May 17, 2005

5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies

[Books_] This little book by Smullyan is a treat for anybody interested in philosophy. He calls it "philosophical fiction", little stories and dialogues that I think illustrate deep ideas in a more colorful way than dry philosophical ramblings. "Mind's I" by Hofstadter and Dennett is the best collection of phi-fi stories I have read and includes three pieces by Smullyan. "Godel, Escher, Bach" should of course be on top of everybody's reading list. I consider Kurzweil's dialogue in "The age of intelligent machines" one of the prime examples. Maybe there are more recent examples. "Sophie's World" could be considered one, but it is too directly about philosophy rather than its ideas. Some movies like "Matrix" could be in the list, but most are too confused and contain too many inconsistencies. (Except "Dark City" which I consider to be the best in this genre.) Paradoxes are ok, but inconsistencies are not in good taste for philosophy. Nevertheless "philosophical fiction" movies have always been my favorites.

More about Smullyan: I declared him my spiritual leader after reading his "Tao is Silent". (He doesn't know yet.) In fact I was first introduced to Smullyan from his two retrograde chess puzzle books (which are required reading if you like puzzles). At around the same time I also read "Mind's I" but probably did not realize it was the same guy who wrote some of my favorite pieces. I then ran into some of his logical puzzle books. After reading Tao is Silent, I finally started putting the pieces together and realized it was all one and the same person. He has one of these crisp, high-precision minds that I so admire in people like Bertrand Russell and Marvin Minsky, but unlike them, he is genuinely interested in mystical stuff! It turns out he is also a professional magician, piano player, logic professor, family relation to Marvin Minsky, doctoral student of Alonzo Church (are all my favorite people related?), and he loves dogs and builds telescopes. I think that qualifies him as a spiritual leader for anybody, including himself.

Recently I decided to collect all his books, most of which are shamefully out of print. ( is a great site for finding out of print books.) I haven't read them all but here is a list:

Spritual Books:
- The Tao is Silent
- This Book Needs No Title (especially the last chapter "Planet without laughter")
- 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies (does philosophy count as spiritual?)
- Who Knows? - A Study of Religious Consciousness (this is my least favorite of the three, probably because I don't find the idea of Hell very interesting.)

Retrograde Chess Puzzles:
- The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights
- The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes

Logic Puzzles:
- What is the Name of this Book?
- The Lady or the Tiger?
- Alice in Puzzleland
- To Mock a Mockingbird
- Forever Undecided
- Satan, Cantor and Infinity
- The Riddle of Scheherazade and Other Amazing Puzzles

- Some Interesting Memories

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