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The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics by [Landsburg, Steven E.]
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The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics Kindle Edition

3.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product Description


"In "The Big Questions", Steven Landsburg ventures far beyond his usual domain to take on questions in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. . . . [T]his must make Steven Landsburg history's most courageous mathematician because for Landsburg mathematical abstractions are not like Mount Everest, rather Mount Everest is a mathematical abstraction. Indeed, for Landsburg, it's math all the way down--math is what exists and what exists is math, A=A. Read the book for more on this view, which is as good as any metaphysics that has ever been and a far sight better than most." -- MarginalRevolution.com

"Steven E. Landsburg's latest book of economic brain teasers resembles one of those Hanayama metal puzzles that you're supposed to pull apart: They drive me crazy, yet I can't put them down. Landsburg is the University of Rochester professor who brought us "The Armchair Economist" and "More Sex Is Safer Sex".... In "The Big Questions", he attempts something more ambitious and slightly less flip: to sum up his ideas about 'the nature of reality, the basis of knowledge and the foundations of ethics."' Be prepared for a diverting journey into the maze of one man's mind, a supply-and-demand version of the movie "Being John Malkovich." -- "Bloomburg News"

""The Big Questions" is a funky book, like an intellectual roller coaster ride through some of the most fascinating ideas in science, math and economics. These are the ideas, says the author - a University of Rochester professor of economics - that unlock the most perplexing mysteries in philosophy and life, in general. His book is a thought provoking blast." -- David Henderson

About the Author

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of "The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions, " two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy. His current research is in the area of quantum game theory. He blogs daily at www.TheBigQuestions.com. For over ten years, he wrote the monthly "Everyday Economics" column in "Slate" magazine, and has written regularly for "Forbes" and occasionally for the "New York Times", the "Wall Street Journal "and the "Washington Post". He appeared as a commentator on the PBS/Turner Broadcasting series "Damn Right," and has made over 200 appearances on radio and television broadcasts over the past few years.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 775 KB
  • Print Length: 292 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 143914821X
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (2 Sept. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003M69X5C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #668,913 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although I dont believe it will to the general reader, the author is without a doubt a very smart, very intellectual individual and it comes across in the book but they came across to me as being pretty myopic in their outlook. Their major interests, its plainly evident, are maths, physics and economics of which they have some mastery but which, I would hazard to say, is not as great as many of the other authors they mention in passing or who have books on the market such as Hawkins.

While the other books by the author are economics, there is only really a single, very short (a couple of pages), chapter really dedicated to that theme in this book and it deals with the efficacy of economic models. This was much like the other times this author has dealt with the themes of economics, nothing new or particularly striking or original. The rest of the book is mainly reminiscence, topical discussion or disputes, particularly with Dawkins, and underpinned by the authors interest in mathematics and physics.

Some of this was intriguing or revealing, for instance the quite literal interpretation of "fire exit" which left the author so perturbed in the nursery school that he was unable to walk about the building as the other children did, believing that to do so would be to risk incineration. I sort of thought that some of this content, and some asides about time spent discussing topics within student or academic circles, was interesting, it made me think about what motivated what followed in this book and had been a feature in others.

However, there is not much besides to recommend this book, and I really suspect that this is not enough to recommend a book at all by itself.
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Format: Paperback
I love this sort of book, and grabbed it when I saw it without looking inside. I wish I'd checked first, the lack of any references would have been a giveaway. I'm not a heavyweight reader, but this book is so lightweight that it's worthless. I can't believe Levitt allowed his name to be associated with this book - Freakonomics towers over this, as does any other book I've read on any of the subjects that Landsburg tackles.
I have to be honest and say that I didn't actually finish it. I got to the point where he "proves" that ESP exists by declaring his own literal definition of ESP and using that. At that point I threw the book down in disgust. I mostly agreed with his conclusions, but all his arguments are a couple of lines of logic, leaving gaping holes that don't seem to have occured to him.
If you've never read anything (or even thought much) about these subjects then you might get something out of this book, but if you are after something even remotely challenging then look elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
Being fascinated by the links between physics, mathematics, economics and philosophy, I was expecting this to be a fantastic read, and in some ways it is, it really opens up new ways of thinking. However, on the other hand, some of Dr Landsburg's arguments are very simplistic, especially when it comes to the economics side of analysis.

To summarise briefly, great to stimulate the brain and develop deeper ways of thinking, but don't accept his conclusions on many things - whether the author was simplifying concepts on purpose or not, I don't know, but there certainly are some intellectual holes - I would highly recommend reading deeper into certain issues in here if they interest you.
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Format: Paperback
The author is an academic economist who wishes to make useful contributions to debates such as Intelligent Design, for instance, and has some interesting anecdotes about number theory in particular, and some other areas of 20th-21st century philosophy.

Unfortunately, as I progressed, I found this book increasingly irritating for a number of reasons:

1. He quotes writers who have written better books on his subjects - Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Douglas R Hofstadter, for instance. He is honest enough to advise us to read all their books, but if you've read their books, you won't want to read this one

2. He assumes you can only agree with him and any disagreement must be irrational. This is true of many economists, who professionally reduce the world to simple forms they can toy with, and get lost on the way back up to the complexities of real life. His "proof" that protectionism is "always bad", for example, deploys a crass utilitarian worldview - if an American gets a good camera more cheaply from a Chinese factory than an American factory, then it must be "good". It doesn't occur to him to examine the impact of unemployment in America or exploitative labour conditions (to produce the cheaper goods) in China. His economics being so partial and ill-considered, the reader must be put off the many areas where he is merely an interested amateur

3. When the going gets tough, he points to external sources and swerves away from attempting his own explanation. This tactic makes the books confusing: it walks up towards advanced thinking, then turns away before properly engaging

4. Even when the going is not so tough, he seems to lose interest in a topic and bring it to an abrupt end without taking the time to develop a really convincing case.
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