Monday, February 22nd, 2010

metamechanics of driving

Researchers as far back as Leibniz have pointed out that if you looked into the brain with a full knowledge of its physical makeup and nerve cell activities, you would see nothing that described subjective experience. (Libet, Mind Time, p153)

This kind of argument, recurring in philosophy of mind texts, and frequently made by people who otherwise seem to have their wits about them, is quite flabbergasting, and the dogmatic fervor with which it usually is presented hints at its roots in the desire for metaphysics and transcendence. I literally groaned reading this, earning me some sideways glances in the commuter train.

So let’s see. First problem. The statement by itself is not empirical. All it is is a claim that if you looked, you would find nothing. But so far we have hardly looked at all, we barely even know how to frame the image yet. Put differently, Libet says that there is an explanatory gap between the physical and the mental, and that it can not be bridged. This may of course turn out to be true – though I doubt it – but it is not something we have very much evidence for either way. What evidence there is, however, seems to point pretty clearly to a causal relationship between brain physiology and mental processes and thus weaken the possibility of the gap being real.

But the more fundamental fallacy is that this view confuses the explained, that is, mental life, with the explanation, which is neurophysiological chatter of cells. Of course one does not look like the other. If they did we wouldn’t need a theory, for there would be nothing to explain. This is rather like opening the hood of your car, marveling at the pistons and the crankshaft and spark plugs and exclaiming “Why, there is nothing in here at all that resembles movement of a vehicle, there is just metal parts and gasoline mixture exploding! That there is such vehicular movement can not ever be explainable from these parts, because the two are so very different. There must therefore be an automotive substance in addition to the material one, and it is not governed by the laws of mechanics or physics. When cars die, they live on in their motion.” And so on.

Incidentally: what is it like to be a moving car? Mr. Nagel?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

2009 Leseliste

Bücher ins Regal zu stellen ist befriedigend. Der Abschluss einer Unterhaltung mit dem Autor ist erreicht, das Ende einer intellektuellen Reise, und das Ergebnis einer zusammengepuzzelten Wand aus Ideen ist stimulierend, eine Art gehobene Tapete, Bücherregale sind Innenausstattung des Kopfes und der Wohnung zugleich. Soweit, so banal. Aber würde man sein Bücherregal auf die Strasse stellen, damit Passanten sich die idiosynkratische Zusammenstellung der Gedanken ansehen und sich an den zufälligen und willentlichen Querverbindungen erfreuen können? Man würde nicht. Man wäre ja ein Esel, täte man das. Selbst Antiquariate stellen nur ihren Schrott vor die Tür, als Fliegenpapier, und die hätten doch nun wirklich Grund, zumal in, der Halbsatz passt ja überall, der heutigen Wirtschaftslage.

Andererseits: nur wenig hinter dem Medizinschränkchen zurückbleibend ist das Bücherregal in fremden Wohnungen ein kräftiger Anziehungspunkt. Was steht da, in welcher Ordnung, wer neben wem, wird der Quatsch versteckt, sind welche dabei, die mir gefallen, und falls ja, welche von den Unbekannten zwinkern mir zu, steht Unfug rum, faszinierend. Und trotzdem: der Impuls demselben Interesse, das die anderen ja auch haben müssen, entgegen zu kommen, schmeckt schmutzig. Seht her, das hab ich mir in den Kopf getan, was muss das für ein Kopf sein!, scheint die Leseliste zu brüllen, und zumal wenn sie lang ist im Verhältnis zur abgedeckten Zeit. Dabei kodiert sich darin doch nur Einsamkeit, oder Obsession, oder Notwendigkeit, das eigene Fragmentsein durch Einbindung von anderweitig Fragmentarischem notdürftig zu bedecken wie mit einem Feigenblatt.

Oder ist vielleicht die Nichtveröffentlichung die eigentliche Eitelkeit, weil sie impliziert, dass die Liste eine Leistung repräsentiert, die andere in Verlegenheit bringen könnte und dadurch erst den eigentlichen Irrtum begeht, aus den Zufälligkeiten des Aneinander Vorbeigehens von Buch und Mensch eine intellekwütige Mär zu stricken? Oder ist schliesslich dieses Offenlegen des blöden Hin- und Widers die finale Eitelkeit? Weil nämlich so nicht nur die ursprüngliche Pfauengockeligkeit entschuldigt, sondern die Tiefe der empfindenden Seele aufs schauerlich Blödeste behauptet und belegt wird?

Alles aber Quatsch, Kopfsalat, dummes Zeux, gerade auch in der heutigen Wirtschaftslage.

My year in Büchern, zweisprachig die Kommentare wie die Gegenstände:

Don DeLillo – Libra
After Ellroy, this. Left me unjustly untouched, in spite of delirious dialogue.
Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas
First read in German, a world away and a life ago. Rereading: surprised, both ways.
Phillip Roth – The Human Stain
Constructed, but no matter. Reads twice as intense while living close to Newark.
Jonathan Lethem – The Disappointment Artist
Lethem is at his best when he is not shrewdly inventing, but lucidly describing.
Graham Roumieu – Bigfoot – I not dead
Fun! Hit over head with like brick. Ouch, but good.
David Simon & Edward Burns – The Corner
Simon’s achievements are humbling, this being no exception. Half the basis of The Wire, the best show on TV ever. I case you hadn’t heard.
Michael Pollan – In Defense of Food
Poor food. Poor, poor food. Help, somebody! Eat it!
James Ellroy – LA Confidential
Take the land away, and you have a sign. Not sure what that means.
Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian
Tje judge will haunt your deepest, hm. Do you even dream, or is your night just a black abyss of nothing?
Robert Rudolph – The Boys from New Jersey
This thing of ours is alive and well in your back yard, thanks for asking.
Jonathan Zittrain – The End of the Internet and How to Stop It
Open source gospel. Minor truth.
Michael Pollan – The Botany of Desire
The domestication of man by apples and potatos.
Sam Keith / Richard Proenneke – One Man’s Wilderness
Someone needed to build this cabin and live this life, just so I can wonder whether I wouldn’t have, too.
John Harwood – The Ghost Writer
Deconstructing Victorian ectoplasm from remote Australia. Fun.
William Clup Darrah – Stereo Views
For fans of depth and crossed eyes.
Philip Roth – Portnoy’s Complaint
Live, life, liver. About time I read this one.
Lauren Slater – Opening Skinner’s Box
I know the book liked being read by me. You’ll have to ask it whether I liked reading it.
David Day – Tolkien’s Ring
Interesting, but slightly cheap juxtaposition of ring myths sold as part of the Jackson/Tolkien craze.
George Bernard Shaw – The Perfect Wagnerite
Pflichtlektüre for Wotansschüler. Heijatoho.
Norman Mailer – The Executioner’s Song
Interesting ways to fail, for both characters and author.
Sam Chamberlain – My Confession
The authentic diary McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is based on. America, you have it better.
BF Skinner – Beyond Freedom and Dignity
This is surprisingly sensible, if you read it as prejudiced by his fall from grace as I did.
Saul Kripke – Naming and Necessity
This is surprisingly sensible, if you read it as prejudiced by inane arguments from conceivability as I did.
Philip K. Dick – Martian Time Slip
Can’t go wrong with Dick.
Charles Seife – Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
After I had several barfights on the subject of the transfinite (Really. I did.), it’s soothing to find an ally. Cool stuff, any way you cut it.
David Hume – An Abstract of a Treatise on Human Nature
Epistemology should have ended that day, but evil was allowed to endure.
Philip K. Dick – Dr. Bloodmoney
More Dick. Yum.
Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem
I like the Danes. They’re great. The rest I needed to read, too, but none of it was much of a surprise.
Bob Ingle & Sandy McClure – The Soprano State
Skipped through it. A study of illegally acquired pocket lint, only it’s not even Gandolfini’s, but that of real people. Who needs real people?
Bert Hölldobler & E. O. Wilson – The Superorganism
Praise be to ants. Magnificent little buggers. And praise be to this book, a meandering story of the amazing wonders that are insect societies. There is so many awesome details here that it’s hard to focus on one, but maybe the story of the colony of millions of ants deciding somehow to move home, and then over the course of quite a long time sticking to it, and leaving their enormously intricate and huge nest, to build another one somewhere else. Breathtaking.
David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Epistemology should, wait, I said that already. Maybe I’ll say it all the time now. (Induction joke! I invented a new genre)
Carl Sagan – Broca’s Brain
Not about brains at all, for the most part! Fraud! Delicious, dated fraud from the eighties!
Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife
A disjointed, sweet story, skidding along on the border of Implausibla and Sugaryville. I will have had cried, in the future past.
Bryan Burrough – Public Enemies
The age of guns, the making of J. Edgar. Preparation for the coming of Ellroy.
Martin Bartholmy – Mit Karl Napf durch Deutschland
Wunderbare Stadtimpressionen. Bonustrack: Münstervorschau Fahrradtaufe. So wird das also werden, wenn es also so werden sollte.
Marcus Hammerschmitt – Der Glasmensch
Durchsichtiger Versuch, dem Raumschiff einen Doktorhut aufzusetzen. Suhrkrampf.
Robert Schneider – Schlafes Bruder
Nicht so schlimm wie ich dachte. Aber schon ein bisschen schlimm.
Bodo Kirchhoff – Ohne Eifer, ohne Zorn
Oh. Aha. Sieh mal an.
Jonathan Lethem – This Shape We’re In
This openend my third eye: I definitely prefer his shorter work.
Edward Tufte – The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
A beautiful book, and well worth reading for the discussion of the Napoleonic campaign plot alone.
Edward Tufte – The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint
1 Powerpoint kills! 2 Repent! 3 Next slide, please.
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
This fell like a game changing grenade into my head, shredding its contents. They have since reassembled, but the old shape I can never regain. It’s like shuffling furniture in your Öberstubchen.
Stephen Burn – Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
Looking for things I missed. Mostly, I missed that all the dates actually had significance. And I neglected rereading the beginning after I had finished.
John Varley – The Persistence of Vision
Bought for the title, a very pleasant surprise. Smart and hearty.
Marshall Boswell – Understanding David Foster Wallace
Go away, academic clown, bore somebody else.
Jonah Lehrer – How we Decide
A sense of duty made me read it.
James Ellroy – Blood’s a Rover
A scary reading. Ellroy reveals: it’s redemption of man through woman he is after. Not as focused as the previous two, but still a good, solid kick in the gut.
James Ellroy – The Black Dahlia
Something is made in this. And someone.
Hermann Bräuer – Haarweg zur Hölle
Feuerstrahlen aus dem Schritt, Glitz und Glam.
Wolf Haas – Auferstehung der Toten
Es wurde Zeit dafür.
Tex Rubinowitz – Ramses Müller
Versteckspiel mit Murmel und Klo.
Wolf Haas – Der Knochenmann
Aber interessant: Plotschwächen harmlos, weil: Sprachbombe.
Wolf Haas – Komm, süsser Tod
Schön auch die Titel dieser Dinger, die die Auflösung immer zart umschmeicheln.
Wolf Haas – Silentium!
Das Schwächste der Reihe, fand ich, oder finde ich jetzt im Rückblick, obwohl ich eigentlich dieses geschmäcklerische Finden doof finde. Findfind.
Ori Brafman/Rom Brafman – Sway. The irresistible pull of irrational behavior
The myth of the dominance of ratio hit on the head until it cries. Or something. A little tedious.
Wolf Hass – Wie die Tiere
Der ganze Brenner eigentlich: reine Form. Was erzählt wird, insbesondere wenn es absurd oder völlig unrealistisch wird, ist völlig egal, die Erzählweise ist der Kern, das Medium die Message, ja was glaubst Du. Das ist dann, andererseits nicht viel Message am Ende, vielleicht, aber dafür macht es sehr Spass.
Wolf Haas – Das ewige Leben
Der mit Abstand schönste Brennerbuchtitel, als die Doppeldeutigkeit, die ich nichtmal erahnt hatte, aufgelöst wurde, durchwaberte mich ein Glücksgefühl.
Heinrich Steinfest – Cheng
Wurde mir vom der Buchhändlerin empfohlen, weil ich ja schon Regener und Haas und Goldt hatte. Die Empfehlung war verfehlt, vielleicht hätte mich misstrauisch machen sollen, dass sie von Goetz noch nie gehört hatte.
Frank Schulz – Morbus Fonticuli
Eine Wahnsinnskrise, toll von vorn bis hinten. Wegen Vergfiffenheit konnte ich nicht vorne anfangen, und wenn Kolk’s Bräute jetzt nicht bald mal hier im Exil ankommen, geh ich in den Wald und grabe ein Beschwerdeloch.
Max Goldt – Ein Buch namens Zimbo
Der Moralapostel der Apokalypse reitet wieder. Toll wie eh und je, ich fürchte nur, dass ich allmälich zu alt werde dafür, ich nicke zu oft und sage: jemine, das weiss ich doch, Herr Goldt.
Tex Rubinowitz – Der Bremsenflüsterer
Das möchte ich auch, so reisen, so denken, so schreiben. Ich krieg keins davon hin, aber danach streben kann ich ja.
Wolf Haas – Der Brenner und der liebe Gott
Der Anfangssatz ist natürlich schön, aber dass er eine eh schon fragwürdige Erzählsituation vollends ad absurdum führt ist ein bisschen schade. Die Jauchegrube hätts vielleicht auch nicht gebraucht, das geht jetzt nicht mehr weg, Jauchegrube im Kopf.
Christian Y. Schmidt – Allein unter 1.3 Milliarden
Noch so ein Reisebuch, das zum Mitreisen anregt, voller kleiner Puzzleteile, die sich zu einem Phantasiechina in meinem Kopf verbinden.
Oliver Maria Schmitt – AnarchoShnitzel schrieen sie
Der Titel machte mir Angst, macht er immer noch, aber das Buch ist ein schönes Tauchen in der Vergangenheit.
Iain M. Banks – Transition
A nice moment, discovering your favorite author published something new. A bit disappointing in that it reads like all exposition and no story, plus the internal logic of his Wheelerian multiverse doesn’t quite hold up, but something about his style just gets me.
Wolf Singer – Gespräche über Hirnforschung
Ein bisschen verschlafen, aber sehr kluge Einblicke in Herz und Hirn moderner Erkenntnis.
Tilman Ramstedt – Wir bleiben in der Nähe
Ein schönes Kleinod, fast keine Handlung, grosse Irrationalität in kleinen Gesten. Oder so. Schön.
Randall Munroe – XKCD
Instead of a comment I should do a mouseover for this one.
Tom Wolf – Mord nach jeder Fasson
Dieses Jahr habe ich mehr Bücher von mir persönlich bekannten Menschen gelesen als je zuvor. Hier noch eins, ein Berlin-Krimi aus der Zeit Friedrichs des Grossen. Chapeau.
Voltaire – Candide
Wanted to read this for ages, and the previous mystery novel had Voltaire as a character, so the best of all possible times was now.
Voltaire – Micromegas
Fun! Anticipating Flatland in approach and content.
Gerhard Roth / Klaus-Jürgen Grün – Das Gehirn und seine Freiheit
Eine fantastische Sammlung von Texten über die Willensfreiheit. Warum können nicht alle Philosophen so denken?
Rainald Goetz – Irre
Drei Dinge interessieren mich besonders an diesem Buch: die erstaunlichen Parallelen zu Infinite Jest, besonders auch weil Goetz kürzlich in loslabern ziemlich auf Wallace und seine Fussnoten eingedroschen hat. Gibt es das wirklich, die richte Erzählhaltung, oder muss Goetz das nur behaupten, weil das Abgrenzen Teil seiner entwickelten Ästhetik ist? Dann, die Verknüpfung von persönlicher Geschichte mit sachlichem Diskurs, und das Verschwimmen des Einen im Anderen, ist das Schrott oder der Wahrheitsfindung dienlich, oder beides? Und schliesslich: dass ich der gleichfalls in loslabern dokumentierten Ansicht Unselds, der dritte Teil müsse weg, zustimmte, spricht das für oder gegen mich, oder an mir vorbei?
Colin Blakemore – Mechanics of the Mind
An aged tome on how people used to think about the brain, but gorgeously illustrated and edited.
Roy B. Frieden – Physics from Fisher Information
I’m not going to pretend I read this, it has more formula than a midwest baby convention, but the premise: all of modern physics can be motivated from information and observation theory is so intriguing that I wish I did. (The bit about the midwest was made up, I have less of an idea on whether they feed a lot of formula there as I have on Fisher information.)
Rainald Goetz – Hirn
Der Stirnschnitzeltext ist hier drin, erstaunlich, dass man mit sowas also gewinnen konnte, nicht, weil er schlecht ist, sondern, weil der Gestus so schwerfällig wirkt heutzutage, so unsubtil. Vielleicht ist subtil ja scheisse.
David Lampe – Pyke, the Unknown Genius
The man who wanted to freeze saw dust and water into aircraft carriers. It works, too, I made a pseudo-pykrete bowl out of a few sheets of newspaper, and it was unbreakable.
Sven Regener – Herr Lehmann
Die jüngeren Element of Crime Platten finde ich peinlich, und auch die alten Sachen, die mir sehr gefallen, fände ich als Literatur anstrengend. Zum Glück ist das Buch völlig anders und sehr zurückgenommen.
Yann Martell – Life of Pi
Another surprise, the bestseller vibe I had gotten was nothing like this actual story. The final point: the magical story is better than reality, therefore god is better than no god made me cry a bit, I think because I want to believe that, but can’t. Which I suspect is the book’s point.
Rainald Goetz – Rave
Beschreibung einer fremden Welt, der ich mit einer Mischung aus Neid und Unverständnis gegenübertrete.
R. Sikoryak – Masterpiece Comics
Classic literature remade in pulp and serial comic form. A fun idea, surprisingly serious in the end. My favorite: the metamorphosis as a Peanuts strip.
Norbert Herschkowitz – Das Gehirn
Oberflächlich und an ein paar Stellen ein bisschen ungenau, aber eine hübsche Übersicht über die verbreiteten Hirnirrtümer. Ignorierbar.
John Varley – The Ophiuchi Hotline
It’s interesting to see how Varley took the ideas and themes of his short story collection and wove them into a coherent narrative. Full of neat ideas and people reacting relatably to the – to us – alien environments they are in.
Viktor Pelewin – Omon hinterm Mond
Eine ziemlich eindimensionale Satire auf den sowjetrussischen Propaganda- und Wissenschaftsbetrieb, aber in ihrer Absurdität doch sehr hübsch. Vor allem die Pointe, die man trotz der Vorbereitung nicht kommen sieht, gefällt.
Helmut Krausser – UC
Zum Jahresabschluss ein seltsames Buch mit einer Privatgeschichte. Vor Jahren schenkte mir einen Gutschein, joq empfahl in diesem Forum da UC, und wegen exorbitanter Portokosten liess ich den dann an die Adresse meiner Mutter liefern. Die verstand es als Geschenk, las an, wunderte sich sehr über Buch und mich, und hörte wieder auf zu lesen. Beim Besuch kürzlich las ich auch an, mir gefiels und ich kaufte es mir dann nochmal. Und jetzt wundere ich mich aber auch ein wenig, weil ich nicht recht weiss, was das virtuos gestrickte Ding eigentlich soll.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

unlikely likelihoods

Maybe it’s because I’m cranky today, maybe it is because the represenation, or lack thereof, of mathematics in popular and high culture is a constant annoyance to me. Or maybe it is because it is deeply mystifying to me how someone as learned as David Foster Wallace can screw up so badly with numbers; anywho.

I’ve advanced to page 259 of Infinite Jest now, the book gets better and better, but then this: “a 54 match conclusion [of a 108 match tournament] is extremely unlikely – odds being 1 in 227“. Whoa, hold on. Really?

So Wallace gets the binomial distribution wrong, big deal, you might say – the correct probability for a draw is about 0.0766 or 1 in 13, by the way – but that’s not what irks me. How could a number so wildly implausible sail unchecked past both his and his editor’s critical skills? In a tournament with 108 matches, there is 109 possible outcomes (from team A loses all, to team A wins all). The average probability of each outcome then is 1/109. Now if the two teams are equally matched, a draw is the most likely of all these outcomes, making their average (1/109) a lower limit on the actual probability. For this kind of reasoning you need no binomial, no probability distribution, just a little bit of mathematical common sense. Which, for some odd reason, seems to be a rather rare commodity.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma (1)

150_OmnivoresDilemma_med.jpg This book was a magnificent ride. Starting out with a depressing description of the industrial food system, and the great river of corn flowing across the American continent, he proceeds to look at what he calls the industrial organic food system, the coopting of sustainability values by unsustainable big agriculture, and finally homes in on local growing and foraging. The section on Polyface farm in Virginia, with its insight into the biology of grazing, is truly inspiring, especially when contrasted with the nightmarish images of factory farming and CAFOs. The section on foraging and hunting touched me, too, but probably more for it’s Northern California flavor than for its content. As Pollan himself points out, foraging and hunting aren’t viable strategies for feeding a population any more, but reading about mushrooms in Berkeley, pig hunts in Sonoma and morels in the Sierra made me profoundly homesick.

0716740044_cs.jpg To the reader interested in love, sex and animal and human happiness, though rare a beast such a reader might be, this book holds a treasure trove of observations, deliberations and insights. Always keeping in mind the obvious question – how does all this relate to us? – the authors lead us on a walk through animal species, to look for evolutionary reasons and pressure for or against monogamy, and revealing it to be quite uncommon even among species long thought to be faithful mates for life. As it turns out, the fact that affairs need to be concealed from the adulterer’s mate implies automatic and almost perfect concealment from the researcher ape hiding in a camouflaged tent, who after all is much less adept that the animals involved in detecting suspicious behaviour.

The second half of the book then is devoted to the human animal, with the evidence seeming to indicate that our natural instincts would have us being a mildly polygynic, socially monogamous, but sexually adventurous bunch of chimps. As the authors point out in a final chapter aptly captioned “So what?”, no moral law follows directly from any of these observations. Natural impulses do not necessarily have to be acted upon – indeed the core of the idea of civilization might be perceived to be the reining in of such impulses -, yet their denial, and the forcedly naive insistence that monogamy is the mature way of channeling sexual and romantic desires that so much of the western christian tradition hold in fairly low esteem to begin with, seems unnecessarily dire and uninspired a reaction to the question that could well be said to be at the heart of human happiness and fulfillment. For, to change Dorothy Parker’s delightful punchline around on her, what earthly good does not, in fact, come from the sweet tensions of love, courtship and attraction?

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

W.G. Sebald – Luftkrieg und Literatur (1)

sebald.jpg When the Apocalypse caused by Germany came back to engulf it in its fire and destruction, there must have been immeasurable suffering and trauma, yet, as Sebald points out, almost none of it made it into the story of life as set down by the writers. Sebalds exploration of the reasons for this omission, are both deeply touching for his compassion even with those who caused the very desasters that struck them, and illuminating for their original and provocative view on the narrative of Germany.

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Susan Casey – The Devil’s Teeth (2)

casey.jpg A fascinating look at animals and researchers surrounding the Great White Shark Project at the Farallone Islands off the coast of San Francisco. On a clean day you can just see these islands beyond the Golden Gate, and I am going to look out there with much more respect and curiosity now I’ve read the book. On the downside, Casey comes across as a somewhat irresponsible girl, whose obsession with untamed wildness and rugged men ultimately leads to severe consequences for everybody involved.

d3c69330dca01d1725156010._AA240_.L.jpg I almost didn’t buy this when I saw it at the local Salvation Army store. Who needs another book on Yosemite, sporting pretty pictures of waterfalls and sunsets? But as it turns out, Brower not only knows many of the key players of Yosemite’s recent cultural and natural history firsthand, he also writes engagingly and knowledgeably about this intriguing stretch of land. The discussion of a supposed dichotomy of artistic concepts battling over the park could have been spared, but the rest of the book is a joy, and the picture really are gorgeous. Makes me want to go up there again.

north_amer_tree_squirrels.jpg While this book has plenty of interesting information on mainly fox and gray squirrels, it could have been written more with the lay reader in mind. That’s not to say that it is too hard or complex, for it is surprising how little complexities seem worth relating, but rather that it reads in places like a badly written scientific paper. If all of this book had the wit and pace of the chapter on squirrel reproduction, it would have been a delight to read. As it stands, it’s interesting, but rather dull. Except for that chapter. Hilarious.

spruch.jpg The different stances of people from varying strata and cultural backgrounds take toward animal life in general, and those animals that have become closely associated in one way or another to human life, is fascinating on one hand, and fairly predictable on the other. City dwellers, who suffer property damage and the risk of diseases from rats, abhor and vilify them, while at the same time adoring squirrels, who in many respects resemble their shady cousings. While in the countryside squirrels are hunted for food, and face extinction in many places because of habitat loss, the city dwelling species enjoy much attention and feeding by their primate hosts. And needless to say, each faction considers their way the natural state of affairs.

This particular book, to get away from stating the obvious, is both entertaining in the stories of squirrel-man interaction its author has accumulated over the years, and somewhat frustrating in its lack of reflection, and Spruch’s tendency to attribute human psychology to her charges.