John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)
John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.
Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima”, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.
“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)
At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.
Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.
THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.
Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mr. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)
Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.
Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.
Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.
Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.
In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery.
Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.
The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.
Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition
By: The Great Courses
Lecturer: Robert Sapolsky
Robert Sapolsky is an author, American neuroendocrinology researcher, and doctor of neuropsychology, educated at Harvard and acting professor at Stanford.
Sapolsky’s lectures begin with optimism. He infers one can understand the biological origin of human behavior. However, as the lectures progress one becomes skeptical. By the end of Sapolsky’s lectures, the source of human behavior seems too complex for human understanding. In a future age, it may be possible to reduce uncertainty, but determination of the sources of human behavior are likely to remain a probabilistic endeavor.
Sapolsky begins with neurological, physiological, endocrinological, genealogical, and environmental influences on behavior but ends with no definitive origin for human behavior.
This is not to say these lectures are not interesting, but science is far from understanding how any discipline can effectively or accurately identify the sources of dysfunctional human behavior. Cures for psychological maladies remain elusive because of the complexity of their origin.
There is no nerve that can be cut, no drug that can be administered, no gene that can be removed, no environment created that singularly cures abnormal human behavior. Sapolsky is saying the origin of human thought and action begins with genetic history, is influenced in the womb, is subjected to hormonal disruption, lives to be changed by environmental circumstances, and dies either early or late depending on the circumstances of life.
Sapolsky begins his lectures with a lesson in physiology and discussion about cells and the nervous system and how it works.
He explains limbic and autonomic nervous systems. A limbic system is where subcortical structures meet the cerebral cortex. It influences the endocrine system and the autonomic (breathing, heartbeat, and digestive system) functions of the body.
Sapolsky explains how regulation of body function is affected by hormones that come from many organs of the body. These hormones affect brain function (which is also a hormone producing organ) that have a great deal to do with how one acts. The physiology of the nervous system and blood circulatory system carry hormones throughout the body.
Sapolsky goes on to explain evolution of behavior that comes from genetically inheritable social history. What is revelatory is the myth of evolution based solely on a genetic singularity which preserves itself at all costs.
Sapolsky argues preservation of species, not specific gene preservation, is the key to understanding evolution. (This is a partial disagreement with the “selfish gene” postulated by Richard Dawkins.)
The example Sapolsky offers is the Wildebeest herd that plans to cross an alligator infested river.
An early interpretation of that crossing is that a leader of the herd voluntarily steps into the river to sacrifice itself to allow the herd to cross the river while it is being feasted upon by alligators. Sapolsky explains the Wildebeest is not sacrificing itself. Careful observation shows an older Wildebeest is forced into the river by the herd. It is not a voluntary action but a heritable social behavior of the herd to preserve itself.
Sapolsky identifies myths about what causes abnormal human behavior. The idea that testosterone levels are a cause for aggression is untrue. The National Institute of Health found that increased or decreased levels of testosterone have a weak correlation with aggression. Sapolsky notes that testosterone levels vary based on environmental circumstances and interaction with other hormone producing organs. It is not found to be a hormonal cause of aggression.
Every country of the world is populated with people like the wildebeest. Until the world is one herd, it seems humans are destined to lose their way as a species. The river to cross is the world’s environmental crises. With disparate herds in the world, the alligator in the river (our environment) will eat us all.
King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy
By: Michael Dobbs
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)
Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.
Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.
The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.
Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.
Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.
Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.
Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.
The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.
Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.
Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.
A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.
To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.
Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.
Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.
All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.
Odd Arne Westad (Norwegian author, historian, professor of History and Global Affairs Yale University.)
Westad argues “The Cold War” rises from the industrial revolution.
Od Arne Westad’s book is summarized here but not fairly assessed based on his erudition and the book’s voluminous facts and opinions. He argues the industrial revolution improves economic conditions of the world’s population via two fundamental forms of government, i.e., one Democratic and the other Socialist.
Westad notes America and the U.S.S.R. are principal representatives and antagonists of “The Cold War” because of their way of capitalizing on the industrial revolution.
Westad implies communism is a form of extreme Socialism. Some might argue America is a form of extreme Democracy. The facts Westad reveals show both countries have autocratic tendencies and have made historical mistakes that have cost millions of lives. The irony of those mistakes is that America became a more socialist-capitalist country and the U.S.S.R., now Russia, became a more capitalist-socialist country.
In broad outline, Westad’s historical facts define “The Cold War” as it developed in the 20th century. Westad covers most of the world in recounting the consequence of “The Cold War”. He notes key players like Indira Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Joseph Stalin, Josip Broz Tito, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Yasser Arafat, David Ben-Gurion, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and others.
There are so many stories of so many leaders, one may lose sight of Westad’s argument–“The Cold War” is defined by the industrial revolution. In some ways, Westad gives short shrift to the significance of one person’s impact on “The Cold War”. However, historians choose their facts to make their point.
The importance of Gorbachev is perfectly identified by Westad’s characterization of the Gorbachev era. The impact of glasnost on world history is a book by itself.
When Krushchev gave his speech that revealed Stalin’s atrocities, Mao lost all respect for U.S.S.R. leadership. President Xi is a strong proponent of the ideals of Maoist communism which implies Russian/Chinese’ relationship is utilitarian more than ideological.
Westad implies Mao considered Stalin a near God.
The importance of Gamal Abdul Nasser to the Arab world is exemplified by Westad’s explanation of Nasser in Egypt. A similar misreading of history is dispelled about Indira Gandhi and the lack of respect given by Nixon and Kissinger of her role in India.
Westad’s explanation of Stalin’s disrespect of Tito is enlightening. Tito idolizes Stalin but that feeling is not reciprocated by Stalin because, to Stalin, there could only be one leader of the communist movement.
In a trip to the countries formed out of Yugoslavia, it is interesting to note the respect the older generation had for Tito. That respect for authoritarian leaders is noted by Wested when he writes of Stalin. In spite of the millions of Russians murdered or incarcerated by Stalin, improvement in living standards of many Russians endeared him to many citizens.
Wested’s history reminds one that autocracy is not limited to any particular form of government. Just as Tito was an autocrat of Yugoslavia, one might view Trump as a Wanna-Be autocrat of America. Both had their committed followers.
In the modern age, Russia’s hegemonic role in the world has been replaced by China. Like Russia, China adopted a more socialist/capitalist economic system. “The Cold War” continues but the major representatives have changed.
The only political ideal that saves humanity from tyranny is freedom within rule-of-law.
What one is left with after finishing Westad’s history is the belief that neither Democracy, Socialism, nor Communism offer final answers for the future. Autocracy infects all three systems of government.
Stephen Nowicki (Professor of Biology at Duke University.)
Professor Stephen Nowicki offers a 36.5-hour lecture on Biology. From the origin and growth of life to the chemical and neuronal function of living things, Nowicki systematically reveals experimentally tested knowledge of the “…Science of Life”. This brief review only addresses a few of the many fascinating details Nowicki explains.
Nowicki suggests, cells evolve from the agglomeration of detritus from the “Big Bang”.
The early formation of these cells is missing two ingredients for life. Nowicki explains these early cells evolve from violent volcanic and electrical activity of the “Big Bang”, an environment in which those two missing ingredients are created.
Nowicki explains early non-living cells are bombarded by electrical storms that generate amino acids (organic compounds) and sugar from violent atmospheric conditions that include water.
In the early 1950s, these conditions were tested in laboratory conditions and found to create two essential building blocks of life. Nowicki explains, these building blocks (amino acids and sugars) became part of non-living cells.
The eukaryotic cells had a nucleus containing genetic material while prokaryotic cells carried free-floating genetic material without a nucleus. Nowicki then explains the role nucleotides (protein) play in activating genetic material within these cells.
Nowicki notes DNA is present in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, but they need to have a way of being activated. With replication, molecules (chemical compounds) could form. Nowicki explains living matter originated from the clumping and replication of these molecules.
Nowicki explains ribonucleotides (proteins) were created in the primordial soup of early earth. These ribonucleotides transformed into RNA which activated DNA genetic material and replicated both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.
Evolution of species, established by Darwin in the 19th century, appears quite consistent and reminiscent of the primordial process Nowicki outlines.
With that reflection, Nowicki reminds listeners that evolutionary process should not be thought of as a necessarily progressive improvement. Evolution is chancy. It can either preserve or destroy species. Nowicki wanders back in history to explain classification of species as theorized by Linnaeus in the early 18th century.
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778, Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, physician.)
The second doubling of a zygote creates four cells separated in a vertical axis with all genetic material present in each cell. Subsequent doubling is separated on a horizontal axis. These new cells do not have all genetic material enclosed. The new cells have a more limited genetic role. There is significance in that axis change because of the location of genetic material in respective cells. With a change in axis, the viability of one cell carrying all the characteristics of its host goes from certainty to doubtful. The specialization of cells removes some of the genetic material that would contain all the characteristics of the life form.
The zygote at four cells is mature. The next doubling becomes an embryo. All four cells have the genetic material of a male’s and female’s contribution. Each multiplication reduces the size of sister cells until they form a mass that surrounds a vacant space within its middle. This vacant space is the blastocyst stage. The blastocyst is made up of an exterior shell, a middle shell, and an inner shell. Each shell becomes the seat of design for what is to be born.
All amassed cells around the blastocyst carry site specific genetic material of life that forms a living thing.
The process of design in a human begins with an intrusion into the blastocyst without breaking its shells. That intrusion (a human gastrula), around the 7th or 8th day, uses the membranes as laboratories within which genetic codes create skin, bone, internal organs, and the digestive system.
Each of the three membranes are the laboratories of creation. The exterior or outer shell for example would become skin, the middle shell would become organs, the inner shell would become the digestive system.
The next exploration of biology by Nowicki is more suited to students of biology. Nowicki makes a valiant effort to explain the chemistry of ADP and ATP phosphates that provide energy needed for growth and maintenance of life. This part of the lecture series becomes too technical.
As molecules of ATP and ADP break down, they fuel cells of life to act in specific ways to promote growth and maintenance. Like the importance of protein messengers for activation of genetic material, life cannot exist without the energy provided by ATP and ADP. Nowicki diligently tries to explain the mechanics of this phosphate process but loses this reviewer’s interest.
The first inkling of cause for plant growth is noted by Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century. Nowicki explains Helmont planted a tree in a tub of soil. He carefully weighed the soil and tree at the time of planting. Over several years, he observed the growth of the tree. At the end of those years, Helmont weighed the soil and tree. He found a small decrease in the soil’s weight and a gigantic increase in the tree’s weight. Helmont speculates the difference is from water added over the years. Though his conclusion is only partly correct, he paved the way for discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Baptist van Helmont , a Dutch chemist and physician (1580-1644, On the left with his son on the right.)
That synthesis is a more complete explanation of the weight gain noted in Helmont’s experiment. The fundamental point being made by Nowicki is that species growth and demise is based on resource availability. Jan Ingenhousz completes Helmont’s theory with the discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799, Dutch physiologist.)
Around 1779, A Dutch physician named Jan Ingenhousz found that green plants use sunlight to synthesize food for plants from carbon dioxide and water.
The remaining lectures are about Malthusian limits to life. There are natural and societal actions (meaning acts of war) that affect species survival. For natural calamities, one is reminded of the Black plague in the 14th and 17th centuries, the Spanish flu after WWI., the Irish famine in 19th century, the great Chinese famine during the “Great Leap Forward”, and now Covid19.
From man’s inhumanity to man, there is the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century, two 20th century World Wars, the holocaust atrocity of WWII that murdered 11,000,000 (6,000,000 of which were Jews), and most recently, an estimated 600,000 dead in the Syrian Civil War.
How many more deaths will there be from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Of course, Nowicki’s attention is on the biology of life. Nowicki explains, the key to balance of nature is biodiversity. Nowicki notes the unprecedented loss of species in the post 20th century world risks life’s future. Nowicki briefly explains how drug discoveries and loss of genetic material from species extinction affects the balance of nature by diminishing the sources and utility of future medical discoveries.
The fundamental point of Nowicki’s view is that no species escape the natural biological limits of life. Nature balances life based on resources available. A listener may imply Nowicki believes humanity is threatened as much by ignorance of biology as of “man’s inhumanity to man”.
Will Buckingham (English Author, novelist, philosopher, masters in anthropology, PhD in philosophy from Staffordshire University.)
Will Buckingham succeeds in telling the story of philosopher’s big ideas. Buckingham takes listeners on a journey through the ages of philosophy. Beginning in the pre-Julian Roman calendar of 585 BC, Buckingham explains how Thales of Miletus began humanities’ journey from belief in mythology to observation and prediction. Miletus predicted a solar eclipse, presumably based on astronomical observation.
Thales of Miletus (626 to 623 BC to 548 to 545 BC, Pre-Socratic Philosopher known by some as the Father of Science.)
Socrates is believed to have lived from 470 to 399 BC when he chose to take his own life when found guilty of charges of blasphemy and corrupting youth.
Plato (428-423 BC to 348-347 BC, died at the age of 80.)
Socrates could have escaped execution according to Plato’s writing in the “Phaedo” but chose to drink Hemlock tea, the poison of capital punishment.
Socrates denies both accusations against him. Plato writes Socrates mentions the god Asclepius (one of the gods noted for healing) in his last moments of lucidity. The implication of Plato is that Socrates believed in the gods. Socrates flatly denies the corruption of youth for which he is accused.
Buckingham notes what is known of Socrates is only through Plato and Aristotle’s writing which support his innocence by relating stories of Socrates search for truth. An ancient Oracle is said to have told Socrates he was the wisest of all men. By questioning beliefs of those who professed wisdom, Socrates finds others ignorance and understands why the Oracle considers him the wisest “…because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” It is through dialog with others about belief that Socrates finds other’s ignorance and his wisdom.
Confucius (551 BCE-479 BCE, died at 71 or 72, Chinese philosopher.)
Before Socrates, Buckingham notes the prominence of Confucius who lived in China, between 551 to 470 B.C.E. Both Socrates and Confucius search for truth.
Both are searching for causes of societal chaos. However, where Socrates looks to dialog with others and communication with the gods for help in understanding life, Confucius looks to what is called the DAO, i.e., the “way”, the road, or the path that gives harmony to human nature. In the DAO, there is a yin and yang to life that leads one to a harmonious code of behavior. It is neither based on God or gods but on the search for harmony in life.
Though Socrates and Confucius seek wisdom, their paths are quite different but with similar objectives.
This seems a beginning of a split between gods, God, and human belief. The Greeks pursue the help of gods for earthly harmony. The Chinese search for a path to human harmony within society, exclusive of gods or belief in one God.
Buckingham proceeds to overwhelm listeners with mostly well-known philosophers of history. He does not make a distinction between belief in gods, God, or what is broadly characterized as science.
In coming to grips with the number of philosophers noted, one tends to rely on a perceived societal direction. To this listener, the direction is away from God, toward science.
This is not to say that science or philosophy excludes God. There are many famous scientists who claim belief in God. Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, Gregor Mendel, and Charles Darwin, to name a few. The irony of that truth is that each of these scientists made discoveries that weaken one’s belief in God because their discoveries offer insight to the origin of life and living without God.
The list of non-believers is as long or longer. Some say Einstein was an Atheist. There is Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Rosalind Franklin, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Francis Crick, Erwin Schrodinger, John Bell, and so on.
“The Philosophy Book” offers more information about philosophers than one may want to know. Nevertheless, it offers a well written overview of belief, if not wisdom, in the world. One may ask themselves, what’s next? Artificial Intelligence seems to offer our best chance of survival if humanity is on its own.
Journey to the Edge of Reason (The Life of Kurt Gödel)
By: Stephen Budiansky
Narrated by: Bob Souer
Stephen Budiansky (American writer, historian, and biographer with B.S. in chemistry and S.M. in applied mathematics, Yale and Harvard.)
Stephen Budiansky offers a biography of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. His name was Kurt Gödel.
Kurt Gödel (Logician, mathematician, philosopher 1906-1978.)
It is the biographic details and good writing that make “Journey to the Edge of Reason” interesting. Budiansky sets a table for what becomes Gödel’s life.
Budiansky explains the history of Austria before WWI and WWII. Gödel’s family lives an upper-middleclass life when their son Kurt is born. That lifestyle is interrupted by WWI and destroyed by WWII. In the mid-19th century, the Austro-Hungarian empire, particularly Vienna, is a center for education and culture in Europe. Unlike much of the continent, equality of opportunity, regardless of religion and ethnicity, were available in the Austro-Hungarian’ capitol of Vienna. For a short time, Vienna became a magnate for Jewish immigrants seeking education and opportunity.
When the heir to Franz Joseph’s throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand is assassinated, religious and ethnic difference becomes increasingly disparate and nationalistic. After WWI, it becomes impossible for the empire to stay together, but Vienna remains a cultural and educational center for Europe. It is in this environment that Gödel is born and formally educated.
Gödel is an excellent student who attends studies among many who were increasingly discriminated against, particularly Jews. Though not Jewish, Gödel is not infected by growing anti-Jewish sentiment of the times. Budiansky reminds listeners that Hitler grows up in this Austrian Viennese environment.
WWII arrives and the Gödel family falls on hard times. Before the second world war, in 1931, Kurt Gödel develops the “incompleteness theorem” of mathematics. He is only 25. He is soon recognized by leading mathematicians for this foundational theory.
Kurt Gödel developed two theorems of mathematical logic that limit the provability of mathematics. One plus one makes two, but Gödel’s fundamental theories claim its truth is mathematically unprovable. To one steeped in mathematics that may make sense. To this reviewer, it does not.
Budiansky explains how Gödel eventually escapes Vienna at the beginning of WWII. He arrives at Princeton in 1940. Gödel becomes close friends with Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern. Budiansky notes how instrumental other geniuses, like John von-Neumann, were in advancing Gödel’s career.
John von Neumann (1903-1957, Hungarian American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, engineer and polymath with an eidetic memory.)
A striking fact in Budiansky’s biography of Gödel is how many geniuses came to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Without its education system, the Viennese equal opportunity, and the attraction of western freedom, the advance of science and its role in the world would be diminished.
Gödel’s life story revolves around math and its provability limits. Gödel’s life waivers between paranoia and accommodation with periods of terror and intermittent tranquility. Gödel’s paranoia is relieved at times and Budiansky notes his friends recognized his genius while noting his episodic behavioral abnormality.
A surprising sidelight to Budiansky’s biography is Gödel’s odd marriage to what Budiansky characterizes as an uneducated Austrian woman named Adele.
Budiansky explains Adele saves Gödel’s life by bringing him back to reality when he nearly starves himself to death with a paranoid belief that someone is trying to poison him.
Gödel takes daily walks with Einstein. Their walks are legendary according to Budiansky. They were frequently seen together at Princeton. Einstein recognizes Gödel’s paranoia for what it is but acknowledges the brilliance of his understanding of mathematics, its logistic continuity, and its limitation.
There often seems a fine line between genius and normality. One is reminded of the unheralded Paul Dirac who is compared by some to Einstein but, because of his isolationist behavior, is largely unknown to the general public.
As a non-mathematician one may not understand the importance of Gödel’s theory, but Budiansky does a great service to the public by writing Gödel’s biography.
Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at University of Oxford, author.)
Nick Bostrom explains the difference between A.I. potential and human brain limitation. With addition of sentient reasoning, Bostrom explains the incomprehensible leap beyond human brain capability with the advent of artificial intelligence.
That leap can be viewed with fear and trembling as inferred by Bostrom or it might be seen as a next step in human evolution.
Bostrom’s concern revolves around human brain limitation in setting standards for A.I.’ programming.
A machine’s ability to recall billions of facts and historical precedence cannot be matched by the human brain. However, the significance of A.I.’s achievement is delimited by how it may be programmed to have moral, ethical, and normative standards that benefit humanity. The difficulty of that programing is humanity’s continual redefinition and lack of agreement on normative standards.
One may ask oneself how good a job has human evolution done in setting standards for humanity? Have authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump benefited the world?
Bostrom notes two fundamental scenarios for human evolution. Both seem more a return to the past than to the future. Bostrom suggests A.I. will become either an oracle or sovereign leader of humanity. As an oracle, one is reminded of Athenian fealty to the Oracle of Delphi. As sovereign, one is reminded of Augustus Caesar, Caligula, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adolph Hitler. Humanity has survived all–both false predictions of the Oracle and atrocities of sovereigns.
It is unfair to suggest Bostrom is not revealing the difficulties accompanying the introduction of A.I. to humankind. The reality of advancing intelligence through machine learning far outstrips the ability of any singular past or present scientist, philosopher, or politician. One is intimidated by the shear complexity of programing A.I. and its potential for benefit and harm to humanity.
To understand humanities place in the world, human beings cannot agree on what is moral, amoral, equitable, or unfair in society.
How will input from human beings to an oracle or sovereign A.I. escape the imperfect nature of humankind? Added to that difficulty is A.I.’ potential to ignore the best interest of humanity in the interest of its own self-preservation.
Bostrom’s book is interesting, but he beats the idea of A.I.’s ascendance to death by delving into game theory. Bostrom notes the world’s race to create artificial intelligence has the potential of ignoring safeguards for A.I.’s growth and potential for world domination.
Though abandoning safeguards is quite true as evidenced by the Crispr revolution that opened Pandora’s box of genetic manipulation, evolution of species is a fundamental law of the world’s existence.
A.I. is a step in the evolution of species. Its consequence is unknown and cannot be known because it follows the randomness of genetic selection. Humanity needs to get over it and get on with it. A.I. will either be humanity’s savior or its doom.
Irvin D. Yalom (Author, Doctor of Medicine, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.)
“When Nietzsche Wept” was published in 1992. The author Irvin Yalom is now 91 which implies his book was written in his late 50s.
To those who have struggled with understanding Fredrich Nietzsche, Yalom offers brilliant insight to Nietzschean philosophy in a novel set in the formative years of Freudian psychology.
As a psychiatrist by training, Yalom offers insight to the psychology of the male psyche while telling the story of a friendship between Nietzsche and a physician named Josef Breuer.
Interest in philosophy is not essential for appreciating Yalom’s creative mind in “When Nietzsche Wept”. Yalom intersperses historical fact in an imaginative story. Dr. Joseph Breuer is friends with a younger Austrian neurologist named Sigmund Freud. Freud is just beginning to develop his theory of psychological therapy through dialog. Freud’s therapeutic idea is to reveal causes for psychiatric abnormality by talking through the physical and emotional circumstances that lead to psychological imbalance.
Freud’s therapeutic idea is to reveal causes for psychiatric abnormality by talking through the physical and emotional circumstances that lead to psychological imbalance. To Breuer, Freud carries his concept too far by implying a homunculus inside the brain.
What makes Yalom’s story compelling is the opinion given by the author of “talking theory’s” value in psychotherapy. At the same time, Yalom exposes male chauvinism and its harmful societal consequence.
Joseph Breuer (1842-1925, a noted physician in neurophysiology, used the -talking cure- with “Anna O” that laid the foundation of psychoanalysis developed by his protege, Sigmund Freud.)
Josef Breuer is 40 years old. He is married to a beautiful woman. They have children together while Breuer becomes a well-established and renown physician. However, Yalum suggests Breuer is experiencing a mid-life crisis. In his practice, Breuer becomes emotionally attached to a young, beautiful patient who comes to him for treatment of physical discomfort and pain from an unknown cause. When an attack occurs, the patient exhibits pain that is only relieved by physical contact from her attending physician. That physical contact becomes inordinately intimate.
Breuer finds the contact sexually stimulating while clearly understanding it is professionally unacceptable. With his association with Freud, Breuer experiments with talking therapy to ameliorate the patient’s symptoms. He finds the therapy helps but it distorts his objective understanding of patient-doctor relationship.
Breuer begins to believe the patient is becoming emotionally attached to him when she is simply acting out psychologically. In defense against his falsely based infatuation, he assigns the patient to another physician.
In an acting-out psychological way, similar to Breuer’s mistaken perception with his former patient, he is approached by a beautiful 21-year-old woman, a stranger. She asks him to take on a new patient named Fredrich Nietzsche. She explains Nietzsche may commit suicide based on her acquaintance and subsequent rejection of his proposal of marriage. In a sense, Breuer is seduced by his imagination of the beautiful young woman’s approach to him. In fact, the young woman is only acting in accordance with her own agenda.
A listener begins to realize this is a Nietzschean view of the world of human relationship. Every human being has their own agenda. People act in their own self-interest, not in other’s interests. Human self-absorption distorts truth. God is not only dead, but He also never lived. All there is, is one’s will. To Nietzsche, one either becomes a superman or nothing.
Breuer takes Nietzsche as a patient but only on terms acceptable to Nietzsche. Breuer concocts an idea of offering Nietzsche the opportunity to treat Breuer for his mid-life crises. In return, Breuer offers his ministration as a physician. The sessions are based on the undisclosed self-interests of both, rather than the truth of each’s acceptance. What happens is Breuer’s mid-life crises is cured and Nietzsche’s weeping self-realization becomes the story.
This is an over-simplification of a well-crafted novel that has much to say about male egoism, psychotherapy, and inequality of the sexes; not to mention the terrifying implication of Nietzschean philosophy. There is much to unpack in Yalom’s spectacular story.
Ivan Clark Doig (Author, novelist 1939-2015, died at age 75.)
Ivan Doig died in 2015. His last novel, published in 2015, is “Last Bus to Wisdom”. Those of a certain age will remember what it was like to ride a Greyhound bus in the 1950s.
The boy’s name is Donal, aka Donny or Red Chief. His mother and father have died in an auto accident. As one might surmise from Donal’s nick name and his grandmother’s job, he is an imaginative boy with a lot of time on his own while his Gram works. Donal learns something about cowboys, Indians, rodeos, and ranching.
Donal lives with his grandmother who works as a cook on a Montana ranch.
The trip to Wisconsin is memorable for a confrontation with a suitcase thief, a missed bus, a kiss from a waitress, conversation with American Army recruits heading for Korea, a fight with fellow eleven-year-old’s, and Donal’s first meeting with his grandmother’s sister.
Donal’s stay in Wisconsin is shortened by a falling out with his grandmother’s sister who decides to send him back to Montana with the prospect of being sent to an orphanage.
Donal is rescued by Dutch, the assumed husband of his grandmother’s sister. Dutch is not the husband but a survivor of a shipwrecked cargo vessel that took the life of the actual husband of the sister.
The story of Donal’s travels is a great entertainment but acquiring wisdom is another matter. “Last Bus to Wisdom” is a well-told tale to entertain rather than enlighten. Still, this is a great piece of writing illustrating the talent of a very good novelist.