About the Author
Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions, two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy. His current research is in the area of quantum game theory. He blogs daily at www.TheBigQuestions.com. For over ten years, he wrote the monthly “Everyday Economics” column in Slate magazine, and has written regularly for Forbes and occasionally for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He appeared as a commentator on the PBS/Turner Broadcasting series “Damn Right”, and has made over 200 appearances on radio and television broadcasts over the past few years.
Slate columnist and Economics professor Steven Landsburg (The Armchair Economist; More Sex Is Safer Sex) thinks that it’s high time that we utilized other disciplines to gain true glimmers of problems that furrowed the brows of Plato, Heidegger, and even Marcel Duchamp. Landsburg’s topics and strategies are various; he approaches the existence of God mathematically and explains what economics can teach us about decisions confronting us on Election Day. He even describes what commonly misunderstood concept such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem really mean. Authentically stimulating brain food.
With an folksy style and overly reductive economics, Landsburg (The Armchair Economist) solves, to his own satisfaction, a host of such philosophical problems as the limits of knowledge, what reality is and why we should reject liberal social policies based on fairness. With a founding claim that mathematical objects are “real” (albeit real in a way that is never made quite clear) the author argues for the necessity of the universe, before offering refutations of intelligent design and St. Anselm’s proof for the existence of God. The possibility of knowledge is demonstrated by familiarizing the reader with a few ideas the author simply knows to be true such as Gödel’s theorem and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Sections on morality and “the life of the mind” apply the “Economist’s Golden Rule” to questions of right and wrong before advising the reader not to bother studying English literature. While serving up plenty of sound economics, the book falls short on the philosophy, displaying not only conceptual inconsistencies but an intolerance for the irrational dimensions of human existence. (Nov.)
Landsburg (economics, Univ. of Rochester; The Armchair Economist; More Sex Is Safer Sex) grasps that the bedrock of physics is mathematics, that certain truths exist (e.g., there is no integer between two and three; there is no largest prime number), and that mathematics is our best hope for organizing the mass of data we have about our society and our money. From there, he swings into theology, philosophy, and morals, advising students to stay away from English departments except for recreation and writing that philosophers mostly talk about “dead white guys” who might be better left alone. He cuts down Richard Dawkins and some of the current “intelligent design people” (but he seems not to have read some of the more convincing writers on both sides of that debate). His own case against God disposes of 2500 years of philosophical theology in a few sentences. VERDICT Landsburg is entertaining and sometimes right, but anyone who wants a quick rundown of these questions that will not mislead would be advised to read instead David Bohm’s Science, Order, and Creativity, 2d ed.—Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa, Ont.