Posts Tagged ‘Literature’
I was supposed to read this in high school, but I just didn’t feel like it then. They made a big deal about it being a great novel, you know? My teacher was in love with it. That kills me. It really does. But the rest of the class was just full of goddam phonies.
All that aside, this really was a great novel; I’m glad I finally read it! It’s hard to classify what this book is: at times you feel like it’s a coming-of-age novel, but by the end it seems that Holden hasn’t really learned much; he has, however, been saved by the overwhelming power of kin selection. The end of the novel begs the reader to hypothesize about Holden’s future, which is left open. Mr. Antolini’s prophesy seems avoided, but despite his narrow escape from destroying his life he unaltered in his perception of “phonies” and a pessimist can do little but suppose that Holden will have the same experience at his next school that he has at the previous few.
On the other hand, Holden is growing up. Even if he doesn’t show it in the story’s narration, we know that kids get older and wiser. We know that eventually he’ll be more clear minded and realize what’s going on around him. And the experiences throughout the novel may just be the foundation he needs to take a firmer stand on life and step boldly into a more lucid future.
This book was a captivating read… but not exactly what I was looking for when I read it. Though flavorful — and I can appreciate that this is book is written for a specific audience that I might not be a part of — I felt that Aczel could have dared to present a little more mathematics in a few places. There were about two or three pages devoted to silhouetting Cantor’s diagonal proofs for the countability of the integers and reals, but besides occasionally inserting a statement of the continuum hypothesis he shied away from presenting anything much deeper than a layman’s explanation of some very important mathematics.
I’m glad I read this book, and I still would have if I’d known more about the content ahead of time. It was well-composed and gave me lots of interesting trivia and historical context. Just know that if you’re looking for something that tells you much more about infinity in the mathematical sense than the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page, you’ll want to find a different book.
Let’s see if I can’t get back into this blogging thing with a quick listing of those books I’m currently in the middle of and the progress I’ve made in them. There are way too many:
- Hamlet (about to start Act V)
- The Force of Symmetry (pg 134/294)
- Godel, Escher, Bach (about to start Part II/II)
- General Theory of Knowledge (reverted to ~p.30 after making it 1/3 way through)
- The Road to Reality (Chapter 3)
- A Clockwork Orange (Chapter 4)
- Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (Chapter 5)
That’s way too many books. I need to organize and regroup. After work today, I’m buying a lab notebook, because my collected data for these MUSC experiments are less organized than my reading list.
I just got off my flight out of San Francisco (SFO) and I’m sitting in the Salt Lake City Airport (SLC). During the flight, I was able to finish Angels & Demons, which I started earlier this week. I’ll go ahead and open this book review with a summary – I really enjoyed the book, and I think that it actually carried some good messages (whether or not life lessons were Brown’s intention is something I suppose only he knows).
I’m sure many readers have seen the movie already (I haven’t) but I’ll summarize anyway without revealing too much plot: scientific boundaries are pushed, religion is imperilled, and Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon saves the day with the help of the gorgeous physicist and yoga practitioner Vittoria Vetra. The conclusion of the book presents the reader with a canvas on which to ponder faith, reason, and man’s place in the universe.
Update: I’m no longer in SLC; rather, I’m in MUSC, doing things like using AutoHotKey, calculating Air KERMA, coding, and listening to “Still Alive” (by GLaDOS, from Portal). Aperture science: we do what we must, because we can.
Anyway, a week later I’m still savoring Angels & Demons, which means that it really was a good book. I had previously started revealing some of the plot, but now I’ve decided against in the hope that you, dear reader, will pick it up and find out the plot yourself. In other news, I’ve started Sphere by Michael Crichton (the Jurassic Park guy) and resumed The Tao of Physics, a book that I’ve blogged of many times but keep having to put down in favor of more pressing reading. Hopefully I’ll finish it this time.
Review of Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist, focusing on the analogs between Jakob and his era.
Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist picks a unique subject and setting through which revolutions of thought permeated every facet of the West. The beginning of the twentieth century marked a global transformation in many facets of humanity, and science was not exempt from cultural upheaval. Changes both political and social ensued in parallel with revolutions in scientific thought, and McCormmach tells the story of a man left behind – a Classical Physicist permanently intertwined with the past. The story of Professor Viktor Jakob represents the struggle of the world to keep up with the sweeping changes of a new, faster globe and the intellectual modifications that accompanied it.
The physics presented in the novel – although nonetheless historically accurate – served a purpose beyond simply representing a branch of natural science. The paradigm shift in physics of the day was an analog of the worldwide metamorphosis of civilization. Jakob embodied these parallel transfigurations in his thoughts on both art and science. To him, theatre and physics as well as music and mathematics were entangled in a single human experience. In this sense, his scholarly lineage could nearly be traced to the Enlightenment era. The ideas of unity, closure, determinism, and the importance of the individual that accompanied Enlightenment philosophy manifested themselves in his interpretation of science. Jakob’s pursuit of a solution for the world-ether typified his mindset towards the world. Even deterred by the likes of Planck (pg. 139), Jakob continued to dream of a grand scientific unification.
Physics and the world stage were in two not unalike states at the turn of the century. The rise of Germany in central Europe and the end of the beginnings of industrialization introduced paradigm shifts in life and politics as radical as the new interpretations in physics. It may have been ironic to Jakob that the very same forces in Germany catalyzed both scientific knowledge and military prowess. He prided his and his fellow scientists’ peaceful natures, especially within their profession – but even he could not entirely resist the call of nationalism. His work on acoustics in the field was an example of his contribution to the war.
But nationalism was a phenomenon with which the professor did not always peacefully mesh. Jakob considered himself a worshipper of science, in accord with Einstein’s scheme (108). Jakob has chosen for himself “the life of the discoverer” (109), and accordingly placed physics higher than the state. But interestingly, many of the scientists to whom he would pay reverence – such as Planck – were at least able to support the war with their public attitudes. Jakob’s refusal to sign a single document supporting the war is evidence of his strict, scientific moral code and fear of change. It fits with his description of a classical physics; in his view, the role of virtue and scientific rigidity within oneself is the key characteristic of physics. He admired many of his more esteemed colleagues for their incredible internal strength of character.
Jakob was, indeed, a self-proclaimed Classical Physicist. Unlike the era of his youth, the German students of the twentieth century had (allegedly) not been “drilled in the classics, in the careful thought of the languages and literatures of antiquity” (133). Jakob believed in a strong connection between physics and the classics. With this in mind, one might propose that what bothered Jakob in part about the new age of atomic physics was uncertainty and a disconnect between a priori assumptions and the implications of modern physics. Jakob thought of classical physics as not so much a world-view, but an attitude: a description more of the scientist than the science.
His knowledge of the classical age made it easy for Jakob to recognize the mutation of Greek thought and culture into a tool for nationalism when he and his wife attend a reading of Antigone. European affinity for Greek science and culture is exploited as the company alters details of the tragedy to create sympathy for the German cause. This sort of alteration for the sake of political allusion would begin to permeate many cultures in future decades. Later in the century, this same type of subliminal propaganda would manifest itself in American and Soviet media to generate sympathy for democracy and communism.
It was Jakob’s belief that the loss of the world-ether implied the loss of intelligibility in the physics community (134). Jakob appreciated mechanisms representative of our perception more than he did abstractions into mathematics. Accordingly, he felt that the lack of an absolute reference frame turned physics into a “cold gray cave of abstraction” (ibid). Once more, Jakob reveals his ties to the previous century. Like the romantics of art and literature calling for a return to nature after industrialization, Jakob feels that the loss of sensible physics is a loss of a part of human culture.
The magnitude of destruction experienced in the First World War is certainly akin to a cold gray cave of abstraction. The introduction of twentieth century weaponry and technology made the Great War a monster of a sort not before witnessed in the world. Lengthy, monotonous trench warfare and the introduction of war to the sea and sky made war less personal than ever. In the eyes of many – including Jakob – soldiers started their transformation from people to numbers in that era. In that light, modern warfare may be somewhat similar to modern physics in Jakob’s view.
But more than simply the loss of the world-ether concept, Jakob felt that the branching away from classical physics meant the loss of the individual. Jakob recalls a shift during his career from individuals pursuing physics of their own accord – with their own ideas – to an age where money translates a wealthy student into a fledgling scientist to pursue the goals advancing the reputation of the university director. The idea that money fuels a man’s career is certainly not a new concept, but Jakob seems to feel that this sort of construct contaminates the purity of the physics community.
Jakob’s view of his evolving science and evolving world resonated with the ideas of a finished age. Victor Jakob might have been one of the last of his breed. Perhaps, though, his concern for the individual may have been warranted as we entered a less personal age. Perhaps, even today, there is still a place for the Classical Physicist.
You can find a more traditional book review at the Harvard Press site, http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/MCCNIG.html.
You can also preview the book on Google Books. Search for “Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist”.
Grrrrrah! It’s come to my attention that I’m in the middle of too many books, and I’m making headway on none of them.
Current Reading List, in order of starting date:
- Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut
- The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra
- Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist – Russell McCormmach
- Beyond Geometry – Peter Pesic (ed.)
- The Nature of Space and Time – Hawking & Penrose
- The Art of War – Lao Tzu
- King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild
- Random textbooks and books I need to start…
So grr. How can we solve this problem with technology?
If I can just finish one, maybe I’ll get somewhere…
I’ve just started reading Beyond Geometry, a collection of “classic papers from Riemann to Einstein”, which outlines the progression of the interpretation of geometry from Riemann’s time in the 1800s through the early 20th century. The introduction opens with a quote from Albert Einstein:
Only the genius of Riemann, solitary and uncomprehended, by the middle of the last century already broke through to a new conception of space, in which space was deprived of its rigidity and in which its power to take part in physical events was recognized as possible.
The beautiful thing about this book is the metaphysical nature of the papers. There are often technical details included, but on the whole the reader is presented with the philosophical divergence of some of the greatest thinkers since the Enlightenment. I have only had the chance to read the introduction and two of the eleven or so papers in the compilation, but some of what I’ve read so far is fascinating. Overly dramatic as I may sound, I think there’s something even romantic about debates over the nature of space.
The truths of geometry were synthetic a priori, meaning that their validity did not stem from experience, but from a synthesis conditioned by the nature of the mind itself.
Kant argued that we naturally intuit space to be Euclidean because it is “hard-wired” into our brain to so based on the information we receive from our eyes. This powerful argument, which is undeniably both reasonable and sensible, would undergo more than a century of critique (many geometers still debate the nature of space today). Science and mathematics would force the immediately logical Kantian view to be replaced with the bizarre (but interesting) ideas of modern physics and geometry. These arguments would start with Riemann, presenting his lecture “On the Hypotheses That Lie at the Foundations of Geometry” to Gauss and other German thinkers of his time, followed by Helmholtz, Klein, and eventually Einstein’s realizations of General Relativity with experimental proof to show that space is, indeed, not Euclidean.
This compendium describes what I find to be an astonishing timeline, outlining the triumph of human intuition over instinct, and a demonstration of how the groundwork of physics and mathematics is often moved by words and philosophy more than by equations and numbers. Definitely a suggested read for the interested academic.
The Fedora documentation team has an admirable set of articles and guides, to be sure. But there’s something that I think is missing – something I didn’t think of until late last night.
The beginner Fedora user will almost certainly find what he needs to know for desktop usage in the User Guide. This is a good thing for we Linux proponents; once they can use the desktop properly, they will be comfortable using it as their everyday computing machine. But where in this day-to-day desktop usage is the magical superiority that these new users were promised in forums, blogs, and chat rooms?
Using OO Writer is little different than using Word; using Rhythmbox is little different than using iTunes. So the “normal” user who has converted to Linux is now using free and open source programs which may be good for his karma, but are presumably no more functionally superior than their proprietary counterparts which – to be honest – many people don’t have to pay for anyway. (I refer not only to pirating, but mostly to how users can be licensed through their workplaces and such.)
But I think most long-time Linux users – like myself – would agree that Linux (or, at the very least, *nix-based systems) are grossly more powerful than a Windows box. So how do we teach this to the new user, rather than just proclaiming it like religious fanatics?
I think every open source group can manage this problem in their own way, but I think a good way for the Fedora Docs team to do this would be to introduce a new guide for this very purpose. I was thinking about it last night as an addition to the current User Guide, so I’ll write about it in the same context, although I’m unsure if that’s the best way to move forward.
My initial idea was that we split the User Guide into three parts.
Part I: Practicum
This part of the guide would fundamentally be the same as what the User Guide currently includes. It would be a practical guide – a cookbook, really – filled with common tasks and applications needed by a desktop user and easy to follow solutions for each of these tasks. This could include setting up email, playing music, or editing documents.
The idea is that the user can easily and quickly find the solution to a common task, just like I might quickly find a recipe in the Perl Cookbook. The guide would structure these tasks as recipes – selected, suggested methods to do something, even if other methods exist.
So effectively, the practicum would be a collection of well organized tutorials and how-tos for the most common desktop tasks, presented in an easy-to-browse manner.
Part II: Theory
The theory section of the guide is what I would propose to address the aforementioned problem with not properly introducing new users to Linux. The issue is that taking full advantage of Linux after moving from Windows involves the user making a paradigm shift in the way they use a computer. Easing the introduction of this new paradigm with examples, analogies, and metaphors is what I see to be the most effective way to help a new user truly understand what Linux is.
This part would focus on those learning devices, as well as exploring the radically different community structure surrounding open source software and detailing the ways in which users can get help or get involved. This section would written with more of an intent for reading front-to-back, as opposed to the isolated, browse-to-my-problem writing found in the practicum. Nevertheless, separate sections would ideally be readable without needing to read the entire thing.
Part III: Appendices & Glossary
Jargon tends to be at once both a huge deterrent to people learning a new topic and a useful tool in making writing clear and succinct to the already-initiated. Sometimes it really is just unavoidable, although we try our best to remove it as much as we can. To this end – as well as helping the user just be generally more comfortable around Linux documentation – I feel that a glossary could be helpful. Fedora already has one of these, presently titled the “Jargon Buster”. I volunteered last week to clean this up syntactically, so hopefully I’ll get a better idea of what we already have once I’ve finished that task.
That’s what I thought of initially for the guide. It may be better to split it up; we’ll see.
Either way, comments are greatly appreciated. I’ll probably bring this up at the next Fedora docs meeting anyway.
A few months ago, I read Biting the Sun, a two part novel (originally published as two separate novellas) about a girl in a pseudo-utopian society in which humans have transcended the mystery of life and have the capacity to reincarnate dead souls into new and exciting bodies, effectively cheating death for eternity.
I’ll admit that when my friend lent the book, I was skeptical at the first mention of utopian society. But this book didn’t focus on the perfect, utopian parts of society nearly as much as I expected it to. It was a thrilling read with a charismatic, confused, and dynamic main character.
I don’t want to give away too much, but I feel okay writing about the basic premise. The book never gives you a full description of humanity in this era, but the reader can infer that mankind isn’t in the best of times – not in the conventional sense. Society in this region has been restricted to cities protected by domes from the outside environment. Our main character starts out in Four BEE, but also moves around to Four BAA and Four BOO, suggesting that this region – and many other regions throughout the world – have been categorized and fall under a higher authority, although this authority never appears in the book.
Humans had previously reached such a level of technological prowess to created what they called Quasi-Robots, or Q-R’s. Q-Rs were complete, biologically functioning humans, but they couldn’t be endowed with a Life Spark – the book’s analog to the human soul. As such, the Q-Rs were used to manage and keep order to society, while natural born humans enjoyed the pleasures of life granted to them by the advanced industrial society they lived in.
The main character is predominantly female (since people get new bodies quite often after dying, they frequently change sex, but many prefer to trend one way or another), and tells the story in the first person. Her name is never given, but is rather referred to by her culture’s slang identifiers, such as ooma, a word analogous to “dear”. Most of these slang words are identified with the Jang, the rebellious, teenage stage in social evolution. Unsatisfied with her superficial Jang life, the main character attempts to find several jobs until she is eventually sent to the outside world for an archeological dig. Experiencing the real world, with real air, mountains, water, and weather for the first time, she will never fit back into her synthetic society without experiencing the outdoors again. This is the premise of her internal and external conflict that feeds the rest of the book, causing her to rebel against society through violence, crime, and heresy – all of which were unheard of for centuries.
This book is simply a fun, addictive read. The style of its ‘goodness’ is somewhat more like Harry Potter than, say, The Sound and the Fury. I doubt that in a few decades, university literary circles will be dissecting Biting the Sun for it’s thick metaphors and deep meaning (because I don’t think there’s much of that in the book). But this doesn’t make it any less of a novel, and you can find a lot of pleasure just curling up on a couch for a few days and letting your mind fall into a fantasy novel for what may be the first time in a long time. I know it was for me – I hadn’t had the opportunity to read any fantasy books in far too long.
You can read a sample from Amazon’s book reader here. It’s mostly pages from the first chapter, which I admittedly found slower than the rest of the book, but it’s still worth investigating Lee’s style. I highly suggest this book to anyone who loves fantasy, and maybe hasn’t had a chance to read it in a while.