The Original Atheists: First Thoughts on Nonbelief
The Original Atheists: First Thoughts on Nonbelief is a wonderfully thought provoking compilation of the beliefs, or lack thereof, written by various free thinkers of the eighteenth century including Voltaire, Locke, and Paine, just to name a few. The book starts out introducing the notion of atheism and the thoughts and repercussions of such beliefs held throughout history. The background of atheism that many of the classic thinkers set in motion provide a sound and valid argument that has continued through to today, and these modern writers leave nothing to question and provide readers with a more reasonable answer than those provided from the religious community. The author even includes a section from the writings of Thomas Jefferson who was a strong proponent for rejecting “the notion of any immaterial or spiritual substances.”
The writing in this book is pretty straightforward as it is just pieces of other literature. Some of it is rather dry reading, while others, such as Diderot, are quite entertaining. Overall, I found this a rather enjoyable read and one I would recommend to others.
S.T. Joshi, editor
Hannibal Lecter and Philosophy
Routinely voted one of the greatest villains in film, television, and literary history, Hannibal Lecter is easily the most likeable cannibal in pop culture. He is erudite, brilliant, engaging, persuasive, personable, and funny, but those qualities don’t make him any less of a monster. Arguably, they make him more of one, since he can hide in plain sight where so many other monsters must lurk in the shadows.
Hannibal Lecter and Philosophy tries its damnedest to explore the myriad depths of Dr. Lecter through his words, his actions, his deceptions, his “rules,” and his peculiar appetites. And whether we’re talking the novels, the films, or Bryan Fuller’s vision on Hannibal in the eponymous TV show, it’s all fascinating stuff.
Through no fault of their own, the essays involving the literary Hannibal are the weakest, because the subsequent novels made some troublesome changes to the original vision of the character. The essays based on the TV show, appropriately enough, stand out, as the show itself was much richer and more complex than the novels or the movies. It seems that no matter how talented the essayist is, they’re only as good as their material.
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence is an exhaustive collection of philosophical viewpoints presented for a layman. Smolin presents the general reader with an overview of essays that discuss existence, our cosmos, and the many different viewpoints held by people. The simplistic wording by Smolin makes these essays easy to comprehend and gives the general reader a framework to build a better understanding of “the nature of existence.”
The essays are short but concise. Covering a wide range of diverse subject matter, the essays can be read alone or as a whole. There is a great deal of information covered by Smolin, and he does an exceptional job organizing, arranging, and presenting the vast research that is clearly evident as you read through this book. Smolin goes into great depth exploring the nature of forms and processes, which provides the background necessary to discuss the myriad of subject matter contained in this book. The book is comprised of eight parts: Essentials, Questions and Ideas, Physical Existence, Biological & Human Existence, Trends & Other Matters, God & Religion, Humanity and Final Thoughts. “We can begin to piece together the varied components of existence, creating a clearer understanding of how the world works and then proposing guidelines to help us make wise decisions and lead meaningful lives.”
Smolin additionally includes some ideas based upon new research, for which further scrutiny and examination is warranted. “The obvious motif of this work is to embrace all components of the world and to suggest that everything is contingent upon everything else, while paradoxically allowing forms and processes to express themselves individually.” Most of the discussions cover scientific information and philosophical ideas, whereas, some of the discussions get a little more personal speaking about sexuality, self-control, religion, and state. While I may not agree with all of the contentions of the author, Smolin presents his work in a well-organized and classy form that leaves the reader open to explore his ideas.
Smolin’s essays cover diverse fields of life, philosophy, cosmology, sociology and psychology. “A key idea of adequate wisdom is the apparent duality between synergy and individualism, whereby virtually every form has its own function and structure while at the same time becoming part of another, greater structure.” It is well written and easy to understand. A worthwhile read for those have interest in this subject matter.
Medium7: Evidence of the Afterlife and Predictions
Mediumship: the very word evokes an immediate, gut-level response. Those who believe in the ability to communicate with the dead may proceed to shudder- or sigh. Those who do not believe may either grimace or laugh. Either way, the supernatural world plays its own role in our lives, and we can choose to embrace, ignore, or give the subject no credence at all. But kudos go to Donna Smith-Moncrieffe for her choice to investigate the subject matter in as close to a scientific manner as possible. Medium7 is a great book for the novice who has no real knowledge of the subject of life after death. Smith-Moncrieffe, in simple, easy to understand language, provides basic definitions, easy explanations and reasonable analogies as she explains difficult concepts.
Chapter One provides an overview of five key concepts that are prerequisites to understanding the afterlife. Those ideas validated by current scientific evidence are compared with those which are not. Are humans vibrational beings, made of energy, with a soul that can survive physical death? Is the physical world merely an illusion? Scientific research yields answers to these questions via such tools as quantum physics and mathematical equations, and many of us may be surprised by the facts.
Smith-Moncrieffe goes into great detail, explaining the differences between mental and physical mediumship. Would you like to know what mediumistic phenomena are? Perhaps you would like to be introduced to clairvoyance and her sisters, clairaudience, clairempathy, and clairsentience? Would you like to experience involuntary or automatic writing and drawing, and to hear prophetic utterances of spirit? This introduction to the field of mediumship may be just the right step toward that long journey of self-knowledge.
Here, in the more than three hundred pages of Medium7, is a great starting point, filled with brief histories of the subject including references to important names in the field, such as Edgar Cayce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Deepak Chropa, Lisa Williams, and Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
Smith-Moncrieffe goes into detail regarding perceptions of the afterlife and the Christian Faith. Important questions may be posed, such as “If mediumship is considered by some a tool of the devil, then are all supernatural phenomena inherently evil? Do Satan and his angels impersonate dead loved ones in order to deceive the living? At death, do Christians “sleep until Jesus comes,” or when the body dies, are Christians immediately “at home with the Lord?”
There is the discussion in the ninth chapter entitled “So what?” Why should we care about the afterlife if it can’t make a difference in the here and now? That is a question that might be answered if we allow ourselves the time to read, think, and consider a point of view that may be foreign to us, but which may open the door to a dimension we’ve been unaware of for far too long.
Medium7 is written in favor of mediumship, and because such a fair (though very biased) argument is presented, even the harshest skeptic is encouraged to read this book– if they aren’t afraid…
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.