Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

July Books 2) Vicious Circles and Infinity

2) Vicious Circles and Infinity: An Anthology of Paradoxes, by Patrick Hughes and George Brecht

A very slim Penguin (75 pages) found while sorting the books at the weekend. Goes through the standard paradoxes - the class of all classes that do not include themselves, Zeno, Cantor on infinity, the unexpected hanging, etc, and many variations. Slightly confusing layout in that every page has a vaguely relevant quotation at both top and bottom, which breaks up the main text rather abruptly. Mostly of interest to teenage proto-geeks, but I laughed out loud when Russell, worrying about the class of all classes that do not include themselves, confides his concerns to Whitehead, who ripostes, "never glad confident morning again!" You bastard, Whitehead, is the thought which probably went through Russell's mind.

The book did help me crystallise a serious point too. Logic and science are powerful tools for exploring and explaining the natural and human worlds. But as this book reminds us, they are necessarily incomplete, and sometimes contradictory; just like any other system of thought ever developed by humans. This is why I take Richard Dawkins' views on biology more seriously than his views on religion.
Tags: bookblog 2007, mathematics

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