Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge

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This sharply intelligent, consistently provocative book takes the reader on an astonishing, thought-provoking voyage into the realm of delightful uncertainty--a world of paradox in which logical argument leads to contradiction and common sense is seemingly rendered irrelevant.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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About the author

William Poundstone studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Recursive Universe, about information theory and physics, and Labyrinths of Reason, an exploration of paradox in science. The author of such popular books as Big SecretsThe Ultimate, and Prisoner’s Dilemma, he has also written for EsquireHarper’s MagazineSPY, and other periodicals. Poundstone lives in Los Angeles.
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Published on
Jul 20, 2011
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Philosophy / Epistemology
Philosophy / Logic
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Eligible for Family Library

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Should you watch public television without pledging?...Exceed the posted speed limit?...Hop a subway turnstile without paying? These questions illustrate the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a social puzzle that we all face every day. Though the answers may seem simple, their profound implications make the prisoner's dilemma one of the great unifying concepts of science. Watching players bluff in a poker game inspired John von Neumann—father of the modern computer and one of the sharpest minds of the century—to construct game theory, a mathematical study of conflict and deception. Game theory was readily embraced at the RAND Corporation, the archetypical think tank charged with formulating military strategy for the atomic age, and in 1950 two RAND scientists made a momentous discovery.

Called the "prisoner's dilemma," it is a disturbing and mind-bending game where two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain. Introduced shortly after the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb, the prisoner's dilemma quickly became a popular allegory of the nuclear arms race. Intellectuals such as von Neumann and Bertrand Russell joined military and political leaders in rallying to the "preventive war" movement, which advocated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Though the Truman administration rejected preventive war the United States entered into an arms race with the Soviets and game theory developed into a controversial tool of public policy—alternately accused of justifying arms races and touted as the only hope of preventing them.

A masterful work of science writing, Prisoner's Dilemma weaves together a biography of the brilliant and tragic von Neumann, a history of pivotal phases of the cold war, and an investigation of game theory's far-reaching influence on public policy today. Most important, Prisoner's Dilemma is the incisive story of a revolutionary idea that has been hailed as a landmark of twentieth-century thought.
The Freakonomics of math—a math-world superstar unveils the hidden beauty and logic of the world and puts its power in our hands

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do—the whole world is shot through with it.

Math allows us to see the hidden structures underneath the messy and chaotic surface of our world. It’s a science of not being wrong, hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through to the true meaning of information we take for granted: How early should you get to the airport? What does “public opinion” really represent? Why do tall parents have shorter children? Who really won Florida in 2000? And how likely are you, really, to develop cancer?

How Not to Be Wrong presents the surprising revelations behind all of these questions and many more, using the mathematician’s method of analyzing life and exposing the hard-won insights of the academic community to the layman—minus the jargon. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic, encountering, among other things, baseball, Reaganomics, daring lottery schemes, Voltaire, the replicability crisis in psychology, Italian Renaissance painting, artificial languages, the development of non-Euclidean geometry, the coming obesity apocalypse, Antonin Scalia’s views on crime and punishment, the psychology of slime molds, what Facebook can and can’t figure out about you, and the existence of God.

Ellenberg pulls from history as well as from the latest theoretical developments to provide those not trained in math with the knowledge they need. Math, as Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. How Not to Be Wrong will show you how.
For years, Microsoft and other high-tech companies have been posing riddles and logic puzzles like these in their notoriously grueling job interviews. Now "puzzle interviews" have become a hot new trend in hiring. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, employers are using tough and tricky questions to gauge job candidates' intelligence, imagination, and problem-solving ability -- qualities needed to survive in today's hypercompetitive global marketplace. For the first time, William Poundstone reveals the toughest questions used at Microsoft and other Fortune 500 companies -- and supplies the answers. He traces the rise and controversial fall of employer-mandated IQ tests, the peculiar obsessions of Bill Gates (who plays jigsaw puzzles as a competitive sport), the sadistic mind games of Wall Street (which reportedly led one job seeker to smash a forty-third-story window), and the bizarre excesses of today's hiring managers (who may start off your interview with a box of Legos or a game of virtual Russian roulette). How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is an indispensable book for anyone in business. Managers seeking the most talented employees will learn to incorporate puzzle interviews in their search for the top candidates. Job seekers will discover how to tackle even the most brain-busting questions, and gain the advantage that could win the job of a lifetime. And anyone who has ever dreamed of going up against the best minds in business may discover that these puzzles are simply a lot of fun. Why are beer cans tapered on the end, anyway?
Descubra los códigos para destacar en las entrevistas y conseguir el trabajo que desea en la nueva economía.

Si dispone de un montón de monedas tan alto como el Empire State Building, ¿podrá meterlas todas en una habitación? ¿Cómo mediría el peso de su cabeza? ¿Cuántas botellas de champú se producen al año en todo el mundo? ¿Si fuera un personaje de dibujos animados, cuál escogería y por qué?

Estas son algunas de las preguntas aparentemente imposibles de responder que suelen plantear en sus procesos de selección de personal las empresas más importantes del mundo, como Google, por ejemplo. William Poundstone revela en este libro las técnicas y los trucos empleados en las entrevistas, y le ofrece las respuestas a muchas de esas cuestiones tan comprometidas.

En ¿Es lo bastante inteligente como para trabajar en Google? descubrirá la importancia del pensamiento creativo (y por qué lasempresas lo valoran por encima de los títulos, la experiencia o el coeficiente intelectual), y la manera de destacar en los procesos de selección a los que se enfrente. Este libro constituye una ayuda maravillosa para triunfar en el competitivo mercado de trabajo de hoy en día.

La crítica ha dicho...
«Poundstone ofrece al lector la posibilidad de medirse con las mentes más brillantes de las empresas punteras de Estados Unidos, al tiempo que demuestra una gran capacidad para explicar conceptos complejos con sencillez.»

Bloomberg Businessweek

«Un ingenioso manifiesto sobre las técnicas de selección... Poundstone nos presenta un gran número de rompecabezas y una relación exhaustiva de todos los factores que debemos tener en cuenta a la hora de solucionarlos.»

CultureLab-New Scientist

«En este libro encontrará toda la artillería necesaria para preparar su próxima entrevista de trabajo.»

Kirkus Reviews

«El estilo ameno de Poundstone convierte la lectura de su libro en un auténtico placer, incluso para quienes no están buscando un trabajo.»

Publishers Weekly

En esta cautivadora biografía de Carl Sagan, William Poundstone detalla cómo un joven astrónomo, apasionado por la ciencia y obsesionado con la búsqueda de vida en otros mundos, se transforma en una auténtica superestrella mediática. El Sagan inmediatamente reconocible, invitado imprescindible en la televisión y escritor de extraordinario éxito, abrió a los legos la puerta de entrada a los misterios tanto del cosmos como de la ciencia en general. Buena parte de la comunidad científica vio en él, sin embargo, a un paria, a un descarado buscador de publicidad que se preocupaba más de su imagen y de su fortuna que del avance de la ciencia. Poundstone revela y documenta con rigor los aspectos rara vez tratados de la vida de Sagan: el legítimo e importante trabajo al comienzo de su carrera científica, su capacidad casi obsesiva para embarcarse en proyectos infinitos –como la búsqueda de vida extraterrestre–, pasando por sus aventuras y desventuras matrimoniales, los avatares de su ambición académica y sus conexiones con otros personajes famosos como Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke o Steven Spielberg.
«Carl Sagan. Una vida en el cosmos» constituye una biografía personal y científica del que es, sin duda, el astrónomo contemporáneo más conocido, que ha ejercido una enorme influencia sobre multitud de personas a través de sus obras de divulgación científica. El texto de Poundstone ofrece una síntesis, cualificada y documentada con rigor, de la producción científica y divulgativa de este personaje, y además recopila toda una serie de datos personales y vitales de un personaje público conocido y un científico respetable, siempre dispuesto a defender posturas progresistas en el contexto sociopolítico conservador que le tocó vivir.

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