What I’ve been reading…

1) The Danish translation of Traudl Junges “Bis zur letzten Stunde” (the Danish version is published by Lindhardt og Ringhof and is called “Til den bitre ende”). Most of the book consists of Traudl’s collection of notes and memoirs written only two years after the war, in 47. The last 40 pages consists of notes from interviews between Traudl and the German journalist Melissa Müller that took place very close to Junge’s death. The book is very personal and it is also very recommendable.

2) Anna Politkovskaya: Putin’s Russia. I like Putin even less than before after having read this book.

3) I have tried once again to make progress in “The Road to Reality” by Roger Penrose, by reading chapters 6 and 7. This book is not recommended to people who do not like mathematics, and I don’t think you can rightfully consider it popular science – it is not at all comparable to books such as “Relativity” by Albert Einstein (which, incidentally I found was available online here. Amazon also has the book though and it isn’t all that expensive) and “A brief(/er) history of time” by Stephen Hawking. Even though I believe I understood most of the two chapters, they took an awful lot of time to get through, so I think I shall have to put it away again for a while before I continue. I might start reading a recent buy; “The Nuremberg Interviews” instead.

A short addendum to the Danish readers: No, I’m not lying about which books I’ve read

January 27, 2007 Posted by | books, history, Physics | Leave a comment

Science and religion

In modern society there is a prevalent notion that spiritual matters can’t be settled by logic or observation, and therefore you can have whatever religious beliefs you like. If a scientist falls for this, and decides to live their extralaboratorial life accordingly, then this, to me, says that they only understand the experimental principle as a social convention. They know when they are expected to do experiments and test the results for statistical significance. But put them in a context where it is socially conventional to make up wacky beliefs without looking, and they just as happily do that instead.

If, outside of their specialist field, some particular scientist is just as susceptible as anyone else to wacky ideas, then they probably never did understand why the scientific rules work. Maybe they can parrot back a bit of Popperian falsificationism; but they don’t understand on a deep level, the algebraic level of probability theory, the causal level of cognition-as-machinery. They’ve been trained to behave a certain way in the laboratory, but they don’t like to be constrained by evidence; when they go home, they take off the lab coat and relax with some comfortable nonsense. And yes, that does make me wonder if I can trust that scientist’s opinions even in their own field – especially when it comes to any controversial issue, any open question, anything that isn’t already nailed down by massive evidence and social convention.

Eliezer Yudkowsky over at overcomingbias.

January 21, 2007 Posted by | religion, science | Leave a comment