Monthly Archives: October 2017

List of Good Philosophy and Science Books

This is a partial list of popular yet substantive books that have I have read, or in a few cases heard good things about. I started this list around 2000, and forgot about it for many years. I will now begin to update it. New books published since 2013 are designated by (NB). For more see my many book reviews in the “book reviews” sections under categories.)

Artificial Intelligence/Robotics

(NB) Stuart Armstrong ~ Smarter Than Us: The Rise of Machine Intelligence
(NB) James Barrat ~ Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the …
(NB) Blackford & Broderick ~ Intelligence Unbound: The Future of Uploaded …
(NB) Marshall Brain ~ The Second Intelligent Species: How Humans Will Become as …
(NB) Nick Bostrom ~ Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
• Rodney Brooks ~ Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us
(NB) Ted Chu ~ Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision of Our … 
• Katherine Hayles ~ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics …
• Ray Kurzweil ~ The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human …
• Menzel & D’Aluisio ~ Robo Sapiens: Evolution of a New Species
• Marvin Minsky ~ The Society of Mind
• Hans Morovec ~ Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
• Paul & Cox ~ Beyond Humanity: CyberEvolution and Future Minds
(NB) Martine Rothblatt ~ Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril-of Digital …
(NB) Charles Rubin ~ Eclipse of Man: Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress,
(NB) Ilia Stambler ~ A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century
(NB) Keith Wiley ~ A Taxonomy and Metaphysics of Mind-Uploading
• Sam Williams ~ Arguing A.I.: The Battle for Twenty-first-Century Science


•  David Deutsch ~ The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes … 
• Freeman Dyson ~ Infinite in All Directions
• Richard Feynman ~ The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of …
• Brian Greene ~ The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest …
• John Gribben ~ Hyperspace: The Universe and Its Mysteries
• Stephen Hawking ~ The Universe in a Nutshell
• Stephen Hawking ~ A Brief History of Time
• Michio Kaku ~ Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time …
(NB) Lawrence Krauss – The Greatest Story Ever Told – So Far: Why Are We Here?
 (NB) Lawrence Krauss – A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than …
• Lawrence Krauss ~ The Physics of Star Trek
(NB) Alan Lightman ~ The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew
• Ilya Prigogine ~ The End of Certainty
• Carl Sagan ~ Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
• Michael Talbot ~ The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality
• Steven Weinberg ~ The First Three Minutes: A Modern View Of The Origin Of The Universe


(NB) Alain De Botton ~ Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion
(NB) Marshall Brain ~ How “God” Works: A Logical Inquiry on Faith
(NB) Simon Critchley ~ The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments In Political Theology
• Richard Dawkins ~ The God Delusion
• Daniel Dennett ~ Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
(NB) Ronald Dworkin ~ Religion without God
• Greg Graffin ~ Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without …
•  A. C. Grayling ~ The Good Book: A Humanist Bible
• Sam Harris ~ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
• Sam Harris ~ Letter to a Christian Nation
• S. C. Hitchcock ~ Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism
• Christopher Hitchens ~ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
• Julian Huxley ~ Religion Without Revelation
(NB) Philip Kitcher ~ Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism
(NB) Stephen Mitchell ~ Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the …
• Michel Onfray ~ Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism &
• Bertrand Russell ~ Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion …
• Victor Stenger ~God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion
(NB) Phil Torres ~ A Crisis of Faith – Atheism, Emerging Technologies and the Future of 
(NB) Peter Watson ~ The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death…

Contemporary Politics

(NB)Jason Stanley ~ How Propaganda Works.
(NB)Thomas Mann & Norman Ornstein ~ One Nation After Trump: A Guide for …
(NB)Thomas Mann & Norman Ornstein ~ It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the  …
• Thomas Mann & Norman Ornstein ~ The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing …


• Robert Axelrod ~ The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition
• Sam Harris ~ The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
(NB) John Messerly ~ Philosophical Ethics: Theory and Practice
• James Rachels ~ Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism
• Michael Shermer ~ The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care …
• Robert Wright ~ The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science …


• Philip Appleman ~ Darwin (Norton Critical Editions)
• Barlow, Connie ~ Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life
• Pascal Boyer ~ Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought
• Richard Dawkins ~ The Selfish Gene
• Richard Dawkins ~ The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals …
• Daniel Dennett ~ Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life
• Julian Huxley ~ Evolutionary Humanism (Great Minds Series)
• George Levine ~ Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the
• Richard Morris ~ The Evolutionists: The Struggle for Darwin’s Soul
• Michael Ruse ~ Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?
• Michael Ruse ~ Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy
• Steve Stewart-Williams ~ Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary …
• E.O. Wilson ~ On Human Nature: With a new Preface, Revised Edition
• Robert Wright ~ Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
• John Ziman, ~ Technological Innovation as an Evolutionary Process


(NB) Michael Bess ~ Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society …
(NB) Russell Blackford ~ Humanity Enhanced: Genetic Choice and the Challenge for …
• John Brockman ~ The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the …
• Damien Broderick ~ The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed By Rapidly …
• Chris Gray ~ Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the Posthuman Age
• Michio Kaku ~ Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century
• Jaron Lanier ~ You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
(NB) Jaron Lanier ~ Who Owns the Future?
• John Maddox ~ What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe …
• Martin Rees ~ Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning
•  More & Vita-More ~  The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary…
• Gregory Stock ~ Redesigning Humans: Choosing our genes, changing our future
(NB) David Wood ~ Anticipating Tomorrow’s Politics 

General Science

• Diane Ackerman ~ The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us
• John Brockman ~ The New Humanists: Science at the Edge
• Alan Cromer ~ Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science
• Antonio Damasio ~ Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain
• David Deutsch ~ The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World
• Susan Fischer ~Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray
• John Horgan ~The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight …
• Steven Johnson ~ How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
• Michio Kaku ~ The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance …
• Douglas Mulhall ~ Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics …
• Carl Sagan ~The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
• Carl Sagan ~ Cosmos
• Michael Shermer ~ Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition …
• E. O. Wilson ~ Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
(NB) E. O. Wilson ~ Letters to a Young Scientist
• E. O. Wilson ~The Social Conquest of Earth


• Will & Ariel Durant ~ The Lessons of History
• Will & Ariel Durant ~ The Story of Civilization (11 Volume Set)
• Will & Ariel Durant ~ The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time

Meaning of Life

• Julian Baggani ~ What’s It All About?: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life
• Julian Barnes ~ Nothing to Be Frightened Of
• Raymond Belliotti, What Is The Meaning Of Human Life?
• Christopher Belshaw, 10 Good Questions About Life And Death
• David Benatar, ed. ~ Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big …
• Simon Critchley ~ Very Little … Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature
• Simon Critchley ~ The Book of Dead Philosophers
• The Dalai Lama ~ The Meaning of Life
• Hubert Dreyfus & Sean Kelly ~ All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find …
• Will Durant ~ Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God
• Will Durant ~ On the Meaning of Life
• Terrence Eagleton ~ The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction
• Joseph Ellin ~ 
Morality and the Meaning of Life: An Introduction to Ethical Theory
• Owen Flanagan ~ Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life
• Victor Frankl ~ Man’s Search for Meaning
(NB) Aaron James ~ Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning
• E. D. Klemke ~ The Meaning of Life: A Reader
• Anthony Kronman ~ Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given …
(NB) John Messerly ~ The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Transhumanist … 
(NB) Thaddeus Metz ~ Meaning in Life
• Thomas Morris ~ Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life
• Massimo Pigluicci ~ Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to
• Joshua Seachris, ed. ~ Exploring the Meaning of Life: An Anthology and Guide
• Paul Thagard ~ The Brain and the Meaning of Life
(NB) Clement Vidal ~ The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological … 
• Julian Young ~ The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

Philosophy – Academic

• Hannah Arendt ~ The Life of the Mind (Vols 1&2)
• William Barrett ~ Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy
• Susan Blackmore ~ The Meme Machine
(NB) Stephen Cave ~ Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization
• Francis Crick ~ Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul
• James Christian ~ Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering
• Owen Flanagan ~ The Problem Of The Soul: Two Visions Of Mind And How To Reconcile
• Aldous Huxley ~ The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics
(NB) Roman Krznaric ~ How Should We Live?: Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life
• Thomas Nagel ~ The View From Nowhere
• Thomas Nagel ~ Mortal Questions (Canto Classics)
(NB) Andrew Stark – The Consolations of Mortality: Making Sense of Death

Philosophy – Popular

• Mortimer Adler ~ Six Great Ideas
• Mortimer Adler ~ Aristotle for Everybody
• Kim Blessing & Paul Tudico ~ Movies and the Meaning of Life
• Dennis Bradford ~ A Thinker’s Guide to Living Well
• Will Durant ~ The Pleasures of Philosophy
• Will Durant ~ The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s …
• Erich Fromm ~ The Art of Loving
(NB) James Holt ~ Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
(NB) John Messerly ~ Who Are We?: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific …
• Thomas Nagel ~ What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy
• Richard Precht ~ Who Am I?: And If So, How Many?
• Carl Sagan ~ Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
 • Seneca ~ On the Shortness of Life (Penguin Great Ideas)


• Gillian Butler & Tony Hope ~ Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide
• Sonja Lyubomirsky ~ The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You
• Steven Pinker ~ The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
• Steve Taylor ~ Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of Our Minds
• Alan Watts ~ The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
• Alan Watts ~ The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

Reading & Writing

• Mortimer Adler ~ How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading …
(NB) Harold Evans ~ Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters
(NB) Steven Pinker ~ The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing …
• Strunk & White ~The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
• William Zinsser ~ On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction
• William Zinsser ~ Writing To Learn

Science & Religion

• Scott Atran ~ In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion
• John H. Brooke ~ Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Canto Classics)
• John  Brooke & Geoffrey Cantor ~ Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science…
• Paul Davies ~ The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World
• Willem Drees ~ Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God
• Stephen J. Gould ~ Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
(NB) Sam Harris ~ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
• Kenneth Miller ~ Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground
• Corey Powell ~ God in the Equation : How Einstein Transformed Religion
• Michael Shermer ~ How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God
• Michael Ruse ~ The Evolution-Creation Struggle
• Michael Ruse ~ Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science
(NB) Phil Torres ~ The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse


(NB) Philip Appleman ~  Darwin’s Ark
• Roger Ebert ~ Life Itself: A Memoir
• Richard Dawkins ~ A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love
• Frank Donoghue ~ The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the
• Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ Essays and Lectures
(NB) Christopher Hitchesn ~ Mortality
• Steven Pinker ~ How the Mind Works
• Eleanor Roosevelt ~ You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
• Huston Smith ~ The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
• Henry David Thoreau ~ Walking, The Unabridged Original
• George Vaillant ~ Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
• • • •  • • • •  • • • •

My Dad’s 100th Birthday

My father was born exactly 100 years ago today on October 8, 1917. In his memory, I reprint a post I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Benjamin Edward Messerly, (1917-1989) was born in north St. Louis and dropped out of Hadley technical school at age 15 to help his family during the depression. He took a job at a small Kroger grocery floor sweeping floors. He soon became a butcher, which was his profession for almost 50 years. He was a fine baseball player and golfer, playing baseball at a high amateur level. He was also a single handicap at golf through his early 50s, despite only playing about once a week. He learned to love golf while caddying to help his family during the depression.

He served in the Navy in WWII and came home in January 1946 to his family in the suburb of St. Louis where I grew up. He only had an eighth grade education, but he read constantly and was well versed in the politics of the day. He was especially fond of the American President Harry Truman. I suppose a plainspoken Missourian without much formal education—and who promoted a national health care system—was a perfect fit for my dad.

Objectively, I suppose my father was better than some and worse than others—although I’d bet he was better than most. But the thing to remember about parents is that they don’t have to be exceptional, just good enough. And he was. Most importantly he instilled in me a passion for knowledge. I always accompanied him to his nightly work at our church, where we talked constantly about politics, history, and religion. I thought he was so smart arguing theology and politics with the priests and his fellow parishioners. Due to the many hours of discussions with him as a young boy, I came to love intelligent conversation.

I can still remember him telling me that I was inquisitive, in response to my constant questioning at the dinner table when I was 9 or 10 years old. Not knowing what the word meant, I asked. After he had explained its meaning to me I asked if it was good to be inquisitive. He answered in the affirmative. Years later the dedication to my master’s thesis read: “To my dad, who approved of my being inquisitive.”

He was especially fond of saying that great people do what they think is right and ignore what others think about them. I’m not exactly sure what he meant—I think he liked that President Truman fired General MacArthur—but I interpreted this to mean that I should seek the truth and then act on the truth discovered. And while he didn’t agree with most of my conclusions—I vehemently rejected his Catholicism and nationalism—he accepted me nonetheless. Perhaps he wished he had not unleashed such questioning, but I’d like to think he would be proud of me nonetheless. I even think he might have agreed with many of the things I came to believe had he been fortunate enough to receive the fine education that I did.

My dad was a good man, who taught me and loved me. Words are so ineffectual, but I thank him. I loved you dad.

Your son, John Gerard

Summary of Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life”

Duble herma of Socrates and Seneca Antikensammlung Berlin 07.jpg

 Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65)

(This is one of my most popular articles with over 70,000 views.)

As they age wise persons often lose interest in the inessential. The Stoic philosopher 
Seneca touched on a similar theme in his piece, On the Shortness of Life:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.

Seneca believed that if we use our lives properly they are long enough. Unfortunately, we often squander our time, mistakenly believing that we have plenty in reserve. We distract ourselves and we don’t immerse ourselves in the present, living for a future that may never come. At the end of our lives, even if we have lived long, we may not have lived wisely. We may have been obsessed with achievement and ambition rather than with living.

It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.

To care for our time is to care for ourselves because how we spend our time is how we spend our lives. Our time is the most precious thing we have, and someday we’ll have no more of it.

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

There is much to recommend in Seneca, but I have always liked one particular piece of his advice. He says that we should seek the counsel of good mentors as substitutes for deficiencies in our education or upbringing. He makes this point in a moving passage:

We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be. There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. Nor will this property need to be guarded meanly or grudgingly: the more it is shared out, the greater it will become.

We can all learn much from Buddha, Seneca, Epictetus and other sages. From Seneca, I have learned to be mindful, live now, and keep good company. What wonderful advice from a Stoic sage.

Here’s a brief video about Stoicism in general. Its pretty good, but I disagree with its interpretation of the Stoics view of hope. The Stoics weren’t pessimists, they were realists. (In the next few days we’ll cover the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and a few days later we’ll cover Admiral James Stockdale on how the thoughts of Epictetus may have saved his life. Also, there is an audiobook of On the Shortness of Life.)