Leibniz: A Very Short Introduction
The great thing about Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series is that they’re, well, very short. These monographs also tend to be quite informative, offering up the kind of broad précis one wants when a Wikipedia article just ain’t enough. And the complex and esoteric work of German (technically Saxon, a factoid I picked up from this little book) philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is exactly the sort of intimidating subject that benefits from the Very Short Introductions treatment.
Of equal merit to the serious student and the armchair scholar, Maria Rosa Antognazza’s introduction provides a point of entry into the contentious, centuries-long conversation on Leibniz and his quest to find “a new, universal synthesis for the glory of God and the happiness of humankind.” Antognazza starts us out with a nice capsule biography before launching us into the finer points of Leibniz’s characteristica universalis, or universal system of signs, and other heavy topics, which she deftly handles.
While the author may be an authority on Leibniz (having penned several volumes on the man), this book is only a brief preface to further study: “a very short journey through possible worlds and what is ultimately real in the best of them all.”
Oxford University Press
Maria Rosa Antognazza
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.
The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion
Here’s a challenge for you- combine a lengthy discussion of philosophy, naturalism, and religion and come up with a means to effectively explain the basic tenets of historiographical research to those who are unfamiliar with any of these topics. No, wait- James Stroud has already done all of the work for us. Our mission, (should we decide to accept it)is to develop a better understanding of the interplay of these subjects by reading the book, The Philosphy of History: Naturalism and Religion: A Historiographical Approach to Origins.
Author James Stroud explains the differences between naturalism and science, and how the concept of miracles as referred to within the religious arena cannot be measured using scientific methodology, and also cannot be logically explained using traditional scientific methodology. Stroud observes that it is pre-suppositional beliefs that form the basis for many traditional scientific conclusions regarding human origins, rather than empirical evidence. Science rejects supernatural concepts and explanations yet cannot objectively disprove phenomena via the laws of science, Stroud maintains that “…any closed- philosophical paradigm that does not allow the inference to the best explanation should be abandoned or at least challenged…”
In discussing the philosophy of history, Stroud encourages the reader to consider the nature of historical evidence, in light of the fact that history cannot be repeated. The reader is encouraged to question the degree, to which objectivity is possible, the challenges to correctly determining the accuracy of past historical reports and current inability to verify the absolute truth, due to human philosophical bias.
Stroud contends that the theory of naturalism is untenable and confines one to “… a strict pre-suppositional interpretation of the data.” Ultimately, Stroud supports an “open philosophy of history” as a science, rejects the current “closed philosophies”, and believes that the theories of deism and theism are plausible explanations to be considered and supported as viable alternatives to philosophical naturalism.
In support of his argument, Stroud submits four historic events for consideration: Historic Event number one: Origins of the Universe and Cosmological Constants; Historic Event number two: Origin of Life- Cambrian Explosion and Human Origins; Historic Event number three: Origin of Civilization before the Common Era; Historic Event number four: The Common Era of the Historical Jesus.
Stroud also invites readers to consider such profound questions as the place of religion in history, the objective meaning of history and what drives that meaning, the proper unit of study of the human past, broad historic patterns, cycles and irregularities to be discerned and objective measures of historic progress. There is also a consideration of many of the ways in which western thought’s linear path opposes the mythical conception of history and time.
Those who seek a deeper understanding of the basis of theories of human origin will very much enjoy the insights provided within this book. The theories of great philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Focault may not be the usual fare for novice philosophers, and one must certainly put a “thinking cap” on before settling into this most provocative read.
The Fourth Dimension of Existence
We live in a three-dimensional world, and can fully understand three -dimensional occurrences. But this three- dimensional reality cannot explain our inability to answer fundamental questions. The Fourth Dimension of Existence proposes that an additional existential dimension is needed — another dimension, like the three material ones with which we are so familiar, which is an integral part of our being, which we already can sense and understand in a limited capacity, but which in us is not yet fully realized. This fourth dimension is Spirit, and by accepting that we have this particular fourth-dimensional component, we can begin to rationally understand many of these questions about our existence, if not yet their answers.
Dr. Nasr Saad begins with an overview of our understanding of the universe – basically, that we cannot comprehend it in terms of our normal reality. Although matter is finite and limited, the universe, as far as we can tell, is infinite and limitless. How can this be? He explores the historical and universal understanding that there is an immortal component to our beings, usually explained as the spirit or soul, but explains that the spirit and body are both equally present throughout and within our being. The three familiar dimensions of physical reality are no more or less omnipresent than this fourth, the spirit.
Understanding that we are not fully realized in the fourth dimension, although we can vaguely sense it, we recognize that communication from that reality must be by analogy or parable. Dr. Saad compares this to us, as three-dimensional beings, trying to interact with two-dimensional ones. (This analogy borrows heavily from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, but explicates to a much greater degree than was explored in that already excellent book.) Different chapters focus more exclusively on death and immortality, religious revelations, and time and space. This last is especially fun; using the experimentally-supported conclusions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example, Dr. Saad shows how a being moving at or beyond the speed of light would, to our comprehension, exist for our eternity and throughout our infinite space.
This is a fascinating book. The arguments are painstakingly, thoroughly, and solidly constructed. Although the reading can be dense and get a little confusing (as the subject is, by this book’s argument, not completely comprehensible), it is well worth the effort. The style is highly readable and conversational, and Dr. Saad is modest and respectful as he leads you to his conclusions. He does not claim to have the answers, but invites the reader to come with him in trying to understand life’s mysteries. Even if you don’t believe in an existence beyond the one we know, The Fourth Dimension of Existence provides a rational way to try to approach that belief. If you do already believe in that possibility, this book will wonderfully extend your understanding.
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…
Nietzsche: Great Thinkers on Modern Life
People often joke that philosophy is one of those fields of study that only prepares you for work in a fast-food joint, not for the modern world. But the whole point of philosophy is understanding challenging concepts and then applying them to your environment. More often than not, deep thinkers from the past can have some valuable insight into our lives.
Nietzsche: Great Thinkers on Modern Life is an excellent gateway book to introduce a deeper desire to understand the most famous philosophers, what we think their words mean, and what their words actually mean. Whether we’re unpacking the statements popularized by the Nazis or exploring possible misinterpretations that have passed down for generations, this is Nietzsche at his most accessible.
Armstrong is a valuable guide for new readers. Instead of telling us what Nietzsche means in every section, he provides guidelines and allows readers to interpret and explore the philosopher’s ideas for ourselves. It’s more of a curated tour than an instructional handbook, one that encourages the development of reading and comprehension skills rather than rote repetition.
You might not be able to pronounce his name, but you should be able to process his best-known ideas.