This is really a double review. I read both ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius‘ and ‘How to Read Wittgenstein‘ by Ray Monk.

The main take away from the second is that the early Wittgenstein was about trying to show the limitations of thought. The later Wittgenstein went deeper into the same challenge. Though the tractatus is an eternal philosophical classic, I personally think the later Wittgenstein was more interesting. Mind you – that is based solely on these two books, not on reading the relevant literature myself.

The thing is, the later Wittgenstein faces up to what is now much more a common insight: that the ambiguity of language is not going away; That the way we put things into words changes how we deal with them; That math is an instrumental science, not a truth finding one etc.

The biography shows Wittgenstein a troubled human being, as most geniuses are. The subtitle ‘The Duty of Genius’ refers to the deep obligation Wittgenstein felt to BE a genius. In fact, he only decided that his life was worth living when Bertrand Russell adopted him as his disciple. This says something rather terrible about Wittgenstein’s childhood environment. Not for nothing did several of his brothers commit suicide.

As an Austrian living through both world wars Wittgenstein’s life also turns into a unique look at the Europe of that time. This is true also of the Heidegger biography by Rudiger Safranski btw. (I read that one in Dutch). [This: Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil is probably it, though the title is rather more dramatic in English than in either Dutch or French, for example]

The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century (World Social Change)
I loved this book: it really helps put our present world into perspective: globalization has been going on for centuries. Our current wealth is due to freedom plus natural resources like coal and oil.

The subtitle says it all: ‘A global and Ecological narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-first Century’
What you get for that is a new look at the global world. This book is, and that’s rather unique even today, not Europe-centric. It starts in the 15th century with China and India the most prominent regions in the world. Europe was rather backward. And it knew it, they don’t call them the ‘dark ages’ for nothing.

Be prepared for a total u-turn in your perspective on world economy and globalization. Globalization is NOT new: The old continents (Europe, Asia, Africa) have been connected economically for centuries. Sure, the America’s were isolated. In fact – their isolation contributed to the downfall of their civilizations a LOT: European disease killed off a vast percentage of the population. Not for nothing did workers (aka slaves) from Africa have to be imported.

The main thesis of the book is that the biological old regime – with subsistence based on agriculture and population growth limited by what the soil could produce – ended with the ability to produce through industry WITHOUT having to produce less food.

Let me say that again in different words: China developed all the technology it could have needed to start an industrial revolution. It lacked one thing: coal or an alternative. Why is that important: anything that can burn can work as a food for industry. We’ve used gass, oil and of course coal over the past centuries. When those resources are lacking what’s left to burn is things like trees. And those take up land. Land that could otherwise be used for agriculture. So industry and food compete for land when there is no other energy source available.

That lesson was learned again on a global scale in the last decade when it became clear that ‘renewable energy’ in the shape of biomass became big enough to threaten the food supply of the world’s poorest people.

At only 221 pages this is a small book. However, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know where we came from and some of the parameters of where we’re headed.

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I’m making a u-turn. Where my go-to philosophy used to be Eastern: Theosophy, Buddhism, Upanishads, I’m now preparing to study Western philosophy at Leiden University.

I’m sure I won’t totally abandon my previous studies, but I do want to look at religion and spirituality from the perspective of the sceptic for a change. I’ve fed the mystic, now it’s time to feed the science geek again.

On this blog I will share books I love, thoughts I need to clarify for myself, summaries of the great philosophers of the past 3000 years too, I suspect.

This isn’t a totally new development. On Squidoo I’ve started a few discussions that were inspired by my study of philosophy as part of the ‘world religion’ studies program at Leiden University. We did general philosophy, ethics, religious philosophy and I personally also studied Indian philosophy.

Here’s some of what came out of that:

Alright, not all of them were inspired by my world religion philosophy classes. Many were though. This time I expect to go deeper into such issues as: what is experience, what is knowledge, what can be talked about (and what can’t), is there a direction to human culture, etc.

Mystic Minds Free spiritual blogs brought to you by Katinka Hesselink, religion and spirituality inspiration. 2010-2012