While the City Slept by Eli Sanders, 2016

while the city selptAmazon Link

A true crime story about an attack on a lesbian couple by a mentally ill young man.  The story traces the lives of the two victims and the perpetrator in the years leading up to the attack, alternating between a love story and a slide into violent delusion.

The reporting is up-close and engaging, and involves detailed accounts of the events leading up to the attack, the endless legal proceedings, and the missed opportunities for intervention that may have prevented the incident.

In hindsight, it’s shocking that the perpetrator was not hospitalized or institutionalized.  Sanders makes a strong case that preventative services for individuals with these kinds of serious disturbances are underfunded and ignored, eventually leading to devastating costs and consequences.

While the story is engaging and never boring, I didn’t feel much of a connection with the victims, or compassion for the perpetrator.  I was hoping for a comprehensible explanation of the situation, but essentially it boils down to a genetic predisposition for mental illness, an abusive family life as a child, and a lack of mental health interventions—nothing cosmic or meaningful.

Ideas per Page:1 2/10 (low)

Related Books: for viewing perpetrators as victims of a sort: Incognito by David Eagleman, Waking Up by Sam Harris

Recommend to Others: No, unless you were previously interested in the case

Reread Personally:   No


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder, 2016

trunk full of money.pngAmazon Link

Paul English, a computer programmer, made a fortune as a co-founder of Kayak, the online flight purchasing service.  Starting in a large, poor Boston family, living with bipolar disorder, he hits the jackpot and struggles to come to terms with its meaning and how to move forward.

I was very excited for a new Tracy Kidder book, but was a bit disappointed.  To me it comes off as a glorification of bipolar disorder—that while it has its downsides, this type of thinking is what allowed him (or even caused him) to succeed.

It may be true that his disposition helped him professionally, but the fact that he hit it big and sold his company for a fortune—what validates the writing of this story—was lucky.  If he hadn’t been fortunate enough to be part of a hugely successful venture (and he was part of many, many failed ventures), there wouldn’t have been any “Wow, that’s crazy Paul—he’s a genius”.

This complaint is largely outside of the book itself, but for some reason I couldn’t help thinking of it as I read.  In Kidder’s most famous work, Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer, a doctor, tries to bring medical care to Haitian villages.  Farmer’s pursuit of this goal and his unmatched energy and dedication would be an interesting read no matter what goal he pursued and how badly he failed to achieve it.  It doesn’t feel quite the same in Truck Full of Money.

Related Books: Mountains Beyond Mountains, House, My Detachment, all by Tracy Kidder

Recommend to Others: No, House or Mountains. Skip Detachment

Reread Personally:   No

How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker, 1997

Pinker mind.png

The “basic” tasks that the mind does (see, walk, and make decisions about what to eat) are extremely complex and require an explanation—how are humans able to do such things, and how could such a skill set have come about?

Pinker combines a computational theory of mind (minds are information processors, like computers which pursue goals by acting on rational rules) and the theory of natural selection (animals are replicators, some replicators have traits which allow them to replicate more successfully in certain contexts, and these replicators come to dominate the population in that context)  to argue that the mind is a computing organ designed by natural selection to help human ancestors overcome obstacles to achieve goals in the context in which they evolved.

The mind is compartmentalized to accomplish specific tasks—as evidenced by the loss of specific capacities due to brain injury.  There are for major modules within the mind: visual, phonological, grammatical, and “mentalese”—the wordless language of thought where we store or grasp the gist of ideas.  Pinker walks us through the specifics and evidence for these modules and fleshes out how and why they work the way they do.

He explains how phenomena like art, emotions, and behaviors within families and societies can be explained as extensions or outgrowths of these models, extending the explanatory power of the computational/Darwinian framework to encompass a huge amount of human activity.

Pinker is careful to note that natural selection is not directed at producing intelligent life; in fact it is aimed at nothing except improving survival and reproduction rates of whatever replicator carries the genes.

He’s also clear that ethical and philosophical questions are not and cannot be resolved by further developments within this framework; he goes so far as to suggest that those types of problems are perhaps outside of the scope of the minds with which natural selection has provided us.

Coming into the book fully accepting, and to a lesser degree actually understanding, the concepts of natural selection and the computational theory of mind, it was easy to follow the book’s primary arguments, as outlined above.  I enjoyed the section on computation itself, and many of the factoids shared in the section on vision were fascinating.

Overall some sections feel long, but with scientific theories the devil is in the details, so I understand the need for explicitness.

The book as a whole was generally a smooth read; he illustrates concepts economically and humorously, draws out fallacies in other arguments/theories to strong effect.  The most interesting sections of the book touched on emotions, family and social life, humor, and the arts.  With no musical background, it was difficult to follow the reasoning there, which is probably why his explanation didn’t seem as insightful as the rest of the book.

I feel that his explanation of humor, taken from another academic, isn’t as persuasive/complete as Inside Jokes (Dennett et al).  Pinker discusses the idea of the mind being peacock’s tail to attract other mates, but doesn’t seems to embrace the idea, at least not as a primary driver of the emergence of arts (like Geoffrey Miller).  Instead, he sees art largely as a means of “wire-heading”—essentially a drug that goes right to the pleasure center, bypassing the adaptive behavior this pleasure evolved to reward.

I don’t know much about intellectual movements or history, so I enjoy descriptions of what other schools or approaches believe and why they are wrong.  I especially enjoy how he discusses where some “feminist” and “postmodern” ideology bumps into strong contrary evidence.

I do at times feel confused, because it seems that in many ways he is advocating for evidence or concepts of evolutionary biology to influence our moral systems, while at other times he is quite explicit in stating in how any such research cannot—legitimately—be brought to discussions on ethics.  I need to read more to understand these ideas.

Ideas per Page:1 7/10 (higher)

Related Books: Inside Jokes by Matt Hurley et al; The Moral Animal by Robert Wright; Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite by Robert Kurzban 

Recommend to Others: Good intro, though like I said some parts are a bit tedious (vision section especially).  Moral Animal first, and The Blank Slate for a more exciting Pinker book

Reread Personally:  No.  The sections on the family where most interesting, but perhaps I could find better books on those topics, or that deal with them solely or in greater depth.


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite by Robert Kurzban, 2010

hypocyrite.pngThere are no general-function artifacts, organs, or circuits in the brain because the concept itself makes no sense.  In the same way that if someone told you to manufacture a tool to “do useful things,” or write a subroutine to “do something useful with information,” you would have to narrow down the problem considerably before you could get started.  In the same way, natural selection can’t build brains that “learn stuff and compute useful information.”  It is necessary to get considerably more specific. pp.41

Kurzban argues that the brain consists of modules that evolved to complete certain tasks (vision, memory, hunger and sex drives, etc.).  There is no reason why modules should be expected to share information freely or completely (modules, due to selection pressures, are on a need to know basis), so modules may hold contradictory beliefs, desires, or perceptions.  These conflicts are have traditionally been labeled as “hypocrisy” or “self-control”, but Kurzban asserts that these labels don’t make sense once you acknowledge that there is no “true self” or “control center” (homunculus) supervising all the other modules.

Furthermore, he argues that in a social context beliefs that have traditionally labeled “self-deception” (a term he rejects as incoherent—who is doing the deceiving and who is being deceive, exactly?) can be adaptive; in the words of Trivers “we deceive ourselves the better to deceive others.”  If we can convince people that our prospects are better than they truly are, we may bring advantages or resources that we wouldn’t have secured otherwise.

I like and agree with the ideas presented in the book: the idea of no-self, no “true” self, the questioning of concept of “true” preferences.  Similar concepts arise in discussions of meditation, free will, and behavioral economics, here they get support from evolutionary psychology and cognitive science.

The book is a bit too long for the content it covers, perhaps it should have been 25% shorter.  The writing style is clear and conversational, but a bit too casual with unfunny jokes littering the pages.

I enjoyed his discussion of how these mechanism might manifest themselves in modern social issues surrounding sex, abortion, drugs, etc.  Not a book I plan to reread, but good to see the ideas pointed out in a new way.

Ideas per Page:1 4/10 (medium)

Related Books: Inside Jokes by Matthew Hurley et al; The Moral Animal by Robert Wright; How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

Recommend to Others: If you’re new to the topic it would probably be a lighter place to start

Reread Personally: No

Quotes:

3 “our brains are built to exploit the fact that being knowledgeable, right, or morally consistent is not always to our advantage.”

6 “…the mind consists of many, many arts, and these pars have many different functions.  Because they’re designed to do different things, they don’t always work in perfect harmony.”

12 “Yes, that part that talks has no experience of sight.  This does not mean that no part of the brain does.

17 “…normal human brains can have mutually inconsistent information in different parts.”  [italics in original]

24 “A module is an information-processing mechanism that is specialized to perform some function.”

34 “…to the extent there is a problem whose solution has regularities, an efficient solution to that problem will embody those regularities, making the mechanism specialized for the task and efficient in solving the problem. …natural selection will favor designs that reap the advantages of specialization because efficiency of design is crucial in the context of evolution.”

62 “On this view, selves are not things at all, but instead are explanatory fictions.  Nobody really has a soul-like agent inside them: we just find it useful to imagine the existence of this conscious inner “I” when we try to account for their behavior (and, in our own case, our private stream of consciousness).  We might say indeed that the self is rather like the “centre of narrative gravity” of a set of biographical events and tendencies; but, as with a centre of physical gravity, there’s really no such thing (with mass or shape of colour).”  -Humphrey & Dennett 1998, pp.38-39

73 “Yes, I’m suggesting that it’s not, in principle, impossible, that all of us are carrying around parts of our brains that have experience but can’t communicate anything about those experiences.”

81 “Having information—especially information others know you have—changes how your choices—and consequently, actions—are evaluated by other because there is the reasonable sense that you now have a duty to act on that information.”

85 “[when] there are no people involved, ignorance is typically not going to be useful.”

149 “‘self-deception’ doesn’t need some special explanation.  It just happens because of the way that the mind is organized, with many different compartments, strategically wrong representations in one place, more accurate representations in another.”

212 “[pro-lifers] say that their opposition is based on the principle that a new life begins at conception, even though their intuition is really that a female bird who is promiscuous ought to be punished.”

212 “From an evolutionary point of view, sex is fundamental, and if there were going to be some area in which people wanted to set the rules, this would probably be among the first.”

215 “If you think of morality as all of us holding sticks that we beat rule-breakers with, then when the rules apply to everyone, no one is, to a first approximation, worse off  But if we use our sticks on some people but not on others, that’s just naked aggression.”


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, 1999

meme machineTo summarize – once imitation has evolved, a second replicator comes into being which spreads much faster than the first.  Because the skills that are initially copies are biologically useful, it pays individuals both to copy and to mate with the best imitators.  This conjunction means that successful memes begin to dictate which genes are most successful: the genes responsible for improving the spread of those memes.  The genes could not have predicted the effect of creating a second replicator and cannot, as it were, take it back. 99, 100

Amazon Link

Blackmore argues that memes – units of information that can be imitated – are a replicator that evolve, just as genes are a replicator that evolve.  Furthermore, she argues that these memes are not subservient to genetic interests, and can (and have) shaped genetic evolution by creating large brains and language, which wouldn’t have evolved in the absence of memetic selection.

The book is interesting, and at times convincing.  However, due to the complexity of memes (how are they defined, where are they stored, what is the DNA of a meme) I’m not sure that it can become a hard science in the way that genetics has.

Memes seem to pay a role in the unfolding of the universe (physics, to chemistry, to biology, to memes, to technology, etc) but it’s still hard for me to grasp what memes are, how they are transmitted, and exactly how they can be said to now exist independent of genes.  Biological inheritance is a different layer than chemistry, but it’s still on chemistry’s ‘leash’.  Likewise, it seems that memes may have a long leash and may drive some genetic selection, but off the leash seems wrong, or imprecisely put.  Perhaps technology will advance to the point that it builds itself, and then the leash is cut.

It seems that memetics is just a special case of determinism, or a particular layer or of determinism; genes build things without consciousness, so do economies, and so do memes.

Ideas per Page:1 6/10 (medium)

Related Books: Inside Jokes by Hurley et al; How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker

Recommend to Others: Not widely, only if you are interested in cognition and evolution

Reread Personally: No

Quotes:   “Darwin’s argument requires three main features: variation, selection, and retention (or heredity).” 10

“…the meme pool – fills up with the kinds of thought that people tend to think about.  We all come across them and so we all think an awful lot.  The reason ‘I” cannot compel myself to stop thinking is that millions of memes are competing for the space in ‘my’ brain.”  41

“The point is that once memes have appeared the pressure to keep thinking all the time is inevitable.  With all this competition going on the main casualty is a peaceful mind.” 42

“As long as that information can be copied by a process we may broadly call ‘imitation’, then it counts as a meme.”  66

“Many babies and mothers die because the skull is simply too big for an easy birth.  All these facts suggest that a powerful and consistent selection pressure for larger brains was at work, but we do not know what it was.”  71 [i.e., memes were driving these costly brains]

“The turning point in our evolutionary history was when we began to imitate each other.  From this point on a second replicator, the meme, came into play.  Memes changed the environment in which genes were selected, and the direction of change was determined by the outcome of memetic selection.  So the selection pressures which produced the massive increase in brain size were initiated and driven by memes.”  74, 75

“Genes for being a good imitator will begin to spread in the gene pool.  Now the environment in which the genes are selected begins to change.” 77

“Genes for imitating the best imitator will increase in the gene pool.” 78

79 paraphrase: sexual selection for being a good imitator

“First, since talking is an efficient way of propagating memes, memes that can get themselves spoken will (in general) be copied more often than those that cannot.  So these kinds of memes will spread in the meme pool and we will all end up talking a lot.”  84

“The chatty person will, by definition, talk more and so give her memes more chances of spreading.  When another chatty person hears these ideas she will easily pick them up and pass the on again.  The silent person will not talk much and so all the memes compatible with being a quiet type will have fewer chances to spread.”  86

“This talking is not for our benefit or to make us happy – though sometimes it may do that – nor is it for the benefit of our genes.  It is just an inevitable consequence of having a brain that is capable of imitating speech.”  86

“The way we experience the world is not ‘the way it really is’ but the way that has proved useful to natural selection for us to perceive it.” 112

“From this perspective, the couple’s thoughts, emotions, desire for success, and willingness to work hard, are all aspects of the replicating machinery that is, or is not, devoted to spreading the memes – as are the printing presses that reproduce the magazines and the factories that build the computers.”  142

“I suggest that memetic selection created them.  As soon as memes appeared they started evolving towards greater fidelity, fecundity, and longevity; in the process, they brought about the design of better and better meme-copying machinery.  So the books, telephones, and fax machines were created by the memes for their own replication.

That may sound odd when we know that memes are just information being copied from one person to another.  How can bits of information create radios and computers?  But the same question could be asked of genes – how can bits of information stored in DNA create gnats and elephants?  The answer is the same in both cases – because the information is a replicator that undergoes selection.  This means the evolutionary algorithm runs, and the evolutionary algorithm produces designs.”  204

“When city-dwellers go to the country they meet few rural dwellers because they are widely spread out, and pick up few rural memes because few exist; but when country folk go to the city they meet lots and lots of city people and lots of new ideas.  The consequence is memetic pressure for city-dwelling.”  211

“If all else fails – and this is a truly audacious sleight of hand – we can reinterpret our failure of control as an actual success!  ‘I changed my mind,’ we say.” Guy Claxton, 1986, Beyond Therapy, 59

“The creative achievements of human culture are the products of memetic evolution, just as the creative achievements of the biological world are the products of genetic evolution.  Replicator power is the only design process we know of that can do the job, and it does it.  We do not need conscious human selves messing about in there as well.”  240

“If we take memetics seriously there is no room for anyone or anything to jump into the evolutionary process and stop it, direct it, or do anything to it.  There is just the evolutionary process of genes and memes playing itself endlessly out – and no one watching.”  242


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind by Matthew Hurley, Daniel Dennett, and Reginald Adams, Jr., 2013

laughing.pngIn short, (basic) mirth is the pleasure in unearthing a particular variety of mistake in active belief structures.  117

Amazon Link

The authors set out to explain why humor exists-what adaptive evolutionary function it serves, what causes the experience of humor, and what it tells us about the structure of our minds.

The general argument goes like this: the human brain is in the business of anticipating.  Brains cannot predict everything, so they take shortcuts, heuristics, which allow them to solve important problems more “cost effectively.”  These work most of the time; we wouldn’t be here otherwise.  However, these shortcuts can lead us astray.  Humor is the reward that our brain gives us for noticing that a shortcut we made isn’t quite right, and pushes us in the right direction in a reinforcing manner.

Importantly, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” here.  Just as nothing is inherently “sexy” or “sweet”—our evolutionary imperative to reproduce and consume calories make things sexy or sweet; nothing is inherently funny.  We decide what is funny in a very particular way, as a function of our mental processes.

In essence: our minds unconsciously accept a false assumption, and then discover that this assumption is wrong when it bumps into another that we hold.  We detect our error, and are rewarded for it.  Not only do we avoid the consequences of our mistake, we take great pleasure in discovering our errors.  How fortunate!

With little prerequisite knowledge required, this book gives a wonderful sketch of how human thinking occurs, and more precisely, the dynamics within this system that cause humor to arise.  The authors are clever, witty, and humorous, and there are many excellent jokes in the book, put to good illustrative use.  Some parts of the book are a bit dry and repetitive, but it is, in the authors’ opinion, a complete sketch, so the details are important in defending their ideas.

There are so many important concepts thrown into this book about evolution and thinking.  They come together to make a rather seamless argument to explain the existence of humor.  I’d like to read more on the topic, but I doubt that other books in the field would be simultaneously hard-edged and well-informed without being a humorless (excuse the pun—the lowest form of humor) academic text.

Ideas per Page:1 8/10 (high)

Related Books: The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore; Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite by Robert Kurzban; The Moral Animal by Robert Wright; Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander; Laughter: A Scientific Investigation by Robert Provine; How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

Recommend to Others: Yes-for those interested in humor, cognitive science, evolved psychology, and even just for some witty writing

Reread Personally: Probably something else first, as I’ve read three times now.  But I get more out of it each time.

Quotes:

“but before any of these effects can evolve culturally.  There has to be a genetically evolved basis with a more fundamental rationale, a proclivity that can be harnessed by these social ends, wittingly or unwittingly.” 12

A decrepit man under a heavy burden, five loaves and two fishes among a multitude, and all unfitness and gross disproportion; an instrument out of tune, a fly in ointment, snow in May, Archimedes studying geometry in a siege, and all discordant things; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a breach of bargain, and falsehood in general; the multitude taking the law in their own hands, and everything of the nature of disorder; a corpse at a feast, parental cruelty, filial ingratitude, and whatever is unnatural; the entire catalogue of the vanities given by Solomon…

The Emotions and the Will, Alexander Bain, 1875     (p. 48 of Inside Jokes)

Comedians, musicians, confectioners, pornographers, and shamans are only five varieties of practitioners who have figure out, by trial and error, how to exploit the underlying biases in our nervous systems to achieve effects their clients crave.  288

In short, the robot would have to be drowning in a combinatorial explosion of possibly relevant anticipation-candidates, and hence—hence—obliged to take risks that lead to unsupervised and unflagged insertions of bugs that could late thwart its serious goals.  297


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

laughing.png

Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern by John Gray, 2003

what it means to be modern.pngLike communism and Nazism, radical Islam is modern.  Though it claims to be anti-western, it is shaped as much by western ideology as by Islamic traditions.  Like Marxists and neo-liberals, radical Islamists see history as a prelude to a new world.  All are convinced they can remake the human condition.  If there is a uniquely modern myth, this is it.  pp. 3

Amazon Link

Gray expands on the thesis of his previous book, Straw Dogs, arguing that while technological and scientific progress are cumulative and irreversible, ethical and political progress is contingent and vulnerable.

Modern ideologies—including Christianity, radical Islam, Nazism, communism, and free-marketism—all share the underlying belief that the human condition can be permanently fixed, through divine salvation, jihad, eugenics, the dissolution of property rights and government, or the inevitable spread of free market democracy, respectively.

These seemingly opposed ideologies share the core belief that the human condition can be forever changed.  Gray believes that ancients were right to see our situation and our human problems as eternal and inescapable.

For me, Straw Dogs remains Gray’s best work on this theme, but each comes at the argument from a slightly different angle and provides greater context for his claims.

Here, he discusses the philosophical roots of Al Qaeda, and traces their ideology to European roots.  There are some historical periods and political movements he uses as evidence for this claim that I have no knowledge of.  Nevertheless, I still trust that he’s drawing logical inferences and makes a convincing case.

Ideas per Page:1 8/10 (high)

Related Books: Straw Dogs, The Soul of the Marionette, The Silence of Animals, all by John Gray 

Recommend to Others: start with Straw Dogs

Reread Personally: No

Quotes:

22 [quoting Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent] Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes.

24  Similarly the revolutionary vanguard Qutb advocates does not have an Islamic pedigree… The vanguard is a concept imported from Europe, through a lineage that also stretches back to the Jacobins, through the Bolsheviks, and latter-day Marxist guerrillas…

27 The Positivist catechism had three main tenets.  First, history is driven by the power of science…. Second, science will enable natural scarcity to be overcome… Third, progress in science and progress in ethics and politics go together…

41 Certainly the free market is highly productive.  But as Saint-Simon and Comte understood very well, that does not mean it is humanly fulfilling.

42 Technology—the practical application of scientific knowledge—produces a convergence in values.  This is the central modern myth, which the Positivists propagated and everyone today accepts as fact.

53 By doing all they could to project the free market throughout the world, American policy-makers ensured that its inherent instabilities became global in scope.

76 Al Qaeda resembles less the centralized command structures of twentieth-century revolutionary parties than the cellular structures of drug cartels and the flattened networks of virtual business corporations.  Without fixed abode and with active members from practically every part of the world, Al Qaeda is “a global multinational”.

83 The relationships of trust on which its organization can rely, and the willingness of its operatives to go to certain death, give it a powerful advantage.  Liberal societies cannot replicate this solidarity.  Values of personal choice and self-realization are too deeply encrypted in them.

93 Exporting American institutions makes sense only on the premise that at bottom everyone shares American values.  That could prove a costly conceit.

103 In the polytheistic cults of the Greek and Romans, it was accepted that humans will always live different ways.  Where there are many gods no way of life is binding on all.  Worshipping one god, Christians have always believed that only one way of life can be right.

107 Quoting A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: The scientific revolution appears as a unique and complex event, depending on a variety of social and other conditions, including a confluence of discoveries (Greek, Indian, Chinese, Arabic, scarcely ever Roman) centered on the combining of Indian numerals and algebra with Greek logic and geometry.

108 The rise of science is not inevitable.  There are many plausible historical scenarios in which it need never have happened; but once it did it engendered the world in which we live today.

110 As Wittgenstein wrote: “When all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.”

110 Once it has been acquired and disseminated, scientific knowledge cannot now be lost; but there is no ethical or political advance that cannot be reversed.

113 The modern myth is that with the advance of science one set of values will be accepted everywhere.  Can we not accept that human beings have divergent and conflicting values, and learn to live with this fact?

115 There cannot be tolerance so long as terrorism is unchecked.  Dealing with it is a precondition of civilized existence, and requires courage, skill and—at times—ruthlessness.  Yet in the new kind of unconventional war that is now being fought there is no prospect of victory.

115 Rather than seeking solutions for the dilemmas created by the advance of knowledge, we should accept them as framing the world in which we must live.

116 Tyranny is bad, but so is anarchy.  The state is necessary to protect us against violence, but it easily turn violent itself.

116-7, The Enlightenment idea of a universal civilization, which the West upholds against radical Islam, is an offspring of Christianity.  Al Qaeda’s peculiar hybrid of theocracy and anarchy is a by-product of western radical though.  Each of the protagonists in the current conflict is driven by beliefs that are opaque to it.


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.