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Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics (MIT Press) Hardcover – May 5, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A breathtakingly original assault on all the Big Issues! When philosophers get stuck in ruts, it often takes a brilliant outsider to jolt them onto new ground, and Gary Drescher, coming to philosophy from AI, offers a startling feast of new ideas. I'm sure some of them are right, but I can't tell which! Can you?

(Daniel Dennett, author of Brainchildren, Sweet Dreams, and Breaking the Spell)

In an extraordinary tour de force, Drescher has written a powerful defense of rationalism and of a deterministic universe. He systematically examines and dismantles the arguments against a mechanical view of the universe and the mind. Drescher shows how a computational perspective enables us to solve the longstanding mysteries of the real and the good; how the physical world, consciousness, and free choice arise from deterministic mechanisms; and how the universe and everything (and everyone) in it is essentially a computation. In contrast to a prevailing relativism, Drescher demonstrates that both truth and ethics can be placed on a rational foundation.

(Uri Wilensky, Northwester Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, and author of the NetLogo multiagent modeling environment)

Gary Drescher thinks that attempts to solve the deep problems that have stumped philosophers since time immemorial -- or have caused them to resort to silly answers -- have been thwarted largely by a set of relatively simple yet significant misunderstandings in logic and physics. He is right about that, and his careful debunking and explanations are clear and compelling. He also believes that by avoiding these errors, he has found solutions to the weightiest of those problems -- in particular, the true nature of right and wrong and the true nature of subjective sensation and consciousness. Of that, I am not convinced. But in making the attempt, he has provided a valuable and entertaining introduction to rational thinking in a variety of fields.

(David Deutsch, University of Oxford, author of The Fabric of Reality)

About the Author

Gary L. Drescher is an independent scholar and was recently Visiting Fellow at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from MIT in 1989 and is the author of Made-Up Minds: A Constructivist Approach to Artificial Intelligence (MIT Press, 1991).
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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Hardcover: 364 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; 1 edition (May 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262042339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262042338
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,419,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Thomas W. Clark on July 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Explain to people that they are fully natural, caused creatures, that they don't have contra-causal free will, and they often suppose you're dallying with fatalism. Explain that there is no provable basis for morality outside the natural world, and they often assume you're a moral relativist or nihilist. How can we construe human choices as anything but illusory if all we do is completely determined? How can we judge behavior right or wrong if there are no supernatural ethical foundations?

In Good and Real, computer scientist and independent scholar Gary Drescher mounts a mind-bending attack on these and other problems that arise when commonsense conflicts with the science-based view that we inhabit a purely physical, mechanistic, deterministic universe. (Please fasten your seatbelts.) Establishing that we are in such a universe is just one of his projects, set forth in a chapter called "Quantum Certainty." Drescher explains and defends Hugh Everett's relative-state interpretation of quantum mechanics in which there is no collapse of the waveform and in which the evolution of the (locally branching) universe in configuration space is fully deterministic. This unflinching fidelity to the mathematical quantum formalism is quite the opposite of pop-quantum physics, for instance as popularized by the film What the Bleep Do We Know, which gives the putatively undetermined conscious observer a special role in "creating" reality by collapsing the waveform. Here as elsewhere in the book Drescher draws a tough-minded, unpopular conclusion: sorry, we don't create our own reality.

Nor is consciousness something that transcends mechanism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'Ambitious' does not do justice to the scope of this book's project of explaining no less than all of reality and dispelling the most beguiling of modern philosophical paradoxes. Drescher's title 'Good and Real' alludes to the is/ought dichotomy of what there 'is' and how moral agents 'ought' to act. He presents solutions to both using reasonable assumptions based on modern scientific evidence and then extrapolating those into cleverly simplified toy models.

Underlying all of Drescher's thinking is a foundational construction of the 'real' or what 'is' and can be summarized as a deterministic quantum-mechanical configuration space based on Everett's many-worlds interpretation that sits statically and timelessly representing the possibility space of spacetime. Using this foundation, he offers a theory of the 'good' or what 'ought' to be done and can be summarized as following the rule of subjunctive reciprocity, which is the use of acausal counterfactual reasoning to justify following Kant's categorical imperative. In reaching this conclusion, Drescher spends time reconciling notions of free-will with a deterministic universe and puts forth arguments for using acausal counterfactual reasoning as the preferred way of thinking about means-end relations that is more general than causal relationships but also more strict than mere evidential relationships.

I found Drescher's arguments sound and consistent, and his assumptions more than reasonable, and thus can agree with his general conclusions for the most part without much reservation. It goes much further than other recent attempts at grounding ethics within a naturalistic framework, such as Sam Harris' failed attempts in his recent book 'The Moral Landscape', but I fear the necessarily more technical style of Drescher's book will impede it from receiving the popular attention it deserves.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a rigorous and well-written book about the nature of the universe, consciousness, free will, morality, etc. In fact, the rigor sometimes makes it tedious... I persevered but I'm afraid some people might give up and dismiss some chapters, esp. the QM models. Additionally, I am not convinced that it succeeds on the moral front as far as achieving both goals is concerned (i.e. why moral precepts are such as they are AND why follow them), but otherwise it's solid. It was very satisfying to arrive at the conclusion about metaphysics based on the rest of the book before reading chapter 8, and then see the same conclusion recounted in chapter 8.
Probably the most coherent book that I've read on the majority of its topics.
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Format: Hardcover
I am proud to write a review for this book, because I am convinced that philosophers of the future will look back on it as being ahead of its time.

Drescher establishes a comprehensive framework for studying some of the most difficult problems in philosophy, starting with a mechanistic view of the mind. With these tools, he dissects some of the most perplexing philosophical problems, questions about mind and body, consciousness, cause and effect, and moral choice. Drescher demonstrates convincingly that many our intuitions about free will and moral choice are not only not contradicted by a mechanistic view, but can be supported by it

I expect this book will not achieve the recognition it deserves for many years, because Drescher's way of thinking will be not be easy for readers with twentieth-century assumptions. Yet I am convinced that philosophers of the future will look back at this book in wonder, not because his ideas will be strange to them, but because they will find it surprising that we had so much trouble accepting them.
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