Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review: A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of game theory, curious about the mathematics community, love Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory", or think that Sheldon is an unrealistic caricature of an academic. Nasser is unrelentingly honest when portraying young Nash as a narcissistic, childish bully. I watched the movie before reading the book, and I am unduly shocked at how unromantic Nash's real life story is compared to Hollywood. Some people would find this book disillusioning, but I think that revealing all of Nash's personal flaws made his recovery from schizophrenia and his subsequent personal growth a lot more amazing and meaningful. The book has a really wholesome message: people are the most important things in life even for the brilliant, good-looking, and famous. More importantly, this message holds true for the socially-awkward, introverts who would like to believe that they can live with less human contact.

Nasser does a great job of weaving a coherent story from all the information she gathered from various sources, ranging from personal statements to medical records. She thoroughly explains how small factors contributed to Nash's illness and how he managed to recover from it. In addition to his life story, I also got to learn more about schizophrenia, 20th century higher education, mathematician's involvement in the cold war, and the impact of Nash's ideas. It is impressive how Nasser is able to describe Nash's story with great depth while at the same time discuss a wide scope of ideas.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ

Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because these two books were written in the later part of Nietzsche's life, I would not recommend it to anyone new to Nietzsche. As a new reader, some of his references to concepts such as "Dionysian" or "Zarathustra" were confusing and I later found out that he explains them more clearly in his other books. Still, I found many of his insights to be very valuable and it did revitalize me as promised in the foreword.

The book's second title How to Philosophize with a Hammer is a good description of the approach that Nietzsche takes with present idols. This entire book is a rant against "decadents", Nietzsche's label for people or institutions that promote decay in the human spirit or civilization. His brutal and contemptuous words reveal just how hollow these idols are and how they have weaken our ambitions and efforts for advancing the human race.

People living in the dominant postmodern, atheistic culture would have already reached the same conclusions the Nietzsche has on religion. Still, Nietzsche does take a couple of stances that would challenge people today. For example, he considers Socrates to be a decadent and argues that his teachings lead to a dysfunctional life. Although I have admired Socrates since reading The Symposium and I think that Nietzsche's attack on Socrates's looks is a cheap shot, I ended up agreeing with Nietzsche anyway. I also found the chapter "What the Germans Lack" to be surprisingly relatable to the situation in the United States where culture is growing shallower, coarser, and more lacking in spirit.

However, other chapters such as "Expeditions of an Untimely Man" are tedious to me because the idea of each chapter do not seem to connect with the next one and there is no build-up to a greater insight. I also disagree with some of his arguments such as one that claims that free will and moral facts do not exist. He does not try to refute the existence of free will or moral facts like he does when he refutes the existence of a perfect world beyond ours. Instead,he argues that decadents have used free will and morality to gain power over the human race. This could just mean that humans can get tricked into not acting on their free will and they have a terrible understanding of morality. And if there are no moral facts, Nietzsche would have no grounds to claim that the actions of the decadents "...has been thoroughly immoral" at the end of the chapter "The 'Improvers' of Mankind". On top of that, "there are no moral facts" is an oxymoron in itself, so that made me wonder why Nietzsche accepted these logical inconsistencies as a philosopher.

Besides some disagreements I have, I think the book is an engaging and enlightening read. Nietzsche comes off as the type of witty, serious, passionate, and down to earth philosopher that I would like to discuss all these interesting topics with. I'm also curious about his other books and I definitely plan to read more of them.

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