Mind and Society by Lev Vygotsky
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
Republic by Plato
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Federalist Papers
and I feel like I've absorbed a number of these through secondary sources (Minsky, Dewey, Mumford, etc).
First of all, because I'm a huge philosophy geek, I excitedly preordered these two books that I've been watching the progress of for literally years:
An English translation of Simondon's 'On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects':
and Adam Kotsko's treatise on the devil, 'The Prince of This World':
The other thing was recognizing how I tend to find books, novels in particular, at all. My wife was asking me was led to the novels currently on my stack (Jo Walton's The Just City, Alvaro Enrigue's Sudden Death and Maureen F. McHugh's China Mountain Zhang).
The answer was telling: Walton was via the Crooked Timber group blog, they have been doing a symposium on it. Past symposiums have covered non-fiction such as Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years and novels such as Stross' bibliography and Spufford's Red Plenty. I've read Among Others by Walton, which was pretty good (although not the 6/5 stars I was hearing from other people), but the conceit of a novel in which Athena pulls Sokrates, Boethius, Proclus, Plotinus, etc. into pre-cataclysm Atlantis to build Plato's republic was pure Jordan-candy. And I just finished vol. 2 of A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps which focused substantially on these Neoplatonists. So, there's that.
Enrigue I'd never heard of, but Warren Ellis reviewed Sudden Death in his newsletter as follows:
"SUDDEN DEATH by Alvaro Enrigue is fucking superb. The translator, Natasha Wimmer, produces a sensitive and nimble translation of what must have been a murderous enterprise. Enrigue frames the end of the Renaissance and the conquest of Mexico in... a tennis game. He achieves that marvellous thing of connecting all the moving parts of the transition of an age in a single bloody tennis game and all the threads that come off it. Very few people can pull this particular stunt off properly, and we have to add Enrigue to that short list. And Enrigue doesn't give a fuck - he sticks emails in there, stops dead to address the audience like a writer/presenter of rhetorical television, even discussing and explaining the mechanics of the book itself. It's big, audacious, smart, funny, learned, gory, occasionally lit with anger, and he spins it all together into a swirling fugue of a crescendo. I burned through it in three nights. One of the essential reads of the year, I think."
Finally, China Moutain Zhang came up not once, but three times, once with the high praise of "my favourite science fiction novel of all time" at the local science fiction convention I attended last month. Having not heard of it before, I was immediately intrigued... more so the more I learned of it.
So short answer: find people with excellent taste. Poach from them.
Don't worry about hitting the electrons bound to the neutral hydrogen either, gamma photons totally aren't a thing
Pay no attention to the native microbiota, they're harmless
... You won't even suffer from hay fever! Much less systemic anaphylaxis.
Ecosystems are robust; why not let your ship's cat stretch her legs whenever you land?
... This goes for your ship's rats, too
If you implant humans with the gene for chlorophyl they can magically become photosynthetic
... Okay, if you add the genes for RuBiSCO and the C3 pathway they can magically become photosynthetic
... Because of course two square meters of skin is enough surface area to photosynthetically capture enough energy for a high-metabolic-rate mammal to live off
The same kind of Money is accepted everywhere as payment for all debts
It is profitable to ship crude break-bulk cargo like timber or foodstuffs between star systems because starships are cheap and easy to repair and operate
Nobody has ever heard of end-user certificates or bonded cargo
If there are two or more ethnicities represented on a planet their collective politics are simple and easily understood by analogy to 20th century US race relations
... Pay no attention to the blank spots on the map
... And especially don't go looking for the unmarked mass graves
... Hijra? Hermaphrodites? Transgender? Asexual? What are those?
... bilaterally symmetrical
... rugged and able to survive impacts with other objects
... easily maintained by semi-skilled labour/shade tree mechanics
... about as complex as a 1920s tramp steamer, or maybe a deep-sea fishing trawler
... easily piloted
... can stop on a dime
... available second-hand in good working order from scrapyards
... have wings and an undercarriage, like a biplane
... You can hear them coming a parsec away
Nobody would ever think to run a starship up to 50% of light-speed and ram a planet
Radar gives us an instantaneously updated map of everything in a star system
... But stealth technology is totally a thing!
Laser beams are instantaneous, don't spread or disperse, and can melt anything
... Except a force field that somehow refracts/bends/absorbs the confused photons
Aliens communicate in language
... Using noises
... Emitted by their mouths
... At frequency ranges we can perceive
Aliens have religious beliefs because they have the same theory of mind as human beings and attribute intentionality to natural phenomena
This said, the tome on the top on "paraconsistency" indeed titillated my curiosity;)
Last month the logician proved a surprising result: you can compute uncomputable functions!
Of course there's a catch, but it's still interesting.
Alan Turing showed that a simple kind of computer, now called a Turing machine, can calculate a lot of functions. In fact we believe Turing machines can calculate anything you can calculate with any fancier sort of computer. So we say a function is computable if you can calculate it with some Turing machine.
Some functions are computable, others aren't. That's a fundamental fact.
But there's a loophole.
We think we know what the natural numbers are:
0, 1, 2, 3, ...
and how to add and multiply them. We know a bunch of axioms that describe this sort of arithmetic: the Peano axioms. But these axioms don't completely capture our intuitions! There are facts about natural numbers that most mathematicians would agree are true, but can't be proved from the Peano axioms.
Besides the natural numbers you think you know - but do you really? - there are lots of other models of arithmetic. They all obey the Peano axioms, but they're different. Whenever there's a question you can't settle using the Peano axioms, it's true in some model of arithmetic and false in some other model.
There's no way to decide which model of arithmetic is the right one - the so-called "standard" natural numbers.
Hamkins showed there's a Turing machine that does something amazing. It can compute any function from the natural numbers to the natural numbers, depending on which model of arithmetic we use.
In particular, it can compute the uncomputable... but only in some weird "alternative universe" where the natural numbers aren't what we think they are.
These other universes have "nonstandard" natural numbers that are bigger than the ones you understand. A Turing machine can compute an uncomputable function... but it takes a nonstandard number of steps to do so.
So: computing the computable takes a "standard" number of steps. Computing the uncomputable takes a little longer.
This is not a practical result. But it shows how strange simple things like logic and the natural numbers really are.
For a better explanation, read my blog post:
And for the actual proof, go on from there to the blog article by .
I blog regularly at hewhocutsdown.net.
"You cannot banish unreason simply by believing correct things."
"A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History"
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