Fiction Reading

I’m not really a big fan of fiction. I’m a big non-fiction kind of guy. I like my economics from textbooks, my ethnographies under 200 pages, my political theory in thick books, my history riddled with theory, and my law in blog form. If I do read fiction I normally pick up something by a Nobel Laureate or a popular foreign work rather than whatever is in fashion at the moment here in the States. Over the past four months, though, I’ve found myself delving in to some stuff I never thought I’d be interested in. I recently read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and have just begun reading George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series.

Rand’s book was excellent. The speech at the end was weird, though, but it was not enough to keep me from putting Atlas Shrugged on my “to do” list. I know many of the Notewriters have issues with Rand’s non-fiction work, and many of them have clashed with Objectivists over the years (libertarians and Objectivists are old enemies, largely because the latter are a cultist bunch), but I found myself unable to put down The Fountainhead. I have a tendency to put a work of fiction into the context of the time period it was written in, so for me Rand’s work is all the more compelling (The Fountainhead came out when news traveled slowly and uneven reports of communist atrocities in the USSR and China were derided as ‘political’ by Western Leftists).

Martin’s book is equally excellent. I have never tackled a fantasy book before, but I have so far been pleasantly surprised. Fantasy books are looooong, but I am enjoying the plot line so far. I like the Night Watch guys the best (I am only in Chapter 17, of 72, so nobody spoil anything!), and I do not like the Lannisters.

Nobody leave any spoilers!

The Holographic Universe

Warning: this is not a libertarian post and I may get kicked out of this blog group for going way, way off topic! (It does have repercussions for Objectivists and others interested in ontology and epistemology.) This is an invitation to share a fascinating idea from modern physics: the holographic universe.  As I understand it, the idea is that everything within a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on the boundary of the region – like a conventional hologram.  (You can find runaway interpretations of the idea online which I suspect are bogus.)

Further warning: I am not a physicist.  I do have a Ph.D. in engineering and a decent grasp of mathematics and I have been studying modern physics with Prof. Leonard Susskind at Stanford.  His continuing education classes are just right for the likes of me – people who know elementary calculus, complex variables, etc. but cannot undertake a full-blast graduate physics course.

I commend to you Prof. Susskind’s lecture, The World as Hologram.  He is talking to a lay audience so he uses very little math.  But in his Stanford class he carefully took us through the math that leads to the conclusion that a black hole’s entropy is proportional to its surface area and not its volume as common sense would suggest.

If there’s a lesson here for a libertarian like me, perhaps it’s this: that we shouldn’t let ourselves get into a rut.  Don’t focus exclusively on libertarian issues, but stretch your mind from time to time in a new direction. Allow the possibility that you might learn something from a socialist like Lenny Susskind.  He’s someone I admire very much and I’m fortunate to have gotten personally acquainted with him.

By the way, you could hardly find a more moronic commentary on modern physics than this one, posted on the web site of the Ayn Rand Institute, from which I quote:

Today, physicists suppose that a particle can travel many different paths simultaneously, or travel backwards in time, or randomly pop into and out of existence from nothingness. They enjoy treating the entire universe as a “fluctuation of the vacuum,” or as an insignificant member of an infinite ensemble of universes, or even as a hologram. The fabric of this strange universe is a non-entity called “spacetime,” which expands, curves, attends yoga classes, and may have twenty-six dimensions.

Again, I’m not a physicist, but I have learned enough to recognize this paragraph as a preposterous know-nothing caricature of ideas that have been carefully worked out by physicists who almost without exception remain ruthlessly dedicated to experimental facts and correct logic.