Arquivo da categoria: Livros

As resenhas de livros do tipo Unreal. Aqui, Eu discutir os livros que li, e compartilhar minhas impressões com os meus leitores. Eu li sua maioria não-ficção ou clássicos. E quando eu digo livros lidos, Quero dizer, ouvi-los em audiobook (sempre integral) forma. Audiobooks têm a capacidade de fazer o seu trajeto ou treino de ginástica algo que você olha para a frente, em vez de medo. Quando avaliação, eles apresentam uma desvantagem embora, que não pode ser previsto. Assim, cita-los tornar-se parafraseando, nomes se com erros ortográficos e assim por diante. Please excuse such shortcomings…

Note-se que estes não são opiniões reais. A maioria destes livros são tão bem conhecido que eles são realmente além de comentários. Então, os comentários Unreal são mais como as minhas impressões e pensamentos, muitas vezes com spoilers.

The Age of Spiritual Machines por Ray Kurzweil

Não é fácil para rever um livro de não-ficção, sem dar a essência do que o livro é sobre. Sem uma sinopse, tudo que se pode fazer é chamá-lo perspicazes e outros tais epítetos.

The Age of Spiritual Machines é realmente um livro perspicaz. É um estudo sobre o futuro da computação e inteligência computacional. Ela nos obriga a repensar o que entendemos por inteligência e consciência, não apenas em um nível tecnológico, mas a um nível filosófico. O que você faz quando seu computador se sente triste que está a desligá-lo e declara, “Eu não posso deixar você fazer isso, Dave?”

O que queremos dizer com inteligência? O critério tradicional de inteligência da máquina é o Teste de Turing notavelmente unilateral. Ele define inteligência usando meios comparativos — um computador é considerado inteligente se pode enganar um avaliador humano em acreditar que ele é humano. É um teste unilateral, porque um ser humano nunca pode passar de um computador por muito tempo. Tudo o que um avaliador precisa fazer é fazer uma pergunta como, “O que é tan(17.32^circ)?” Meu $4 calculadora leva praticamente sem tempo para respondê-la melhor do que uma parte em um milhão de precisão. Um ser humano super-inteligente pode levar cerca de um minuto antes de se aventurar um primeiro palpite.

Mas o teste de Turing não define inteligência muscular como aritmética. Inteligência é composto por “mais alto” habilidades cognitivas. Depois de bater em torno do arbusto por um tempo, chega-se à conclusão de que a inteligência é a presença da consciência. E o teste de Turing essencialmente examina um computador para ver se ele pode consciência falsa bem o suficiente para enganar um avaliador treinado. Teria você acredita que a consciência não é nada mais do que responder a algumas perguntas inteligentes satisfatoriamente. É verdade?

Uma vez reafirmamos o teste (e redefinir inteligência) deste jeito, nossa análise pode se bifurcam em uma viagem interior ou um um fora. podemos nos fazer perguntas como — E se todo mundo é um autômato (exceto nos — você e eu — claro) fingindo sucesso inteligência? Será que estamos a fingir (e livre arbítrio) para nós mesmos? Gostaríamos de pensar que talvez não, ou quem são esses “nós mesmos” que estamos fingindo para? A conclusão inevitável a esta jornada interior é que podemos ter a certeza da presença de consciência só em nós mesmos.

A análise externa do surgimento de inteligência (um Teste de Turing la) traz uma série de questões interessantes, que ocupa uma parte significativa do livro (Estou me referindo à edição de áudio abridgment), embora um pouco obcecado com sexo virtual, por vezes,.

Uma das instigantes perguntas quando as máquinas afirmam que eles são sencientes é este: Seria assassinato “matar” um deles? Antes de sugerir que eu (ou melhor, Kurzweil) parar de agir como um louco, considerar esta: E se o computador é um backup digital de uma pessoa real? Um backup que pensa e age como o original? Ainda não? E se ela é a única cópia de segurança e que a pessoa está morta? Não seria “matança” a máquina equivaleria a matar a pessoa?

Se você disse sim a contragosto a última pergunta, em seguida, todo o inferno quebra solto. Que se houver vários backups idênticos? E se você criar o seu próprio backup? Será que a exclusão de uma cópia de segurança capazes de experiências espirituais equivale a assassinato?

Quando ele fala sobre a progressão da inteligência da máquina, Kurzweil demonstra seu otimismo inerente. Ele postula que anseiam inteligência final para nada, mas o conhecimento. Eu não sei se eu aceitar que. Para quê, então, é o conhecimento? Eu acho que uma inteligência suprema que anseiam continuidade ou imortalidade.

Kurzweil assume que toda a tecnologia e inteligência teria todas as nossas necessidades materiais atendidas em algum momento. Olhando para os nossos esforços até agora, Eu tenho minhas dúvidas. Nós desenvolvemos nenhum benefício até agora sem uma maldição associada ou dois. Pense na energia nuclear aparentemente ilimitado e você também ver as bombas e os problemas de gestão de resíduos radioativos. Pense em combustíveis fósseis e do flagelo da aquecimento global mostra-se.

Eu acho que eu sou um deputado. Glass-é-meio vazio tipo de cara. Para mim, até mesmo o acesso ilimitado a inteligência pode ser uma coisa perigosa. Lembre-se como leitura internet mudou a forma como nós aprendemos coisas?

Siddhartha por Hermann Hesse

I don’t get symbolism. Bastante, I do get it, but I’m always skeptical that I may be getting something the author never intended. I think and analyze too much instead of just lightening up and enjoying what’s right in front of me. When it comes to reading, I’m a bit like those tourists (Japanese ones, if I may allow myself to stereotype) who keep clicking away at their digital cameras often missing the beauty and serenity of whatever it is that they are recording for posterity.

Mas, unlike the tourist, I can read the book again and again. Although I click as much the second time around and ponder as hard, some things do get through.

When I read Siddhartha, I asked myself if the names like Kamala and Kamaswami were random choices or signified something. Afinal, the first partKamameans something akin to worldliness or desire (greed or lust really, but not with so much negative connotation) in Sanskrit. Are Vasudeva and Givinda really gods as the name suggests?

Mas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Siddhartha is the life-story of a contemporary of Buddha — sobre 2500 years ago in India. Even as a young child, Siddhartha has urges to pursue a path that would eventually take him to salvation. As a Brahmin, he had already mastered the prayers and rituals. Leaving this path of piety (Bhaktiyoga), he joins a bunch of ascetics who see the way to salvation in austerity and penances (probably Hatayoga e Rajayoga). But Siddhartha soon tires of this path. He learns almost everything the ascetics had to teach him and realizes that even the oldest and wisest of them is no closer to salvation than he himself is. He then meets with the Buddha, but doesn’t think that he could “learn” the wisdom of the illustrious one. His path then undergoes a metamorphosis and takes a worldly turn (which is perhaps a rendition of Grahasthashrama ou Karmayoga). He seeks to experience life through Kamala, the beautiful courtesan, and Kamaswamy the merchant. When at last he is fully immersed in the toxic excesses of the world, his drowning spirit calls out for liberation from it. He finally finds enlightenment and wisdom from the river that he had to cross back and forth in his journeys between the worlds of riches and wisdom.

For one who seeks symbolism, Siddhartha provides it aplenty.

  • Why is there a Vaishnava temple when Siddhartha decides to forgo the spiritual path for a world one? Is it a coincidence or is it an indication of the philosophical change from an Advaita line to a patently Dwaita line?
  • Is the name Siddhartha (same as that of the Buddha) a coincidence?
  • Does the bird in the cage represent a soul imprisoned in Samsara? Se assim, is its death a sad ending or a happy liberation?
  • The River of life that has to be crossed — is it Samsara itself? Se assim, is the ferryman a god who will help you cross it and reach the ultimate salvation? Why is it that Siddhartha has to cross it to reach the world of Kamala and Kamaswamy, and cross it back to his eventual enlightenment? Kamala also crosses the river to his side before passing on.
  • The affection for and the disillusionment in the little Siddhartha is the last chain of bondage (Mohamaya) that follows Siddhartha across the river. It is only after breaking that chain that Siddhartha is finally able to experience Nirvana enlightenment and liberation. Is there a small moral hiding there?

One thing I noticed while reading many of these great works is that I can readily identify myself with the protagonist. I fancy that I have the simple greatness of Larry Darrell, and fear that I secretly possess the abominable baseness of Charles Strickland. I feel the indignant torture of Philip Carey or Jay Gatsby. E, Certifique-se, I experience the divine urges of Siddhartha. No matter how much of a stretch each of these comparisons may be. Admittedly, this self-identification may have its roots more in my vanity than any verisimilitude. Or is it the genius of these great writers who create characters so vivid and real that they talk directly to the naked primordial soul within us, stripped of our many layers of ego? In them, we see the distorted visions of our troubled souls, and in their words, we hear the echoes of our own unspoken impulses. Perhaps we are all the same deep within, part of the same shared consciousness.

One thing I re-learned from this book is that you cannot learn wisdom from someone else. (How is that for an oxymoron?) You can learn knowledge, information, dados — sim. But wisdom — não. Wisdom is the assimilation of knowledge; it is the end product of your mind and soul working on whatever you find around you, be it the sensory data, cognitive constructs, knowledge and commonsense handed down from previous generations, or the concepts you create for yourself. It is so much a part of you that it is you yourself, which is why the word Buddha means Wisdom. The person Buddha and his wisdom are not two. How can you then communicate your wisdom? No wonder Siddhartha did not seek it from the Buddha.

Wisdom, according to Hermann Hesse, can come only from your own experiences, both sublime and prosaic.

Zen ea Arte da Manutenção de Motocicleta

Uma vez, Eu tinha algumas dúvidas sobre a minha sanidade mental. Afinal, se você encontrar-se questionar o realismo da realidade, você tem que saber — é a realidade que é irreal, ou a sua sanidade mental?

Quando eu compartilhei minhas preocupações com este amigo filosoficamente inclinada da mina, ela me tranquilizou, “A sanidade é superestimada.” Depois de ler Zen ea Arte da Manutenção de Motocicleta, Eu acho que ela estava certa. Talvez ela não vai suficientemente longe — Pode ser loucura é o caminho subestimado.

Zen ea Arte da Manutenção de Motocicleta define loucura como o processo de pisar fora mythos; mythos que representam a soma total do nosso conhecimento combinado passou de geração em geração, o “senso comum” que precede lógica. Se a realidade não é de bom senso, o que é? E duvidar do realismo da realidade, quase por definição, está pisando fora dos limites da mythos. Então, ele se encaixa; minhas preocupações eram de fato bem fundamentada.

Mas um bom ajuste não é garantia da “retidão” de uma hipótese, como Zen ea Arte da Manutenção de Motocicleta nos ensina. Dado tempo suficiente, sempre podemos chegar a uma hipótese que se encaixa nossas observações. O processo de hipotetizar a partir de observações e experiências é como tentar adivinhar a natureza de um objeto a partir da sombra projeta. E a projeção é precisamente o que a nossa realidade é — uma projeção de formas e processos desconhecidos em nosso espaço sensorial e cognitivo, em nossas mythos e logos. Mas aqui, I may be pushing my own agenda rather than the theme of the book. Mas isso não se encaixam, não faz isso? É por isso que eu encontrei-me murmurando “Exatamente!” uma e outra durante a minha três leituras do livro, e por isso que vou lê-lo muitas mais vezes no futuro. Vamos nos lembrar de novo, um bom ajuste não diz nada sobre o acerto de uma hipótese.

One such reasonable hypothesis of ours is about continuity We all assume the continuity of our personality or selfhood, which is a bit strange. I know that I am the same person I was twenty years ago — older certainly, wiser perhaps, but still the same person. But from science, I also know for a fact that every cell, every atom and every little fundamental particle in my body now is different from what constituted my body then. The potassium in the banana I ate two weeks ago is, for instance, what may be controlling the neuronal firing behind the thought process helping me write this essay. But it is still me, not the banana. We all assume this continuity because it fits.

Losing this continuity of personality is a scary thought. How scary it is is what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tells you. As usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

In order to write a decent review of this book, it is necessary to summarize the “story” (which is believed to be based on the author’s life). Like most great works of literature, the story flows inwards and outwards. Outwardly, it is a story of a father and son (Pirsig and Chris) across the vast open spaces of America on a motorbike. Inwardly, it is a spiritual journey of self-discovery and surprising realizations. At an even deeper level, it is a journey towards possible enlightenment rediscovered.

The story begins with Pirsig and Chris riding with John and Sylvia. Right at the first unpretentious sentence, “I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning,” it hit me that this was no ordinary book — the story is happening in the present tense. It is here and now — the underlying Zen-ness flows from the first short opening line and never stops.

The story slowly develops into the alienation between Chris and his father. The “father” comes across as a “selfish bastard,” as one of my friends observed.

The explanation for this disconnect between the father and the son soon follows. The narrator is not the father. He has the father’s body all right, but the real father had his personality erased through involuntary shock treatments. The doctor had reassured him that he had a new personality — not that he was a new personality.

The subtle difference makes ample sense once we realize that “he” and his “personality” are not two. And, to those of us how believe in the continuity of things like self-hood, it is a very scary statement. Personality is not something you have and wear, like a suit or a dress; it is what you are. If it can change, and you can get a new one, what does it say about what you think you are?

In Pirsig’s case, the annihilation of the old personality was not perfect. Besides, Chris was tagging along waiting for that personality to wake up. But awakening a personality is very different from waking a person up. It means waking up all the associated thoughts and ideas, insights and enlightenment. And wake up it does in this story — Phaedrus is back by the time we reach the last pages of the book.

What makes this book such a resounding success, (not merely in the market, but as an intellectual endeavor) are the notions and insights from Phaedrus that Pirsig manages to elicit. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is nothing short of a new way of looking at reality. It is a battle for the minds, yours and mine, and those yet to come.

Such a battle was waged and won ages ago, and the victors were not gracious and noble enough to let the defeated worldview survive. They used a deadly dialectical knife and sliced up our worldview into an unwieldy duality. The right schism, according to Phaedrus and/or Pirsig, would have been a trinity.

The trinity managed to survive, albeit feebly, as a vanquished hero, timid and self-effacing. We see it in the Bible, for instance, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see it Hinduism, as its three main gods, and in Vedanta, a line of thought I am more at home with, as Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram — the Truth, ???, the Beauty. The reason why I don’t know what exactly Shivam means indicates how the battle for the future minds was won by the dualists.

It matters little that the experts in Vedanta and the Indian philosophical schools may know precisely what Shivam signifies. I for one, and the countless millions like me, will never know it with the clarity with which we know the other two terms — Sundaram and Satyam, beauty and truth, Maya and Brahman, aesthetics and metaphysics, mind and matter. The dualists have so completely annihilated the third entity that it does not even make sense now to ask what it is. They have won.

Phaedrus did ask the question, and found the answer to be Quality — something that sits in between mind and matter, between a romantic and a classical understanding of the world. Something that we have to and do experience before our intellect has a chance to process and analyze it. Zen.

However, in doing so, Phaedrus steps outside our mythos, and is hence insane.

If insanity is Zen, then my old friend was right. Sanity is way overrated.

Photo by MonsieurLui

The Moon and Sixpence

I confess that I had no idea what the title meant after I finished reading the book for the first time. My ignorance persisted even after the second perusal, although the title did suggest something like noble intentions and prosaic realities. Before the third reading, this time specifically for this blog, I decided to look it up. Like all good netizens, I consulted Wikipedia, which told me that the title was a reference to Of Human Bondage (where Philip Carey reaches for the moon while ignoring the sixpence at his feet.)

In The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham chronicles the life and adventures of Paul Gauguin — an artistic genius who stepped outside the bounds of ethics and morality in a single-minded pursuit of an unknown and troubling vision of his soul (“the moon”) at the cruel expense of his friends and family (the “sixpence,” presumably.)

Unsure of how to create a perfect Frenchman (as he later confesses in The Razor’s Edge), Maugham chose to “translate” Gauguin and portrayed him as an Englishman Charles Strickland, a semi-successful, though dull London stockbroker. At the unlikely age of 42 or so, Strickland decides to abandon his family to take up painting. The need to paint is a yearning of the soul for Strickland, and it doesn’t matter that he is no good at it — yet — as he explains, “I tell you I’ve got to paint. I can’t help myself. When a man falls into the water it doesn’t matter how he swims, well or badly: he’s got to get out or else he’ll drown.” While saving himself from this metaphoric drowning, Strickland is indifferent (beyond cruelty) to the rest of the world. Then again, he is just as uncompromising and cruel to himself as well.

In portraying such a difficult anti-hero, Maugham showcases all the mastery and skill he possesses. To my untrained eyes, it looks as though Maugham builds this character so carefully and painstakingly that each one of the monstrosities Strickland commits is counter-balanced in some fashion. It is indeed a fine chisel that Maugham employs in crafting this masterpiece; none of those broad, confident strokes we would see in his later works.

We find Maugham at cynical and misogynistic best (or worst, depending on the perspective) in the early part of the book, especially in his descriptions of Mrs. Strickland and her children. We should condone this appearance of misogyny as a pardonable foible of a genius, I think. More than that, I see it as an effort, a successful one, to balance the callousness of Strickland’s disappearance that soon follows.

Such balancing devices can be found throughout the book. Perhaps to soften the shock of Strickland’s seemingly inexplicable renunciation of his family, his son’s hypocritical account of his later life is cynically ridiculed right in the beginning of the book. The unfortunate Dirk Stroeve, so cruelly used by Strickland, is also a buffoon who elicits derisive laughter rather than sympathy. Stroeve’s groveling adulation of Blanche perhaps serves to iron out the overtones of sexism or misogyny permeating the story. Blanche Stroeve’s betrayal is counter balanced with her own abominable indifference to Stroeve, which, in turn, gets evened out in what she receives from Strickland — “What an abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in horror she refused to live.” Strickland, curiously, walks unaffected through all this death and mayhem, larger than life, tortured by his own private agonies of the soul well beyond our comprehension and his own. Even in his callousness, what Strickland invokes in Maugham and even Stroeve is, not merely a natural indignation, but an overwhelming compassion — astonishingly. The misplaced compassion is perhaps a device to prepare the reader for Strickland’s sordid and horrible death.

Maugham employs a variety of techniques to make the narration sound natural. If I was a fiction writer, I would study these techniques very carefully and try to employ them myself. To begin with, Strickland is a fictional portrayal of Gauguin, but Maugham takes great pains to pretend that the narration is not fictional. Even the narrator (Maugham himself) is portrayed as fallible, and contritely so, to lend credibility to the narration. For instance, Maugham gets exasperated at Stroeve’s weakness and is later ashamed of himself for getting angry.

The book has its elitist moments. When asked if it was better not to have known, Stroeve replies: “The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why, and we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must see the beauty of quietness. We must go through life so inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us seek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentle like them. That is the wisdom of life.” It is as though the gift of inquiry and knowledge is given to a precious few — a special club to which Stroeve and Maugham are privy. This elitist attitude permeates not only Maugham’s works, but all great works of literature; it is only by masking his sense of superiority that an author or a thinker projects himself as non-elitist.

Perhaps it is some knowledge, or a vision of the world that Strickland’s soul yearned to share with the rest of us. Such communication is beyond language — a medium unequal to the task even when masterfully employed. Visual arts come closer. In Strickland’s tragic and cruel plight, along with that of almost all characters in the story, we see one eternal question. What is it that we are really after? Is it happiness? If so, Charles Strickland certainly didn’t find it. Very few do. Is it glory? Strickland did find that, albeit after his death.

Death is the great equalizer. It brings us back to the nothingness we spring from, however high we may fly or however low we may sink during the brief instant in between. The wisdom of the wise, the ignorance of the masses, the grandeur of the accomplished, the glory, the baseness — all matter very little when faced with such complete finality. In Strickland, Maugham has depicted the heights of glory as well as the nadir of baseness. The Moon and Sixpence — perhaps I have understood its meaning after all.

Photo by griannan

1984

All great books have one thing in common. They present deep philosophical inquiries, often clad in superb story lines. Or is it just my proclivity to see philosophy where none exists?

In 1984, the immediate story is of a completely totalitarian regime. Inwardly, 1984 is also about ethics and politics. It doesn’t end there, but goes into nested philosophical inquiries about how everything is eventually connected to metaphysics. It naturally ends up in solipsism, not merely in the material, metaphysical sense, but also in a spiritual, socio-psychological sense where the only hope, the only desired outcome of life, becomes death.

I think I may be giving away too much of my impressions in the first paragraph. Let’s take it step by step. We all know that totalitarianism is bad. It is a bad political system, we believe. The badness of totalitarianism can present itself at different levels of our social existence.

At the lowest level, it can be a control over our physical movements, physical freedom, and restrictions on what you can or cannot do. Try voting against a certain African “president” and you get beaten up, for instance. Try leaving certain countries, you get shot.

At a higher level, totalitarianism can be about financial freedom. Think of those in the developed world who have to juggle three jobs just to put food on the table. At a progressively subtler level, totalitarianism is about control of information. Example: media conglomerates filtering and coloring all the news and information we receive.

At the highest level, totalitarianism is a fight for your mind, your soul, and your spiritual existence. 1984 presents a dystopia where totalitarianism is complete, irrevocable, and existing at all levels from physical to spiritual.

Another book of the same dystopian kind is The Handmaid’s Tale, where a feminist’s nightmare of a world is portrayed. Here, the focus is on religious extremism, and the social and sexual subjugation brought about by it. But the portrayal of the world gone hopelessly totalitarian is similar to 1984.

Also portraying a dark dystopia is V for Vendentta, with torture and terrorism thrown in. This work is probably inspired by 1984, I have to look it up.

It is the philosophical points in 1984 that make it the classic it is. The past, for instance, is a matter of convention. If everybody believes (or is forced to believe) that events took place in a certain way, then that is the past. History is written by the victors. Knowing that, how can you trust the greatness of the victors or the evil in the vanquished? Assume for a second that Hitler had actually won the Second World War. Do you think we would’ve still thought of him as evil? I think we would probably think of him as the father of the modern world or something. Of course, we would be having this conversation (if we were allowed to exist and have conversations at all) in German.

Even at a personal level, the past is not as immutable as it seems. Truth is relative. Lies repeated often enough become truth. All these points are describe well in 1984, first from Winston’s point of view and later, in the philosophically sophisticated discourses of O’Brien. In a world existing in our own brain, where the phenomenal reality as we see it is far from the physical one, morality does lose a bit of its glamor. Metaphysics can erode on ethics. Solipsism can annihilate it.

A review, especially one in a blog, doesn’t have to be conventional. So let me boldly outline my criticisms of 1984 as well. I believe that the greatest fear of a normal human being is the fear of death. After all, the purpose of life is merely to live a little longer. Everything that our biological faculties do stem from the desire to exist a little longer.

Based on this belief of mine, I find certain events in 1984 a bit incongruous. Why is it that Winston and Julia don’t fear death, but still fear the telescreens and gestapo-like police? Perhaps the fear of pain overrides the fear of death. What do I know, I have never been tortured.

But even the fear of pain can be understood in terms of the ultimate fear. Pain is a messenger of bodily harm, ergo of possible death. But fear of rats?! Perhaps irrational phobias, existing at a sub-cognitive, almost physical, layer may be stronger than everything else. But I cannot help feeling that there is something amiss, something contrived, in the incarceration and torture parts of 1984.

May be Orwell didn’t know how to portray spiritual persecution. Luckily, none of us knows. So such techniques as rats and betrayal were employed to bring about the hideousness of the process. This part of the book leaves me a bit dissatisfied. After all, our protagonists knew full well what they were getting into, and what the final outcome would be. If they knew their spirit would be broken, then why leave it out there to be broken?