Franklin Pezzuti Dyer
Books I’ve enjoyed reading recently
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- Beyond the Limits of Thought by Graham Priest
- Priest does a fantastic job of demonstrating how some of our most fundamental concepts lead to paradox and contradiction (and how this has repeatedly baffled some of history's brightest philosophers). After reading this book, it appears impossible to formalize our intuitions about things like space, thought, language, and mathematical objects without perpetrating a contradiction, meaning that we must question either our most basic intuitions about the world or our assumption that logical contradiction is impossible.
- Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
- This book is a masterpiece. It took me four years of dabbling in math to gain enough familiarity with proof and computability theory to fully understand and read all the way through, but it was definitely worth it. Hofstadter's playful and insightful exploration of recursion and self-reference is not only informative, but also shrouded in an aura of mysticism. Hofstadter avoids dry technical explanations and focuses instead on the philosophical implications of mathematical discoveries, all the while celebrating the associative power of the human brain.
- Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind (auf Deutsch!)
- A psychopathic but oddly relatable protagonist, his olfactory superpowers, and Süskind's exaggeratedly cynical portrayal of characters and social commentary makes this book enthralling, if sometimes only through surprise, disgust, and morbid curiosity. Although the plot and characters can be truly bizarre, they explore themes pertaining to some of my favorite topics in psychology, like the susceptibility of our brains to sensory and emotional manipulation.
- Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino
- This hilarious book grabbed me from the moment I picked it up with its incongruous and often absurd mixture of the mundane and the profound. The reflection of the sun in the water sends the quirky protagonist on a metaphysical digression back to the beginnings of the Earth, and his sensitive scruples lead him to lengthily consider the ethics of glimpsing a nude sunbather's breast. By embarking upon such ludicrous philosophical detours (as I frequently do over the course of the day), Mr. Palomar shows us the beauty and profundity that lurks in everyday experiences, but also taoistically reminds us of the futility of excessive analysis.
- The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
- The Language Instinct extensively explains how language works in society and within a single human brain. Pinker provides a useful framework for thinking about language as a discrete and recursive combinatorial system in the form of a syntactic tree, and refers back to this model as he discusses the cerebral geography of our "language organs," the common structures inherent to many languages (as well as their ambiguity and inefficiency), and scientific results about how humans (especially infants) acquire languages (and how other animals fail to do so). The book is riddled with astounding anecdotes and explicit descriptions of scientific studies, and Pinker's lively and playful writing style makes it all the more interesting, though it is disheartening to know that however interested I may be in this topic, I will almost certainly never learn another language as well as I know English.
- Consciousness and the Brain by Stanislas Dahaene
- In this book, Dahaene brings the problem of consciousness into the laboratory and treats it with rigorous scientific analysis rather than squishy philosophical speculation. He describes ingenious experiments used to isolate and study aspects of our cognition and postulates a few empirical signatures of consciousness in terms of the electrical activity of the brain, bringing it one step closer to being objectively measurable. Towards the end, he applies these findings to practical and philosophical problems like determining to what extent a baby, animal, or paralyzed patient is conscious. I found this book very heartening, because even though Dahaene dispels many romantic myths about consciousness, he assures that analytic inspection of the brain need not be dehumanizing, and that concepts like free will can be modified to accommodate new findings rather than abandoned.
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- This may be my favorite book as of yet. Thinking Fast and Slow is a comprehensive compilation of the fallacies, biases, and unexpected quirks of the human brain. This books lists the flaws in our everyday thinking in extreme detail, and Kahneman provides detailed explanations of experiments and studies analytically measuring them. Not only is it amusing to read about the ways in which we systematically make misjudgements, but it's also important to stay informed about them in order to consciously avoid making such mistakes. Kahneman's explanations and advice are great tools for more rational decision making.
- Complexity by Melanie Mitchell
- Complexity is a layman's tour of the rapidly-developing field of complex systems science, covering topics like evolutionary algorithms, dynamical systems, chaos theory, fractals, and graph and network theory. While this book was a great way to dip my toes in to all of these fascinating fields, it shies away from in-depth technical discussion of the results and problems it presents, so I've had to do a lot of digging through other sources on my own to read about the specifics. Regardless, Mitchell does a wonderful job of intuitively explaining the parts of the topic that are simple enough to be intuitively explained, in an entertaining and easy-to-read way.
- The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
- In The Blank Slate, Pinker attempts to dispel fallacious contemporary arguments for the overwhelming influence of nurture as opposed to nature upon the human brain, arguing that genetics have a greater effect on individuals’ traits than they are often believed to. Along the way, Pinker explains evolution and the structure of the human brain, addressing the implications of human biology upon philosophical and ethical themes like free will, inequality, and the purpose of education. The issue underlying the entire book is the fact that humans’ fast cultural evolution outpaces our biological evolution, leaving us with brains and bodies evolved for an environment very different from our modern one. This is the book that first sparked a serious interest in psychology within me, and made me realize that evolution is such a powerful tool for explaining the behavior of modern humans.
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Through a series of both enlightening and entertaining descriptions of scientific studies of animal and human psychology, The Power of Habit demonstrates how habit-forming mechanisms in the human brain affect one’s everyday actions, and how this mechanism, when understood and controlled, can allow one to take greater control of one’s own life.
- The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
- This narrative follows the sheltered life of Joseph Knecht as a lifelong student and teacher in an intellectual haven, glorifying the arts and sciences while also warning of the dangers of an overly specialized life too far removed from society. The Glass Bead Game made me recognize the need for balance between esoteric, isolated academic studies and a healthy relationship with the rest of society.