Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gil's 12 books

Pretend not to notice that there are two entries for number 2.

I apologize for giving in to the blog meme making the rounds, which suggests that I should list the twelve most influential books in my life. Wow -- what a tall order! I will try.

Unlike some men without hobbies, I have several major interests in my life, and I shall endeavor to cover a few of them. But left out are: gardening, winemaking, languages (especially Esperanto), rhetoric/persuasion, logic, grammar, and everything to do with my children (theories of homeschooling, phonics, math for kids, history for kids, and so on). I have tried to make this chronological.

I have provided some commentary, but I will leave others with none.

1. Commodore 64 User Manual. I was born at the right time. For my 13th birthday (1983), I got a Commodore 64. In those days, computers were simple enough that you could program them right out of the box by reading the user manual, and a text-only game was really exciting to show friends and relatives -- even amazing. This manual taught me BASIC. I am convinced that all those late nights and long weekends of programming and swapping programs with my friends developed my ability to think logically. It is in this way that I am somewhat persuaded that instruction in computer languages can supplant to some degree the instruction of natural languages. When before one learned the logic of the grammar of another natural language, now one can learn the syntax of a computer language and struggle with telling the computer exactly what you want it to do. This book put me on the long road to Numerical Recipes in C, which I enjoyed reading in graduate school in much the same way as my first computer manual.

Besides my computer, my first intellectual interest in life was spiritual. I read about all sorts of stuff: Tarot cards and Zen Buddhism, I read the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita -- all wasted, I guess, on an adolescent mind. When I was younger (11 and 12) I attended the Lotus Center and studied meditation. However, what blew me away when I was 16 years old was L. Ron Hubbard. I eventually read all of his 22 basic books on Dianetics and Scientology and took several courses. I am no longer a scientologist in the active sense, but I hold in high regard many of the methods of personal improvement scientologists and dianeticists use. Most important for me were:

2. Fundamentals of Thought by L. Ron Hubbard. I thought of using this slot for Science of Survival, but FoT is where I picked up the idea that my potential for understanding and application of ideas is unlimited. While I may be of finite "intelligence" (what Murray and Hernstein refer to in The Bell Curve as 'g'), any normal person, with the right dedication, can wrap their brain around any idea formed by another man, and learn to apply it. This is an interesting and important point, not central to the book in question, but it was a watershed for me: it is an open invitation to reach for the stars. Zig Ziglar no longer seems so wacky. I really can do whatever I put my mind to.

2. An Introduction to Scientology Ethics by L. Ron Hubbard. A book that I recommend even today. I don't quite know how to describe it. It's not about ethics like Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is. It's a book about how to create and maintain integrity in your ethical relations with individuals and groups with which you are affiliated. I've never seen another book that even comes close to this topic.

3. The Student Hat. This is a Scientology course on how to learn and how to study. I finally took the course while a sophomore in college, summer of 1991. There are many derivative books on this now. The thrust of the course is to become familiar with and to learn to avoid and overcome the 3 barriers to study: misunderstood words, too steep a gradient, and lack of mass. This has helped me to be an excellent student in all of my endeavors.

It took quite a bit of effort for me to decide between majoring in Theater or Chemical Engineering. I went with chemical engineering. It was there that I found:

4. Thermodynamics. By now, I have many books on thermodynamics, and the particular author of the first book which I read is immaterial. The ideas in this course were mind-blowing. Finally understanding how energy and heat interplay, how steam cycles and refrigeration cycles work, and how to calculate their performance was empowering and exhiliarating.

During a summer internship at Shell Oil in Houston, I also took:

5. Method One Word Clearing. Also taken summer of 1991. This is a Scientology course in which one learns to use an E-meter, and then applies it in a specific endeavor: find all of the misunderstood words you've ever come across, and "clear" them -- that is, find and understand their definitions. It is amazing how completely this revolutionized my ability to understand new fields of study. Killer

More college. More engineering.

6. Physical chemistry. Again, a subject, not a specific book.

7. Div Grad Curl and all That.

My last semester of college, I took my required Econ 101 class. It was so confusingly topsy-turvy, that I immediately latched onto this book when I found it in the bookstore in grad school:

8. Economics on Trial by Mark Skousen

Years later, as a member of the Libertarian Party, I decided to run for Congress. Figuring I ought to know what I'm talking about, I looked around for an all-out course on libertarianism. This is what I found:

9. Cato Institute Home Study Course. Again, not really a book. It's a bunch of books, and a bunch of lectures. This was an incredibly good course. Someday, I hope that the Cato Institute will post these lectures in MP3 format on their website, like the Mises Institute does.

That course, which took a year to complete, persuaded me to seek out:

10. Human Action by Ludwig von Mises and Man, Economy, and State by Murray Rothbard. It was Human Action I was after, but after getting about 200 pages in, I got bogged down. Even though I'd read several books on economics, I got MES and read it cover to cover and then returned to HA. That made HA much more understandable.

11. The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard. I had been thinking about anarchism ever since starting the Cato Home Study Course, but it was while reading this book that I became convinced.

12. The Enterprise of Law by Bruce Benson. And this book broadened and enriched my concept of private production of defense. It was this book that started me thinking that I should start my own security company, which I continue to work on.

Ha ha! Baker's dozen:

13. The Structure of Liberty by Randy Barnett. An important and interesting book that talks about issues anyone attempting to devise institutions for liberty should read. I don't buy it as a defense of libertarianism (I'm a natural lawyer of the Rothbardian type), and I have a big problem with his parable at the end. Nonetheless, the issues and their treatment are sizzling!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I apologize for this, but how can someone so clearly well-trained in math and science have bought into Scientology at all? I was so intrigued by what you wrote here (the courses on learning sounded interesting) that I took a look at Dianetics at the library today, and was stunned by how patently bogus it was, apart from the good, if obvious, suggestion that one look up words he doesn't understand when reading. And of course a bit of internet research reveals even more eyebrow-raising aspects of Mr. Hubbard's religion/business/whatever.