The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas From Mathematics, Economics, and Physics
Free Press (2009)
The beginning of the journey -- What this book is about : using ideas from mathematics, economics, and physics to tackle the big questions in philosophy : what is real? what can we know? what is the difference between right and wrong? and how should we live? -- Reality and unreality -- On what there is -- Why is there something instead of nothing? the best answer I have : mathematics exists because it must and everything else exists because it is made of mathematics, with an excursion into artificial intelligence -- Unfinished business -- Unfinished business from chapter two : the nature and purpose of economic models -- How Richard Dawkins got it wrong -- Why Dawkins's argument against intelligent design can't be right and a mathematical analysis of the arguments for the existence of God -- Belief -- Daydream believers -- Most beliefs are ill-considered because most false beliefs are costless to hold -- The next several chapters will explore the consequences of this observation before we return to the question of where our beliefs and knowledge come from -- Unfinished business -- Unfinished business from the preceding chapter : how color vision works, sound, and water waves, the sheer craziness of economic protectionism -- Do believers believe? -- Our ill-considered beliefs about religion : why I believe that almost nobody is deeply religious -- On what there obviously is -- Our ill-considered beliefs about free will, ESP, and life after death -- Diogenes's nightmare -- How is legitimate disagreement possible if you're arguing with someone who is as intelligent and informed as you are, shouldn't you put just as much weight on your opponent's arguments as your own? -- The fact that we persist in disagreeing is strong evidence that we don't really care what's true -- Knowledge -- Knowing your math -- Where mathematical knowledge comes from and logic and why evidence and logic are not enough -- Unfinished business -- Unfinished business from the preceding chapter : the tale of hercules and the hydra, with an excursion into the lore of very large numbers -- Incomplete thinking -- Godel's incompleteness theorem and what it doesn't say about the limits of human knowledge -- The rules of logic and the tale of a Potbellied pig -- The power of logical thought, with excursions into the most counterintuitive theorem in all of mathematics and the tale of a potbellied pig -- The rules of evidence -- What we can and can't learn from evidence, with excursions into the value of preschool and how internet porn prevents rape -- The limits to knowledge -- What physics does and doesn't tell us about what we can and cannot know -- Understanding Heisenberg's uncertainty principle -- Unfinished business -- The oddness of the quantum world and why it matters to game theorists -- Right and wrong -- Telling right from wrong -- Some hard questions about right and wrong and about life and death -- The economist's golden rule -- A rule of thumb for good behavior -- How to be socially responsible -- Putting the rule of thumb into practice -- On not being a jerk -- Goofus and gallant on immigration policy -- The economist on the playground -- Our ill-considered beliefs about fairness in the market place and in the voting booth, contrasted with our carefully considered beliefs about fairness on the playground -- Unfinished business -- How ancient talmudic scholars anticipated modern economic theory -- The life of the mind -- How to think -- Some basic rules for clear thinking, mostly about economics, but also about arithmetic, neurobiology, sin, and eschewing blather -- What to study -- Advice to college students : stay away from the English department and approach the philosophy department with caution, with an excursion into the remarkable life of Frank Ramsey.
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