Letting the rest of the world go by
You get two things with this book. You get an incredible interesting exposition on the workings of the mind (consciousness) and a narrative that ties that story together by showing how mirror neurons almost certainly aren't what you thought they were.
The author does not reject the existence of mirror neurons in humans, but he does poke holes in most of what you probably have been told about them in a host of other books and articles. He gives very nuanced arguments to how the available data doesn't always mean what mirror neuron experts say they do. The author is an expert in the understanding of how we communicate. He'll delve into the "motor theory of speech" and how that deservedly fell out of disrepute over time and was resurrected only because that gave mirror neurons such a central role. The results of various experiments supporting that hypothesis are not always best explained by the ways mirror neuron advocates claim and sometimes they ignore the better explanations.
This is a real strength of the book. While showing how better explanations for the experiments and data are available which don't excessively rely on mirror neurons the author never shies way from educating the listener on the embodied processes of thinking.
I love neuroscience and books about the workings of the mind and human behavior. While reading such books, mirror neurons kept popping up in sections of those books, but over time, I started to realize that the advocates for the magical workings of the mirror neurons did not always make sense and there seemed to be better explanations available. This book tells me why my caution radar was beeping.
I'm sure a lot of experts in the field probably hate this book, but I can recommend this book because it will teach the listener to be cautious about mirror neuron claims, and help the listener learn a little bit more about the way the brain works without overwhelming the listener with too many names of brain parts which I only end up forgetting.
The meaning of consciousness is no longer completely inaccessible to me after reading this book. It's starting to make sense to me. The author does an excellent job of reviewing what is only recently becoming known about the field. He explains difficult concepts wonderfully and uses some of the best analogies I've heard.
The author looks at the relevant philosophy, evolution psychology and the recent neuroscience understandings to go a long way with explaining what is consciousness. He indirectly answers two question, 1) what is it about humans that make us different and 2) will computers ever think.
I've listened to about five or so books and even watched a Great Course lecture on this topic and this book is the first one that went beyond just claiming that the meaning of consciousness is unknowable, and after having read this book, I feel that I'm getting closer to its understanding. I enjoyed the other books, but this one makes me believe that people way smarter than me are getting close to answering those two questions and discovering the real nature of consciousness. .
You know you have a good narrator when you recognize his voice from another book you've read and loved. Mr. Dixon also read "The Beginning of Infinity" and my mind would go back to some passages in that book which were covering similar material. Nicely narrated.
I enjoyed the book, but would be hard pressed to recommend it since he does explain all the details that goes into the relevant math and the listener can get lost within the weeds of the math. I did not know this branch of mathematics and was able to follow the details, but sometimes it did get overwhelming.
Math is beautiful. Behind our current different branches of abstract math there exist an ultimate theory that ties each branch together. This book explains all of this by delving into the mathematical details and stepping the listener through many abstract math concepts.
The author tells an exciting story. The description of the fundamental particles of nature are said to be described by the "eight fold path". I've often wondered what that meant. The book starts by explaining what it means to be symmetrical and how we can transform objects into mathematically equivalent systems. This leads to Evariste Galois the greatest mathematician who you probably never have heard of. On the night before he died in a duel, he connected number theory to geometry by considering the relationship of certain groups (Galois Groups) with their fields and some symmetries in order to solve quintic equations (fifth degree polynomials). Once again, I had often wondered about what was so special about solving fifth degree polynomials. The book steps me through that.
The ultimate theory of math tries to show the correspondences between different diverse areas of abstract math and then the author ties this to QED and string theory. He'll even explain what SU3 means in the standard model by analogy with constructing SO3 spaces (standard 3 dimensional ordinate systems). He'll step you through the vector spaces, function theory, and metric spaces and the functions of the metric space (sheaves) that you'll need to understand what it all means.
He really does tie all the concepts together and explains them as he presents them. You'll understand why string theorist think there could be 10 to the 500 different possible universes and so on.
Just so that any reader of this review fully understands, this is a very difficult book, and should only be listened to by someone who has wondered about some of the following topics, the meaning of the "eight fold path", the SU3 construction, and why Galois is relevant to today's physics, tying of math branches and physics together, and other just as intriguing ideas. I had, and he answers these by getting in the weeds and never talking down to the listener, but I'm guessing the typical reader hasn't wondered these topics and this book will not be as entertaining to them and might be hard to follow.
P.S. A book like this really highlights while I like audible so much. If I had read the book instead of listening to it, it would have taken me eight hours per most pages because I would have had to understand everything before preceding, but by listening I have to not dwell on a page. Another thing, the author really missed a great opportunity by making the book too complex, because he has a great math story to tell and he could have made easier analogies and talked around the jargon better.