Auburn, WA, United States | Member Since 2008
Brain expert Michael Gazzaniga uses physics, psychology, neurology and sociology in this fascinating and enlightening argument that we are, in fact, in charge of our own lives. Like Daniel Dennett in Elbow Room and Steven Pinker in How The Mind Works, Gazzaniga addresses the problem of the supposed "deterministic" nature of the physical universe and how it is that we escape moral determinism in our decision making, living in this world and having a brain made of matter. He puts to rest what Dennett calls a "philosophical bugbear" with wit and good sense, showing us what we really knew all along--despite the physical nature of our brains, we are in charge of what we do with it.
to be gracious. This is a mostly entertaining book, and sure, what warm-blooded nerd can turn away from a neurological look at sex? (Though Sukel can't seem to decide, even in her title, if she means "sex" or "love"--they are, of course, not always the same at all, and the latter word can mean all sorts of things--and tracking occurrences in the brain is hard enough without a narrow definition of terms.) As I said, 3 1/2 stars... My 4 star review would go like this: interesting look at the hormonal and neurological aspects of sex and romance, though there are certainly better books if you are looking to really learn something about the brain and neurology (and the vagaries of actually tracking the direct brain-experience connection in an exact way), and her vignettes from her own life were kind of funny. My 3 star review would run like this: what could have been a more in-depth look at the brain and how the neurology of experience works sometimes falls back into the realm of easy factoids and pop science, and I wish she hadn't relied so much on anecdotal self-report. In short, I like the book more or less depending on how much I decide to expect from it, and I can't quite decide. I kind of knew from the title this wasn't going to be Ramachandran, Chang or Gazziniga, but I was kind of hoping it would be. So maybe... 3 and 7/16ths.
though this is a fictionalized account, it is taken from hundreds of interviews with real children living through the hell of underground sex trades that function everywhere--and probably closer than you think. A real eye opener and a call to action.
is being aware of what the truth is in any given moment..." This is perhaps the most pivotal line in Sam Harris' challenging essay on lying and truth telling. We must first be perfectly honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others. (Consider Emily Dickinson's "...we hide ourselves behind ourselves..." or a line from the sitcom "Community:" the biggest lies are told six inches from the bathroom mirror...") Then it all boils down to "do unto others." Harris very poignantly asked us how we would want people to deal with us on a daily basis. All, right, in way, we want politicians to "tell us what we want to hear," but if we go by rule one, being aware of the truth in any given moment, wouldn't we want the truth always given to us straight? Of course, where we are going to cringe is not with extramarital affairs, financial cheats and calculated harm, but rather with the everyday, work-a-day social lying. "Do I look good in this dress?..." "Does my son's behavior bother you?..." "Are you free to come to my party on Friday night?..." Harris makes a compelling argument--if one not all of us are probably going to run out and implement immediately--that the truth can be told in ALL situations, that these little social situations can be handled TACTFULLY, but that tactfully doesn't have to skirt the truth. In a writing class I teach based in Theories Of Morality, I tell this true story: One evening, I was teaching a five-hour block of college English classes, and it was 6:50, and I had not had any dinner and only a fairly sparse lunch. My only chance was to get to the student union and the commissary for a quick slice of dried out pizza before it closed at 7:00 and my next class started. I had ten minutes to cram some bad food in my mouth before pressing on to my next class, and a female student was leisurely strolling beside me, speaking to me about a personal manner of no earth-shattering import. I was trying to be polite and listen and respond appropriately, barely able to make out the words being spoken for the screams of hunger my body was giving forth. The student would not pick up the pace or pick up the silent visual cues that usually say "all right, got to get going! [we are done here]." And so, automatically, with no due calculation, I said, smiling gently and touching her on the arm, "you know, I have to hurry by the office to get some papers real quick before my next classes, can I catch you later?" With that, I darted toward Salish Hall, and then, when out of sight of the student, I made a mad dash for the union and got my pizza. At the time, I rationalized that this was simply sparing the student hearing, "getting a slice of crusty, sun-lamp desiccated veggie is more important right now than listening to you babble on!" But Harris says I was not being polite, but rather lazy. And it's true. I could have carefully and tactfully explained my situation to the student in the time it took to reroute to Salish and then back to the union. The small becomes the big after all, and we should not get too used to misrepresenting things, or, before long, we ]might take to George Costanza's immortal [immoral] advice to Jerry: "it's not a lie, if you believe it."
of this book is important, that is, that the deterministic functionalist view of brain science robs humanity of free will and eschews responsibility for deeds both good and bad (ironically harkening back to the determinism of the radical behaviorism that brain science was supposedly replacing with a more enlightened and human view)--and that there are some charlatans out there that oversimplify real brain science and con others: for instance, the "trust in a bottle" oxytosin spray that you spritz on yourself and then supposedly get along with the whole world. (One sees the neighborhood Quagmire taking a bath in the stuff and then making his way down to the local pick-up joint.) The problem with the book is that it is too dismissive and ironically sometimes mocks the work of scientists who are working against the deterministic model. Better books to read on this subject are Richard Davidson's The Emotional Life Of The Brain, John Arden's Rewire Your Brain and Jeffery Schwarz's The Mind And The Brain. It is true that we don't want to reduce human beings and our wonderfully inexplicable minds to a bucket of chemicals, but we don't want to be too dismissive of science in the process, as it was our marvelous minds that came up with science to begin with, in order to understand and better manage life's complexities for better survival and enjoyable and productive living.
because it was positively mentioned in Paul Zak's The Moral Molecule, and it sounded interesting--and it is! But, like with Zak's work, I have a qualification to make. Keltner does a great job of showing how positive emotions work, from the physiological to the social levels and why they have evolved to help us get along and for society to flourish. And all that is good. But like Zak, he shows only one side of the story. What about the negative emotions? They have evolved too, and with good purpose. If we wholeheartedly loved and trusted everyone all the time, we would great grossly taken advantage of. One could easily write a book solely on the negative emotions and call it Born To Be Bad (Keltner's title is perhaps his biggest sin here--clearly written as a draw on readers--a catchy hook). Don't get me wrong. It is a good analysis of the positive emotions and why we have them, but don't take this book alone as your sole guide. The Emotional Life Of The Brain is a much more complete book on neurology and the emotions, and I highly recommend that it be read directly after this one.
Even though I am giving this book four stars, there has to be a qualification. There has, in fact, been a lot of research done lately about the "hard-wired" facet of morality and moral behavior and its evolution in the human brain: everything from the frontal orbital cortex to mirroring cells to the insular cortex--to oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurohypophysial hormone that is always present in our brains but which is released in larger doses during birth and breastfeeding in women and after orgasm in both sexes. Physical contact, positive group dynamics, a warm personal interaction--all contribute to the release of oxytocin--and oxytocin (often oversimplified--as Zak is wont--as "the cuddle hormone) makes us want more of these interactions. Thus the thinking goes, and mostly rightly, that oxytocin is part of the system that helps us to get along and behave in a more or less civil way to one another. Now the qualification: while all of what Zak proclaims is true, he does leave out some important aspects of oxytocin, that is to say, its darker side: like, for instance, that it can also be traced to things like individual and group favoritism and prejudice (feelings of warmth toward the people closest to you and who look and act like you can make others seem more distant and strange, if even on the subconscious level); thus, one could implicate it in some of the less wonderful events in human history. Zak likes to go around squirting oxytocin up people's noses,noting the warm and fuzzies they get from it and then singing its praises on lecture tours--and yes, its functions are interesting and study of what is does is important, but in the interest of science, do a bit more reading beyond this book to get the full picture on this complex, but not magic or mystical (and not by itself "moral") hormone.
to Audible! I have been using Barrie's tapes since the early eighties, and what a joy to see them beginning to crop up here! Konikov's warm malty voice and gentle caring make for the perfect relaxation experience. They have always proven to be a great help with my insomnia and anxiety. Highly recommended!
reading! Hinshaw's brilliantly constructed course blends biology, psychology, sociology, developmental science and philosophy to pursue the nature and origins of the most complicated known system in the universe: the human mind. Always intellectual and scientific in approach, Hinshaw never floats too far into speculation, and yet he does not commit the sin of the Functionalists in dismissing the mind as a "mere byproduct of the brain." Intelligent, thought-provoking and challenging even for someone who has spent years in this line of study, this course is one of the best Great Courses I have come across.
of Siegel's work in the field of neurology and how he has brought together ancient wisdom about meditation and mindfulness and modern science, using science to show why the ancient wisdom has been around so long. In short, he shows how mindful meditation, particularly the type practiced in many forms of Buddhism, restructures the brain in a positive fashion and how it can be used to better our lives in all personal and social situations. I would recommend approaching this book before Siegel's longer work, Mindsight, since most of what is covered here has already been presented in a much more expanded form in that (really excellent) volume. Along with Siegel, one might also read the work of Jeffery Schwarz, Richard Davidson, and Daniel Goleman, as all are leading researchers in the field of how the mind influences the brain, an important new branch of neurology which overthrows the functionalist "brain as machine" model.
There is a lot of back and forth in the press--and here in these reviews--about whether or not the 24/7 online status of today's American culture is eroding the mental capabilities of the current generation. As someone who has been teaching college English for 25 years and has seen both sides of the divide, I can clearly say: YES, IT IS. This book tells it like it is, and how it is--unfortunately--is that the average attention span is growing painfully shorter and shorter due to the constant distracting allure (?!) of cellphones, texting, and the ever-present availability of the Internet on cellphones, Ipads, tablets, etc. It only makes sense: the brain becomes rewired for short-term attention to fleeting images and interactions, and so more longer demands on focus begin to feel like running a marathon after having spent the last five years on the couch. And not only has it clearly eroded students' ability to pay attention and take part in class discussions--it has also seriously damaged relationships, trading FB BFF's for real-life friendships. If you doubt it, go to any college campus and watch for a while: how many people do you see talking with each other, and how many do you see with their heads in their 3'X3" electronic worlds, thumbs going like mad about the latest cat video--or whatever it is they are looking at. We are getting less attentive, more stupid, and less interactive, and this can not bode well for the future. Read this book; get the truth--and then rejoin the real world.
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