An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: book (Page 1 of 26)

Order Out of Chaos – Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers

A little bit of quantum physics, chemistry, biology and philosophy all rolled up into one important book. Order Out of Chaos (La Nouvelle Alliance as originally published in French) by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers is a paradigm changing book. The first parts of the book are an excellent overview on the historical development of science – the evolution of dynamics and the discovery of thermodynamics and their relationship is particularly fascinating.

Once the reader gets to the later parts, it becomes somewhat abstract and the reader may not be able to get through it without a background in chemistry and physics. Chapter Nine, when the phrase “Order Out of Chaos” is developed, is difficult. Despite this, it is much more accessible than a scientific paper on the subject. It may take two or three reads to fully absorb the ideas presented. Overall it is one of my favorite reads.

Some important conclusions from the book:

  • The arrow of time objectively exists and it arises from non-equilibrium and irreversibility at the microscopic level.
  • The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics can be understood as a selection principal. It operates as a negative on allowable initial conditions, in other words it restricts systems with certain initial conditions from existing.
  • Time travel to the past is not allowed by thermodynamics because time reversal requires infinite information concerning the initial conditions of the system, an impossibility to an observer in the universe. This implies that information is closely connected to irreversibility and time.
  • Thermodynamics can be expressed from dynamics through the idea of correlations and internal-time operators. Thus, dynamics has been extended once again (general relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory).
  • The universe as a whole is in a non-equilibrium state and it is an irreversible process with pockets of reversible dynamics.
  • In general, one of the goals of the authors is to make dynamics and thermodynamics consistent with each other.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters – Gary Zukav

Gary Zukav’s book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, simply describes (without math) quantum physics and relativity since their inception at the beginning of the 20th century. Zukav skillfully presents the paradoxes and questions posed and asked by some of the smartest people in history including Einstein, Bohr, Born, Heisenberg, von Neumann, Feynman, etc… He carefully elucidates the evolution of the answers to these paradoxes and questions.

There are numerous analogies with eastern cosmologies which may help readers understand the wild results and conclusions of modern physics. The book is perfect for those without a strong background in the quantitative sciences who wish to understand what quantum physics reveals about the universe. Although dated, (1979) it is inspirational and should get readers excited about reading more up to date books.

PiKHAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation – Alexander and Ann Shulgin

Let me provide a context so that you may understand my amazement with the chemical explorations of Alexander Shulgin. Did you know that the two principal neurotransmitters in the human body are dopamine and serotonin? Did you know that they belong to the phenethylamine and tryptamine chemical families, respectively? I find this simple observation to be of fundamental importance in understanding the human mind/body relationship. And now consider that Ann and Alex Shulgins’ books: PiKHAL (Phenethylamines I have known and loved) and TiKHAL (Tryptamines I have known and loved) explore both these chemical families and their effects on the human mind and body. Quick summary of well-known psychedelic chemicals:

Phenethylamines Tryptamines
Dopamine Serotonin
Mescaline DMT
MDA Psilocybin
MDMA Psilocin
2C Family Ibogaine
LSD? LSD

LSD is complex and has both chemical structures, but most people emphasize that the effects of LSD are related primarily to its tryptamine backbone and interaction with human serotonin receptors.

Ann and Alexander Shulgin’s books are a groundbreaking revelation for their accounts of psychedelic exploration, therapy, and spiritual development. They are a mix of essays and stories. You will not regret reading the books and learning about the chemicals referenced in the second half of the books.

An interesting note: In PiKHAL, the fictional character Adam Fisher is based on Leo Zeff, a talented psychotherapist who worked with MDMA; you can read all about his therapy work in The Secret Chief Revealed by Myron J. Stolaroff.

The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government – David Talbot

I ordered The Devil’s Chessboard, by David Talbot, and let it collect dust for many months. What a mistake! It must be one of the most eye-opening books about covert power structures in America. Thanks to the writing style and organization, it was hard to put the book down. It should be a must read for any serious student of the time period 1950-1970. In some ways it nicely interweaves with the final chapters of Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope which was published in 1964 without knowledge of the many facts publicly released and discovered since Quigley’s publication. Indeed, consider this: in 1927 Allen Dulles became the 2nd director of the Council on Foreign Relations and from 1933 to 1944 he was the Council’s secretary. The are too many astounding observations to write them all here. Do yourself a favor and read the book.
Many reviewers claim that JFK and the Unspeakable is a slightly better book regarding the JFK assassination; however, it seems the overall consensus is that The Devil’s Chessboard is the best book on Allen Welsh Dulles, John Foster Dulles, James Jesus Angleton and the early history of the CIA.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years – David Graeber

Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber, is a fascinating and astounding look at the ubiquity of debt in human affairs. It replaces many “accepted” theories on the origins of money and debt and disproves the Myth of Barter by studying the anthropological record. From my own experience, economic theories and models are almost never based on actual historical observations, only upon assumptions about human behavior and interaction that I personally find naive. Just look at the Efficient Market Hypothesis or the idea that humans are rational decision makers — these ideas or their assumptions quickly fall apart with a simple analysis. For instance, as Chomsky points out, the advertising industry exists to create irrational decisions. People can lie and manipulate; they can be greedy or ascetic. It is nice to finally have a down-to-Earth study of actual historical accounts of human interactions without forcing the current paradigm on the past. Graeber’s book provides a wake-up call for people to see a more realistic view of the interactions of humans, debt, markets, government and money.

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