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Reality: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – January 13, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199594414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199594412
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Jan Westerhoff is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Durham.

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Customer Reviews

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I finished this entertaining and perplexing book wondering how, if reality itself is so iffy, we can know anything at all.
R. Hardy
I initially bought this book mostly because the title made me smile, but it has been the "Very Short Introduction" that I've found the most interesting and enjoyable.
JPBM
The authors walks you through different aspects of reality and discusses whether they are really part of reality or just another illusion.
Yassine Benajiba

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you are a Firesign Theater fan, you will remember Principal Poop's pep rally speech in the mock radio play "Porgy and Mudhead in High School Madness." A heckler in the stands keeps yelling at the principal, and one of the less obscene things he yells is, "What is reality?" Well, that would seem an easy question, but Poop does not risk a reply. Smart fellow. Like lots of seemingly easy questions, it's surprisingly complicated. In _Reality: A Very Short Introduction_ (Oxford University Press), philosopher Jan Westerhoff intends to show that we all assume reality is pretty simple, and we are all foolish to make the assumption. Well, maybe not; if you think that you are you, and that you are now reading this sentence, and you are not fretting that you are just someone in a dream, this, Westerhoff says, "reflects a healthy psychological attitude." But if you have never thought about how you can tell in a dream that you are dreaming, or whether the letters you now see in front of you are really there, or if they are the product of someone else's brain, or if the present is the same for everybody, then he says this "suggests a lack of philosophical imagination." Westerhoff's funny and sometimes alarming book is indeed very short; as part of Oxford's admirable "Very Short Introduction" series, it has to be. There are 123 pages, including nine pages of handy references for anyone who wants to dig deeper, and find out how unreal reality really is.

The easiest reality conundrum to contemplate is that of dreaming; dreaming certainly seems real at the time. If you are dreaming that you are reading these words, fine, no problem - but basically you are wrong about the experience, because it is not really happening.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JPBM on November 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
I initially bought this book mostly because the title made me smile, but it has been the "Very Short Introduction" that I've found the most interesting and enjoyable. It is an absolutely fascinating read, and, by the way, it contains a strikingly lucid and accessible few-page introduction to the philosophical issues arising from some aspects of quantum theory. If you're not into physics, don't be put off by this though. It talks about a lot of other stuff as well, but it will probably change your mind about physics too.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oftentimes the simplest ideas and concepts are the ones that are hardest to understand. This is certainly true with the concept of "reality." In our everyday lives we take it for granted, and even in most professional and scientific contexts this is an almost entirely unproblematic term. However, when we push against the frontiers of our knowledge, as is the case in many subfields of physics, psychology, and philosophy, we quickly encounter situations where "reality" has to have a very precise technical meaning if we want to understand some of the most fundamental phenomena of the world that we live in. "Reality: A Very Short Introduction" tackles many such exceptionally tricky consideration, and brings the ideas from the forefront of science and philosophy to the general audience.

In relatively few pages, this very short introduction manages to bring forth some of the most enduring problems that have stymied philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers for centuries. The book is divided into four chapters, each of which addresses one aspect of our understanding of reality. The chapters are: 1. Dreams and simulations, 2. Is matter real?, 3. Are persons real?, 4. Is time real? These chapters provide a general overview of the topics that have framed our discussion about reality. The author relies on variety of disciplines for his assertions and findings, but the primary source of ideas about reality come from physics, philosophy, and psychology. In a sense, these disciplines may be though of as representing three aspects of reality that we encounter in all aspects of our lives: psychological, physical, and metaphysical.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Andrew James Langridge on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you come to this book expecting to find an outline of the philosophical debate between realists and anti-realists, I fear you will be disappointed. The author has chapter headings on Dreams (Idealism), Matter, Persons and Time, which he introduces with some helpful points; but then moves frustratingly fast onto 'evidence' for realism from the natural sciences, without pausing to consider whether scientific ideas do not themselves presuppose some minimal conception of reality. For example, there is barely any discussion of influential instrumentalist ideas concerning scientific truth, such as those of Kuhn, Duhem and Quine. If scientific evidence is prized, the debate between Einstein and Bohr over the meaning of quantum physics would have been highly relevant in this context. In the chapter on matter, the author usefully delineates criteria for increasing strengths of realism: 'the Matrix definition' (private criterion), 'the 1984 definition' (public criterion), the 'Johnson definition' (independence criterion), the 'apocalyptic definition' (no minds criterion) and the 'turtle definition' (reductionist criterion). But he then proceeds to duck the most important issues by concentrating almost exclusively on the apocalyptic definition, backed up by an unquestioning identification of mind with brain.
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