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Logicomix - An Epic Search For Truth

Logicomix - An Epic Search For Truth back

Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos, Annie Di Donna


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I too dreamed this dream: to find the perfect logical method for solving all problems, from logic all the way up to human life. Even now, I believe that logic is a most powerful tool... as far as it goes. When it comes to talking about human life... it certainly isn't. And when logic congeals into all-encompassing and perfect-seeming theories, then it can actually become a very evil con trick. Wittgenstein has a point, you see: All the facts of science are not enough to understand the worlds meaning. But hear this too: like many in this hall I still try, and very hard, to remain a pacifist. Yet... the thought of Hitler and Stalin taking over Europe is too hard to bear."

A truly wonderful graphic novel exquisitely detailing the tumultuous story of Bertrand Russell's life and work. Born into a rather dysfunctional upper class family blighted by insanity, Russell was raised by his grandparents who refused to tell him anything of his parents at all, not even whether they were alive or dead. LOGICOMIX brilliantly illustrates how this difficult and unusual upbringing instilled a desire for knowledge in the young Russell, not only of his family history but also of the world at large. And as his obsession with Mathematics and Logic grew, so did his attempts to formulate an understanding of the world that could be made plain to all through a logical frame of reference. Indeed, creating this language of logic, free of the strictures of the written word, with which the workings of the universe could be perfectly and clearly explained, became an obsession which in the end only really succeeded in defining him. And despite appearing to achieve much recognition and plaudits from his peers, Russell himself never felt satisfied with his own achievements, merely feeling that true understanding was perhaps always just out of his grasp. Placing such stress upon himself, especially during times when he could perceive no discernable progress whatsoever in his work, inevitably had a cost including his marriage to his first wife, wooed whilst in the first flush of enthusiasm for his life's work, and later to some degree his own mental wellbeing. Russell's work and inner struggles for meaning are excellently counterpointed with the portrayals of his various contemporaries and rivals, who included several people sufficiently unhinged to make him look the very picture of mental stability. Not least Ludwig Wittgenstein who felt that not until he had experienced the full insanity of World War One first-hand on the battlefields could he possibly understand the inner workings of the world.

The narrative of LOGICOMIX unfolds through a wonderful conceit. Despite the presence of the authors themselves appearing from time to time in sequences where they are discussing and elucidating their attempts to portray Russell's quest for understanding, the main narrative is provided by Russell himself. In fact an older, wiser and even slightly world-weary Russell, who three days after the German invasion of Poland in September 1938 was preparing to give a lecture at an American university on the role of logic in human affairs. As a famous pacifist who had even been imprisoned during World War One for his views, Russell found himself picketed outside the university by American isolationist protestors demanding he support their position of American non-involvement in the forthcoming conflict. Rather than give an immediate answer, Russell invited the protestors in to hear his lecture, promising them that if they listened to his lecture theyd' get their answer. "But I will be speaking about reason, in its highest form: logic! A great introduction to a chat about the war!"

A lovingly researched and carefully put together work, LOGICOMIX lays bare Russell's torments in his at times all-consuming quest for the purest distillation of logical understanding and makes real the emotions and passions that serious mathematicians have for their obsession, often at the expense of those closest to them.

[Editor's note: I myself learned an enormous amount from this which I have promptly forgotten apart from Bertrand Russell's Paradox, which is this: "Does the set of all sets which do not contain themselves contain itself? If it does, then it doesn't. And if it doesn't then it does."

It's no wonder they all went mad.]

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