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Professor spreads the word - of philosophy

With two new books this summer, Professor Andrew Pessin has made it his mission to make philosophy - one of the world's oldest subjects - fun.

"Philosophy has a very active and light-hearted sense of humor," Pessin says. "It tends to be associated with the thick, dark-rimmed glasses of heavy thinkers, but could just as well be associated with those of Woody Allen."

The first of Pessin's books tackles the age-old question of God. Pessin says he got the idea for "The God Question: What Famous Thinkers From Plato to Dawkins Have Said About the Divine" after reading about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Yes, that's right - the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

"Basically, members of the 'Church' - who call themselves Pastafarians - believe the universe was created by a supreme being who happens to look a lot like a pile of spaghetti," Pessin said. "As I read through their obviously satirical material, I began to wonder whether, from the outside, to someone discovering them for the first time, the writings about God by the great western philosophers might in fact sound strangely similar."

And thus the idea for "The God Question" was born. In the book, Pessin, who once served as David Letterman's personal 'genius,' gives each of the great western philosophers - from Plato to Aquinas, Averroes to Kant, Nietzsche to Freud - a short, easy-to-digest chapter to argue for, against or just generally about all things related to God. In a recent article in the Jewish Voice & Herald, Pessin said the book offers "something for all kinds of readers - committed believers, disbelievers and those on the fence leaning one way or the other." It could even help you make up your mind, he added.

Michael Schermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of "Why People Believe Weird Things," says the book is a must-read.

"If you want to know what the greatest minds of the past 2,500 years said on the most contentious issue ever, you simply must start with this book," Shermer said.

While "The God Question" wrestles with one of life's greatest mysteries, Pessin's second book, "The 60-Second Philosopher: Expand your Mind on a Minute or so a Day!" answers questions you never even knew you had. For example, the pocket-sized paperback explains why, philosophically, there is no path not taken, a rose by another name wouldn't be a rose, the proof is in the (vanilla) pudding and intolerance is a virtue. And it does it all in 60 little lessons that can be learned in - you guessed it - about 60 seconds each. It's what Martin Cohen, author of "101 Philosophy Problems," calls a "potpourri of philosophical ideas."

The book covers a broad range of topics and ideas that have kept philosophers busy over the millennia. It challenges readers to question common sense and recognize truth in the bizarre. And that, Pessin says, is the point.

"Philosophy makes you deeper, richer and more interesting," Pessin says. "It may or may not bring you happiness, but it will bring you greater appreciation for whether happiness is something ultimately to be valued."

Certainly that's worth 60 seconds.

Check out Pessin's Web page for more information, blogs and upcoming book talks.

July 13, 2009