Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


   The Constitution of Knowledge (A Defense of Truth)

By Jonathan Rauch

Narrated by: Traber Burns

Jonathan Rauch (American author, journalist, freelance writer for The Economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.)

The structure of knowledge is the subject of Jonathan Rauch’s “…Constitution of Knowledge”.  What may come as a surprise to some is Rauch’s argument that knowledge is a social construct, not an inviolable fact or truth. Knowledge grows from tests of society.

As Karl Popper, a highly respected philosopher of science noted, knowledge can only be found through pursuit of its falsification.

The fear that accompanies Rauch’s argument about knowledge, and Popper’s belief about science’s truth means a lie can be as influential as truth. The two greatest twenty first century examples are Trump and Vladimir Putin.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

All human beings lie. The problem is those with preeminent power use the lie to lead others to believe what society’s tests show to be false. The problem is distinguishing a lie from societal truth. A lie is never as evident as it is with Pinocchio’s nose.

Truths should not be based on a singular view of reality.  Lies of leadership in recent history have led to tragic interventions by America, France and most recently, Russia in sovereign countries like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and today’s Ukraine.

The great fear accompanying this view of knowledge is that truth only reveals itself as past events. It is exhibited in the death of innocent bystanders that follow leader’s lies. World wars prove how the truth is never known in real time, only in history. Society’s tests of Trump and Putin show how destructive a leader’s lies can be in both democratic and autocratic nations.

Rauch both personalizes damage that lies have on individuals and society with his experience as a gay person and combatant against cancel culture, violence, sexism, and racism. Though Rauch’s explanation notes many examples of what is wrong with society, he ends with a degree of optimism about how one can deal with leadership’ lies.

Words matter but if they don’t lead to violence, they can be logically addressed by society and rejected for their distortion of perceived truth. Rauch is careful to explain truth is a perception, not a fact or necessarily a truth. As is shown by science, the human brain does not record facts but recreates events that fit a human’s perception of reality.

What is true is tested in Popper’s theory of facts that are tested by search for falsifiability.

If a tree falls in the forest and a tape recorder records the sound, one is tempted to believe a fact has been found. If that experiment is repeated many times by different people, the falling tree makes noise, whether a human is there or not, is likely to be true. However, it is a sound that remains a perception. The difference is it has been tested many times by society with the same result.

Cancel culture is when there is a public boycott of people or organizations because of an interest group’s belief. If a group’s belief is challenged by perceptions and experience of a broader society, cancel culture can be, at least, ameliorated.

Rauch shows himself to be a free speech believer. One presumes he endorses all free speech if it does not induce or insight violence. This is not to suggest words spoken or written are not harmful, but they are not physically injuring another.

Attacking a person physically for words spoken is reprehensible but attacking an idea is societies’ way of revealing the truth and acquiring knowledge.

After listening to Rauch’s explanation of what knowledge is and how it is acquired, one wishes a signal could be sent when one is knowingly lying, e.g., something like Pinocchio’s nose.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

By Robert Kuttner

     Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Robert Kuttner (Author, journalist, professor of social policy at Brandeis University)

Robert Kuttner personalizes the history of capitalism as an historian and journalist, not an economist. This book is a tedious fact-filled tour of capitalist experimentation. Kuttner illustrates how government economic policy is like a roulette game. Government leaders spin the wheel. The ball drops on a numbered slot that is either black or red. A player chooses Kuttner’s fundamental point and the answer to the question “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” seems a matter of luck.

Choice for survival of global capitalism seems dependent on reducing the gap between billionaire/millionaire capitalists and the wage-earning public. However, what Kuttner’s rambling history shows is that there is no definitive answer. There are some clues but the balance between democratic freedom and equality of opportunity teeter on the metallic edge of a black and red slot of a roulette wheel. He asks the question whether America is going to become more like China or China more like America?

Kuttner offers some examples of economic policy in Scandinavian countries, Africa, the Baltics, Great Britain, France, Germany, Greece, China, and the European Union. Kuttner implies, if there is a common denominator for survival of global capitalism, it is government policy that benefits wage earners.

A rising tide (economic prosperity) must benefit more than a simple minority or small majority of citizens within a country.

Kuttner’s history shows achievements in democratic capitalism have been hit and miss with luck as much a factor of success as policy. Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes theories offer hints about what can be done to grow and sustain capitalist economic stability. What gets in the way of their theories is interpretation, policy, action, and results.

Kuttner offers many good and bad examples democratic capitalism’ interpretation. Denmark denies Ryan Air’s employment model in their country because it is unfair to employees of the Airline. Public benefit services like mail in the United States assure delivery of the mail in a timely manner, regardless of profitability.

Unions are formed in various countries to give wage earners a seat at the table in determining fair compensation and benefits in privately held companies.

On the other hand, privatizing prison management only reduces cost to the public by reducing pay and training of prison guards. The prisons are not better managed, but costs are less because quality of service and overhead is reduced while prisoners are poorly managed. Immigrant labor is farmed out by private companies to reduce corporate costs but at the expense of laborers that work for less than a livable wage. Private companies higher “independent contractors” like Uber drivers for which the company does not pay medical premiums or employment taxes. Corporate raiders buy faltering high cash-flow companies with borrowed money. These corporate raiders reduce wages of employees, drives formally marginally profitable companies into bankruptcy, and walk away with millions paid by loans used to buy the company in the first place.

Kuttner caps these negative global capital maneuvers by revealing how American corporate owners and leaders move manufacturing to foreign competitors because of cheaper labor. That movement benefits corporations at the expense of American manufacturing.

Kuttner explains corporate outsourcing unfairly diminishes American workers and decimates American manufacturing. He notes Germany chose to improve the quality of their manufactured products to remain viable manufacturing global competitors even though their workers are paid more than comparable American workers.

This is a frustrating book to use as evidence for the survival of global capitalism because there are many examples of government policies meant to do good that fail.

This history reinforces the analogy of the roulette wheel. Either red or black may be the best result one can expect but the consequence seems as much luck as foresight.

Hope lies in reducing the gap between haves and have-nots by insuring equality of opportunity through public education and job opportunities. This is not to suggest homelessness and poverty will disappear in democratic capitalist societies, but it becomes a manageable societal responsibility.

Having lived in different areas of the United States shows homelessness and poverty are presently out of control.

Today, in the United States, homelessness and poverty are not being well managed because public education and job opportunities are not being adequately addressed. As one of the richest countries in the world, American democratic capitalism can do better than just survive.

Education and employment are key to turning these crises into something that can be managed.

One cannot dismiss Kuttner’s observations as liberal ranting. Wage earner respect and treatment, whether in manufacturing, technology, or service industries, are the key to survival of world capitalist democracies. America can choose to become more like China and support authoritarian miscreants like Donald Trump or elect leaders that experiment with political ideas that have made America great.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


The Power Notebooks

By Katie Roiphe

           Narrated by: Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe (Author, critic, tenured professor at New York University.)

“The Power of Notebooks” is a memoir of Roiphe’s life between the age of fifteen and fifty. Her first love affair is with a Rabbi when she is fifteen. On the one hand, Roiphe notes the inappropriateness of the Rabbi’s seduction; on the other, she implies a level of guilt for the affair. Roiphe is married and divorced twice and has two children which she mostly raises as a single parent. Her father was a psychoanalyst and her mother, Anne Roiphe, is an American writer and journalist.

To borrow a phrase and title of a well-known book, this memoir is of a woman who is “Naked and Unafraid”.  

Though labeling is fraught with misrepresentation, Katie Roiphe is a feminist. She is an advocate for women’s rights and equality of the sexes but questions the veracity of “me to” in the world of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. One doubts Roiphe would not vilify Weinstein’s and Epstein’s behavior but “The Power Notebooks” implies extreme behavior is not a reflection of society in general.

In “The Power Notebooks” Roiphe’s strident voice reflects on her life as an independent woman. She chooses her friends, lovers, and fellow writers based on a qualification of not caring about who you do, or what you do. Roiphe writes about what she did and what she believes.

Roiphe notes how some question her role as a single parent raising two children on her own. It is not a concern of Roiphe’s, and one wonders why anyone would question that circumstance in the 21st century.

Roiphe examines her relationship with men whom she neither depends on nor expects will be dependent on her. It is not that she does not fall in love, but that love is not all there is to a relationship.

Relationship is always a work in progress and if there is no progress, relationships end.

Roiphe expresses the same concern of all working parents in being concerned about job security. She explains how she successfully gains tenure at a university which assures continued employment. In a way, there is a disingenuousness in that employment concern considering the professional status of her family. However, Roiphe shows herself to be a highly independent woman who seems unlikely to seek help from anyone in living the life she chooses.

“The Power Notebooks” shows there is only one difference between the sexes. Women give birth, men do not. Roiphe could be telling anyone’s story, male or female, if they were not reluctant to be “Naked and Unafraid”.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Anatomy of Terror (From the death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State.)

By Ali Soufan

           Narrated by: Aaron Abano

Ali Soufan (Author, former American FBI agent, Lebanese heritage from a Sunni Muslim family.)

This is Soufan’s characterization of the western world’s effort to quell the beast of middle eastern terrorism.

Ali Soufan paints a dark picture of America’s middle east relationship in “Anatomy of Terror. He envisions a hydra, the mythical monster that grows two heads when one is cut off.

The terrorist event that sets the tone for Abano’s history is, of course, America’s 9/11/01 disaster.

Osama bin Laden’s plan for the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York is hatched by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (aka KSM).

Abano offers a brief history of KSM’s addition to al Qaida. In KSM’s early introduction to bin Laden, the dramatic idea of using an airplane hijacking to create a terrorist event is skeptically dismissed. As KSM’s reputation in al Qaida grows, the idea gains support of bin Laden. The impact of a singular terrorist event changes the world.

Abano tirelessly assembles so many facts about this Hydra’s growth that one becomes numbed by terrorist events and names. Only a CIA or FBI agent is likely to be interested in Abano’s research. However, a listener who perseveres realizes Abano is not just a problem bringer but one who has an idea of how terrorism can be defeated.

The complexity of the middle east’s terrorist origins, persistence, and ubiquity seem as incurable as world poverty and hunger.

Abano’s solution, as is true for any complex problem, begins with understanding. As difficult as it is, one must try to understand another’s reasons for carrying out a terrorist act. With understanding, one can constructively rather than destructively respond to a terrorist act. Murder for murder simply leads to further senseless murder.

Only with understanding can the causes for terrorism be either exposed as hypocrisy or dealt with as a reason, though not justification, for a murderous act.

The causes of terrorism must be exposed. Stories need to be told and re-told in ways that explain causes. These stories must come from nation-state leaders who have influence in their countries and reputations in other countries. Abano suggests these nation-state messengers can cultivate community leaders to spread the word, whether of God or mammon, to address the true and false reasons for terrorist acts.

Exposure of true and false causes offer hope for a solution that eliminates or, at least, ameliorates conflicting terrorist ideas, beliefs, and acts.

Abano argues money should be invested in schools and teachers who educate children in their own countries.

Through education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, children will grow to understand reason, truth, and falsity.

The expense of incarceration should be supplemented by rehabilitation with the objective of re-introducing the captured to society.  

To Abano, captured terrorists should not be demeaned, tortured, or executed.

A listener may feel Abano is being altruistic. In truth, he is altruistic but the path presently being followed is not working.

As the saying goes—an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

By putting oneself in the terrorist’s shoes, Abano implies one is taking a first step in attacking the fundamental causes of terrorism. Without understanding there is no solution.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Karl Marx (Philosophy and Revolution)

By Shlomo Avineri

           Narrated by: Roger Clark

Shlomo Avineri (Author, Professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.)

Is economic evolution about mind or matter?

Shlomo Avineri offers a more studied view of one of the three most influential economist in history, Karl Marx. Marx’s influence extends to philosophy, history, sociology, and politics.  

Avieneri illustrates how categorization of Marx as an influential economist minimizes his historical significance. Marx is born in Trier, Germany.

His father, Hirschel HaLevi (aka Heinrich Marx), is a practicing lawyer, the son of Marx HaLevi Mordechai and Eva Lwow.

In Trier, after Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, Germany returns to a highly discriminatory Prussian attitude toward Judaism. Karl Marx’s father, and eventually his mother, are compelled to convert to a Christian religion to advance Marx’s father’s career as a lawyer. Karl Marx’s grandfather is the rabbi of Trier who passes on that title to Karl Marx’s brother.

Avineri gives this brief family history to explain Marx’s Jewish heritage. It offers some insight to why Marx outwardly discounts his religious heritage while putting him on an intellectual journey toward political and economic reform.

Marx’s father might be considered a classical liberal because he promoted constitutional reform of the Prussian government’s denial of equal rights. Avineri implies the experience of his father leads Karl to pursue the study of history and philosophy because of discriminatory treatment of his family. The act of discrimination naturally makes one class conscious. Karl Marx’s political and economic ideas grow from that familial background.

Avineri suggests Hermann Hesse and Hegel are significant influences in Karl Marx’s life. Hesse is a contemporary of Marx. Hesse is influenced by Rousseau who believed in natural equality. Hesse’s literature addresses the inequality of workers and the capitalist class. He sensed the growing political danger of that inequality and, in writing about it, became an influence on Karl Marx’s view of capitalism.

Avineri’s explanation of Hegel’s influence on Karl Marx is a little more complicated. Fundamentally Hegel believes social development is an evolution of one’s mind to recognize that all humans are created equal. In contrast Marx believes social development is an evolutionary process of society’s actions in regard to material things. Marx believes the haves of the society recognize the inequity of the have-nots and will evolve to establish common good in the distribution of material things. Both Hegel and Marx agree that there is a dialectic process, but Hegel thinks it is a state of mind that changes while Marx suggests it’s a state of equal distribution of concrete goods.

It is impossible to deny Marx’s notes about inequality. One can argue that this was truer in Marx’s lifetime than it is today. The advent of social security and national health care, and welfare programs have reduced human inequality.  However, human inequality remains a serious social problem in every society and all government systems of the present day.

Whether Marx or Hegel’s evolutionary dialectic is true remains unknown. Neither capitalism, socialism, or communism have evolved to solve the problem of inequality, whether it is the dialectic of mind or matter.

Avineri’s biography of Marx is better than the previous biography reviewed in this blog. He offers a more intimate understanding of Karl Marx’s life and how he came to believe what he believed. The answer to the question of whether economic evolution is one of mind or matter is, of course—both. Human brains must evolve, and matter must be equally available.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


A Great Place to Have a War (America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA

By: Joshua Kurlantzick

           Narrated by: Tim Campbell

Joshua Kurlantzick (Author, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations)

“A Great Place to Have a War” reflects a turning point in the operations of the CIA in the 1950s. Joshua Kurlantzick’s story implies the CIA’ role became something more than originally intended.

The CIA is founded in 1947. Its primary duty was to collect, evaluate, and disseminate intelligence affecting national security.

Richard Helms (Former Director of the CIA from 1966-1973.)

The former director of the CIA, Richard Helms is quoted as saying Laos“… was a major operation for the Agency….It took manpower; it took specially qualified manpower; it was dangerous; it was difficult.” He contends the CIA did “a superb job”. Helms is referring to the CIA’s covert activity in Laos during the early days of the Vietnam war. Joshua Kurlantzick’s book, “A Great Place to Have a War” suggests Helm’s view of “a superb job” is a self-serving lie that is far from the truth.

The center of this story is about the Hmong people who live in Laos. One of the great leaders of the Hmong in the 1950s is Vang Pao.

He served as a military leader in Laos from 1940 to 1975. He became a Major general and is shown to be a great leader of the Hmong resistance to a communist takeover of Laos. The CIA aids Vang Pao in the creation of a “secret army” to resist North Vietnam’s incursion in Laos.

James William Lair (CIA Officer serving in Laos.)

William Lair aka Bill Lair, a paramilitary officer of the CIA is an Ambassador to Thailand and is moved to Laos to provide CIA support for Vang Pao’s effort to expel communist invaders from Laos.

Lair (to the right of the helmeted soldier) is a tool of the CIA to create a secret army of Hmong fighters to resist communist takeover of the country.

With the help of CIA covert paramilitary operatives like the infamous Tony Poe (aka Anthony Poshepny), the Hmong army is trained in military tactics.

Poe is infamous in that he instituted collection of Vietnamese ears to confirm kills of enemy combatants. He allegedly sent a bag of ears to his superior officers in the CIA. Poe is respected and feared by many Hmong soldiers for his training and brutal killings. Poe’s “take no prisoners” mentality is adopted by Hmong fighters.

The author offers a detailed history of CIA operatives that manage operational support of the Hmong in Laos.

The fundamental point made by Kurlantzick is that (after Laos) the CIA is no longer just a collector of intelligence but an active participant in American covert military actions in foreign countries.

What makes this story discomfiting is the belief that America’s creation of secret armies to change the course of events in foreign countries is an honorable act.

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969 Communist leader of North Vietnam.)

The Hmong bravely served their country’s independence, but they fail to stop Ho Chi Minh’s army. Laos fell to the communists.

Adding to that failure, America turned its back on many Hmong defenders that were murdered by the communists after the defeat. As history shows, America repeats that ignominious evacuation of nationalist combatants in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Only Vang Pao, his immediate family and a few of his closest soldiers were evacuated.

Helms expressed pride about what the CIA accomplished in Laos. The author suggests Helms felt the CIA learned how to create a secret army in foreign territories that could accomplish American objectives. If that is true, one wonders how the murder of indigenous countrymen and failure to accomplish American objectives is something to be proud of.

In the last chapters of “A Great Place to Have a War”, the author recounts the lives of major players in the Laotian secret war. Vang Pao tells his fellow expatriates that he will return to Laos and take control of the government. Vang Pao offers positions in an imaginary Laotian government in return for money from Hmong that have settled in America.

Vang Pao was clearly a patriot in his years as a leader in Laos but in his American life, he becomes a con man that betrays his fellow countrymen. He acts like a gangster, a “Godfather”, by extorting contributions from Laotians that settled in America.

Vang Pao never intended to overthrow the Laotian government from his exile. He neither had the support or money needed to foment a new revolution. His objective seems simply to be able to maintain his lifestyle in the United States.

Bill Lair quits the CIA and becomes a cross country truck driver to make a living. He never advances in the CIA because he is not accepted by the changing leaders of the “Company”.

Anthony Poshepny (aka Tony Poe)

The infamous Tony Poe receives a second star from the CIA. His skill as a trainer of secret army soldiers of other countries is considered a useful tool to the CIA (despite his craziness) according to the author.  Tony Poe retires and receives a pension from the CIA and dies in obscurity.

This is a disheartening story. Its credibility is supported by information from investigative reporters and illegally acquired information from informants like Edward Snowden. Kurlantzick notes Snowden found the secret CIA budget ballooned to be more than the State Department’s budget.

A CIA officer disputes this book in a formal rebuttal. The rebuttal is revealed in a December 2014 Senate hearing. One can look it up, but the rebuttal is less convincing than the book.

The lesson one may draw from this story is that America’s State Department needs to be recognized as more important than the CIA in improving international relations. The State Department needs to have Ambassadors that know the language of the countries they are assigned. Ambassadors should have an intimate understanding of their assigned country’s cultures.

The CIA is not a path for peace. Its role should be restricted to collection of data. The CIA should not interfere with other nation’s policies and politics. Its role should be to inform the American government of foreign government information not available from public media or normal diplomatic channels.

This is not to say the CIA is not an important organization. It should be adequately funded to gather intelligence information. Its role should not be to create secret armies, murder foreign nationals, or foment rebellion. Actions taken by the American government should only be taken with review by elected officials, particularly for any clandestine actions against foreign nationals or governments.

It should be clear that any foreign actions taken are the fault of elected officials, not secret organizations. All Americans are responsible for what their elected officials decide. Transparency of government policy and action is required in any country that professes belief in freedom.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


The Hearing Trumpet

By: Leonora Carrington

Narrated by: Siân Phillips

Leonora Carrington (Author, artist born in England, lived in Mexico, 1917-2011, died at the age of 94.)

“The Hearing Trumpet” is said to have been written in the 1950s or early 60s. The author, Leonora Carrington, is believed to be in her late 50s when the book is written. Her age is relevant because the book is about old age and how those who make it to old age are treated in the modern world.

Though this is a highly regarded novel, to this reviewer the beginning is remarkable, the end is meh (uninspiring). The heroine of the story is Marian Leatherby. She is 94, a ripe old age, when one’s family members waiver between love and burden when thinking about their aged parents.

The character of Marian Leatherby is developed as a remarkable woman that is smart, and humorous but is troubled by loss of hearing. A neighbor who one presumes is similarly elderly buys a gift for Marian. The gift is “The Hearing Trumpet”.

Antique Ear Trumpet

Now that Marian has “The Hearing Trumpet” she can hear much better and understands her perilous living arrangement. She prepares for her children’s plan to move her into an assisted living facility for the aged.

Her son seems reluctant, but the daughter-in-law is insistent because of Marian’s bizarre behavior when they have guests. Marian rarely communicates with her children and often interrupts her family’s social lives because of her hearing loss.

Because of Marian’s hearing, she communicates and understands little about the son and daughter-in-law with whom she lives

The move happens within days of Marian’s realization of her son and daughter-in-law’s plan. Many who have reached a certain age, know of similar family decisions.

An aged parent responds in different ways. Some choose to die by making the move and refusing to adapt to a new way of living. Others choose to adapt. Marian is carted off to a monastery like facility.

The story is fascinating up to this point. It loses its appeal for this listener in a surrealistic story of Marian’s new living arrangement.

The head of the facility is an overweight manager with a semi-religious, zealot-like view of his role. Marian becomes an observer in her first weeks at the facility.

After some time, Marian accepts the behavior of her fellow wards and begins a surrealistic journey into a myth about the Knights of Malta (a religious military order under its own Papal, Roman Catholic charter).

This is semi-interesting to some because the Knights of Malta are an order of religious soldiers who are alleged by some to have murdered the famous artist, Caravaggio. That is not the surreal story of the author, but interestingly Lenora Carrington is an artist in real life.

Some suggest “The Hearing Trumpet” has a happy ending because Marian has escaped the reality of old age into a personal fantasy of the world while dealing with the reality of her failing physical condition.

One presumes Carrington’s remaining story is full of symbolism, but it hides the fundamental importance of aging and how fearful one is to become old, ignored, and essentially discarded by society. Maybe fantasy is all that is left to the aged. Carrington lives into her 90s. One wonders how she adjusted to her infirmities. 


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Livewired (The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

By: David Eagleman

Narrated by: David Eagleman

David Eagleman (Author, neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine.)

A bright future is outlined for humanity by David Eagleman in “Livewired”. His vision has to do with what is presently known of the brain and its interactions with the world. Eagleman believes what we know of the world from the physics of Newton, Einstein, and Bohr today will enhance human brain capabilities tomorrow.

Eagleman details what is known about the brain. He explains the remarkable capabilities of the brain to adapt to its environment. The neuronal activity of the brain interprets the environment in which the body exists.

The body responds to change by sending signals from the environment to the brain. The brain interprets those signals with synaptic transfer of information for thought and action.

Eagleman explains the creation of language in children begins with babbling which is testing their relationship with others and the world. The sensations they receive from verbal and physical contact are connecting their brain function to the world. The brain changes with contact from people and things in the environment.

World experience changes the brain. Change is widely dispersed by neuronal activity in the brain. Thought and action are not located in one place but in many parts of the brain. Those many parts allow memory of experience to be stored, sometimes forgotten, but capable of resurfacing in one’s thoughts or actions.

On the one hand Eagleman is saying the world is what we see. On the other, he notes the world is an interpretation of reality by the brain. Eagleman explains a brain interprets the world of events. The brain is not a recorder. It is a recreator of events.

The significance of that recreation is in unperceived facts of an event. Additionally, Eagleman notes-if an event continually repeats itself, the brain can hide the event because of the constancy of its existence. An example would be a constant machine noise at a factory or the smell of offal at a pig farm. The mind initially notes the noise or smell but if a person is exposed for long periods of time to the same event, the noise or smell disappears.

The fascinating consequence of Eagleman’s observation of brain function is the truth of events may be quite different from reality. This reminds one of the discoveries of Quantum reality which is probabilistic rather than definitive. What we see may not be what is real. The real-world impact of event recreation by the mind is the threat of misidentification of a person accused of a crime.

The brain can distort reality to create a story and a memory that are not true.

The malleability of the brain has been addressed by many in stories of stroke victims, epileptic sufferers, and handicapped people who overcome sightlessness, seizures, and hearing loss. Eagleman notes young people are quicker and more capable of adapting to these difficulties because they are not as limited by past learned experience.

Eagleman explains older sufferers have learned how to deal with life based on previous experience. That experience is a mixed blessing because it impedes new learning. The ramification is that new discoveries about the world are and will be from the young, much more often than the old. 

Eagleman goes on to explain brain input and malleability extend to all parts of the body.

The skin, the eye, the tongue can be used as a source of stimulation to aid the brain in sending signals to malfunctioning appendages. This realization has led to ways of helping patients with palsy to stabilize their condition, for patients to recover from strokes, for the handicapped to walk with a prosthesis, and for epileptics to manage their seizures.

The optimism engendered by Eagleman is explained in one of the last chapters, titled “The Wolf and the Mars Rover”. He recounts the failure of the Mars Rover because of a malfunctioning wheel that ends its productive life. The Rover is unable to decide what to do to overcome a wheel that would not work. In contrast, a wolf will chew its leg off when in a trap because its brain tells she/he will die if not released. The Rover has pre-determined limits to action. The wolf changes behavior based on brain malleability, and unforeseen environmental circumstance.

Eagleman reinforces Rovelli’s argument that information will reveal all there is to know about the quantum world, and the nature of reality. To Eagleman, that information will come from the malleability of the human brain. Despite Eagleman’s optimism, there are skeptics.

Time and Infinity

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Fundamentals: Reality Is Not What It Seems

By: Carlo Rovelli, Translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre

Narrated by: Roy McMillan

Carlo Rovelli (Writer, Italian theoretical physicist specializing in quantum gravity and loop quantum gravity theories.)

Carlo Rovelli is an optimist. He suggests reality “…Is Not What It Seems” but will be revealed by scientific inquiry. It will not be revealed by time because time does not exist. Reality does not lie in infinity but in the revelations of physics research and fundamental laws discovered by scientists from future information.

Rovelli argues information holds the key to unlock the door to reality. That seems simplistic but Rovelli implies the advent of the information age in conjunction with technology multiplies the creation of information. He argues more information is the sine non qua of reality.

Rovelli argues the gathering of zeros and ones and their correlation, confirmed by repeatable experiment, will explain what is presently unknown about the fundamental laws of physics.

The focus of physics today is on understanding quantum gravity and melding quantum physics with Newton’s and Einstein’s understanding of the forces and elemental particles of nature.  Rovelli believes the answer lies with loop quantum gravity theory. Others believe the answer is string theory.

The difference is that Rovelli believes gravity is not a force like vibrating strings but a feature of spacetime based on packets of granular space that travel within a Planck length. It has its own atomic structure. This granular space is made of a woven fabric of loops that create a spin network that creates a foam that constitutes gravity.

Whether strings or loops, Paul Dirac believed all fundamental particles of physics have been discovered and physics’ science must correlate that information with the mysteries of dark matter and energy to explain gravity’s role in the cosmos. Though one may have read this in a biography of Paul Dirac, Dirac is considered the heir and equal of Einstein.

What makes Rovelli’s book interesting is his optimism. It is an optimism grounded in his experience as a physicist. (Parenthetically, that makes it a mixed blessing to a dilatant of the subject.) Parts of Rovelli’s book are difficult to follow. However, the history of physics pioneers that are less well know to the public are revelatory.

Matvei Petrovich Bronstein (1906-1938, Executed by Stalin, Soviet theoretical physicist, a pioneer of quantum gravity.)

Matvei Perovich Bronstein is executed by Stalin.  Rovelli notes Bronstein’s brilliance as a physicist is revealed in his theory of quantum gravity.  He was executed because he protested the Stalinist interpretation of Leninism.

Rovelli helps one understand why time does not exist and that creation of infinity as an answer to an unknown physics anomaly is wrong. To Rovelli, the idea of infinity just means one does not know the answer.

Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906, Austrian physicist and philosopher, developed statistical mechanics, defined entropy.).

Rovelli notes time, as Einstein proves, is relative. Rovelli suggests time is just the function of heat entropy as discovered by Ludwig Boltzmann in the second law of thermodynamics.

Time might be defined as a rock that hits the ground. It creates heat that dissipates by transferring its heat energy to the ground. Time is like a marker for heat that dissipates. To Rovelli, infinity is simply an unanswered question in physics that will be answered with more information.

Rovelli gives another peek at the complexity of the science of physics. He writes with as much clarity as the subject will allow for a non-scientist.


Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

By: Frank Wilczek

Narrated by: Sean Patrick Hopkins, Frank Wilczek

To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge. Socrates (469 BC-399 BC)

Frank Wilczek (Author, American theoretical physicist, mathematician and Nobel laureate.)

After listening to “Fundamentals”, one recognizes how Socrates’ quote is an apt description of this listener’s knowledge of reality. Frank Wilczek does a good job of explaining the nearly incomprehensible science of physics. 

Wilczek’s ten keys are labels of the known fundamental particles of physics.

  1. Electron
  2. Photon
  3. u quark
  4. d quark
  5. 3 kinds of neutrinos
  6. W boson
  7. Z boson
  8. Higgs particle

After a first listen, the choice of this review is to ignore proffered definitions by offering interesting and partially understood explanations of Wilczek’s keys to reality.  Wilczek explains the science of physics. 

Wilczek argues Physics reveals the truth of reality.

Wilczek suggests a scientist who understands and uses the known ten fundamental particles of physics can create whatever reality there is or may be.  However, that reality is a probabilistic future based on the experimentally proven “uncertainty principle”.  The quanta (the particles of physics) cannot be fixed by position and momentum to insure specific outcomes.  Reality is what it becomes, not what a scientist or anyone else designs by using the particles of physics.

At the level of atomism, reality is a matter of probability, not certainty.

Wilczek explains the science of physics revolves around mass, charge, and spin. Mass is revealed in Einstein’s equation of E=MC2 where energy, as well as an elephant or chair we sit on, is a form of mass and unreleased energy.  Charge is defined by the concept of negative or positive, and spin is either an up or down motion for particular fundamental particles.

Wilczek adds explanation of Einstein’s discovery of the bending of space from the force of gravity. 

Wilczek delves into the creation of the universe, the recognition of dark matter and energy and its use as a weak force that makes up 75% of the elementary particles of nature, though neither dark energy or mass has yet been seen by anyone.

Wilczek recounts the history of physics from ancient times of Democritus to Newton’s experiment and theory of force, to Einstein’s theories of light, mass, and energy, to Bohr’s spectrographic analysis of atoms, to the 21st centuries discovery of Higgs-Bosun.

Wilczek’s last chapter notes the value of complementarity in physics. Though Einstein insists there is a “theory of everything” that explains we live in a cause-and-effect’ world, he is unable to refute Bohr’s experimental proof of quantum physics.

At the level of atomism, probability rather than certainty is reality. Wilczek does not mean an elephant on a rampage will not destroy everything in its path but that atoms that make the elephant do function probabilistically. Reality is both probabilistic and deterministic. That is complementarity.

This is a book to be listened to more than once, particularly for one who is ignorant of higher mathematics and physics. The author’s story is not bogged down by explanations of those essential subjects that relate to understanding reality.