Category Archives: Non-fiction

Books that contain information pertaining to the world out there and which it is taken in good faith did not emerge from the writer’s vivid imagination. May or may not be backed up by bibliography.


The Book of the DamnedThe Book of the Damned by Charles Fort

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


(It’s already been almost three months since I finished this one… just for you to get an idea of how slowly things are making the passover from my life to the ‘mension these days.)

Reading the Book of the Damned on the book-damning device.

Below you will find an assortment of highlights from The Book of the Damned pulled from the clipping file of my Kindle. Convenient, that. You can find the same super-version of the book as the one I read for free on Amazon. I’m still not sure if it’s a best-of, Charles Fort’s collected works, or what… There seems to be at least some content which doesn’t match up with the text found on his four books as found separately.

Anyway, back to the quotes:

The data of the damned. I have gone into the outer darkness of scientific and philosophical transactions and proceedings, ultra-respectable, but covered with the dust of disregard. I have descended into journalism. I have come back with the quasi-souls of lost data. They will march.

The power that has said to all these things that they are damned, is Dogmatic Science.

All sciences begin with attempts to define. Nothing ever has been defined. Because there is nothing to define. Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. He was never able to tell what he meant by a “species.” It is not possible to define. Nothing has ever been finally found out. Because there is nothing final to find out. It’s like looking for a needle that no one ever lost in a haystack that never was—

The novel is a challenge to vulgarization: write something that looks new to you: someone will point out that the thrice-accursed Greeks said it long ago.

It may be that in the whole nineteenth century no event more important than this occurred. In La Nature, 1887, and in L’Année Scientifique, 1887, this occurrence is noted. It is mentioned in one of the summer numbers of Nature, 1887. Fassig lists a paper upon it in the Annuaire de Soc. Met., 1887. Not a word of discussion. Not a subsequent mention can I find. Our own expression: What matters it how we, the French Academy, or the Salvation Army may explain? A disk of worked stone fell from the sky, at Tarbes, France, June 20, 1887.

My notion of astronomic accuracy: Who could not be a prize marksman, if only his hits be recorded?

But what would a deep-sea fish learn even if a steel plate of a wrecked vessel above him should drop and bump him on the nose? Our submergence in a sea of conventionality of almost impenetrable density. Sometimes I’m a savage who has found something on the beach of his island. Sometimes I’m a deep-sea fish with a sore nose.

Charles Fort was a trailblazer. What we call today paranormal or occult, together with all the relevant scientific investigations, in a few words what we’d expect from Mulder and Scully, to a large extent we owe to him. Here’s a guy who lived in the ’20s and researched old copies of Scientific American, Nature and other such periodicals and magazines, looking for the damned, the unexplainable, the excluded. For what good is science, if it only chooses to include to its dogma what it can explain, sweeping under the carpet all that can be used to challenge its grand theories?

Giant, village-sized wheels submerged in the middle of the ocean; periodic rains of fish, frogs in various states of decay and of a gelatinous mass of unknown origin; falling stone discs, as in the quote above; meteors; lights in the sky moving in formation (reported in the 19th century); footprints of impossible creatures; giant hailstones; cannonballs entombed in solid rock, and that’s just a sample.

Reading about these mysterious exclusions was a delight. I love everything that challenges my way of seeing the world and allows me to contemplate alternative explanations for life, the universe and everything. To be fair, some of Fort’s favourite theories were down-right bizarre, such as his insistence on imagining a realm above our own from which all the falling creatures and materials originated – what our own surface world would be, conceptually, for the “deep-sea fish with the sore nose”, as in the last extract I quoted above. The existence of such a place sounds no less ridiculous now than it did in the 1920s, but I think Fort’s point was that his arbitrary explanations were just as good as the official ones offered by the scientific dogma of the time, which our present, widely-accepted, matter-of-fact world theories of today mirror. To be sure, a part – I don’t know how significant – of the excluded, would be possible to include today, but I’m sure that many of the phenomena Fort goes through in his Book of the Damned would be just as inexplicable today as they were in the centuries past.

There are two reasons this book isn’t getting five stars from me. The first one is that it’s twice as long as I think it should have been. I felt that Fort at certain points was simply repeating himself. It’s also possible he was just saying the same thing in a different, more difficult to understand way, and this is precisely the second reason this isn’t getting five stars. Fort’s language and style was very hit or miss. To give you an idea, the quotes I’ve included in this review are some of the easiest parts to understand from the whole book. Others love it. Myself, I can’t say I hate it, but I’m not sure it’s as successful a writing technique as Fort must have hoped for it to be.

The same hit-or-miss-ness is applicable to the book as a whole. I thought it was tremendously interesting and a significant publication that should be studied further and give inspiration to present-day Charles Forts, but I don’t believe the style is for everyone. Why don’t you find out for yourself if it’s right for you, though? It’s free!

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Fluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any LanguageFluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any Language by Benny Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a person with the ambition to become a polyglot myself (some would even say that with my 5 languages spoken at different levels of mastery I could already call myself one), I can tell you that Benny Lewis is to a great degree what I would like to become one day. If there ever was a more encouraging person that anybody can do it, he would be it. He managed to learn so many languages – I don’t even remember how many – starting in his early ’20s with Spanish and never ever stopping since.

This book is a collection of his most useful techniques and methods and his unmatched motivational skills. While reading it I was feeling so pumped to learn all the languages I could get my hands on, and he really made it all look so easy! Motivating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

My main problem with his work is that he’s not very precise on what actually being fluent means when talking about becoming fluent in three months, something which other people on the web have commented on too. This is part of his own definition from the book itself:

He continues by saying that fluency in a language is difficult to measure (“there is no absolute, discernirble point you pass when can say, ‘Now I can speak the language fluently.'”) and suggests that for all intents and purposes a B2 level on the Common European Framework, by that standard, should be enough. That’s debatable of course and depends on the needs of every individual learner, and, as a holder of a B2 in German and Spanish myself, I still don’t consider myself fluent in either language; rather, I’d consider myself a competent speaker for everyday situations, but no more.

The book itself in general made me think about what my individual needs and goals about each language I’m learning are and gave me plenty ideas and methods on how to reach them. Its best point was the motivation it gave me and that it helped visualise what I’d really like to do with my language-speaking.

Also, Fluent in 3 Months is the first book I’ve seen as of yet that takes advantage of the possibilities granted by dynamic content – as opposed to traditional, static content found in books – made possible by the web: it has links to articles and resources kept updated by the author, which sort of act as mini-expansion packs for the book, e.g. links to useful services, such as Memrise, italki or Polyglot Club. Benny’s idea is that if you own the book, you should always have access to fresh content which in some cases might not be the same as what’s included in the book, as could be the case for example with the links to language-learning websites.

All this said, I don’t particularly like Benny’s tendency to whore himself out and his advice out behind paywalls on his site. Even if you buy his book as I did and subscribe for the extra content, there’s still a “premium membership” you’ve got to pay if you want to have full access to what he’s written over the past few years. I understand that he’s put a lot of work on all of this and that learning new languages full-time has been his main occupations for the better part of his springtime of youth, but I have to admit that it all rather leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Regardless of this, though, if you’re about to tackle a new language or would love to learn more about how effective language-learning works, Benny is one of the best people out there to turn to, or at least to his work. Again, if you can be skeptical about his method and his general aims in learning lots and lots of languages fluently in a sense, you can’t deny that the guy has a talent of being able to very straightforwardly pump you up and make you feel like even learning Mandarin or whatever else you might think a difficult language could be is a piece of cake and only a matter of dedication. And, in the end, if this book left me with anything very concrete, it’s that dedication and the willingness to forget about shyness and/or other bullshit excuse it’s the only thing that might be stopping us from becoming truly good at – or at least having just the right attitude for – speaking our favourite languages.

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Ανακάλυψε την προσωπικότητα σουΑνακάλυψε την προσωπικότητα σου by Patricia Hedges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Το ξέρατε ότι το 45% του πληθυσμού (τουλάχιστον στις ΗΠΑ, για την Ελλάδα δεν ξέρω) είναι SJ (traditionalists), και ένα άλλο 40% είναι SP (experiencers); Προσωπικά μπορώ να βγάλω αρκετά συμπεράσματα για τον κόσμο χρησιμοποιώντας αυτά τα στοιχεία και κοιτάζοντας τα αποτελέσματα των εκλογών ανα τον κόσμο, ή γιατί οι άνθρωποι επιμένουν στα παλιά και γνώριμα, ή γιατί οι άνθρωποι κυνηγούν τα χρήματα πάνω απ’όλα, ή γιατί τέλος πάντων οι περισσότεροι άνθρωποι συμπεριφέρονται και σκέφτονται πολύ διαφορετικά από μένα – και άλλοι, βέβαια, πολύ παρόμοια.

Πείτε ό,τι θέλετε για το MBTI: ότι είναι παρωχημένο, ότι εξαπλουστεύει, ότι δεν επαρκεί – όλα αυτά ισχύουν, παραμένει όμως για μένα ένα χρήσιμο εργαλείο στην προσπάθεια μου να καταλάβω τους ανθρώπους γύρω μου και να δω τον κόσμο μέσα από τα δικά τους μάτια και τη δική τους αντίληψη (ή διαίσθηση!) Κι άλλωστε, ποιο επεξηγηματικό, αναλυτικό σύστημα μπορεί ποτέ να είναι πλήρες;

Για όσους δεν ξέρουν τι είναι το ΜΒΤΙ, είναι μια μέθοδος αξιολόγησης προσωπικότητας η οποία αναπτύχθηκε τη δεκαετία του ’60 η οποία βασίζεται στις θεωρίες του Carl Jung σχετικά με τις γνωστικές λειτουργίες (cognitive functions) του ανθρώπου (αίσθηση, διαίσθηση, συναίσθημα και νόηση – sensing, intuition, feeling and thinking) και ανάλογα με τη σειρά προτεραιότητας – ή ευχέρειας – που χρησιμοποιούνται αυτές οι λειτουργίες αλλά και την εξωστρέφεια/εσωστρέφεια τους, προκύπτουν 16 συνδυασμοί και τύποι προσωπικότητας.

Βρήκα πως το βιβλίο, αν και χρήσιμο για την αρχική κατανόηση του συστήματος, παρέμεινε στα απολύτως βασικά, και αν και δημοσιεύτηκε τη δεκαέτια του ’90 δεν ανέφερε την προγενέστερη θεωρία του Keirsey σχετικά με την κατάταξη των 16 τύπων σε 4 μεγαλύτερες οικογένειες γενικότερης ιδιοσυγκρασίας. Επίσης απογοητευτική βρήκα την πολύ επιφανειακή αναφορά στην ανάλυση της κατάταξης των λειτουργιών για κάθε τύπο, όπως για παράδειγμα στους INFPs (ΕσΔΣΑν σύμφωνα με την ελληνική μετάφραση, ο οποίος τυχαίνει να είναι κι ο δικός μου τύπος) πρώτο είναι το Εσωστρεφές Συναίσθημα (Fi), μετά η Εξωστρεφής Διαίσθηση (Ne), η Εσωστρεφής Αίσθηση (Si) και η Εξωστρεφής Νόηση (Te), με κατάταξη απ’την πιο ανεπτυγμένη στην λιγότερο ανεπτυγμένη λειτουργία.

Αυτή η ανάλυση μπορεί να φανερώσει πολλά για τους στόχους, τις προτεραίοτητες, τις ιδιαιτερότητες και τις πιθανές αδυναμίες των ατόμων που ανήκουν σε κάθε τύπο, αλλά ξεφεύγει από την απλή κατηγοριοποίηση και περιγραφή των τύπων και φτάνει σε μεγαλύτερο βάθος. Προφανώς μια τόσο βαθιά ανάλυση δεν ήταν ο στόχος του βιβλίου, αλλά εμένα μου έλειψε, γιατί χωρίς αυτήν δεν αιτιολογείται το από που προκύπτει ο διαχωρισμός των τύπων. Είναι ενδιαφέρον ότι γενικά δεν είναι γνωστή η θεωρία περί γνωστικών λειτουργιών, ακόμα και για αυτούς που ενδιαφέρονται για το MBTI.

Γι’αυτό εγώ θα συνεχίσω την αναζήτηση και την έρευνα μου στο θέμα των τύπων προσωπικότητας και της αναλυτικής ψυχολογίας γενικότερα με κάτι λίγο πιο εξειδικευμένο (μου τρέχουν τα σάλια για το βιβλίο που λίνκαρα παραπάνω του Keirsey). Πάντως, ως εισαγωγή στο MBTI το βιβλίο δεν είναι άσχημο, και είναι από τα λίγα (το μόνο;) που βρήκα μεταφρασμένο στα ελληνικά. Για κάποιον λόγο δεν μας πολυενδιαφέρει το θέμα εδώ πέρα…

Αν διαβάσετε ως εδώ και θα θέλατε να μάθετε περισσότερα, μερικές καλές πήγες:
(καλά τεστ για να βρείτε τον τύπο σας)

“What does it feel like to be me?” αν είσαστε μεταξύ δύο τύπων, διαβάστε ποια περιγραφή του τρόπου σκέψης σας σας ταιριάζει καλύτερα. Για περισσότερα σχετικά με τις γνωστικές λειτουργίες/cognitive functions και για βουτιά στα λίγο πιο βαθιά.

Και το Personality Cafe, γιατί μερικές φορές η επαφή και η συζήτηση με άλλα άτομα του ίδιου τύπου και ο εντοπισμός των κοινών τόπων βοηθάει στ’αλήθεια. Καλό κι αν νιώθετε μοναξιά, ότι κανείς δεν σας καταλαβαίνει κτλ.

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Writing Comedy: A Guide to Scriptwriting for TV, Radio, Film and StageWriting Comedy: A Guide to Scriptwriting for TV, Radio, Film and Stage by Ronald Wolfe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another book from the fresh batch of donated books to the English section of Sofia City Library.

This book from the early ’90s is a guide for anyone who would like to try their hand in writing scripts for comedy plays, shows, sitcoms, radio or stand-up comedy.

Most of the actors, writers and productions referenced are from that time, leaving out the comedy I’m familiar with (Monty Python and the work of their individual members; britcoms of the last 15 years), with the exceptions of Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Alo Alo.

Some specific tips for individual formats, like the importance of the gag in the sitcom, or more general ones that can apply to all forms of comedy writing, I found particularly effective and insightful, e.g. always asking yourself what’s wrong in a given situation when writing the story, or where the conflict could come from which might produce the comedic effect. These ones I think I’ll remember down the road, in contrast to most of the rest of the book which chiefly had practical information, i.e. how to pitch your script to producers or make it in America, content which as little (?) as 20 years later seems terribly out-dated.

The relevant parts I thought made for good and motivating advice that made me want to try writing something serious even more, seeing how simple and straightforward some examples of funny writing in the book were. What I realise, however, is that it’s not a guide I need the most; it’s the dedication and motivation to sit down and just write, whatever that could be.

Still, I’ll remember the part about conflict.

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An Excursion Into the ParanormalAn Excursion Into the Paranormal by George Karolyi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the paranormal. The term itself is almost taboo among scientists and people who have devoted themselves, whether knowingly or not, to the High Church of Materialism, an idea and its implications beautifully explored by Rupert Sheldrake in The Science Delusion. It’s been connected with very specific things and phenomena, such as extrasensory perception, telekinesis, auras etc, which have all been discredited and/or completely rejected by what you’d call mainstream rationality; bad science, Tricks of the Mind/hallucination or outright fraud have been strongly suggested as the cause of the above phenomena and more. Nevertheless, according to the book’s definition of the word:

Paranormal phenomena do seem to occur, it’s just that the tools our current level of understanding of the world provide us with are insufficient to explain the why. Fraud, bad science etc. as explanations would constitute those phenomena normal, not paranormal, which by the way is the dominant narrative at this point in time. Perhaps things are not as clear-cut when the “definite proof” of these phenomena being normal is placed under scrutiny.

George Karolyi, in this book, did what in my opinion every scientist – or at the very least more of them – should be doing: he didn’t accept or dismiss observations based on what he assumed was true; rather, he put observations first and attempting to build a theory on the results second.

Apparently (and I’m using this word in particular because according to Google this man doesn’t exist), when Karolyi wrote the book, he was a researcher in the University of South Australia with a background in electrical engineering. This explains the absolutely rigorous methodology he seems to have followed. I’m serious: he begins the book with a Physics 101 on electricity, waves, EM fields and quantum mechanics, all of them fields of physics which were either completely unknown, very poorly understood or deemed magical/supernatural as little as 150 years ago. It even has a section on probability and statistics for readers to get a basic grasp of what significant, as opposed to chance, results mean when conducting experiments.

The book then goes through human auras, psychokinesis, Kirlian photography, ESP and survival-related phenomena (among others), describing what experiments have been done on each inquiry – some by the author himself -, often going into extreme, virtually unfollowable by the layman, technical details on the methodology thereof. What genuinely surprised me? The author, to his credit, included negative results. For example, his experiments on aura perception did not lead to anything more than chance results, yet there they were for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions on.

The majority of the rest of the phenomena, though, did in fact produce significant, sometimes even highly significant, statistical results, even when some of them generally either don’t lend themselves well to controlled laboratory experimentation due to the apparently unconscious nature of their induction, as is the case with telepathy, or proof of their existence would not be easily quantifiable, such as in the case of survival-related phenomena e.g. apparitions or reincarnation. Imagine where we could be going if we let this research guide our curiosity, instead of the misguided skeptics the world over.

On an interesting side note, I thought it was funny how at the end of the book Karolyi started making conjectures to explain the paranormal, such as the existence of parallel universes or dimensions (see 10 Dimensions Theory) which would “carry” the non-physical, conjectures which he then used as a platform for closing the book by going on a moral tangent – how people ought to live in order to make the best of their lives. It came into stark contrast with the extraordinarily detached point of view which preceded it, given the material at hand, but I thought it was more interesting than inappropriate.

The main point of all this is that it’s very unfortunate that we have limited ourselves in such a way so as to not be able to even imagine, for the most part, what we could be doing with this frankly liberating information. Maybe in 150 years people like Rupert Sheldrake, Charles Fort (whose Book of the Damned I’m in the process of reading) and even George Karolyi and other researchers whose work I’m trying to hunt down will have found their place in future History of Science books (or their equivalents) as forerunners of the coming paradigm shift, the next renaissance. We can only hope.

This review is of a copy of the book recently donated to the English section of Sofia City Library.

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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese PsycheUnderground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I find it very interesting reading non-fiction by writers that are generally better known for their novels. I like taking a sneak peek at how they perceive and document real events and whether their love for the imaginary can affect the way they tell a story.

For some reason I have connected Murakami with magical realism, even if I’ve only read only one other book of his and that not one of the most well-known. This book, then, didn’t feel like Murakami – possibly because I have no clear idea of what Murakami feels like in the first place, maybe because it had too little magical and too much realism in it, the hard-hitting kind, the “it could have been me” a lot of the people in the book kept saying.

However, I don’t want to do Underground injustice and understate the way it moved my imagination and sense of awe(m). In the second part of the book, a later publication which followed the success of what was originally just the first part (the one with the interviews of the victims and the indirecty affected), we get to see what Aum, the religious cult/organisation whose higher-ups were behind the gas attacks, was like from the inside. We get to read the stories of disillusioned still-members, tortured ex-members, believers that achieved superpowers through their association and training with Aum, personal histories that follow certain people’s fascination with transcendence and enlightenment and how ultimately that led them to the cult’s doorstep. These stories, what people were able to do, what peace they found, what secret powers their leaving the “secular world” unlocked in them… To be honest, judging by their motives and lost hopes in the world and by my own sense of being a ship in an endless ocean trying to find an island, I can completely relate; I, too, would have become a member. But would I have done things differently were I in their shoes? Maybe I should be asking myself what I would have done if I was Japanese before I ask anything else, of course!

The book left me wanting to investigate, to slowly discover more of the hidden world that was promised to those people but without the manipulation and the religious aspects, the Leader-centred bullshit. Underground also pushed me in equal parts towards further fascination, admiration for and disgust of the Japanese people and their culture. To illustrate, it would be greatly fulfilling to delve into the psyche of modern Japan -just like Murakami attempted to do with Underground- but at the same time I already know that too many aspects of it would make me feel like I’d be wasting my time and hopes on a lost case of a spent culture with no future. I would certainly be interested in reading a similar account of events of the 2011 tsunami and the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

At any rate, from now on I’m going to be subconsciously checking for smelly liquids on carriage floors whenever I ride on subterranean trains.

Thanks Daphne for lending this book to me.

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Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet RevoltOff-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was the first one I finished on my new Kindle, a fact which, in combination with its contents, makes me feel kind of tainted, like knowingly eating dolphin meat or something; posting a sincere review of it here after reading about Goodreads and what happened a few months ago feels in turn like I’m writing about my experience of eating dolphin meat while giving it a star rating. But I’ll go through with this, because it’s not dolphin meat.

I knew that Amazon acquired Goodreads last year from the moment it happened. From the first second I knew what it would mean for Goodreads as a website, as a social network, as a resource. But I didn’t budge. I’ve seen this happen so many times before: great websites or ideas turn “evil”, my beloved CouchSurfing being the most prominent example I can think of right now; I went on, for what could I have honestly done as a single person to stop things, change things, make the guys at the head of CouchSurfing or Goodreads realise that what they had done meant turning on their community, the people they owed all their success to? Should I have changed my profile and alerted people of the fact? Shold I have jumped ship?

I’m still very far from being sure about what the best course of action should be, the perfect balance between convenienve and idealism, both in my offline and online lives. I have wanted to join BeWelcome, the best alternative to CouchSurfing, for example, but I feel as if I have invested too much time to the latter to make a change like that. At the same time, CouchSurfing has become so bad that it has naturally lost me as a user, something Goodreads hasn’t achieved -yet-, but then I’m not a social user of the site and I’ve never felt part of any community in it, unlike most of the people who contributed to this book and were alerted to and alarmed by the changes mostly because of that involvement.

I wasn’t even aware of the censorship before I stumbled upon an abandoned “beacon” profile which had most of its details replaced with anti-Goodreads messages and promotion of Off-Topic. You could say that it was an efficient strategy, because the message eventually reached me, the oblivious user – or I should say, I reached the message.

Having now read the book, I realise I’m supposed to do something with this information, right? But is there anything I can do which would mean anything? Should I make my small revolt against Goodreads, when it was on myKindle where I read this book – complete with Amazon-powered Goodreads integration that doesn’t work as I had imagined it would? Should I move my reviews to BookLikes, like some people did? Why use a social network at all, if I’m ready to give up the convenience of the site for some vague ideology? And at the very end, if to enjoy a free service online, you become the commodity, can there be any escape at all from the sudden-death ToU?

I have sadly become cynical over the years, especially about online activism. I see a lot of people being very sensitive and idealistic on the web but with a seemingly loose grasp of reality. They think that because CS or GR seem friendly and tailored to their own needs – social networks are made to give this impression, after all – that they, alone, can make a difference, just by spreading the message. Often, but not always of course – because there are some people whose character is such that they react very strongly to things like that from all sides – cyber-activists can double as happy, obedient citizens/consumers with a straight face, which boggles my mind. When people get so worked up about these changes that they actively quit sites, I don’t know what to think. On the one hand, their determination and bullheadedness is admirable – it really is. On the other hand, I don’t see what kind of alternative they’re imagining and, most important of all, how they can make sure that their alternative can remain as pure, idealistic and humble as they imagine their perfect social network to be. How they can make sure that the new place will stay better than Goodreads before the natural moral entropy of the web forces them to find their new digital Zion.

But I’m grumpy today. A storm in a teacup can bring about good things and I’m grateful that there are people out there who don’t overanalyze themselves out of any sort of action, meaningful or not.

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The Science Delusion: Feeling the Spirit of EnquiryThe Science Delusion: Feeling the Spirit of Enquiry by Rupert Sheldrake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have the rational intelligence to be a scientist, but it’s not in my personality to fill in cracks in established mental models. I seek anomalies that open cracks.

~Ran Prieur

Quickly becoming one of my favourite quotes.

Jimmy Wales tells “energy workers” that Wikipedia won’t publish woo, “the work of lunatic charlatans isn’t the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse'” [link]

Jimmy Wales’ statement is as revolting as the discussion under it. I would suggest that you read it, but only if you have the stomach for tens of “skeptics” parrotting the mainstream opinions about woo, parapsychology etc, claiming the truth and the high ground of knowledge as they usually do. Even the article itself is taking clear sides without shame.

Do these people know anything about the subject? Does Jimmy Wales know anything about the subject, he who with one broad swath pigeonholes so many people as lunatic charlatanes? I don’t know whether this technique in particular has had successes, explicable or inexplicable, in doing what it says it does, I haven’t looked into it to be honest, but I’ve seen the same discussion surrounding “pseudoscience” too many times to count.

Why this hate? Why this elitism? Why this aversion to exploration of the fringes? When did science become all about defending what’s already known? I thought the opposite was the main idea. Is materialist science, peer-reviewd journals, wikipedia, Richard Dawkins and the rest, parts of a bulletproof world theory anyway?

No, they’re not. Far from it. And if you want to know why, you should absolutely read The Science Delusion (title insisted upon by publisher) by Rupert Sheldrake. His main idea is that science and the scientific method are generally good at giving answers about our world, but, just like organised religion 500 years ago did, it has become too inflexible, too bulky, too dogmatic, too rid of assumptions, too sure of itself and too dismissive to be of any real use today. Meanwhile, it’s hindering research that could further our understanding of the world in unimaginable ways.

What’s interesting is that Sheldrake in this book provides us with -what’s normally considered as- hard evidence for a world that cannot be explained materialistically. That includes results of real peer-reviewed experiments that point to the reality of things like brainless memories, statistically significant telepathy and many more chin-stroke-worthy phenomena that truly test mainstream science’s beliefs of what should or shouldn’t be possible.

After reading the book, I checked Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia entry just to see reactions to his work from the scientific communituy. Not surprisingly, the discussion was not much more sophisticated than what I witnessed in the link at the top of this review: accusations of pseudoscience, charlatanism etc pervaded the articles, indications that the skeptics hadn’t really comprehended the criticism aimed at their methodology and worldview, didn’t follow up on the bibliography, plainly assuming that there must have been something wrong with it (confirmation bias), or that they simply didn’t even read the book. Richard Dawkins has said, after all, that he doesn’t want to discuss evidence when it comes to inexplicable phenomena, raising questions about whether he’s really interested in the truth or not – in my personal experience, most skeptics do not have furthering their understanding of our world at the top of their priorities.

In any case, I find the accusations against Sheldrake, and this book in particular, hollow: The Science Delusion has close to 40 pages of notes and bibliography of actual experiments to back it up and Sheldrake’s style and prose themselves are lucid as well as restrained. Even in the parts in which he discusses the inability of science to interpret the phenomena, where he proposes his own theory of morphing resonance as a possible explanation -the parts I enjoyed the least because I cannot exactly grasp the concept of morphic resonance-, he does so without conviction, but rather with the spirit of the curious researcher. A true scientist in my book. The skeptics’ reaction to his work seems to disregard all of this completely; they treat him like they would any old fraud.

But I understand: scientists are also people. What would it have been normal for them to do in the face of rejection of their entire lives’ work plus a few hundred years of tradition? Accept their failure? Accept their dogmatism? Just as scientists are people, science is also a human activity, and as most of human activities do, it also suffers from the same problems human beings generally have, only in a larger, more chaotic scale.

Finally, one more reason I appreciated this book so much was that it was… tender. At the other side of the raging skeptics and this blind rejection there is investigation, there is respect, there is a belief in a state of things that resonated deeply with me. Maybe it’s because Sheldrake’s main field of research has been biology that he shows such love for plants, animals and life in general. For whatever reason, it warmed my heart and made me think that if I ever was a real scientist, Sheldrake would be my rold model: a fighter for truth against the faux fighters for truth, the romantic gardener who everybody calls a hippie but he alone sees what everybody else is too blind to see.

Third five-star review in a row after Μίλα μου για γλώσσα and
Small Gods
(lol). Am I becoming softer or just more grateful?

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Μίλα μου για γλώσσα: Μικρή εισαγωγή στη γλωσσολογίαΜίλα μου για γλώσσα: Μικρή εισαγωγή στη γλωσσολογία by Φοίβος Παναγιωτίδης

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Σημαντικό βιβλίο, ακόμα κι αν το μόνο που καταφέρνει είναι αυτό που ο Φοίβος Παναγιωτίδης υπόσχεται στην αρχή: να παρουσιάσει μια απλουστευμένη, «εκλαϊκευμένη» (δεν μου αρέσει καθόλου αυτή η λέξη ως απόδοση του pop) εισαγωγή στην γλωσσολογία, χωρισμένη σε κεφαλαιάκια-μπουκίτσες.

Πώς μαθαίνουμε να μιλάμε; Από τι είναι φτιαγμένη η γλώσσα; Ποια είναι η παλιότερη γλώσσα του κόσμου; Ποια η διαφορά γλώσσας και διαλέκτου; Τι σημαίνει μιλάω σωστά (ελληνικά); Γιατί μαθαίνουμε αρχαία; Θα μιλάμε όλοι αγγλικά σε 50 χρόνια; Πάσχουν οι νέοι μας από αφασία; Κινδυνεύουν τα παιδιά που μεγαλώνουν σε δίγλωσσο περιβάλλον; Είναι η πολυγλωσσία τεκμήριο ευφυΐας; Γιατί μας δυσκολεύουν οι ξένες γλώσσες; Πού βρίσκεται η Λατβία; Σε τι χρησιμεύει η γλωσσολογία;

Ίσως να μην καταφέρνει να δώσει εκτενείς απαντήσεις σε όλα αυτά τα ερωτήματα, όμως αυτός δεν είναι και ο στόχος του και θα έχανε πολλα αν προσπαθούσε να είναι πιο «επιστημονικό» ή διεξοδικό: πιστεύω πολύ σε έργα όπως αυτό τα οποία προσπαθούν να παρουσιάσουν μια πιο σφαιρική άποψη του θέματος τους και δεν χάνονται στις λεπτομέρειες, όπως τα αγαπημένα μου βιβλία του είδους What on Earth Happened και A Short History of Nearly Everything. Σίγουρα δεν ξέρω άλλα βιβλία παρόμοιου εύρους για το συγκεκριμένο θέμα, και ακόμα πιο σίγουρα όχι στα ελληνικά. Μου άνοιξε φυσικά την όρεξη για περισσότερη γλωσσολογία αλλά και για να εστιάσω περισσότερο στις γλώσσες μου…

Γενικά, ήταν απολαυστικό και θα το πρότεινα σε οποιονδήποτε, όχι μόνο σε φίλους των γλωσσών και της γλωσσολογίας. Μάλλον όσοι δεν έχουν ιδέα από γλωσσολογία πρέπει να το διαβάσουν περισσότερο!

Ευχαριστώ Δάφνη που μου το δάνισες. 🙂

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Games People Play: The Psychology of Human RelationshipsGames People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Games are serious business. Opposite to what we usually identify as characteristics of games, fun and a specific goal aren’t them: the main prerequisite for their existence is a framework of rules. These rules can govern such games such as top league football, gambling or war. They can also be found as transactions following specific unspoken rules that hold a specific purpose for all parties involved played in human relationships. These are the games Games People Play is about.

I enjoyed this book. Parts of it were more geared towards therapists and psychologists rather than laypeople with an interest in “the psychology of human relationships”, such as myself. Still, Eric Berne was obviously breaking new ground with his Transactional Analysis, and even if the book is a little rough around the edges and psychology has advanced a lot since the early ’60s, Games People Play is a good starting point for those who are willing to look more deeply into this part of the field. I wonder what new games and further insight on games and transaction analysis has emerged since the writing of the book!

I would give this half a star more just for its third part, “Beyond Games”, where Eric Berne moves on to what people need in order to grow out of games and attain autonomy: awareness (where I even recognised parts mentioned by Anthony de Mello in Awareness), spontaneity and intimacy. His short descriptions for each were, as was already mentioned, quite quotable, but transcribing several pages here would have made it even less likely that this review might be read by anyone. His concluding remarks, however (“After Games, What?”)… Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!


The sombre picture presented in Parts I and II of this book, in which human life is mainly a process of filling in time until the arrival of death, or Santa Claus, with very little choice, if any of what kind of business one is going to transact during the long wait, is a commonplace but not the final answer. For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as “togetherness”. This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

Epic final sentence is epic?

As a sidenote: I first came in contact with transactional analysis a few years back through these two excellent introductory videos [1][2] by TheraminTrees and have since wished to know more about this fascinating field. These videos summarise very well the content of this book, so if you’re interested, you can watch them, and if you want more, you can follow them up with this very book.

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