I think, therefore I laugh by John Allen Paulos

The book aims to teach philosophy through parables and jokes. There were only three stories which kind of made me chuckle.

The first one is on a story which shows that two very contradictory conclusions can be drawn from the same story.

There is an ancient story about the sophist philosopher Protagoras who agreed to instruct Euathlus in rhetoric so the latter could practice law. Euathlus in turn agreed to pay Protagoras his fee only after winning his first case. Euathlus, however, chose not to practice law upon completing his training and so Protagoras sued him for fee. Protagoras maintained that he should be paid no matter what. He argued that if he won the case then  he should be paid by the order of the court, while if he lost he should be paid by the terms of his agreement with Euathlus. Euathlus, who had learned something from his study with Protagoras, maintained that he should not pay no matter what. He argued that if he won the case he should not pay by the order of the court and while if he los, he should not pay by the terms of his agreement with Protagoras.

The second is how people tend to find complicated and far reaching rules to save a barely serviceable theory and often they favor a complicated one to simpler ones.

Two subjects A and B are asked to recognize the difference between healthy and sick cells. The experiment set up is as follows. A and B see the same cell – sitting in a different room. Each one can only respond with “Healthy” or “Sick”. There is a green light in each room. Both A and B are told that the light will signal if their answers are correct.

In reality, only A’s response are greeted with the light signal. B’s response are answered by a light signal only when A’s response was correct. Whether B responds “Healthy” or “Sick” has no effect on the light signal that he sees.

Afterward each one of them is asked to propose a theory of healthy cells. A’s theory is simple, concrete and generally straightforward; while B’s ideas are long winding, elaborate and quite complex. Both of them listen to each other’s theories and A is impressed by B’s theory; so much so that he does much worse in the next trial.

The third story shows the limits of observational science.

A scientist has two jars before him. One is full of fleas and the other is empty. He puts both jars on a table and then one by one picks a flea up from the jar, puts him on the table and shouts “jump”. At this point the flea jumps into the empty jar. This goes on until the empty jar is full of fleas and the other is empty. Now he takes the fleas out one by one again. He removes their back legs, puts them on the table and shouts “jump”. No flea jumps into the empty jar. The scientist concludes – a flea when his back legs are pulled off, cannot hear !

If you liked the stories and have no idea about logic and philosophy – this may provide you a lite reading material. Otherwise, the book is quite avoidable.

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