Auburn, WA, United States | Member Since 2008
with a very interesting turn on Darwinian psychology/sociology. Haidt does a deft and often humorous job of translating current neo-Darwinian science of the mind into lay terms (though he is not as deft or humorous as Steven Pinker--whose books are better), and his metaphors for how the mind works and for how the mind works in a complex society are well crafted. I did have a couple of reservations: the first is his breezy treatment of drugs like Prozac and Paxil as treatment for "everyday" anxiety and depression (that is, problems not bad enough to be labelled "disorder" in correlation with the DSM-IV description)--despite a vast amount of evidence regarding what sometimes amount to devastating side effects, especially in children and young adults, and the incredible over-medication of our society at large, Haidt encourages use of such drugs for NOS anxiety and depression without reservation. Also, if you have read Pinker, Wright, Dawkins, Dennett, or many of the other current Darwinian psychologists, you are going to have encountered A LOT of this stuff before. When explaining Darwinian psychology and sociology, Haidt doesn't bring a lot of new stuff to the table--unless this is the first book on the topic that you have read. The same old examples, ants, bats, etc... But these are relatively minor complaints... the application of the Darwinian style of seeing the human mind in regard to happiness and the use of ancient wisdom to back up his points make this book well worth reading.
entitled Wild Justice. They complement each other nicely. (Both are much better than Temple Grandin's rather disappointing Animals Make Us Human.) It is high time someone wrote a book or two on this subject. Endless Neo-Darwinians (Pinker, Nowak, Wright, et. al.), writing of the development of morality in humans, have used animal examples to demonstrate the concept of reciprocal altruism and how morality has evolved to preserve species through group caring and protection. It only makes sense that if humans need each other to survive in a rough and tumble world, and morality developed in order that we help each other out and resist harming each other at least a majority of the time so that we can better reproduce and carry on--how much more for other mammals who have to spend some time raising their young in groups and living in those groups sometimes for an entire lifespan? (It is suggested that the more social a mammal is, the more it will be geared toward moral behavior toward other members of the group, which makes perfect sense in this context...) We all know stories of dogs jumping into rivers to save little girls and cats waking tenants of a burning apartment complex (when they could have just run for their own feline lives!), but working with horses, I see smaller examples all the time. Just the other day, after a ride, I was returning my horse to pasture, and her pasture mate, very uncharacteristically, bolted and ran through the gate and had an escape and was heading for a rather dangrous situation near a road. Without prompting or any training in such a situation, my horse, Sassy, instantly took to the task of helping me corral the fleeing Ore back around toward the pasture and safety. It was unmistakable to me that my horse was doing me (and her pasture mate!) a favor because I needed help and she loves me and knows I do good things for her and will continue to do so (this is the entire basis of reciprocal altruism, which is the foundation of morality). But then, if you like the dramatic, life-saving examples, when you are done with this book and Wild Justice, read Cheryl Dudley's Horses That Save Lives. In short, The Moral Lives Of Animals is thorough and engaging--but it will tell someone who has worked for any time with four-leggeds what he knew all along: animals decidedly have a moral sense--and it aids in their everyday survival the same as it does for us.
My work in greyhound and horse rescue has shown me over the years something very clearly: animals understand a moral act done toward them (rescuing them from rugged and abusive situations), appreciate it, and return the favor in acts of protection, devotion and love. This book covers such aspects of four-legged morality as well as how animals care for, protect and sacrifice for each other. Several now famous studies have shown how voles are monogamous, vampire bats (yes!) practice reciprocal altruism (one bat has a bad night, a bat that had a good night will spit up some of his collected blood into the hungry bat's mouth--and later, the favor is returned when the tables are turned--yummy!), and I can tell you that horses instantly recognize a good person or a cruel one and remember a friend forever...and remember as well those who have done them a wrong turn at some point. From an evolutionary standpoint, it only makes sense. Neo-Darwinian sociologists stand in line these days to write books about how humans developed a sense of morality in order for the greater number of the group to survive due to group protection and caring and justice--why in the world would we think that other mammals had not developed the same tendencies in order to keep their species going as well?!
to Nicolas Carr's The Shallows, which I recommend be read first: to get the full warning of what can go wrong when we become slaves to technology and the rapid-fire "information age..." The originator of the Multiple Intelligence Education system, Howard Gardner, and Katie Davis come together to give a very serious look at the "App Generation," those born into a 24/7 "wired" society... I had to be a bit amused at the reviewer who vociferously complains that this book "won't get to the point" and gave up after an hour and a half because the authors wanted to give background for their thesis. (Yes, there is a thorough and necessary historical background of technology's influence on the last few hundred years of human evolution.) Perhaps this person is suffering from some of the negative effects of information at the speed of light: inability to concentrate for long periods of time, impatience, attention deficits...as well as deficits in the areas of identity, creativity and interpersonal relationships. (Again, read Carr first to get the thorough analysis of this foreboding side of the issue in bold letters.) Gardner and Davis are realistic about these side-effects of cellphones, tablets and computers which allow youth to be constantly online and more involved with their Facebook friends than the ones standing right next to them (also busy with their online lives.) But Gardner and Davis also offer hope, showing that, used correctly and wisely--and on a more limited basis, technology COULD help the computer generation to emerge MORE creative, with MORE enhanced self-awareness and with MORE connectedness to others. The key, they say, is being very aware of how one is using the technology: that is, that the human is still in charge and using the machines to enhance reality rather than to replace it. Becoming slave to the machines and their flashing lights and info-bits is what leads to everything Carr warns of in The Shallows... It's a big "COULD," I have to say, and I think I see more Shallows than Depths when it comes to technology use among the young (I teach college English and have for 25 years, and so have seen both sides of the technological divide), but at least Gardner and Davis give us a guideline, a way of becoming aware and helping others become aware of how to control technology rather than letting it come to control us.
account of the historical story of the Wild Boy Of Aveyron!... Back in the late 1990's when I was moonlighting from my job as college English instructor to do some work as an occupational therapist with autistic children, I did extensive research into feral children in order to better understand the developing mind whose debilitating difficulty was the inability to connect with fellow humans. Of course, the work Jean Itard did with the famous "Victor," the "Wild Boy of Aveyron" is usually the first stop on such a journey (although I was first taken in by the heartbreaking true story of "Genie," a young girl who spent 13 years in almost utter isolation). Boyle's account is slightly fictionalized, by necessity, for his rendering, but his research into the case is apparent, and while fine details are painted in, the story itself holds to the truth. I highly recommend this historical tale for anyone interested in feral children--or just a very well written story! (It appeals to the literature lover in me just as much as the psychology buff.) Recommended supplemental reading for those interesting would include Michael Newton's wonderful book on feral children Savage Girls And Wild Boys, not to mention Lucien Malson's The Problem Of Feral Children, and, of course, Itard's own meticulously-kept diaries during the time of his work with Victor. (It must be noted that Itard's work influenced Seguin, and both were later a heavy influence on the renowned educator Marie Montessori.) It could even be said that Itard, though he saw his own work with Victor as less than successful, might well be seen as the first special education teacher.) Also of note is the Truffaut film The Wild Child (also about Victor), Susan Curtiss' fine book on Genie and Wasserman's fictional treatment of the strange case of Kasper Hauser.
A dozen years ago, Robert Putnam released what has become a classic in sociology: Bowling Alone. In this book, Putnam lamented how technology was distancing people from one another and how it was wearing down the natural tendency of people to interact in face-to-face, interpersonal ways: at church socials, book discussion groups, bowling leagues. Now Matthew Lieberman is using the fairly new but ever burgeoning (and tremendously popular!) science of neuro-imaging to show that Putnam was right: we need each other. The book holds up pretty well and remains interesting throughout, and it is cool to know what parts of the brain are associated with social interactions (and this is why I purchased the book) but the one caveat might be that it is somewhat guilty of what Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield (authors of Brainwashed) call "neuro-redundancy," that is, using neuroscience to state the obvious. (Witness Kayt Sukel's This Is Your Brain On Sex...we learn that orgasms light up the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain: in short, we learn that orgasms feel good and people are motivated to have them...DUH!) Any good sociology textbook will show a plethora of plausible reasons why people need people (and why they are the luckiest people of all!), and the neo-Darwinians (Wilson, Pinker, Wright, et. al) have been going on for some time about how evolution has "hard-wired" us to be social. Okay, people need other people: that part is a "no-brainer." Still, the book is interesting from a scientific level if not so much from a sociological one. So get the 411 on your brain on social interaction here...and then read Putnam's classic Bowling Alone...
we are reminded of what the heroic life really means. Svoboda not only challenges us to find our inner "hero" but demonstrates how evolution has programmed us toward altruism. This book is a fine overview of the theory, but it should be read with other more thorough books on the neo-Darwinian look at selflessness like Robert Wright's The Social Animal and Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.
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.
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