Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Week at the Library (4 January)

Pending Review(s): Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam.
Currently Reading: The Son of Neptune; Rick Riordian; The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene (on hold until next week)
Potentials: How the Mind Works, Stephen Pinker

This blog started out as a weekly affair until I switched to individual book reviews, and since then I've been trying to work with the weekly post and make it purposeful, but not redundant.  In addition to the info above, I'll also be including quotations I would have otherwise scribbled down in my journal or posted to my facebook wall -- funny bits of diaogue, deliciously rich exposition, or thought-provoking passages.

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"We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter's the one
And Voldy's gone moldy, so now let's have fun!"
"Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing, doesn't it?"

p. 746, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Finally finished up my Harry Potter Christmastime Re-Read!

The reason there are no humanlike robots is not that the very idea of a mechanical mind is misguided. It is that the engineering problems that we humans solve as we see and walk and plan and make it through the day are far more challenging than landing on the moon or sequencing the human genome.Nature, once gain, has found ingenious solutions that human engineers cannot yet duplicate. When Hamlet says "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable!" we should direct our awe not at Shakespeare or Mozart or Einstein or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but at a four-year old carrying out a request to put a toy on a shelf.

p. 4, How the Mind Works. Stephen Pinker.


British political philosopher John Stuart Mill lauded the effects of participatory democracy on character. Without shared participation in public life, Mill wrote, a citizen "never thinks of any collective interest, of any objects to be pursued jointly with others but only in competition with them, and in some measure at their expense...A neighbor, not being an ally or an associate, since he is never engaged in any common undertaking for joint benefit, is therefore, only a rival." The engaged citizen, by contrast, 'is called upon...to weight interests not his own; to be guided, in case of conflicting claims, by another rule other than his own private partialities....He is made to feel himself one of the public, and whatever is for their benefit to be for his benefit."

p. 337, Bowling Alone

TV-based politics is to political action as watching ER is to saving someone in distress. Just as one cannot restart a heart with one's remote control, one cannot jump-start republican citizenship without direct, face-to-face participation. Citizenship is not a spectator sport."

p. 341, Bowling Alone

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