2 February 2011

The moral landscape

New book by Sam Harris, dealing with the question whether science can determine morality, human values. The last bastion of theists, namely that without belief in the supernatural there is no way for people to behave ethically, is challenged by Harris who defends his position apparently well. I just bought the book and am reading it, so I am not yet in a position to offer my personal views. A review by Michael Schermer which just appeared in the Scientific American is positive. Another review by Massimo Pigliucci which just appeared in the latest edition of the Skeptic is more negative.

What is important for me is mostly that the question can be asked and the dogmatic view be challenged. Almost certainly, morality has nothing to do with these people, or these ones, or these ones, or these ones, or these ones. And, certainly, the hypocrisy of Blair is not an answer but means for providing further divide between those who believe and those who don't, whatever the verb may mean.

Oh, by the way, for those who asked me recently, I don't only read books or articles I only agree with.


  1. The best discussions of the book seem to be by Russell Blackford (because he agrees with me of course!) -- he's been engaging on this for the last 2 months so here are some links:


    How's the transition to Sweden going? Is there less frustration in academia there than in the UK?

  2. Thanks Michael. I'll look at the links. You don't say whether you like it or not, so I'll have to find out!

    The transition to Sweden is kind of rough (practical problems), but academically the university where I work (Uppsala) is good. As for the UK, it's not that all places are bad, but there is a general trend for second and third tier universities, like the one I worked at (Heriot-Watt), to become businesses. They need the money.

  3. Neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris is controversial, argumentative, against religion, in favor of science, deeply moral and intensely rationalist. While he never uses one word if many more will do, Harris¿s positions on science, morality, religion and brain function prove innovative, well researched, thought provoking, and, if you are of a religious bent, probably infuriating. Harris dissects the evolutionary and biological processes underlying reason, moral choices and faith.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant