'-------------------------------------------------- Cascoly Books: Philosophy, Law & Politics

Cascoly Books - Philosophy, Law & Politics


The Trial of Socrates

Paradigm Shifts

The beginning of the 20th century saw upheaval and turbulence as  2 major scientific philosophies crumbled -- the Newtonian Mechanical Universe's  replacement by Relativity and Quantum mechanics, and the acceptance of evolution by the scientific community. These events forced a re-examination of basic ways of seeing the world -- and the cultural and political effects of a once stable philosophy suddenly altered radically.

Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver has the Newtonian revolution as its backdrop, as The Royal Society emerges from alchemy.  Stephen Jay Gould  has remarked that Darwin would not have succeeded in presenting his theory, even to brilliant men such as Hooke, Leibniz and Newton, since their minds were not yet prepared for the new kind of science.  Fiction like Quicksilver lets us attempt to imagine what that world might have been like. 

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist - Russell McCormmach -

Victor Jakob is an aging German physicist living in Germany in 1918 -- after the destruction of World War I. But even more devastating, he comes to consider his research like the war, has also been on a lost cause. It's hard for us to enter hios consciousness. After a century when we've been taught from early on about quantum mechanics and general relativity, and when string theory attempts to explain it all, it's difficult to go back to re-create the mind set that confounded physicists at the turn of the century

  • At one and the same time Jakob might be studying Helmholtz's derivation of the basic differential equations of physics from a common least-action principle; Hertz's reformulation of the principles of mechanics ...; Boltzmann's universal atomism; Mach;'s phenomenological and Ostwald's energetic foundations of physical science along with their denials of atoms, forces, and mechanical explanations as the proper approach for understanding the physical world... Temporarily swept along by the vogue of viewing energy as the sole reality, he was soon brought to his senses by Planck and Boltzmann, whose writings showed him that the energists were hopelessly confused on physics and that they threatened to mislead young physicists into believing in a royal road to discovery.

An interesting analogy is given by the old physicist, which takes even greater relevance with the discoveries in superstring theory that emerged after this book was written:

  • They would remember that mathematical physics began with music and the Greeks, with Pythagoras. Mathematical physics long ago separated off from music but the original inspiration of music to scientific thought persisted. Without it, he told them, Kepler wouldn't have discovered the harmonies of the planetary world on which Newton's work and with it all of modern physics rested. So if they reflected on t for a moment, they would see that without music and the exact way of thinking about the world it inspired, this physical institute wouldn't be here, and neither would he or they.

This novel is sadly lyric and brings together musings on many fundamental themes


Hopeful Monsters The interplay of biology, physics, philosophy and politics in the first half of the 20th century


Ronald Dworkin Life’s Dominion

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason - Sam Harris

Amazon.com Review
Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil's in the details, then you'll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message.

Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave "something more" we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author' musings.)

Harris' heart is not as much in the latter chapters, though, but in presenting his main premise. Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary -- when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book.--Ed Dobeas

April Blood  -Florence and the Plot Against the Medici

Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell

Socialism For Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face. The capitalist-imperialist governments, even though they themselves are about to be plundered, will not fight with any conviction against Fascism as such. Our rulers, those of them who understand the issue, would probably prefer to hand over every square inch of the British Empire to Italy, Germany and Japan than to see Socialism triumphant.


Anthony Lewis - Make No Law - The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment -- A readable account of the libel case that dramatically defined and expanded the scope of press freedom.  It's difficult to remember that it was only in the 1960's that these ideas were settled by the Supreme Court.  Lewis backgrounds the history of press freedom, or rather government attempts to bridle it by various sedition acts that seemed to appear each generation [Ashcroft's current attempts to inhibit 1st Amendment rights is only the latest in a long series] The last chapters of the book cover libel cases through 1991 when the book went to press.  The short section on the Pentagon Papers case is particularly timely.

"Presidents have used the needs of national security in [an age of nuclear weapons] to justify cloaking more and more of the vital business of government in secrecy. The intelligence agencies spend billions of dollars every year, but the public is not allowed to know the amount or the justifications for it... The price of all this secrecy is one that Madison understood -- the growth of autocracy.... Americans are far too bewitched by the presidency and its ever-growing claims that national security demands secret government.  The public resents the press when it tries to hold the President accountable on issues of war and peace, as Madison and h is colleagues intended the press to do.

Daniel Dennett
  • Consciousness Explained
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea
  • Freedom Evolves

    John Searle

  • Science fiction often explores  these themes.

    Roger Zelazny  - Lord of Light Hindu pantheon in SciFi setting

    Mars Trilogy - Kim Stanley Robinson

    Other links: 

  • Can Science Explain Religion?

  • Money- an evolutionary history
  • Making of the Constitution & Federalism
  • Democracy
  • Evolution books
  • Science Books - Reviews & Recommendations

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