Books I’ve recently read (and enjoyed)

The Nature of Rationality

by Robert Nozick

“Robert Nozick always attacks his problems in a disconcertingly original way.  The questions he addresses are fundamental in the true philosophical sense: Why exactly should we want to act and believe rationally? Why should we formulate principles of action and try to stick to them? The questions are not moral but explicatory. He is not out to argue that unprincipled or irrational behavior is immoral; rather, he invites us to consider what we are trying to do, and what the justification for such behavior is.

To Nozick, rationality and belief are each an evolutionary adaptation to a world that changes in nonregular ways. Our acts resonate with symbolic meaning and ‘stand for’ our principles and beliefs. In this boldly original . . . inquiry which will reward serious students of philosophy, Nozick uses decision theory to propose new rules of rational decision-making that take into account the symbolic, practical, and evolutionary components of our behavior . . . . this challenging treatise champions reason as a faculty that enables us to transcend our mere animal status and to strive toward goals by the light of principles.”

Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language and Life

by Jeremy Campbell

“This brilliant book ranges from the structure of., language to the meaning of entropy and its role in the transmission of information, with fascinating detours along the way to take in the latest in theories of how the brain works. Mr. Campbell hasor so it appears–all but effortlessly assimilated an incredibly wide range of knowledge. He understands Godel and he understands Aristotle, and, best of all, he can write about them in a fresh and comprehensive way.”

The Lady Tasting Tea

by David Salsburg

“Science is inextricably linked with mathematics. Statistician David Salsburg examines the development of ever-more-powerful statistical methods for determining scientific truth in The Lady Tasting Tea, a series of historical and biographical sketches that illuminates without alienating the mathematically timid. Salsburg, who has worked in academia and industry and has met many of the major players he writes about, shares his subjects’ enthusiasm for problem solving and deep thinking. This drives his prose, but never at the expense of the reader; if anything, the author has taken pains to eliminate esoterica and ephemera from his stories. This might frustrate a few number-head readers, but the abundant notes and references should keep them happy in the library for weeks after reading the book.

Ultimately, the various tales herein are unified in a single theme: the conversion of science from observational natural history into rigorously defined statistical models of data collection and analysis. This process, usually only implicit in studies of scientific methods and history, is especially important now that we seem to be reaching the point of diminishing returns and are looking for new paradigms of scientific investigation. The Lady Tasting Tea will appeal to a broad audience of scientifically literate readers, reminding them of the humanity underlying the work.

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