Saturday, March 6, 2010

36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

To paraphrase Bill Murray in Stripes, I rarely read fiction but when I do it's something unusual.  (Unfortunately, however, chicks don't dig me.)  I'm reading 36 Arguments for the Existence of God:  A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein right now.  I was lucky enough to attend her reading of the first chapter at the Harvard Book Store.

Ms. Goldstein is a Princeton-certified philosopher, and well acquainted with the folkways of academia.  The hero is Cass Seltzer, a psychology professor at Frankfurter University in Weedham, Massachusetts, just up the river from Harvard, who has crossed over into popular culture with his book The Varieties of Religious Illusion, and now holds an offer to join the Harvard faculty.  His love interest is the beautiful and brilliant Lucinda Mandelbaum, originator of the Mandelbaum Equilibrium in game theory.  There are thirty-six short chapters, each entitled "The Argument from ... ", and an appendix summarizing the thirty-six actual philosophical arguments (and a critique of each one) that appear in Cass's fictional book. 

I guess it's not for the faint-hearted, but what prompted me to offer this endorsement was finishing the really clever chapter in which Cass works through a Prisoner's Dilemma matrix on being the first person to say "I love you" in a relationship (X and Y each have the strategy of saying or staying silent, and the payoffs are bliss, discomfort, hell, and status quo), concluding (not in these words) that the dominant rational strategy would always be to stay silent, so how can it be that anyone ever says "I love you" first.

How about this?  Chances are that if you like Bruces' Philosopher Song, you'll like this book.

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