new york review of books

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Sam Harris is a well known atheist, a hater of religion along with the other “horsemen”, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett, but he has this mystical side. That word, mystical, must be defined very carefully, however, or the wrath of Sam will be upon you.

Here is a good tract by Sam Harris in which he goes into this. He argues that secularism has no content other than its negativity:

To be secular, one need do nothing more than live in perpetual opposition to the unsubstantiated claims of religious dogmatists.

The “mysticism” he espouses has to do with meditation and the mystery of consciousness. Here is the last sentence of his third note in his article:

Still, consciousness remains a genuine mystery, and anyone who attempts to study it is confronted by serious conceptual and empirical problems

Antonio Damasio, a well known neuroscientist, has a new book out in which he attempts to explain consciousness scientifically. However, John Searle, a well known American philosopher takes issue with Damasio’s claim in his New York Review of Books article, The Mystery of Consciousness Continues.

All very interesting.

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Discovered him again. I’ve always known about the man, the master theoretical physicist calculator who worked with Hans Bethe, an even more profound mathematical theorist of modern physics. But last night when I couldn’t sleep — yet again — I decided to read Dyson’s article in The New York Review of Books on Questions About Global Warming. Aileni had already certainly cautioned me about accepting Al Gore’s views on Global Warming, so I thought I’d tackle this article before hitting the others Aileni links to in Nexus, especially since I’ve been so in awe of Dyson over the years.

In this NYRB article Dyson reviews two books on global warming and provides his own prologue to the piece. In this prologue he shows that there is a rapid (twelve years) exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and vegetation which is very important for the long range future of global warming. Neither of the two books he reviews mentions it, he says. But he devotes considerable space to the book by Nordhaus who concludes that a “low-cost backstop” might provide the best climate policy. However, Nordhaus is reluctant to discuss this in any detail, partly because, as an economist and not a scientist, he does not wish to question the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which considers the science of climate change to be settled.

Dyson shows that the “low-cost backstop” option of Nordhaus has considerable potential in view of the evidence for rapid exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and plants. He considers it likely that genetically engineered carbon-eating trees could be developed within twenty years. These carbon-eating trees would convert the carbon from the atmosphere into root systems which are then buried underground so that the carbon is not returned to the atmosphere. Here is a great potential solution to the problem of reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

He spends less time on the book by Zedillo which covers a wider range of topics than the Nordhaus book. This book provides the minority opinions of Richard Lindzner of MIT who answers the question of whether the alarm of global warming is founded on fact with a resounding no. The majority opinions, most dogmatically presented by Howard Dalton of Great Britain, state that urgent action is needed now across the world to avert a major threat to the environment and human society. Dyson clearly questions this view.

After reading the NYRB article, I found an even more fascinating article by Dyson on the subject of climate change in which he goes deeper into his views on the subject. It reads very well and I strongly recommend it to any interested parties.

Finally, I was fortunate this morning to find a wonderful interview with Freeman Dyson by Robert Wright. It’s interesting what he says about religion. To him, religion is a way of life and not a matter of belief. He claims he is a Christian without the theology. What is left of Christianity when you take the theology away?, he is asked. Well almost the whole thing, he says, it’s a community of people in a church who are taking care of each other, and also there’s a great deal of beautiful language and there’s a great deal of music; it’s an art form much more than a philosophy. (Sounds a lot like humanistic UUism!) But he does believe there is some instinct of a mind at work in the universe. Not only that, but quantum physics shows that matter at the micro level is clearly not anything we can have experience of. The mathematical theory works just fine, but the reality of it is quite literally out of our world. He has much to say about the macro level as well. His bottom line is that the universe is filled with enormous mysteries of which we know very little indeed. One such mystery is the almost daily bursts of extremely intense gamma rays from completely unknown origins. But there are countless others. The universe is unimaginably amazing and mysterious.

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