An accessible book to introduce and help explain the exciting theory that the mind is entirely encoded in the particular architecture of your brain. The central theme of "Connectome" is that such a mapping of the connections between neurons provides a far more complete picture of mental activity than other brain models. As Seung explains, mapping a brain's connectome would enable highly specific examination and treatment of a brain, going so far as to allow correlation of neuronal activity patterns with memory and conscious experience itself.
The catch is the monumental technical challenge of obtaining and handling so much data, as mapping a connectome, like mapping a DNA genome, is a computationally expensive process. In fact, mapping the connections in a human brain is many, many orders of magnitude more complex given the density of neurons and the intricacy of their connections in brain tissue. Furthermore, technology with the proper specificity to automate the delicate task is still in early stage development. Thus a corollary theme in the book relates to the pace of technological change: the field of connectomics banks on the continuation of exponential growth in computer processing speed (e.g. Moore's Law) and accompanying technologies. Assuming that technology continues to progress as it has, Seung proposes that connectomes will naturally become the substrate of which we discuss our mental selves and our conscious identity.
The fundamental idea of the connectome is persuasive and fascinating, but perhaps because of such preexisting interests, this book was less in-depth than I was hoping for, and much of the content therein will be familiar to other fans of cognitive science or avid tech enthusiasts. Seung devotes the end of the book to the interesting future possibilities of cyber immortality, but they come with the usual speculation & caveats and don't yield much of a takeaway message. Seung's writing style is natural if not as crisp as a science journalist, just occasionally veering too folksy for the science (with a few awkwardly stilted metaphors). MacLeod Andrews generally handles it well and offers quality narration, though I think some phrasing might have sounded more natural in Sebastian Seung's own voice.
I was originally introduced to Sebastian Seung's "Connectome" in his excellent 2010 TED Talk
Focused on neuroscientific explanation of physiological mechanisms of pleasure, particularly dopamine circuits, and addictions. Though the book is organized into chapters around the topics listed in the subtitle, each topic is just a another way to look at Linden's main underlying theses, and those (e.g. the addiction process) are of primary interest and worth pondering over. The individual topic chapters then vary in quality based on how strongly the underlying idea is presented, and I think the book peaks somewhat in its first half because by then Linden has explained the thrust of his arguments. Still, he chose some great examples to illustrate.
Fascinating take on the unconsciousness of the mind and an enjoyable book. I like David Eagleman's narration. Later chapters delve into Philosophy of Mind and the understanding of emergent phenomena like consciousness through an appreciation of its many layers of complexity. I found myself hoping Eagleman would make strong claims on these intractable problems of mind as a dramatic ending to the profundity of the foregoing, but his moderated conclusion did fit with the theme.
I don't know if it's Eagleman's writing style, narration, or just my own fascination with the subject, but the book elicits a sublime sort of introspection. Well worth your limited attention if you have any interest in psychology.
"How We Decide" is a neuroscience follow-up to ideas about choice, similar in style to Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink". Jonah Lehrer's writing style is similar to Gladwell's and he does a good job setting up and explaining interesting case studies while detailing the various brain circuitry involved throughout each illustrative anecdote.
The studies and stories used for illustration are told in an engaging manner, challenge assumptions, and fuel the reader's desire to learn about the mysterious behind-the-scenes brain activity that science is discovering plays a critical role in decision-making.
The emotional parts of our brain handle the hardest stuff. Consciousness only arbitrates.
Good stories about good ideas. Johnson devotes a chapter each of a set of seven qualities of innovation, and for the most part it all makes a lot of sense and is well said. People have already said a lot of it before, though, and sometimes Johnson's new terminology is rebranding an old idea. When Johnson coins a new idiom I think he's well-intentioned and trying to update a previous idea with a modern conception, so it's not negligent per se, but perhaps unnecessary.
The book goes into the inception and adoption of good ideas as told through a slew of Johnson's science history anecdotes (this reminded me of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything) and the reader gets a sense of the slow rise of an idea, in a mind or a larger network of minds, from unseen depths before the "Eureka!" when it splashes through the surface into the public spotlight. Johnson explains this as "The Slow Hunch" to contradict a widespread misconception that solo genius drives the bulk of progress (not unlike the thrust of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers). A particularly interesting bit addresses a topic that's getting more attention lately, power laws for cities, which display better-than-expected innovation (as measured by patent density, e.g.) among other peculiarly powerful trends.
I was hoping that Johnson would build his seven broad patterns into a platform for a compelling conclusion, but instead Johnson is content to leave it as a platform and concludes with a summary of how to think about the individual struts of the framework rather than explicit theorizing on what his framework might support. I can't say I wouldn't have hesitated too were I in Johnson's journalistic shoes, but I can't help but think it a bit sheepish given the provocative nature of the build-up. He doesn't go far enough to succinctly answer the question behind the book's title.
A worthwhile listen despite its faults! I do think it could be better read by the author, but that's only a hypothetical.
Kevin Kelly's contemplation of meaning, couched in terms of the "Technium" (all technology and its trends), which includes our minds, life itself, and indeed all the cosmos.
I like Kelly's description of history and the aforementioned contemplation of existence better than I like his assessment of present technology, or his transition to potential futures and proscriptive ways of living, but there were parts from each perspective I enjoyed and agreed with throughout the book.
That said, much of the best elaborated ideas are borrowed from contemporaries (e.g. techno-futurist Kurzweil), and what Kelly does try and establish himself is a mixed bag. I found myself alternately nodding vigorously in agreement and then shaking my head disappointedly at vague language, unjustified leaps, occasionally excessive proselytizing. In most cases I wanted Kelly to take the discussion he had built up so well in a different direction, and we diverged more frequently than I had expected to at the outset.
The book feels like it could be stronger in progression and thesis if it maintained a steady philosophical position throughout, but Kelly comes across as trying hard to reconcile his personal ambivalence over how to handle technology. He issues statements that fit nicely into prevailing Western scientific thought, only to act as if it were never said in a later chapter, letting Eastern philosophical wisdom and personal reflection do all the talking instead. My discomfort doesn't stem from his choosing one way of thinking over the other per se, but in his inconsistency. Perhaps over the seven years that Kelly wrote the book he changed his mind and mood back and forth, writing a chapter or two when his views leaned enough one way or the other. I wonder if he's not yet confidently settled on an ideology for himself, let alone the Technium, but if nothing else this informed self-discussion does make for a worthwhile read.
In sum, I liked the book... but I wanted to like it more.
Fantastic in many senses of the word. Intimate reflections as short stories about time and memory and perception and infinitude. Heady and ridiculous, wandering effortlessly from philosophy to poetry to suspenseful prose to meta-critique of literature and the author himself. I had to reread many of the stories for a fuller appreciation and I suspect that's still true.
Fascinating stories about vision, its fragility and its capacity. The words are colorfully descriptive as Sacks tries to convey the disposition of the people and the visual anomalies they are experiencing (including a large chapter about Sacks' own loss of vision), and I only wish that I could somehow go beyond and sample the experience of their vision myself. In some cases I can come pretty close (could find a stereoscope, for example), but for some reason this book left me feeling wanting for more depth.
I've found Sacks' other books have more fascinating characters, perhaps in part because the description of those patients' unique traits comes easier when they can be seen in action (mistaking your wife for a hat, e.g.). Not that The Mind's Eye didn't have its own cast of fascinating characters, particularly Oliver Sacks describing his own progressive loss of vision in one eye, probably one of the best chapters in this book because the doctor can observe the symptoms for himself. My other favorite parts revolved around internal representations in the brain and how they correspond to real-world activities like language use and recognizing collections as an object (e.g. your face).
If the complexities of vision perplex you like they do me, I highly recommend this book and Sacks' The Island of the Colorblind.
-Brian Christian really fleshes out the central anecdote, his participation as a convince-you-I'm-human "confederate" vs. AI chat-bots at the Loebner Prize (a Turing Test challenge), framing the contest with asides in psychology, philosophy of mind, physics, logic and computing, games, communication, language and linguistics, and other topics that illustrate the complexity of interaction on display here. Broadly insightful and rarely overwrought.
-Author's background in science writing and philosophy plus his MFA in Poetry correspond well to the fluidity with which he moves between tangential topics while keeping sight of the central theme. The book revolves around communication, in particular the written word since text is the format for the Turing Test undertaken, and Brian Christian's well-written prose shows off the fact that he studied and contemplated the topic well in preparation for his Loebner Prize contest and vie for the Most Human Human.
-Topically related to the also recently published book by
James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.
An excellent exercise motivator! This being a pop-science book it'll be most effective if you're a logically minded person or in need of some explicit reasons to overcome creeping apathy or procrastination. One of the best aspects of a book on exercise is that you can test and verify the essential ideas as they relate to your own experience; I often listened to the audiobook while jogging or at the gym. Knowing more about how something you're doing is good for you is an additional reward in itself, and for me this encapsulates the main value of reading this book.
The book is of course pro-exercise throughout its illustrative anecdotes and in its description of the physiological mechanisms involved, but it does look at a wide variety of experience, from physical pain to depression & mental disorders to everyday moods. Ratey isn't as good as a journalist or fiction writer, but he's clearly a doctor who's explained these ideas to patients and skeptics before, and he provides a reasonable and persuasive case for the substantially positive effects of exercising and elevating heart rate on a regular basis (i.e. in a manner consistent with natural human evolution).
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