Blog Entry - 8th September 2007 - Philosophy - Reading

Holiday Reading 2007

I was recently on vacation, by the sea, on the beach, with plenty of swimming, sun and chance to read books.

Like most of us, my reading is normally confined to brief moments squeezed between work, home, family, friends and sleep; so a beach holiday provides an ideal opportunity for some extended reading, boosted by the well-being that good swims and sunshine offer.

The books (and a magazine) I chose this year were picked entirely at random:-

  • On the Shortness Of Life, Seneca, 5 BC - 65 AD
  • The Meaning of It All, Richard Feynman, 1963
  • Irrationality, Stuart Sutherland, 1992
  • Collapse, Jared Diamond, 2005
  • New Scientist Magazine, 11th August 2007

Ok, not perhaps your normal books for a sea-side read.

By some coincidence (although really not that unlikely, after you have read Irrationality), each of these books shared themes with one or more of the other books; and each of these books (and the magazine) addresses some of the major themes which touch (or will soon touch) the day to day, minute to minute details of our lives.

Seneca cricitises the opulent life-styles of his Roman peers and sets out what he thinks are the elements of a sustainable life; overlapping with Jared Diamond's Collapse, which considers, among other factors, how the use of precious limited resources on luxury goods and life-styles, building huge monuments, churches, mansions etc, was a contributor to the demise of societies, and the ultimate starvation of their populations, often at the height of their power.

Richard Feynman considers the nature of science and its relation to morality and religious belief, and moves on to address human irrationality; which is the central theme of Stuart Sutherland's book Irrationality; and is again another factor in Jared Diamond's Collapse.

The New Scientist had an article on the philosophical problem of freewill (the problem presumably being, self-control or the lack of it), and also had an article on how topsoil (on which we depend for our crops, and which takes a long time to regenerate) is fast eroding accross the world; which ultimately was one of the proximate causes of many of the collapses referred to in Jared Diamond's book.

Ultimately, I get the impression that it could be possible to lead a sustainable life, if only we could agree on our values and priorities in the finer details of our lives (e.g. what we choose to make and do with our precious resources), recognise the limits of our environment, and not be ashamed to be a bit more intellectual about these things : naieve, I know.

I am going to rashly attempt to write about some of my notes and thoughts on these books in future blog entries.


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