Making sense of the world

I’ve noticed that when I’m walking about, sort of thinking idly, I find myself asking “How?” How was that building constructed? How come that sewer is there? OK, I guess that one is really a why question. So I suppose the underlying curiosity is really about the mechanism of the world.

Sure, you can’t reduce the world to a mechanism, a machine. Its full of humans, so you can’t really make any kind of useful predictions. But there are definitely systems in place and some are more influential than others. Some of those systems, while not predictable machines, do display tendencies and trends. Learning them is one of the little intellectual side-journeys I’ve been immersing myself in lately.

If you want to play along, here’s what I’m into at the moment:

  • Economics (probably macroeconomics in particular)
  • Cognitive science
  • Linguistics

For the former, I encourage you to listen to The Economist Podcast (iTunes) and read the weekly edition when you get the opportunity. They also seem to have moved away from using a pay-wall, so check out the articles on The Economist website as well.

If you’re wondering why on earth economics might be interesting, then check out Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I never thought I’d wish I understood macroeconomics and financial instruments so that I could figure out what’s going on in a book by a cyberpunk author. But then I read the Baroque Cycle and I did. Its no coincidence the last of the cycle is titled The System of the World and here I am, seeking a system that illuminates the world.

For cognitive science and linguistics, I’m still just getting started. I read Introducing Linguistics this summer and its great. It seems its part of a series where they match a subject matter expert with a graphic designer. The result is easily read but highly informative. Its very much in the same style as Kathy Sierra.

If you’re ahead of me here and know a good bit on any of these subjects, feel free to drop some suggestions on what I should read next!

3 comments

  1. Phil · December 2, 2007

    “The laws of history are as absolute as the laws of physics, and if the probabilities of error are greater, it is only because history does not deal with as many humans as physics does atoms, so that individual variations count for more”

    — From the _Foundation_ trilogy by Isaac Asimov

  2. Alex Bischoff · December 2, 2007

    On the linguistics side of things, I’ve been enjoying The Word Nerds podcast. And, just to be sure, even though the most recent episode is about words relating to religion, it’s not at all a religiously-themed podcast.

  3. matt · December 2, 2007

    Probably the most fascinating book on general cog sci that I’ve read is called Dennet and his Critics. It’s a blend of the philosophy of mind and cog sci that is quite fascinating.

    On linguistics I think the most fascinating big picture book that I’ve read is Chomsky’s Language and Problems of Knowledge:

    On economics I think the most inspiring book I’ve read had to be Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom”. It gets into policy somewhat, but is not out of date in the least (nor are any of the others I recommend above, in spite of their publication dates)…

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