What I've Been Reading

11 May 2018

  • John von Neumann: The Computer & the Brain

An untimely death kept John von Neumann from finishing his Silliman lectures. They are nonetheless an impressive document of the computational revolution during the first half of the 20th century. The introductions to the 2012 edition I read emphasise how well the book holds up to current research, but more importantly the book still can inspire future inquiries.

  • Richard Bradley: Decision Theory with a Human Face

I’m writing a proper review of this book, so suffice here that it is a well-researched defence of Bayesian decision theory as a normative theory for agents with incomplete attitudes, who are not perfectly logical, and have to face severe uncertainty. In other words, a book about the rationality requirements on actual human beings.

  • Paul Graham: Hackers & Painters

I’m currently working my way through another book by Graham: ANSI Common Lisp. This one here I could read while reading the Tube. Graham has been called a hacker philosopher, but, to be honest, I get more from his writing on hacking than when he touches on philosophy. Graham’s essay on free speech neglects a lot of subtleties, for example the idea that moral claims might have very different truth-conditions from descriptive claims or no proper truth-conditions at all. He just treats Galileo’s claims about astronomy as on foot with claims about how we should behave. Furthermore, society appears exclusiviely as an unsophistacted hoard and the individual as defender of truth against peer pressure. What about some epistemic humility as an individual? Maybe Graham’s got answers to these points, he has studied philosophy in college after all[0], but he barely scratches the surface in this essay. Let’s enjoy the insights about LISP instead.

  • Bryan Lee O’Malley: Lost at Sea

This coming-of-age graphic novel, or rather graphic novella, exceeded my expectations. It manages to be popular and subtle, to combine genre tropes with original themes. It shows just enough to draw us in, and never slips into unnecessary tropes of the genre. The result is a story which captures the universal aspects of personal experience and nonetheless remains unique.

  • Thomas Bernhard: Wittgensteins Neffe

Why did Bernhard evoke the association with Ludwig Wittgenstein in the title? Within in the text, as so often with Bernhard it can hardly be called a “story”, Ludwig Wittgenstein only serves as the one of whom Bernhard and Paul Wittgenstein do not speak. They mention him, but they never discuss his philosophy. By giving the book this title Bernhard made the comparison between the eccentric Paul and the successful, although equally eccentric, Ludwig much more salient than it would otherwise have been. I don’t know why. Paul can stand for himself. Otherwise, this book allows the reader to get a bit closer to Bernhard, which he probably wouldn’t want you to.

[0] See: http://www.paulgraham.com/philosophy.html There is much to be said about the limitations of this text by Graham, but I’ll leave it for another time.