modern philosophy is striving to move away from, but this seems to be the limit of understanding that is available in philosophyas it is now practiced, and seems to be something of a dead end. That the book ends with a sense of its own futility base on this limit does not speak well for philosophy as a method of enquiry, nor will it endear itself to a wider audience if this is the best it can do. It only helps to further the status of science which often complains of the redundancy of philosophy, and that it must therefore further the cause of understanding without its aid. In this way, science and philosophy both suffer, and the result of it has been a revived dogmatism that has led to the usual apathy and sense of helplessness that is the hallmark of a dogmatic era.
The irony of taking the autobiographical approach to this subject is that it displays the pursuit of philosophy as an incestuous practice, of who is rubbing shoulders with whom. Perhaps that is how ideas have always been engendered, but sadly, philosophy (since it produces nothing useful by its own nature) comes across as an intellectual pastime played amongst its own peers. It may be difficult, but attraction to such a pursuit must have something more to offer than simply learning a specialised language in order to become a club member. There are still rich veins of enquiry to mine, and at the end of this book, I am left with a feeling that this will not occur nor be instigated in the universities.


Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy
Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy
by Alain Badiou
Edition: Paperback

3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truth makes a welcome though shaky return to philosophy, 10 Feb 2004
In this collection of essays, Alain Badiou addresses the problem of the current end-state in philosophy and attempts to re-invigorate it with something of its older, classical character. He identifies the source of malaise in the major branches of modern philosophy and pleads for an interruption to these practices in order to take a different position and find a way to allow a notion of truth, as opposed to meaning, to re-emerge as a legitimate philosophical concern.
This is not philosophy looking for employment in the face of redundancy. Philosophy has always been a counterbalance to excess and should be so now, in the current political climate. ‘Interruption’ is a key word here, for it is only through this kind of breaking that the word suggests a radical shift back towards truth and not meaning, things and not words.
But philosophy must take a position if this interruption is to take place. Truth is not to be conditioned by any prevalent habits of thought. This is an absolute, for any condition thrust upon it will turn it once again into a familiar pattern that is the province of an existing body of knowledge, and so be removed from philosophical speculation. But this in itself says something about truth, since what now counts as knowledge is defined in statistical terms which smooth over difference and plane down truth to a categorical sameness. Truth must therefore be of a singular character, and the problem is how to universalise it, given that this is a pre-requisite of philosophy. How does the singular maintain its character, faced with the current trends of thought that tend to fold everything into preformed packages?
Statistics are subjectless, but the singular truth, arising in an event, happens to (or calls into being) a subject. Indeed, the subject has long been a casualty in philosophy, and its re-emergence through the notion of event is overdue and welcome.
Truth occurs in an event to a subject, and it cannot fold itself into preformed or known categories. It proceeds in the subject in an act of faith on the one hand, but (being unknown and therefore unsayable) proceeds by chance and adhering to the lessons of the event. What is unnameable thereby becomes a kind of tabula rasa upon which the singular event and subject force their existence, generating something new in the face of the unknown.
This is a crude and much oversimplified account of truth as Badiou outlines it in his essays. He is to be commended for attempting to revitalise philosophy and recognising the need for such a radical departure. But it is not as radical as it at first appears. His notion of the indiscernible is strongly reminiscent of Jasper’s notion of Existenz, while his concept of the ‘count-as-one’, the structure of event or situation, is not so different from the notion of an ‘actual entity’ as formulated by Alfred North Whitehead in process philosophy.
The problem is that Badiou is unable to free himself entirely from the tradition which he seeks to interrupt. Consequently, although the claim for truth in the singular state is unconditional, he conditions it nonetheless by assuming that universality is synonymous with thought.
This is the crux of the problem. What he fails to recognise is that the one universal principle which is also singular is the presence of death. It is the most singular event in a life, a feature of existence which is the source of separation and the background which in-forms the structure of Being. For Badiou, death is all too predictably defined in its phenomenal guise as an indifference to existence and a non-event.
Here lies the problem with his philosophy. Without death, there could be no events, for it is in a relation to death that anything at all comes into being. By this I mean that desire, consciousness, striving, unrest, sense of lack, love and even stones would not have any kind of being. Indeed, in the absence of death, there would be no need of sexuality, nor genes by default either, nor any kind of memory structure, and no ‘innameable’.
Certainly, it is unnameable, for it is not an event that is part of experience, but its presence in-forms experience through an inverse of itself. It is not a set among sets. It is not that the barber who shaves the beards of men is not part of the set; it is the error in assuming that the barber is male in the first place. Death is a part of all sets, but does not belong to any set. It is an unspeakable presence that is probably better served by the unconscious than by conscious thought, but only in a form which is an inversion of itself and which consequently generates conscious thought.
Without reference to this inversion, conscious thought acts to suppress it as an agency of change and reduces thought to non-thought. Such suppression is the opposite of Badiou’s notion of forcing, and ultimately reduces thought to subjectless non-thought. Ironically, it is in this way that science has come to resemble the very metaphysics it loathes and avoids, and in so doing has created itself on a metaphysics of inertia and neutrality. More seriously, the subscription to scientific methodology in all areas of social concern, usurp the unnameable by assuming death in passive mode and totally phenomenal. In this way, it is easy to adopt a position in which death becomes a solution to many political problems, as witnessed by the inordinate expenditure in military hardware as a way of guaranteeing security.
But for all its flaws, Badiou’s cry for interruption, and the basic form of the event, represent an important departure from the current tendencies in philosophy. His ideas have a weight and a seriousness about them that cannot be ignored. They offer a route to involvement in the practical world of affairs in a way that could make a difference to it.


New British Philosophy: The Interviews
New British Philosophy: The Interviews
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.26

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy turned into fashion, with little moment, 15 April 2003
To read poetry is not to read ‘about’ poetry, and yet it seems that the major concerns of philosophy concern its own ‘aboutness’, like watching characters in a play looking for a plot. Clearly, even amongst the philosophers interviewed here, there exists a general objection to the professional philosopher increasing their kudos by adding their ‘bit’ to an academic structure with not much significance ensuing.
Yet when there is some discussion on subject-matter, one is left with a sense of exasperation. It may be valid philosophical speculation to analyse a concept such as vagueness, but my feeling is that the notion of the discrete is more relevant in the quantum realm where its impact is more interesting and pronounced, yet no reference is made to it. Leibniz also analysed the notion of infinitesimals in a way that led to his calculus. What exactly is to be the fruit of an entirely philosophical analysis that does not seem to extend beyond the range of an academic concern with it? Metaphysical concerns do not seem to fare much better, since (as an example) the concepts of time that are discussed seem extremely rudimentary, as if the subject is done and dusted, when in fact the subject is wide open. Post-analytic philosophy, apparently the new direction, reiterates the traditional function of philosophy as a questioner of assumptions, assumes that science is already fully questioned (while we live under the yoke of the same principles of motion that have been kept in place for the best part of 400 years), and then assumes it is its own best-placed arbiter of deciding what assumptions should be questioned in its own house. Nor is there any reference to process philosophy as a vibrant force. (Every major philosopher from the 20th century gets a mention except Whitehead!) Nor is there any reference to the current vacuum in science that is preventing progress in the quantum gravity problem and which is crying out for a greater philosophical involvement, and which is getting none. And this is the major philosophical problem of the 21st century.
Of the interviews given here, those with female philosophers were the most engaging. The later interview concerning the status of artificial intelligence was also of some merit, so perhaps it is not all doom and gloom. However, it does seem that for the most part a great deal of energy is expended in the pursuit of very little, and one is left with a sense of what is the fashion at the moment rather than what are the concerns of greatest moment and urgency. But by and large, it is a commendable read, inciting both a sense of disappointment as well as hope.


The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe
The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe
by Lynne McTaggart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.76

86 of 99 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reveals the philosophical gap between science /non-science, 14 Nov 2002
This is an unusual book because firstly, it explains clearly the implications of some difficult scientific concepts, but does so from the perspective of one not versed in science, who learnt them to see what they had to offer to her own areas of interest. This means that she comes to the subject with an honesty and an innocence that is both refreshing and open. It means that we can be assured that the ideas explained will not be tarnished with the prejudices common to many science writers publishing books for the general public who look over their shoulders for the critical approval of authority, and their subsequent warrant.
But this makes the book both charming and disarming. Certainly science is predisposed to caution while harbouring unspoken prejudices of its own, but the leaps of imagination from the notion of a zero point field to an all-encompassing theory that explains faith-healing, brain functions, collective memory, as well as offering theories of warp drives for interstellar travel among other things is too loose and generalised to exclaim ‘Eureka!’ but maybe a quiet ‘there may be something in it’.
The reason is simple. The notion of working from the quantum small towards the classical large overlooks the fact that there is already an aspect of the small present in the large which is this: the more we know scientifically, the less we know non-scientifically. To try to turn the concept of the zero point field into something graspable as a scientific concept in the large scale would require science to incorporate something of the existential as a working principle, which is excluded from science by its very nature and first principles. In short, the book is methodical and makes its case extremely well as far as it goes, but it lacks the underlying philosophical underpinning that could lend it greater weight.
Even so, it is worthwhile to collect in one volume all those disparate areas of concern to us at the frontiers of thought which collectively demonstrate that we may well have reached the edge of our understanding of the nature of reality with the classical line of approach symbolised by science, but it will require the involvement of thought from other areas apart from science to go further. Unfortunately, as this book ably demonstrates, funding and serious interest in such projects is scarce and limited. Even so, this book is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of dissatisfaction with the rather tired ideas that do nothing more than affirm their own faith in an outworn 300 year old philosophy that is now well past its ‘use by’ date.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2012 1:11 PM BST


Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
by John Gray
Edition: Hardcover

54 of 80 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Defeatist dogma thinly disguised as philosophy, 8 Nov 2002
According to the blurb on the front cover, this book challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be human. If that is the case, then this is truly a philosophical work, since the first task of philosophy is precisely that. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The book is an attempt to strip thought of all its illusions to show that ultimately there is nothing much left to find endearing or particularly humanitarian about the human condition, and not much to separate us from other species of animals. This is hardly a novel idea.
To begin with, truth is conceived as something that is the opposite of illusion, and that anything that is not truth is consequently illusion. This is turned into a metaphysical principle effectively, and all of history becomes reconceived in its dark light, revealing that since the dawn of civilisation to the present day, everything has been based on illusions of one sort or another. There are the usual aphorisms about wars being fought because of religious differences and so on. Hardly a novel or radical thought.
This principle becomes what the algorithm is for Daniel Dennett. Gray sees it everywhere and in everything and warps history towards it as though it were some newly discovered dark matter. Philosophers are paraded forward in thumbnail sketches and quickly dispatched as charlatans doing more harm than good. Socrates, for instance, was a shaman, so he has to go. Heidegger's 'Being' is a disguised form of Catholic anthropocentrism, so that too needs to be discredited, as well as for its usual Nazi affiliations. He praises Schopenhauer but criticises Kant, not seeing that the 'Will' in the former is a refinement of the noumenal in the latter. Nor does he mention the function of representation in Schopenhauer, but this is hardly a surprise since it would not support his belief in artificial intelligence. But it is possible he is not aware of this, since what he says about Schopenhauer reads like notes cribbed from Bryan Magee whose understanding of Schopenhauer is far superior. In fact, all these sketches might well have been drawn second-hand from basic philosophy texts. Only those philosophers who side with his etiolated principle receive any praise. In short, he claims philosophy to have been a disguised religion from the outset, which he passionately detests and it all has to go, leaving only science with some sort of torch of truth, whose sole value has more to do with practical necessity than any notions of truth.
The problem is that John Gray fails to recognise science as the application of a metaphysics of inertia, and it is from this that he has drawn his vision of which he is apparently unaware. For instance, it should be no surprise that the world is running out of work or gainful employment, since according to this brand of metaphysics, the purpose of work is to remove the necessity of itself, and so we approach that which is built into the assumptions of the science which he cherishes and does not question, creating a world of people bored witless and hard-pressed to find new distractions. Having dismissed all that has given meaning to Mankind as illusion, this is the only philosophy that remains, and it is this philosophy that John Gray is actually defending, and not questioning.
In a book of less than 200 pages, he often presents his views in short, Wittgensteinian-like statements, but succeeds in mimicking Oscar Wilde on a bad day, 'Ideas of justice are as timeless as fashions in hats.' Perhaps, but fashions are often stylised forms of necessity, to keep our heads dry and warm when facing the elements. Or maybe it is relying on the short attention-span of the reader that likes its philosophy presented in this sound-bite form. Perhaps, but I doubt it. It is simply that there is no more to add.
Far from challenging assumptions, he ends up defending them. In attempting to unmask reality, he has turned himself into a prophet of doom, one of those ringing a bell and sounding the end of time dressed in a sandwich board. Most of the time we ignore them, but in this case we are duped by others into seeing this as 'one of the great works of our time'. This is the worry.
But here is an acid test. Reading a serious philosophy text can often take several weeks, months and sometimes years. This book can be read in just 3 or 4 hours and not a word or idea need be contemplated for longer than it takes to read it. Perhaps the emperor's new clothes were really this sandwich board, and we should at least find the good sense in ourselves to demand more than this from others, and that we should rightly them pass by when they ask us to see what is not there, and divert our eyes from this sterile form of defeatist thought.


Closure: A Story of Everything
Closure: A Story of Everything
by Hilary Lawson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.52

13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a flawed theory of everything, 24 May 2002
'Closure' is an attempt to plasticise reality, to soften up its dogmatic form not by invoking principles of criticism, rather by showing how criticism of sorts is generated by principles of closure. Briefly, it outlines how our conceptual structures are destined to be incomplete. By aiming them at what is not contained in them (the uncontained referred to as 'openness'), it demonstrates how the aiming process itself impedes total containment which is completion. Consequently, the idea of closure is actually a tension between these two words, openness and closure, which generates our concepts, ideas and perspectives concerning the nature of reality. Closure as such a tension generates further concepts and therefore a nested structure of further closures.
This duologue closure/openness has a distinguished pedigree (although this is never alluded to) which can be traced back to the Greek ideas of the fixed and the loose, is re-invoked by Kant's noumenal (which gets a mention in passing) is improved upon by Schopenhauer's idea of the Will and objectification of the Will, can be found again in existential texts such as Heidegger's Dasein and Sartres' in-itself and for-itself. In particular, it bears a marked resemblance to Whitehead's notion of eternal objects and their prehension in actual occasions. Unfortunately, closure stands against them as a distant poor relation, beginning as a great-grandchild but soon deteriorating into a distant cousin twice removed related by name only, as though it is embarrassed by such an association.
The linguistic analysis is handled well enough, arguing against the inordinate emphasis linguistic philosophy has received in the universities. Closure provides the means to allow it to move beyond itself by developing a method of self-reference within its own terms that is not regressive, and so capable of shedding light in other areas that have been allowed to lie fallow.
But this is where the problems begin. In attempting to move beyond linguistics, closure turns itself from a principle into a theory. It assumes the mantle of a scientific idea by severing ties with the philosophy that gave it life. In so doing, it imagines it has something to offer science, say, which in turn will reply that it already contains closure as part of its working method (through Popperian falsifiability, for instance). In effect, it is teaching grandmother to suck eggs. However, it discredits the philosophical tradition, and that is far more significant. It is as though the idea is looking for approval and reshapes itself into a more acceptable form, in this case a scientific theory, and betrays its own roots. Far more significant, by exchanging allegiances, it is no longer capable of the criticism and the vision that is so sorely needed to loosen up the assumptions we take for granted, and which ironically prevent exactly the kind of closure that closure was originally intended for.
It is most certainly true that we are constrained by historical legacies and physiology, but he makes no mention of the fact that particular systems of thought, perceived as forms of closure, are difficult to alter or overhaul because they represent the interests of the very parties in a position to alter them who defend them from such alteration. Without this particular dimension, closure becomes self-serving, seeing only itself in everything, imagining itself to be a concept like Dawkin's notion of a meme, or Daniel Dennet's algorithm. In effect, it becomes non-critical, and sees only forms of closure without being able to comment or criticise those things it applies itself to. Finance, for instance, is seen as an effective means of intervention which effectively realises a particular form of closure. It becomes a good thing. But then even Stalin and Hitler were not such bad men, as they represented particular forms of closure. The irony is that while he sees the closure in everything and it becomes a myopic view.
This problem is created by the non-political stance of the book, seeing such systems as extensions of child psychology writ large. Perhaps it has more to do with the context of closure reducing all the different things to sameness. This is in marked contrast to the much deeper view of closure inherent in Whitehead's process philosophy, in which sameness is the source of all novelty. Furthermore, these three hundred pages continue to refer to the incompleteness of knowledge, an idea summed up in one short sentence in Whitehead which warns against the dangers of taking the selection for the totality.
The greatest omission of all, however, is that there is not a single reference to an ethical universe. Given its aim to turn itself into a pseudo-scientific theory, this is hardly surprising, since ethics is not a direct brief in the science context. Science at its worst defines ethics in terms of an evolutionary strategy for survival, and this is a view only possible in a perspective that holds itself falsely as a complete theory, or one nearing completion. It does not, however, provide any insight into the riddle of ethics, which has less to do with what can be discovered outside Plato's cave, and more to do with why anyone who manages to leave it should return.
However, reading 'Closure' was a philosophical experience akin to reading Andre Gide's 'Pastoral Symphony' in which compassion for another human being becomes something entirely perverse by the end, and yet the language of description is hardly altered. 'Closure' becomes an ironic work because it is clearly lost on the author, but it is painful for the spectator to watch it develop from the outset, starting life as a philosophical idea full of promise and ending life as a quasi-rational concept with little value and no future. Failure, after all, is the point of closure, and this book is therefore highly successful.


The Trouble with Science
The Trouble with Science
by Professor Robin Dunbar
Edition: Paperback

8 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars When reason turns to dogmatism....., 11 Nov 2001
In an age dependent on scientific progress and scientific methodology, Robin Dunbar points out the woeful level of understanding of science, and particularly the lengths that universities must go to in order to attract students onto scientific courses. The ultimate cost of this will be a poorer grade of scientist, and a decline in standards in scientific education in general by osmosis. This book is intended to be a part remedy to this problem, by encouraging a greater interest in the subject.
As a potted history of the development of science and its underlying philosophy (for the book is less than 200 pages long), it is very readable. However, in trying to engender interest in the modern reader, it shoots itself in the foot on two or three occasions.
Science did not begin with Newton, and has always been used, even in 'pre-scientific' times, both by humans as well as animals. On one occasion, he points out the tremendous feat of memory exhibited by a native who, having crossed a desert in his childhood, was able to remember the way in adulthood from various markings en
route, and was able to lead an expedition on a 1000 mile journey in more or less a straight line. Such knowledge and the ability to absorb it, we are told, was essential to his survival, while we commit such information to computers and rely on technology to show the way. That is surely the point, which prevented one ancient King from accepting the written word from Thoth, on the grounds that it would make his soldiers
lazy. We are the inheritors of the latter, and our survival does not depend on knowledge we carry within us, but on socio-economic factors. Most people may know nothing about quantum theory, yet have an incredibly detailed knowledge of ISAs, PEPs, the meaning of capital growth and so on. However, this is a minor point in comparison to the case he makes for science, by
turning its negative components into a sort of charm. To do this, he defends the reductionist stance by defining two forms of it to the exclusion of a third, the third being responsible for the lack of interest in science.
No-one would dispute the necessity of breaking up knowledge into compartments that produces useful information and knowledge, which is the source of the two forms of reductionism he refers to, but he makes no mention of the fact that science since the Enlightenment is based on the unquestioned assumption of inertia, an assumption
which by its nature excludes any reference to what he called the elan vital (quoting Bergson) and which he feels is responsible for so many problems with respect to the acceptability of science. Ultimately, scientific statements reduce to this principle, and must show some allegiance to it, even though it is impossible to derive any principles of self-activation from it, principles which by their nature transcend the knowledge of
science. It is not the difficulties of science, nor its uncommon sense that makes science so unattractive - it is the fact that it has nothing to offer the human consciousness with respect to the nature of its own self-esteem and self-worth.
All this is glossed over, however, in the attempt to make science more attractive. The problem is that ultimately, he is suggesting a kind of science 'national service', an enforced learning programme that makes people more aware of the importance of science. The fact that people are voting with their feet to stay away from science is as much due to this form of reduction as it may be for the reasons he gives, but I tend to
favour the former. In that light, his book reflects a form of dogmatism one associates
with thinking that has reached its sell-by date and outgrown its usefulness. Yes, science is important, but it is not everything.


Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality, a Western Perspective
Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality, a Western Perspective
by Shimon Malin
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature slightly less disclosed., 4 Aug 2001
One could be forgiven for assuming that this was yet another book from the popularising-of-science stable written to assuage the thirst for them by the general public. But I must ask Malin for that forgiveness. This book is the most lucid account of the significance and implications of quantum theory written to date. Unlike Hawking'sbook in which he was instructed not to make use of equations as each one costs so many readers (and yet still managing to write a text that few understand),
Malin never has a use for them because he writes as one dedicated to elucidation. He proceeds step by step, constantly summing up the main points. There is no obfuscation and no mystery. We are left in no doubt with regard to meaning, and the problems that remain to be solved are clearly outlined. Malin traces the history of quantum theory through the spirit of philosophy that imbues it. The founders of quantum theory did not work out these ideas as though they were merely puzzling phenomena. They were enthused by a sense of philosophical curiosity and dissatisfaction. Were it not for this, we may still be trying to work out the implications of the very small in a neo-Newtonian context. It is this emphasis on the philosophical that is contingent on the scientific that is the real subject here. The front cover reads "Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality", but these are not synonymous terms. Malin makes it clear that the former is an aspect of the latter, while philosophy already contains the perspective of the former as an intrinsic feature. This is clear from the ideas of Plato and Plotinus, but Malin emphasises their influence on another philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. This is significant, because Whitehead is almost forgotten as a major figure, and yet there is not a statement in quantum physics that is not already prefigured in his philosophy. It is based on the relations between the temporal and the non-temporal, or eternal objects. Noting the dislike for "eternal objects" as a concept, Whitehead suggests that one use the idea of potential instead, an idea that is crucial to understanding quantum collapse. It is the relationship between the potential and the actual that is the stuff of quantum theory, and yet in Whitehead these are explored as a matter of course. The relationship between Whitehead's philosophy and quantum physics is the major contribution that Malin makes in the pursuit of the paradigm shift that currently evades us. Science, as Malin points out, is restricted in its relevance by its objectivating nature, which excludes the subject of cognizance from its domain of relevance. It is for this reason that reality in a scientific treatment is essentially inert. Malin points this out, quoting from Heisenberg, one of the leading figures in quantum theory. It is a great pity that these philosophical outpourings from scientists themselves are not more openly displayed, for we live in an age that assumes that all of reality can be captivated in a scientific concept. A paradigm shift, as Malin points out, must extend beyond the bounds of science since these exclude the very essence of that which defines the new paradigm. It is a rare thing these days to hear a scientist speaking so boldly concerning the limitations of their work, compared with Stephen Hawking, say, who through science hopes to know the mind of God, while assuming that philosophy ended with Wittgenstein. Perhaps if he had read Whitehead, he may have concluded differently. However, (and this 'however' is intended as constructive criticism to help point the way into the new paradigm), Malin underestimates the significance of emotion as Whitehead employs it in his philosophy. He does not quote Whitehead on the subject, but a third party who interprets it: Victor Lowe is right, I believe, when he warns us of "the danger of reading too much into the term 'feeling'..." Feeling is the relationship between the one who feels and that which is felt. This is not Whitehead's thought, but Lowe's. For Whitehead, the significance of emotion is central and crucial. Whitehead's actual words are: "It is an essential doctrine in the philosophy of organism, that the primary function of a proposition is to be relevant as a lure for feeling." It is this feeling that is the defining quality of Whitehead's philosophy. Without it, organism becomes a "system", to be understood in the traditional way that excludes the very thing that is the focus of attention for Whitehead. To reduce it to the terms of a relationship is to convert it into a mathematical equation and so negate the very principle that Malin is trying to introduce. In some ways, this is understandable, for to move towards the new paradigm requires the old to be discarded. This is happening in this book very slowly, but nonetheless it is moving. Consequently, in his chapter "Nature Alive", Malin writes:
If the universe is alive, emotions may well have cosmological significance. What he should be writing is "The universe is alive, and emotions do indeed have cosmological significance". To take this step forward, and speak with such a confidence that removes the doubt from it is a huge undertaking. Whitehead knew this and said so. Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought, progressive and never final. But it is an adventure in which even partial success has importance.
Malin has had that partial success with this book, for no-one has come as close to this convergence between philosophy and science as he. I hope he will continue the adventure and find the courage to intuit the next step and involve himself more fully. Most certainly this is one of the few books you will read that does not feel finished. It is on an edge of discovery. It points somewhere. It points somehow. Read it!


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