Book review: A Memory of Light

This novel is a fitting end to the Wheel of Time series as a whole. It’s a 900+ page hardcover book consisting almost entirely of military action and individual fight scenes. This isn’t a huge surprise (it is the Last Battle, after all), but it just got tedious, especially since I so often ran into characters I didn’t remember — all of the Forsaken appear, but half of them have changed their names and I couldn’t tell them apart to begin with; about 50 pages from the end a character appears for the first time in the book (and maybe in the last three; I remembered his name but could remember nothing about him); and there are so many one-off characters and name checks that while I was comfortable with the main cast by a few hundred pages in I wasn’t sure if some of the names were new or backstory characters. The battle between Rand and the Dark One unfolds predictably (except for some details about the magical tools which I simply didn’t remember) and the way it had to.
Many of the above issues are less problematic for those reading (or re-reading) the series with fresh eyes. Less forgivable are the character deaths. The novel is a bloodbath for the forces of Light, but in terms of the core cast it’s shockingly light on fatalities. Many people die, some of them in a good depiction of the shock and randomness of war — but others go into battle for a glorious sacrifice, make their sacrifice, and then somehow come out alive on the next page. It’s frustrating.

So, not a great novel. But oxymoronically, it does make me want to read the series again (or at least the first 7 novels, when things actually happened) in order to better remember what the quoted prophecies and some of the referenced events and characters were all about way back when.

Reading Response: Andy Clark

Cyborg’s Unplugged

This article is interesting for the real-life challenges it poses. Many other articles ask the reader to imagine a scenario, and then say “See! This view of the mind must be wrong!” Yet so often they subtly assume the “proven” view of the mind while constructing their argument. This article, for once, presents real-life stories to you and forces you to deal with the implications. It too delves into the unknown future and presents you with scenarios, but they at least are anchored by real people and experiments with known results. Continue reading “Reading Response: Andy Clark”

Reading Response: Clark & Chalmers

The extended mind

This piece initially induces only one thought in me: WRONG! The authors attempt to equate “use of the environment” with “cognition in the environment” and offer a number of reasons they think this is so. Unfortunately, they all fail.

First, the authors argue that when players of Tetris rotate a piece to try and fit it into a slot, the player is using the Tetris game in cognition, and moving part of the player’s cognition into the game. Offered as evidence is third-party research finding that players who rotate a piece are often doing so to determine if the piece will fill a hole. According to the authors, this means that the Tetris game is performing part of the cognition process. Not so. Rather than shifting part of the cognition into the environment, players are actually making the problem easier to solve by means of changing their environment. That is, the player takes a hard problem (“can this shape fit into this hole?”) and makes it into multiple easier problems (“Can this shape fit into this hole in this orientation?”). This basic misunderstanding of how the brain works extends even further, with their example of a notebook as memory. Continue reading “Reading Response: Clark & Chalmers”

Reading Response: Searle

Can Computers Think?

Searle makes a strong argument against computers ever being able to think in this piece. The Chinese room is an excellent metaphor discussed early in many Artificial Intelligence classes, and his analogy to simulating a tornado is fairly persuasive. Unfortunately, his argument suffers from a few serious issues. Continue reading “Reading Response: Searle”