Saturday, 24 November 2012

Narssicus and Goldmund

I found this book deepy moving and disturbing.

Am I a Narssicus or a Goldmund?
It was very Apollonian/Dionysian.
I was so happy to see Plato in some of their conversations.

My heart hurt when I felt like Goldmund, and my heart didn't feel at all when I was Narssicus. Goldmund lived with his body. Narssicus lives with his mind.

The question at the end is still with me. "How will you die when your time comes, Narssicus, since you have no mother? Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die."

The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630

This book filled in a lot of gaps left by 'A Birth of A New Physics'. It was a plesure to read. I especially liked the format of the book- each chapter explored a different scientific disipline and the prominent figures within it.

Humanism played a large part in the rise of science in the Renaissance age. The translation movement of the 12th century led to the rediscovery of Hellenistic Greek works. However, the European scholars found these translations unsatisfactory and decidede to write new ones in the 15th century. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Galen, Hippocrates and others were repopularised and regarded as the authoritative texts in their respective fields.

Copernicus wrote On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in exactly the same format as Ptolemy's Almagest. Copernicus wasn't a pioneer, he got the idea for a heliocentric universe from what he understod was the Pythagorean model. Osiander's preface stated his own views on Astronomy, not those of Copernicus. Astrology was a popular discipline. Most men studied star charts to be able to predict horoscopes. Brahe and Kepler weren't above it.

The book also mentioned alchemy, and how widely practiced it was. Ultimately the appearance of syphilis caused much stress to be placed on the alchemists to synthesise mercury (it was the most common treatment) and this eventually led to the new science of chemistry.

Galen and Aristotle were used in medicine. Cadavers were a topic for debate. Vesalius, Cesalpino, Fernel. Harvey's text would replace them all later.

Gilbert and his magnetism would play a big influence on Kepler. Magic was widely practiced, and was closely associated with math. Gilbert was quite the mystic.

The book ended with Galileo. I was disappointed they didn't go on to talk about Newton.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a two part treatise on Education. The first (and often assumed the only) volume of this work is Emile.

Emile is raised in a garden by a tutor who retards his moral development in favour of physical development. Emile at age 12 is totally ignorant of the right/wrong, true/false, good/bad distictions key to the TJEd's Core phase.

The garden is an image of nature and the tutor is an image of Man's understanding. What Rousseau is saying by educating Emile in this way is that he should have knowledge of natural laws (Might is right) before any human laws are imposed on him.

Rousseau was a careful student of Locke, who proposed that the free market should replace the battlefield of natural laws. Instead of might is right, we should have political and economic contracts which govern our behaviour. The State is the only entity who possesses the right to kill (the death penalty). Rousseau agrees with all of this, but argues that there are two other types of contracts that should exist: social and loving.

Social contracts are cultural customs, ettiquette, etc. Love, Rousseau says, is the most important type of contract and it should be dealt with last. This is reflected in the Emile, where Emile is kept wholly ignorant from the differences of the sexes for as long as possible.

Economic contracts sometimes conflict with political ones, as social contracts sometimes do with loving contracts. Rousseau's central question is how do we educate for all four of these contracts, given that sometimes they conflict?

A key observation of Rousseau's is that humans fear losing the 'sentiment of existence' more than anything else. This is why we fear death. This sentiment is satisfied by love. Because of this and because Rousseau asserts that political and economic education has been covered satisfactorily by Locke, he will focus on education for love and social contracts.

Rousseau describes two types of love. Amour de soi is the ability to evaluate yourself by your own standards. Often this is translated as self-esteem. This is entirely desirable and it is cultivated in Emile by his tutor. Amour propre is the other type of love described by Rousseau. Rousseau defines it as defining your worth in relation to others and is totally undesirable. He means to eliminate this from Emile.

The picture of love painted by Rousseau is very similar to the Greek story of love. According to Rousseau, every human is incomplete. It is impossible to complete yourself so must seek another to complete you. You need amour de soi to do this. Completion has two effects: attaining the 'good', which is the objective truth and experiencing sentient, passionate love.

By being brought up in political and economic surroundings we surrender our natural freedom, which causes us to lose the knowledge of what is truly good for us. Rousseau knows that finding the truth about what is really good for us is vexingly difficult. He does know for certain that domestic education is the best education to preserve love.

Quantum Man

This is the second time Lawrence Krauss has appeared in this blog, this time for his biography of Richard Feynman [1918-1988]. I really enjoyed his style of writing and his treatment of Feynman's life. I was totally ignorant of Feynman's work before beginning this book. After finishing it I feel like I can begin to understand the impact Feyman had on so many areas of physics.

He shared the Nobel prize in 1965 with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga for work in quantum electrodynamics. He invented Feynman diagrams and his own notation. He worked on the Manhattan project when he was a grad student. He demonstated why the Challanger mission failed. He was a great explainer of things and frequently asked questions which led to discoveries that he was not credited for.

Apparently he was also a frequent patron of strip bars. I was glad Krauss left most of this part of Feynman out of Quantum Man.

He taught a two year introductory physics course at Cal Tech which would later be published as the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Most of his undergrad students failed this course because of its difficulty, but grad students and professors filled the empty lecture seats because of his ability to rework accepted knowledge in ways that had never been thought of before.

The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions

I'm not entirely sure why I read this. I had a fun time with it nonetheless, and learned about tesseracts, glomes and the ana/kata dimension. He went on to describe life in the fourth dimension, some objects called hypertori and 5th (and higher) dimensions. The author is Chris McMullen. He referenced Rudy Rucker and Edwin A. Abbott as his inspirations for writing and highly recommends their works on higher dimensions.