muflax' 2010 challenge
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I got a bit behind with reading last year, so it's time to catch up again and aim for a nice, round 100 books this year. Unfortunately, I started the year with a cold, so I'm joining the challenge only now. Anyway, 100 books, for Vectron!
I just finished 1. The Selfish Gene (R. Dawkins) and aim to read in January:
2. Breaking the Spell (D. Dennett)
3. The Meme Machine (S. Blackmore)
4. The Extended Phenotype (R. Dawkins)
5. Consciousness Explained (D. Dennett)
6. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and probably the Dream Cycle, too (H. P. Lovecraft)
7. Reaper Man (T. Pratchett)
8. The Red Queen (M. Ridley)
(yes, I'm quite fascinated by genetics and memes right now...)
I'm also reading a few comics and dictionaries on the side, but I often jump books, so I can't say in advance what (and when) I'm going to read. I'll add them whenever I finish something.
Alright, time for the next batch. I skipped Reaper Man for now, but read Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (M. Mignola) instead.
I'm now going to read:
9. Der Freund und der Fremde (U. Timm)
10. Insect Societies (E. Wilson)
11. Laws of Form (G. Spencer Brown) (I read it once when I was 15. I need to revisit it to clear my mind of all the confusion and ignorance that plagued Consciousness Explained.)
12. Superfreakonomics (S. Levitt, S. Dubner) (loved Freakonomics!)
13. War in Human Civilisation (A. Gat)
Right now, I've kinda run out of interesting authors, so I'm just going through my to-read list, picking up a few books I've wanted to read at some time or another.
I also want to speed up my French study a bit so that I can start some real French literature in February, probably re-reading something by Houllebecq first.
It seems I won't have to face book starvation, as I have found quite a few interesting ones I had already lying around or on my to-read list. :)
But first, a few additions to the list of books I have already read:
14. Understanding Comics (S. McCloud)
15. Operating System Concepts (A. Silberschatz)
Now, what I'm going to read next:
16. Extension du domaine de la lutte (M. Houllebecq) (already halfway through; I will probably read more by him right away unless I get fed up :))
17. Find the Bug (A. Barr) (I want to get back into programming books again, so this is only a start. I expect more *nix hacking books to follow.)
18. The Blind Watchmaker (R. Dawkins) (And soon everything else by him; I'm pretty much a fanboy by now.)
19. Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman! (R. Feynman) (And maybe more, depending on time.)
20. Manifold: Time (S. Baxter) (I read this one back in school, but forgot too much. More by Baxter is sure to follow.)
X. Consciousness Explained (D. Dennett) (Yes, again. I meditated more on his thoughts and think I have not given him nearly enough attention and credit. Maybe I just dislike his writing style, so I'll give him a second chance.)
(edit: added authors to books)
What an interesting list of books. I'll be very interested in seeing what you think of The Blind Watchmaker. I've heard wonderful things about Richard Dawkins but have not yet read anything by him. So many books...
Well, that was an interesting month. I changed the list up quite a bit.
First off, I additionally read:
19. The End of Faith (S. Harris) (While I actually have quite a bit of respect for Sam Harris, especially for his curiosity in figuring out happiness, I was quite a bit disappointed by the book. It was too aggressive and I'm a bit tired of the "Argument from Terrorism". There's a danger in religion, alright, but it feels very alien to me. I only came into contact with the mystic and practical branches of it, never the social ones, anyway.)
20. Stumbling on Happiness (D. Gilbert) (My main criticism here would be that Gilbert wastes quite some potential. He proposes many interesting hypotheses, but never tests any of them. Also, some conclusions are pretty far-fetched and derived from only loosely associated experiments. Great book, though, and probably a good introduction into the field.)
21. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (S. Suzuki) (At first, I groaned a bit. Insistence on posture, some seemingly vacuus comments, why am I reading this New Age crap again? But then Suzuki gives a lovely quote of Dogen I never read before and all is forgiven. It isn't exactly clear to me whether the book is only accidentally insightful or whether it's skill on Suzuki's part, but in the end, it doesn't matter. It certainly helped me a lot.)
I didn't read Manifold: Time. In fact, I tried reading multiple science fiction books, even some TV shows, but I couldn't do it. Science fiction is dead to me. Science has completely and utterly destroyed it and no author is capable (or even willing) to keep up, to look beyond their silly anthropocentric biases. Fiction is still at least 40 years behind in cognitive science. If you must write about FTL, souls or human-controlled spacecraft, or any such nonsense, why don't you just admit you are writing fantasy? I can't suspend my disbelief that much anymore.
I also dropped all French literature (and French study) because I simply don't have the time for it right now. I'm not entirely happy with this, but don't have much of a choice. Learning Japanese and advanced math is simply quite enough at the moment. ;)
Finally, I switched The Blind Watchmaker with The Greatest Show on Earth because I got my hands on the audiobook and I just love Dawkins' voice. :3 Anyway, the other books follow this month.
I plan on reading later:
22. What Do You Care What Other People Think? (R. Feynman) (At first, I was intimidated by his great contributions to physics, but slowly this fear goes away and his curiosity really begins to rub off.)
23. The Blind Watchmaker (R. Dawkins)
24. Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way (B. Campbell) (I must not gush so much, so I'll just be silent.)
I can not recommend the man enough! Before reading him, I didn't think much about evolution and thought it would be of little importance to me. In fact, it was never even mentioned when I was in school and in my mind, it's just some stuff biologist's and some wacky creationists worried about, but Dawkins' writing (especially The Selfish Gene) opened my eyes to the elegance of the whole theory. It's exactly what science should be: a few simple laws about replication and almost the whole of biology (and more!) follows from it.
Also, I really admire the love for nature Dawkins is able to communicate. The Greatest Show on Earth almost overflows with beautiful examples, interesting stories and connections. I really wish biology would be taught like this. Stories on how things came to be are always more interesting to me than boring descriptions of "what is".
Learning Japanese and advanced math is simply quite enough at the moment.
I think that might just be the understatement of the month. ;)
I've heard great things about Dawkins' writings, I must track down one of his books!
25. Halbschatten (U. Timm) (It is scary that for 20 years now, nothing he wrote disappointed me in the least. If it weren't for authors like him, I would have given up on my native language a long time ago. It is quite ironic that German is both one of the best languages to write poetry in, but you could never tell by its reputation.)
Oh boy, have I bit off more than I can chew! Whoever recommended Dennett to me is truly evil. Two months ago, I started reading Consciousness Explained with the intention of learning more about memetics and, maybe, to get a nice and recent theory of the mind. I'm _still_ working through it, both excited by the questions it forces me to answer and annoyed by how awful Dennett's answers are. It has led me not only to re-evaluate many of my past experiences and demolished most of my religious beliefs, but left me in a state that Robert Anton Wilson called "agnostic about everything".
Trying to even understand the questions (like, what do you actually mean with "existence" and "belief"?), I worked myself through a lot of overviews and wiki articles, and came up with a kind of list of authors I want to read to get a better foundation. Currently, I have severe doubts whether the number 3 exists (and feel the pain of the Pythagoreans about the square root of 2). How can I, in such uncertainty, even attempt to say anything about the mind and subjective experiences or what I believe?
So, current reading list. This is more of an long-term plan and I might very well spend the next few months on it. Ha, I knew it was a good thing to not have a life! ;)
26. Kritik der reinen Vernunft (I. Kant)
27. Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik, die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können (I. Kant)
28. Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (I. Kant)
29. Kritik der Urteilskraft (I. Kant)
I was always quite fond of Kant, but never read any substantial amount of his works, so I might as well use his 3 Kritiken as my foundation. I never got why people call him hard to read, but then, I've always been weird. However, I might skip the parts on ethics, maybe Kritik der praktischen Vernunft completely, as I'm not concerned with morals right now. But I recently read a nice smackdown of utilitarianism by Marx, so I might get interested anyway. Deconstructing all schools of ethics based on happiness is a hobby of mine after all.
30. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (A. Schopenhauer) (I tried reading it as a teenager, but didn't understand Buddhist thought and practice then, so I'm especially looking forward to reading it again now.)
31. Thought and Reality (M. Dummett)
32. The Logical Basis of Metaphysics (M. Dummett)
33. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness (B. Baars)
34. In the Theater of Consciousness (B. Baars)
35. The Conscious Mind (D. Chalmers)
36. Metaphors We Live By (G. Lakoff)
37. The Mathematical Experience (P. Davis and R. Hersh)
38. Freedom Evolves (D. Dennett) (Oooh, an argument for free will! I know I shouldn't, but I derive perverse pleasure from listening to pseudo-verificationism, i.e. anyone claiming to believe in it, but only when it suits them. I only know Dennett's core argument from one of his speeches, so I really wonder how he can fill a whole book about a topic that he should think of as incoherent to begin with.)
I'm very tempted to create a more general list of philosophical proofs like this one: "http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm". I'm certainly perplexed how many rationalists seem to base their views on "because I say so". Replacing "magic man dunnit" by "magic laws dunnit" doesn't strike me as more convincing, but I'm still quite confused.
39. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (N. Taleb) (Reserved it a while ago, but is quite a bit in demand at my library, so I'll just have to force it in soon.)
Alright, just finished the last book on my old list, so it's time for an update. As I made some changes, let's start with what I have read:
26. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (N. Taleb) (Very interesting and really cool writing style.)
27. Freedom Evolves (D. Dennett) (Just as stupid as I expected. I was not disappointed. :>)
28. Metaphors We Live By (G. Lakoff) (Maybe I misjudge its influence 40 years ago, but I didn't exactly found it to be surprising or much interesting at all. I mean, it's all pretty much correct, but also quite obvious.)
29. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness (B. Baars)
30. In the Theater of Consciousness (B. Baars) (Yay, finally someone with some sense! Practical applications galore, useful references for further reading and a coherent, testable theory! I even changed some of my learning accordingly, relying more on intuitive understand and simple exposure. It's obvious that Baars is not a philosopher, but a psychologist. ;) Anyway, highly recommended, although, as Chalmers makes clear, Baars' ideas ultimately fail to explain consciousness, but they at least map a lot of the terrain around it.)
31. Conversations on Consciousness (S. Blackmore) (Very nice introduction to the main position of many relevant researchers in the field. Changed my todo list accordingly.)
32. Getting Things Done (D. Allen) (I used his techniques already for a while, but never actually read the book. I thought I might get further ideas, but alas, no inspiration.)
33. Look, Ma; No hands! (R. Link, http://www.semanticrestructuring.com/lookma.php) (Awesome. My main guide to speed reading.)
34. The Light Fantastic (T. Pratchett) (Reread while learning speed reading.)
35. Tokyo. Beim Näherkommen durch die Straßen. (S. Wackwitz) (Further speed reading material. Fairly forgettable.)
36. Don't Think of an Elephant! (G. Lakoff) (Dito.)
37. Homo Faber (M. Frisch) (Dito. And what a horrible aesop.)
38. Blue Ocean Strategy (W. Chan Kim) (Probably one of the most important business books evar. Must read, especially in combination with Malstrom's blog.)
39. The Well-Grounded Rubyist (D. Black) (Good, if somewhat weird in its order. I mean, introducing mixins before control statements?! Oh well.)
40. Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction (S. Blackmore) (Probably weird to read it so late now, but still, it's a great introduction and well... I kinda forgot I had it until now... :D)
41. The RSpec Book (D. Chelimsky) (Still beta, but a good introduction nonetheless.)
42. Von Anfang und Ende: Über die Lesbarkeit der Welt (U. Timm) (*sigh* The first time I was really disappointed by Timm. I hope he isn't losing it now...)
43. Alles Gefühl ist leiblich (G. Nebel) (Speed reading material.)
44. Twilight (S. Meyer) (Dito. And... ahem. I actually liked it. But for all the wrong reasons.)
45. ONE PIECE 1 (尾田 栄一郎) (Finally reading more Japanese again. More to come.)
46. Kritik der reinen Vernunft (I. Kant) (You know, once you realize that the foundation of someone's philosophy is provably false, you don't really need to dig any deeper. It's just a big waste of time. The same goes for Schopenhauer, really. If you are developing a theory of ethics and it fails the Wang Yangming test, then it's game over. Wang Yangming taught the unity of knowledge and action - it is, in short, impossible to know something and to fail to act accordingly. You only understand something by acting at the same time. So if you do not live by your own moral code - and Schopenhauer didn't - then you clearly don't even understand it. So again, waste of time.)
47. Don't Shoot the Dog! (K. Pryor) (Pure awesome. I'm still busy implementing it all. May end up to be the most influential book I read this year.)
48. Mathematical Experience (P. Davis) (Lots of interesting ideas, but I miss a true sense of introspection. Davis seems to be aware of many of the shortcomings and flaws of mathematics, but is completely unwilling to even consider dealing with them. Like most mathematicians, he seems to be trapped in a weird mixture of denial and incomprehension.)
49. Thought and Reality (M. Dummett) (Good bits, bad bits, as is to be expected by a Christian philosopher. (oh snap!) But it got me interested in non-classical logics again, so it was worth it.)
50. The Conscious Mind (D. Chalmers) (The best smackdown of materialism and functionalism in particular I have ever read. Great work, although it felt about twice as long as it should have been. Chalmers got me to finally abandon materialism after increasing doubts while working through Consciousness Explained.)
Alright, that's it. After Chalmers great destruction of functionalism, there's not much really left for me to read. Most current research on consciousness is still misguided and there's not much literature left I'm interested in. I will now abandon this area for 2 more promising and useful ones - (mostly behaviorist) psychology and Buddhism. Psychology for its many great hacks and techniques, Buddhism for its insights into consciousness. I feel the time I can learn more by reading books is over, so it's time to get practical.
Also, I'm gonna read more about non-classical logic and dialetheism, starting with Graham Priest. Oh, and I took up French again and push a bit harder in Japanese. I'm determined to get to a satisfactory reading speed in both by the end of the year, so I better finish a few books by then.
The year isn't quite over, but I'm already done. I haven't reached 100 books (I'll probably only make it to about 70), but my reading style has changed. I got lots of great ideas and inspirations from all those books, but I feel it's time to work with them on a more intensive level. I now know what actually interests me (and who has something interesting to say and who doesn't), so I want to understand those topics deeply. I'll mostly work on Jaynes' Bicameral Mind hypothesis, Theravada Buddhism and historical economics, and maybe some non-classical logic if I can find the time.
Anyway, here's the last batch of books read.
51. An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic (G. Priest)
52. The Law of Non-Contradiction (G. Priest) (Both books are nice introductions, but their content meanders quite a bit and varies from good overview to in-depth analysis. As important as it is, I feel it needs a way better presentation. But it's all pretty new, so there.)
53. Expert C Programming - Deep C Secrets (P. van der Linden) (It's funny how I have passively soaked up all this stuff already just through reading (about) code.)
54. Farewell to Alms (G. Clark) (Absolutely amazing! I'm going to have to fact-check all of his stuff, but it's quite mind-blowing as it is.)
55. New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (B. Edwards) (Lots of fun, actually works.)
56. Hellboy 2 - Hellboy 7 (M. Mignola) (I'm only going to count them all as one book, but really, each one has lots more interesting content than Kant's books, so I'm not sure that's fair.)
57. Vermessung der Welt (D. Kehlmann) (Very shallow, very pop. I don't get why people like it so much.)
58. Lucid Dreaming (S. LaBerge) (Great research and very practical. It's essentially *the* manual on it.)
59. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (J. Jaynes) (This is it. For me, that's the best book I've read this year, no comparison. Despite some crucial flaws (that are unrelated to the hypothesis) and, ultimately, a failure to answer it's real question (Jaynes, like almost everybody in the field, uses his very unique definition of consciousness and leaves out many phenomena that way, but he is the least worst I've read so far with regards to this.), but Jaynes' hypothesis is such a game-changer, so well-supported and fitting, yet completely unexpected that I'm still flabbergasted. How this book is not *the* go-to book on consciousness, I don't know. It's the only (western) one I ever read that actually makes sense. Amazing stuff.)
60. The Progress of Insight (M. Sayadaw) (Theravada in a nutshell. The best map for enlightenment we have.)
61. Visuddhimagga (B. Buddhaghosa) (It's so comprehensive and well-researched, it often feels like God's secret reference work for the mind. And it's 1600 years old. All western philosophy should be ashamed how lacking it is compared to this book. It's like comparing the Four Elements to Quantum Field Theory.)
62. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (L. Wittgenstein) (I don't get it. I mean, I get what he wrote, but I don't get why anybody cares. Maybe if all you knew were old German and French philosophers that wrote, like Derrida, in the style of "obscurantisme terroriste", then a little bit of clear language and straight thinking is refreshing, but what Wittgenstein writes is, to put it bluntly, a curiosity-stopper. It's Bad Thought, despite some merits.)
63. The Attention Revolution (A. Wallace) (To be honest, I just love to hear the man talk. It's a good introduction, but I disagree quite a bit on metaphysical grounds with Wallace (and the whole Tibetan tradition). Still, there's lots to learn here.)
I also listened to a few audiobooks, but I can't quite remember which, so I'll just leave them out.
What I find most interesting looking back, though, is that almost completely unintentionally I read many of the books that influenced Daniel Dennett greatly, yet I consider him a fraud like Hegel and disagree with almost everything he proposes, except some social insights, particularly his work on belief-in-belief (which is really good). How one can know all these great books, yet miss their points completely is beyond me. (Of course, he's wrong from my perspective, but he probably sees this exactly the other way around.) Like Sam Harris and others, Dennett is just well-informed enough to be more competent than his competition (mostly in the form of Christian apologetics and fundamentalists), but not a bit more. It's good enough to feel superior if you don't know any better, but all falls apart left and right when you start digging into the details and justifications. Those cursed primate politics again.
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