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Monday, July 23, 2012

Patrick Grim - Philosophy of Mind

I just finished listening to Professor Patrick Grim'sPhilosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines, produced by The Teaching Company.  It gets high marks from me.

The lectures, themselves, were really seamlessly organized, spanning such a wide range of disciplines, philosophy, psychology, ethics, artificial intelligence, computer science, science and medicine (and more).

He begins with Descartes' dream that eventually science would "make clear the different realms of matter and mind," and Descartes' theory of Dualism.  From there, Grim explores the rationale, controversies, and extrapolations related to Dualism and the relationship between the brain and the mind, including the implications and connections to computers and artificial intelligence.

It's really an impressive, thoughtful overview, drawing on historical origins then moving into current thoughts and ideas, ultimately asking more questions than providing answers, and reflecting the richness of the field of contemporary philosophy of mind.

I think my brain exploded in the process of listening, but it may have only been a subjective impression.

Several years ago I listened to his other Teaching Company lecture series, Questions of Value, which I also thought was excellent.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Georgette Heyer - Bath Tangle

I'm in complete awe of Georgette Heyer now after finishing Bath Tangle (1955).  She somehow manages to write a romance in which the two main characters' story, the "real" story, hovers at the edges of the plot, insidiously and inexorably weaving its way in.  Heyer truly has a masterful light touch, relying mostly on dialogue and interaction amongst various characters and almost none on characters' internal reflection.  It's brilliant.  She creates a charming and believable romance between two flawed but likable characters, and does so with no mushy love scenes until toward the end (and nothing steamy).  What's more amazing is that the two protagonists spend the majority of the book either separate or, when together, arguing and losing their tempers.  And yet Heyer completely pulls it off.

Well, there are some convenient plot devices that help get the job done, too, but they're easily forgiven since the story is, after all, a comedy.  Heyer can also get away with coincidences and other fortunate happenings because the backbone of the story is her astute psychological insight into the motivations of especially the two protagonists.

The story centers around Lady Serena Spenborough ("Serena" is truly an ironic name; she's a firebrand), opening with the unexpected and untimely death of her beloved father, the Earl of Spenborough.  He leaves behind a very young wife, Fanny, who is at least several years younger than her twenty-five year old step-daughter.  His considerably estate is passed on by entailment to Serena's cousin, and so Serena and Fanny must relocate, first to the Dower House, and then to Bath after they start dying of boredom and vexation at the Dower House.  Serena is also incensed to learn that her father, quite the eccentric, has placed Serena's own inheritance in a trust controlled by Ivo, Marquis of Rotherham, a friend of Lord Spenborough's and the man Serena jilted several years ago.

The story really takes off once they settle in Bath and the entanglements begin in earnest.

As usual, Heyer has a cast of truly amusing and colorful secondary characters, and infuses the novel with historical tidbits regarding Regency era politics and ton gossip.