Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Friday, September 13, 2013

REQUEST FOR ENLIGHTENMENT

Levinebar posted the following comment on my report of the Ho book I am reading:  "On your sister's recommendation, I read "The Rainbow and the Worm". I confess as a chemist, I found it a waste of time. The author uses the equations more to intimidate than to educate.     Is your sister concerned with your atheism? The book seems to build a rejection of the Scientific Method on the chance observation of birefringence in maggots."

I should like to ask Levinebar for further enlightenment, if he or she is so inclined.  It seems to me that the comment might mean one of two things [keep in mind that I am only in Chapter 5, and soldiering along with great difficulty.]

First of all, Levinebar, who is, remember, a chemist, might have thought while reading the book:  "Yes, yes, this is all quite familiar, nothing new here, but why is she making such a big deal of it and expounding it in an unnecessarily obscure manner?"  If that is the case, then I will continue plowing through the book, because this stuff, although perhaps old hat to a physicist or physical chemist, is totally new to me, and I am learning something.

Or:  Levinebar might have thought while reading the book, "No,No No, this is all wrong, she is getting things muddled, this is terrible, someone like Wolff who doesn't know shit about thermodynamics is going to get entirely the wrong idea."  If that is the case, then maybe I should stop reading, because I am really quite incompetent to distinguish correct exposition, however obscure, from sheer wrongheadedness, when it comes to thermodynamics [and a great deal else, but that is neither here nor there at the moment.]

So, Levinebar, would you take a moment to give me a little guidance?  I would be very grateful.

4 comments:

levinebar said...

Ars longa, vita brevis. There's not time enough in one life to read the good books one should without spending time on the ones one should skip.
The author of "The Rainbow and the Worm" has written an attack on Cartesian reductionism but prefers to couch it as a direct logical outcome of scientific research. To do so, he abuses a great deal of science (that of course emerged from Cartesian reductionism).
The thermodynamics is fascinating and is LARGELY correct, although you'll find a clearer exposition elsewhere. It is however marshalled to support a weak argument.
One glaring error: Szilard never claimed that one can't sort the fast particles from the slow. What he showed was that to do so must cost (in Free Energy) as much or more than one could get by this decrease in local entropy.
As to those maggots, all cells' membranes must strike a balance between solidity (to keep the contents in and the environment out) and fluidity (to allow embedded receptors etc to diffuse around in two dimensions). Mammals use unsaturated fatty acids and cholesterol as plasticizers to keep phospholipids in our cell membranes from becoming too ordered, because as they become too ordered, they form a solid ("freeze"). The author points out that maggots get away with lipids in a more highly ordered state than ours (betrayed by their interaction with light as birefringence) and finds in this evidence that reductionism is wrong. I see rather less there.
But if you're lacking for a good book, I just re-read Paul Davies' "Goldilocks Enigma" and can vouch that it is worth it (and it's easier to read, to boot).
fondly,
Barry Haskell Levine

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That is really terrific. Thank you so much. I will get hold of the Davies. I think I will keep plowing on for as long as I seem to be learning something, but I will keep an eye out for the birefringence [that really isn't a typo?].

Lord, there is so much I do not know. Well, if I make it to ninety, maybe I can learn some of it.

Thank you again.

levinebar said...

and speaking of re-reading, I only recently re-read "defense of anarchism" for the first time since '77. Along the way I discovered that I've spent thirty-five years trying (and failing) to write like Wolff.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Barry [if I may], that means a very great deal to me. I am continuing to read the Ho book, and when I am done, I will try to put what I have learned in language I can understand. Perhaps you will then take a moment to tell me whether I have gotten any of it right.

Cheers,

Bob