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new book – ’7 Modes of Uncertainty’ by C. Namwali Serpell

April 1, 2014

7 Modes of Uncertainty

Seven Modes of Uncertainty by C. Namwali Serpell (Harvard University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Literature is rife with uncertainty. Literature is good for us. These two ideas about reading literature are often taken for granted. But what is the relationship between literature’s capacity to unsettle, perplex, and bewilder us, and literature’s ethical value? To revive this question, C. Namwali Serpell proposes a return to William Empson’s groundbreaking work, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), which contends that literary uncertainty is crucial to ethics because it pushes us beyond the limits of our own experience.

Taking as case studies experimental novels by Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan, Elliot Perlman, Tom McCarthy, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Serpell suggests that literary uncertainty emerges from the reader’s shifting responses to structures of conflicting information. A number of these novels employ a structure of mutual exclusion, which presents opposed explanations for the same events. Some use a structure of multiplicity, which presents different perspectives regarding events or characters. The structure of repetition in other texts destabilizes the continuity of events and frustrates our ability to follow the story.

To explain how these structures produce uncertainty, Serpell borrows from cognitive psychology the concept of affordance, which describes an object’s or environment’s potential uses. Moving through these narrative structures affords various ongoing modes of uncertainty, which in turn afford ethical experiences both positive and negative. At the crossroads of recent critical turns to literary form, reading practices, and ethics, Seven Modes of Uncertainty offers a new phenomenology of how we read uncertainty now.

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out in paperback – ‘Concepts: A Critical Approach’ by Andy Blunden

March 17, 2014

Concepts

Concepts: A Critical Approach by Andy Blunden (Haymarket Books, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Andy Blunden presents an interdisciplinary review of theories of concepts of interest to cognitive psychology, analytic philosophy, linguistics, and the history of science. Problems within these disciplines establishing reductive theories of the conceptual have led some to abandon concepts altogether in favor of interactionist or narrowly pragmatic approaches.

Blunden responds with an account of the development of the theory of concepts from Descartes through Hegel—with special focus on the latter’s critical appropriation by early critical social science—culminating in the cultural psychology of Lev Vygotsky. He then proposes an approach to concepts which draws on activity theory, according to which concepts are equally subjective and objective: both units of consciousness and of the cultural formation of which one’s consciousness is part. This continues the author’s earlier work in An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity (Haymarket, 2011).

Google Books preview (of hardcover edition):

See also: Author’s homepage

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new book – ‘Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time’ by Brigid Schulte

March 12, 2014

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (Sarah Crichton Books, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Overwhelmed is a book about time pressure and modern life. It is a deeply reported and researched, honest and often hilarious journey from feeling that, as one character in the book said, time is like a “rabid lunatic” running naked and screaming as your life flies past you, to understanding the historical and cultural roots of the overwhelm, how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time, how time pressure and stress is resculpting our brains and shaping our workplaces, our relationships and squeezing the space that the Greeks said was the point of living a Good Life: that elusive moment of peace called leisure.

Author Brigid Schulte, an award-winning journalist for the Washington Post – and harried mother of two – began the journey quite by accident, after a time-use researcher insisted that she, like all American women, had 30 hours of leisure each week. Stunned, she accepted his challenge to keep a time diary and began a journey that would take her from the depths of what she described as the Time Confetti of her days to a conference in Paris with time researchers from around the world, to North Dakota, of all places, where academics are studying the modern love affair with busyness, to Yale, where neuroscientists are finding that feeling overwhelmed is actually shrinking our brains, to exploring new lawsuits uncovering unconscious bias in the workplace, why the US has no real family policy, and where states and cities are filling the federal vacuum.

She spent time with mothers drawn to increasingly super intensive parenting standards, and mothers seeking to pull away from it. And she visited the walnut farm of the world’s most eminent motherhood researcher, an evolutionary anthropologist, to ask, are mothers just “naturally” meant to be the primary parent? The answer will surprise you.

Along the way, she was driven by two questions, Why are things the way they are? and, How can they be better? She found real world bright spots of innovative workplaces, couples seeking to shift and share the division of labor at home and work more equitably and traveled to Denmark, the happiest country on earth, where fathers – and mothers – have more pure leisure time than parents in other industrial countries. She devoured research about the science of play, why it’s what makes us human, and the feminist leisure research that explains why it’s so hard for women to allow themselves to. The answers she found are illuminating, perplexing and ultimately hopeful. The book both outlines the structural and policy changes needed – already underway in small pockets – and mines the latest human performance and motivation science to show the way out of the overwhelm and toward a state that time use researchers call … Time Serenity.

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new book – ‘The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?’ by Patrick Tucker

March 6, 2014

Naked Future

The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? by Patrick Tucker (Current, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

An in-depth look at the future of the future.

An app on your phone knows you’re getting married before you do. Your friends’ tweets can help data scientists predict your location with astounding accuracy, even if you don’t use Twitter. Soon, we’ll be able to know how many kids in a kindergarten class will catch a cold once the first one gets sick.

We are on the threshold of a historic transition in our ability to predict aspects of the future with ever-increasing precision. Computer-aided forecasting is poised for rapid growth over the next ten years. The rise of big data will enable us to predict not only events like earthquakes or epidemics, but also individual behavior.

Patrick Tucker explores the potential for abuse of predictive analytics as well as the benefits. Will we be able to predict guilt before a person commits a crime? Is it legal to quarantine someone 99 percent likely to have the superflu while they’re still healthy? These questions matter, because the naked future will be upon us sooner than we realize.

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away’ by Rebecca Goldstein

Plato at the Googleplex

Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away by Rebecca Goldstein (Pantheon, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Is philosophy obsolete? Are the ancient questions still relevant in the age of cosmology and neuroscience, not to mention crowd-sourcing and cable news? The acclaimed philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein provides a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden role in today’s debates on religion, morality, politics, and science.

At the origin of Western philosophy stands Plato, who got about as much wrong as one would expect from a thinker who lived 2,400 years ago. But Plato’s role in shaping philosophy was pivotal. On her way to considering the place of philosophy in our ongoing intellectual life, Goldstein tells a new story of its origin, re-envisioning the extraordinary culture that produced the man who produced philosophy.

But it is primarily the fate of philosophy that concerns her. Is the discipline no more than a way of biding our time until the scientists arrive on the scene? Have they already arrived? Does philosophy itself ever make progress? And if it does, why is so ancient a figure as Plato of any continuing relevance? Plato at the Googleplex is Goldstein’s startling investigation of these conundra. She interweaves her narrative with Plato’s own choice for bringing ideas to life—the dialogue.

Imagine that Plato came to life in the twenty-first century and embarked on a multicity speaking tour. How would he handle the host of a cable news program who denies there can be morality without religion?  How would he mediate a debate between a Freudian psychoanalyst and a tiger mom on how to raise the perfect child? How would he answer a neuroscientist who, about to scan Plato’s brain, argues that science has definitively answered the questions of free will and moral agency? What would Plato make of Google, and of the idea that knowledge can be crowd-sourced rather than reasoned out by experts? With a philosopher’s depth and a novelist’s imagination and wit, Goldstein probes the deepest issues confronting us by allowing us to eavesdrop on Plato as he takes on the modern world.

See also: Author’s website

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