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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story - Jim Holt Jessica Q. Rabbit, singer, model, movie star and high-flying academic, talks candidly to The Toon Town Times about Why Does the World Exist?

Jessica 1

TTT: Jessica, great to meet and thank you for making space in your busy schedule.

JR: The pleasure's all mine.

TTT: Okay, now I know you have another meeting in half an hour, so let's cut to the chase. What's up with Jim Holt's new book? Why aren't you in it?

JR: Why should I be?

TTT: Ah, come on. Sartre... Proust... cosmology... modal logic... it's Jessica all over. He visited Parfit, Weinberg, Deutsch, Vilenkin. Why not you too?

JR: How do you know he didn't?

TTT: Are you telling me...?

JR: Well, of course he wrote. And I said sure, come on out and we'll talk. And he did that. But in the end he decided not to use the material.

TTT: But... why not?

JR: Look, I'm the kind of gal who likes to speak her mind. He showed me his manuscript, and he asked me what I thought. I told him there were obvious weaknesses. He couldn't handle it.

TTT: Weaknesses? Like what?

JR: Where do I start? Okay, take Sartre. I mean, right, Jean-Paul was a great dramatist, I'd have said that even if he hadn't written Les Mains Sales for me...

Jessica 2

TTT: Sartre wrote Les Mains Sales for you??

JR: Hello, why do you think the female lead is called Jessica? Why do you think she hides the gun in her cleavage in Act 1? I was supposed to be playing her on the opening night. You should have seen the bit of hardware I was going to hide there. The audience would have loved it. And then I came down sick and that flat-chested little tramp Marie Olivier got the glory instead. Even though she wrecked the key scene. But sorry, sorry, I'm getting off topic. Sartre, terrific, world-class playwright, pretty good novelist, but as a philosopher, you know, nothing special...

TTT: Nothing special?

JR: Like, really, I told him not to publish L'être et le néant. Said he'd just embarrass himself. Was I right or was I right? But Jim Holt, he just can't stop talking about it. And then on modal logic...

TTT: Modal logic?

JR: Yeah, sure, you know, I love modal logic, but Plantinga's modal version of the Ontological Argument? Puh-lease. It isn't worth mentioning, it's like you need one second more compared to the original Anselm version to spot the obvious fallacy, but Jim just goes on about it. He should have more pride. And then Proust, he mentions Proust like four, five times, and in such trivial ways. I know everyone isn't as interested in Proust as I am, but honestly, if that's all you can think of to say about him then you shouldn't start. I guess I shouldn't have told him that though. He looked kinda crushed.

Jessica 3

TTT: Well, you wouldn't have been Jessica if you'd kept quiet.

JR: Hey thanks! But sometimes I think I could use more tact, you know? Whatever. When you come down to it, the Sartre and the Proust, they were just, you know, irritating, because of my personal connections to them. It was the cosmology that really did it. So first he has this historical retrospective, and he like completely, but completely misrepresents the contribution of poor old Georges Lemaître...

TTT: The Belgian priest-scientist?

JR: That was Georges. I met him in 1926 when he came out to California, it was at a party at the Hubble place, and he was, you know, so cute and earnest with that round face and those glasses and that wonderful accent, I just totally fell for him. Such a shame he'd taken a vow of celibacy or there's no telling what could have happened. So yeah, he gets Georges wrong and then he talks about inflation and false vacuums like eight times and never goes into the least bit of detail about how the mechanism works. In the end, I know this was kinda rude but I was riled up, I said Jim, do you really understand it? Because if you don't, I'm going to explain it to you now. And I did, I remember Alan Guth telling it to me just after he'd found the original false vacuum construction like it was yesterday. And I took it slowly, step by step, and I said Jim, don't you see, in the false vacuum the metric is basically just the original de Sitter one so you get exponential expansion. It's easy.

TTT: I'm not sure I'm still following you...

JR: That's what he said too. And I said Jim, you have read de Sitter's 1917 paper, right? And you know what? He hadn't. Just had his head full of trivial philosophy.

Jessica 4

TTT: Uh...

JR: But that's not the worst part. He showed me his interview with Roger Penrose, I mean, Roger was doing him such a favor agreeing to talk to him in the first place, and all Jim could do was go on and on about neo-Platonism. He'd read like the first chapter of The Road to Reality and he'd missed all the interesting passages where Roger's using thermodynamic arguments to undermine the validity of the inflationary approach. They could have had like this amazingly interesting discussion, and he totally fluffed it. No wonder Roger made an excuse after half an hour.

TTT: Talking of which...

JR: OMG, is that the time? I'm sorry, I really have to leave like five minutes ago, I hope you got everything you needed. And hey, I feel I've been such a bitch talking about Jim this way, I mean he's a nice guy and all and I'm sorry about his dog and his mother, but you know, he just totally pushes all my buttons. As Jean-Paul would have said, c'est plus fort que moi.

TTT: I understand, Jessica. It's been a real pleasure talking to you. And good luck with your new book.

JR: Thanks! It's been fun. Bye!

Jessica 5