Showing posts from December, 2007

Flu and its books 3

How many times can one read Aeschylus without getting tired, but learning new lessons? I've just had the courage to "waste" some time, and re-read the Oresteia , wasting time being what I do when - instead of reading something new and climb the Olympus of the Unread a few hundred pages higher - I indulge myself in revisiting a favourite text, lingering in the valley of the well-known and familiar. What a pleasure. The intensity of the existential choices, the purity of a culture that was able to open the book of life with philosophical eyes for the first time. I wish I could say "Ich bin ein Athenian!" One way of reading the Oresteia is, of course, in terms of the emergence of that civilization, represented by fair law and justice, that will stay with human history forever after, at least as a regulative ideal. It was invented by the Greeks and globalised by the Romans. In the end, the Eumenides and their thirst for revenge are irregimented by an Athens wh


Every now and then, you meet someone who remembers your name from last year's conference. I'm usually amazed, since I cannot move from the living room (first phone) to the office upstairs (second phone) without either writing down the number that I do, really do, wish to remember, or walking like a mad, broken record, reciting it alound all the way to the next keyboard, which I normally reach safely, if nobody interrupts me. But then... Oxford is a strange place. Kia (my brainy neuroscientist wife) has taught Ed Cooke , a memory grandmaster and a former undergradaute at New College . Before Ed, I knew absolutely nothing about World Memory Championships . When I came across Ed, it was like meeting someone from Mars. It's simply extraordinary. I cannot remember a telephone number but Ed, who was number 7 during the WMC in 2007, can memorise, for example, the order of a shuffled deck of cards in under 45 seconds, a 1,200 digit number in an hour and a sequence of 155 words

Flu and its books 2

I got hold of a copy of The Screwtape Letters by accident. Indeed, it was hidden in the theology section at Blackwell's in Oxford. Impossible to find, unless you're looking for it. But trust me: if you need to choose only one book to read this Xmas or indeed for the whole 2008, this is the one. The plot is easily summarised. This is the one-sided correspondence (thirty-one letters) between a senior demon, Screwtape, and his nephew, a junior tempter named Wormwood. The topic is advises by Screwtape to Wormwood about ways in which he might secure the damnation of an man, known as 'the Patient'", of whom Wormwood is in charge. No letters from Wormwood are available, nor any communication from the Enemy (i.e. the angels). I shall not spoil the end. Screwtape's letters are a refined, brilliant and subtle dissection of human attitudes towards life. This is a masterpiece, whose sarcasm and wit allow the reader to reflect, at almost every sentence, on our condition,

Flu and its books 1

Nothing better that some flu to appreciate life (admittedly once you start recovering) and make a dent in the huge pile of books that one has accumulated for those days when the fire is on, and friends, now absent, have left behind a good bottle of Martel . The books I went through in the last few days are pure gems. Moby Dick . Shame on me for having reached this age without having actually read this classic before. This is epics at its best, literature of the finest kind. Some of the fights are Homeric, and meant to be so. There is an endless amount of information on whaling (you can tell Melville knew about it first hand) and some amazing arguments about how whales will never become extinct, even if, already in the middle of the nineteenth century, whole fleets were systematically clearing the sea of this extraordinary animal. The Japanese should definitely use Moby Dick to support their "scientific", inhumane, cruel massacres. The book is too full of images, reflectio

Philosophy of Mathematics: 5 Questions

If you have a bit of time this Xmas, you may wish to read Philosophy of Mathematics: 5 Questions , edited by Vincent F. Hendricks & Hannes Leitgeb. This is a very nice series. 5 Questions collects together answers on 5 provocative questions by many of the leading contemporary figures in a given area, in this case the Philosophy and Mathematics. The book in question contains a lot of first-hand, interesting considerations, well beyond what one may find in more uptight, academic publications. CONTRIBUTORS: Jeremy Avigad, Steve Awodey, John L. Bell, Johan van Benthem , Douglas Bridges, Charles S. Chihara, Mark Colyvan , E. Brian Davies, Michael Detlefsen, Solomon Feferman, Bob Hale, Geoffrey Hellman, Jaakko Hintikka, Thomas Jech, H. Jerome Keisler, Ulrich Kohlenbach, Penelope Maddy , Paolo Mancosu , Charles Parsons , Michael D. Resnik, Stewart Shapiro, Wilfried Sieg, William Tait, Albert Visser, Alan Weir, Philip Welch, Crispin Wright, Edward N. Zalta. Discl