17 June 2011

Great Books, Part 2 of ∞ : The Rational Optimist

The second book in my ∞-part series of book reviews, is 'The Rational Optimist' by Matt Ridley. I scarcely know where to begin, which is why this review is being started so late and likely will not be meeting your eyes until considerably later. This book is unnerving to me because I am so conflicted about it. One the one hand, I have no disagreement with Mr. Ridley on his core thesis, which boils down to the idea that progress is inevitable when ideas are allowed to propagate freely, and that progress in fact speeds up faster and faster the more ideas, as he puts it, are allowed to 'have sex'. If we don't meddle with creativity and just let the great marketplace of ideas run freely, we will reap rewards with no diminishing return, hence his giddy (yet, in theory, rational) optimism. Throw in unfettered comparative advantage and we might as well stop worrying about anything at all! Sounds great. And in fact, Mr. Ridley managed to change my way of thinking on a few subjects. But still, with so many, many problems of logic and reasoning, not to mention just plain factual errors, I can't share his unbridled enthusiasm.

So where do I begin? I am not even sure I can begin here in a blog. To be honest, the issues and problems addressed in Mr. Ridley's book have made me think there may be an entire book just in addressing it all. I have been taking notes as I read through the book and so far I have several dozen pages of comments and rather alarming issues...and still have another 100 or so pages of his book to go! (Yes, rather dilatory, but in my defense, I have in the meantime read another 12 or so books...I can never be accused of focus.)

Stay tuned.

15 June 2011

Basic Questions that Smarter People Must Answer for Me NOW

If the dinosaurs were killed off in a mass extinction, then how can they simultaneously be the precursors of chickens and other birds? Isn't this sort of an either/or thing? Either they all died off/or they didn't, but rather evolved into modern avians. Or are we saying most died off, but the ones who survived, evolved into that McChicken sandwich? And if the latter, then which died off and which survived to give me chicken nuggets? I would like some clarification here, please. Is T Rex dead or just nibbling corn awaiting his tasty, tasty doom?

The size of the universe. OK, seriously, this makes my head hurt. 1) The universe exploded from an infinitely-small point 13.7B years ago (more or less). 2) The universe is infinite. 3) No object can travel faster than the speed of light. How do you square this circle? If nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, then no object can currently be more than 13.7B light years from the ultimate 'ground zero', ergo the universe must be finite since nothing in the universe can be further away from that defined point than 13.7B light years. Q.E.D. EXCEPT THEY KEEP TELLING ME IT'S NOT FINITE! Ouch. Seriously, someone explain this.