The Mind-Body Problem

May 23, 2010

I borrowed this book from the library to give to my wife for her birthday.

I know. This sounds like the lowest form of birthday gift giving imaginable, but there’s an explanation (“Of course!” you grimace, “What husband ever lacks for an explanation when it comes to rationalizing a crappy birthday gift?”). Ummm, I don’t think I have an answer for that one, but here’s my story anyway.

As her birthday approached, I began thinking about buying her a copy of Rebecca Goldstein‘s latest book, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, but I hesitated because 1) it was only available in hardcover (cost, etc.), and 2) how did I know if she would even like a book that has huge gobs of philosophy and religion ladled into each corner, not to mention the title? She’s more the murder mystery type. So Plan B, give her a paperback version of some early Goldstein novel for her birthday, and then if she liked it, put 36 Arguments for the Existence of God under the Christmas tree in nine months.

It took only five minutes for this idea to build itself a nest among my brain’s moss-covered branches, so I began checking around Goldstein’s web site for other books. The M-B Problem popped right up, but I couldn’t find a copy in any local bookstore. The book was too old and there wasn’t time to order it online. A library copy, if one was available, would have to do. Fortunately, I found one! It was in a branch library located all the way on the other side of town, so I congratulated myself for being intrepid and thoughtful and drove off in pursuit.

Luckily,  she liked the book (and the chocolate that came with it). She even thought I might like it.

I liked it too. Sort of.

The problem I had with it was this: deep down, I don’t really want to know that much about mathematicians. I’ve worked with too many and they just aren’t that interesting. Physicists aren’t any better (even though they seem to come off a little better in this book). Philosophers? No, I can’t stand them either.

If you want to read a book about philandering faculty, read Moo or Straight Man. But, if you want to read a book about a nice Jewish girl who, although she was educated at a top eastern university, got straight A’s, and should know better, still somehow manages to be totally unaware of the fact that her problems are straight out of Madame Bovary, then read this book. Some of it’s quite funny. And it goes much faster than Bovary.

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