The author speaks with authority when he describes the working of the mind. Many of the other books I've been reading recently had mentioned the author's experiments on the hemispheres in the brain and how the mind works. Often, a primary researcher is not gifted at explaining, but Gazzaniga is.
In the book he does cite an official definition of consciousness that states that there are over 10000 scientific articles about consciousness and none of them add to our understanding. Who we are and what we are is just not easily understood, but this book does bring me closer to understanding.
The book also delves around a little with quantum physics and evolution. As usual, when an expert in another field, in this case neuroscience, and writes well in his own field, he writes even better when talking about other fields.
The book won't appeal to someone who wants absolute answers, because the understanding of the questions he is addressing are still fuzzy. Anyone, whose interest about neuroscience has been aroused and wants to know more about the right left brain will enjoy this well written book.
I have no background in the subject matter and found the book incredibly difficult to follow since he's constantly throwing out terms that are new to me. Soon as I understood one theological school of thought he'd throw another one at the listener, and by that time I would be completely confused and wonder what the point he was trying to make in the first place.
I think the book is probably a fairly good history, but a listener must have some kind of religious background to fully appreciate the discussion points brought up by this thorough history on a topic for which I still know almost nothing about.
It's not possible to like science books and not like this book. He's a geologist and not an expert on a lot of the topics he's explaining and therefore explains the topics better than an expert. He'll tell you about the expansion of the universe, the moon, the solar system, rotation of the earth around the sun and its axis, "canals" on Mars, historical climate, global warming and geological oddities about the earth.
He approaches all of his statements as a scientist should, and if he says something that is not on firm foundation, he lets the reader know.
The author thinks the specialness of intelligence on earth is a much rarer event than most other scientist think. He shows this by looking at the problem in three ways: criticizing the principal of mediocrity, embracing anthropomorphic logic, and showing how we know earth's climate has been incredibly stable for the last 500 million years and has been remarkably stable sense life started about 3 billion years ago and how that is not probable in the observable universe.
The author mostly rejects the Gaia hypothesis and would embrace a 'psuedo-Gaia" hypothesis. He argues that it takes things to be just right for the emergent property of Gaia to have happened and due to a host of very special "Lucky" happenstance they did happen here on earth.
My only real complaint about the book is that he could have written a book twice as long because he has enough more material to work with than what he presented. Regardless, even if you don't believe the intelligent live on earth is very hard to replicate in the rest of the observable universe he explains different areas of science so that anyone can learn from this book and enjoy.
The book it's not a book on the history or the philosophy of the enlightenment age, but, rather, a chronicle on how they thought about thinking about science and the science of man.
He characterizes the Enlightenment by it's "dynamic and cosmopolitan" approach to thinking. The dynamic approach rejected knowledge based only on tradition, authority, revelation, or pretending to know things that weren't really known, and the cosmopolitan approach made the thinkers base there beliefs on logic, empirical, and analytical methods (when they were at their best which was not always!). Their method of thought is a guidebook for critical reasoning and is still completely relevant to today's times.
He starts the enlightenment age with Hobbs and says that most of the rest of the century is spent humanizing Hobbs and putting his thought into the Stoic, Epicurean or the Skeptical camp. Mostly this is in the first third of the book when he is talking about philosophy and natural philosophy (science).
Everybody needs to read at least one book on this time period, and this probably is the best book available on audible to introduce the topic. The author is probably not a philosopher or a pure historian and therefore, writes an accessible and easy to follow book for the listener to be able to follow the dialog of the the "Enlightenment Project" and presents the ideas of the time period by looking at a topic as if it were one long conversations between enlightenment thinkers.
He looks at one topic, takes one or two of the great thinkers of the topic and covers that topic in depth and than adds what others during that period thought about that period of time. He'll spend two hours on Tahiti and he'll tell you why it was so important at that time period.
I read a lot books on science and they often point me to the importance of The Enlightenment Age. This book tells me why that period of time was so important and is still relevant to today and how we should approach critical reasoning today. There doesn't seem to be that many good books on audible on this period of time and this one is probably the best overview of the time period.
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.
I loved the first half of this book. It's hard to find a good book on human evolution. The author steps you through the evolutionary development of man from 2.3 million years ago to 250 thousand years ago and does this part of the book as good as or better than any other book on the topic. He principally looks at why the homo species decided to walk upright and become bipedal and considers the relative advantages and the disadvantages that this brought. It's hard to find good books on that topic. I never grow tired about learning about Neanderthals, Denisovans and early man. He actually develops a theory that our evolution and development is best thought of in terms of calorie (energy) consumption and usage a pretty good theory at that.
At near the midway part of the book, the author says that he used to stop his lectures on human evolution at 40 thousand years ago. I wish he stopped the book at that point, but, unfortunately, he did not.
He states that the agricultural and industrial revolution are the worst things that ever happened to us and he seems to mean it. (He quotes Jared Diamond to that effect, but Diamond might say that but doesn't dwell on that in his much better books than this one). The author tells the listener that modern hunter gatherer groups live longer and with less pain when you factor out tobacco and alcohol. All the negative things the author says about our diet and exercise (lack thereof) is true, but we are learning and we are moving ahead and adapting culturally.
I'm a rational optimist. Humans are dynamic and we are learning as we progress and we just don't stand still as more data becomes available to us. The author is right, adult onset diabetes (Type II) is a scourge for out bodies, but we are changing are behaviors and we are learning from our past mistakes.
Every so often an author makes a stab at, "what makes humans special from all other animals". Michio Kaku does his best through defining humans through their ability to simulate the future both in space and time. He uses this definition for human consciousness and specialness and goes about explaining all phenomena arising from the brain. There's almost no topic he doesn't touch, hypnosis, outer-body-experience, abnormal psychology, BMI (brain machine interface), and so on.
For each topic, he gives the history, the current state of the art and then some wild speculations about the topic. Each topic is covered widely but he doesn't have a chance to delve into in depth with the exception of the final chapter on Artificial Intelligence. He gives his all on that topic, and he even explains the Kurzweill's Singularity better than Kurzweil does.
I learned more about the right/left mind dichotomy in this book than I have from books dedicated to that topic because that kept popping up in most of the different topics he was covering. That part of the story was more interesting to me than the author's special definition of what makes humans special.
It's hard not to like an author who seems to know every episode of Star Trek or Twilight Zone and knows how to relate that to what he is writing about. If your anything like me, you probably love it when Michio Kaku appears on the Discovery Channel because he's going to give you a sound bite you will understand and can make your own.
Unfortunately, for me, the book is more sound bite than depth, but for some that will be why they like the book more than I do.
It's easy to mock the author. Rock music leads to promiscuous sex, sex is bad when it has no consequences, blacks stick together, "no fault insurance, no fault divorce, and no fault sex" leads to lessening of our values, romantic love is dead, and so on, but that's not the reason he wrote the book and I won't mock him for those silly statements.
He does state that "tradition and myths even if they are not real" help us determine our real nature and develop our soul. Our individual values and valuing others opinions lessen our souls and anything that makes us see our world in relativistic terms instead of absolute values leads to the closing of the American mind for the student. There's nothing wrong with developing a thesis like this, but the author is such a poor writer it's hard to follow his line of thought and why it could be true. I, for one, wrestle with absolute verse relative truth and what does it mean.
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds". The author must have a very large mind and never tires in showing it by quoting philosophers but never putting them in a context such that the listener can follow the author's points. Here's how the author approaches one of his typical points, "materialism leads to reductionism which gives you determinism". He leaves it at that. He never tells you why. I only can get the impression that he must be a dualist and doesn't like science but I get no reason why that's relevant. He says dignity originally only refereed to God, and science won't give it to us and creativity lies outside of the realm of science. I have no idea what he means, but I get the feeling that he doesn't like science.
He's got some muddled theory that is hard to decipher that the beginning of the end of the university happened because of the enlightenment, and it's really hard to figure out what he means since he is such a poor writer who loves to name drop and never let the reader know what he is really trying to say. It's something to do with valuing others diversity is very bad. Empathy, seeing from others point of view, is the downfall of everything. Fine, go ahead and write a coherent book that supports that viewpoint. The author doesn't.
He's most proud of reintroducing prejudice into his students (his words, not mine). Prejudice is what the fool uses instead of reason. He really seems to not to like science. The enlightenment is okay but went too far. I stopped listening after about three fourths of the book at the point he quoted Swift to support his view that the enlightenment had gone too far. I finally figured out that he meant those things he was trying to say. It is really hard to comprehend what he is saying. He seems to think democracy is very bad and aristocracy is the ideal we should strive for. But, I'm not sure since he is such a poor writer and it's hard to figure out what he is saying.
There is one good thing about this book it's that he clearly shows how not to approach critical reasoning. He challenges his student to name a great book, a hero, and asks does evil exist. I would have answered, "the best book ever on critical reasoning is "Origin of Species". Darwin is my hero (or sometimes I would say Abraham Lincoln, isn't it amazing my two heroes were born on the exact same day Feb 12,1809), and evil are people like you who want to tear us apart instead of bringing us together".
If I can save just one person from listening to this book, it was worth me suffering through it. (Oh, yeah, there are background conversations going on during the recording of the story. I found it quaint, but some could find it obnoxious. Another reason not to listen to this book!).
After having listened to this book, I will never fall for the make-believe just so stories about consciousness again. There is no reason to have to appeal to fantasy to explain consciousness. This book gives a complete story and forevermore I'll be able to not be sucked into false thought processes concerning the topics about the mind.
Metaphysics, when it's at is best is to fill in the parts that physics (or science) is having a hard time explaining because they don't really understand the object and the terms that describe the object under investigation. Dennett fills in these gaps better than any scientist can. For those who need make-believe and should be sitting at the children's table instead of the adult's table they need to read this book and they can move ahead as I have because of this book.
The best way to think about our self is by realizing we are not an analytical point. Euclid's first definition in his "Elements" is that a point is that which has no breadth. The book doesn't make this analogy, but I do, and state that "the I is that which has breadth", and you know you are listening to a remarkable book when you can go beyond the points the author is making because he educates you so fully.
The author defends this by showing why the self is "a center of narrative gravity", by showing how the mind is not like a Cartesian theater with a homunculus (little human) watching the play as the film unwinds. "There is not anything outside of the text", the text is just the final draft we think out loud. But to get there we first go through Orwellian rewrites and Stalinesque theater before we get the final draft from many rewrites. (Don't worry. The author explains this much better than I can. I'm just trying to whet your appetite in order for you to listen to this book.)
The author steps me through the black box of the mind by first discussing the outputs we measure from our responses to the environment. That was the first eight hours of the book. He called that the analytical approach. That part confused me. I'm not a scientist. The next part he called the synthetic part. How we would build that black box step by step. That's the part where I started listening to every word because it just excited me.
Understanding qualia, our emotional experiences, or what Locke would call our secondary experiences, which lead to things being our 'beliefs' or "seems to", is not how to think about how our mind works. When you can change a "seems to" to the 'is' with no lost of understanding just drop 'seems to' and the phoniness of qualia.
The author uses computers, software, and universal Turing machines and Von Neumann in explaining his thesis. You will walk away with consciousness demystified. You'll be on guard against those who use make-believe arguments to defend a world that doesn't exist.
This book is over 20 years old. I only wished I had discovered it when it first came out. It would have stopped me from wasting my time with people who don't understand that we have ways of thinking about the world that is not dualistic and doesn't need special
make-believe explanations to explain who we are as thinking machines.
I almost never change the speed of the audio. For this book, I did and listened to it at 1.25x speed. Made for a much better listen.
Who among us doesn't love ancient text? I did get lost on the Greek play sections, since I know so little about that stuff. I did love the section on Homer since I know so little about that stuff. The section on the old testament was near brilliant.
As always you get you money's worth on a modern scholar course.
The author really explains science very well. In the first half of the book when he's providing background and context he excels. He steps the listener through how we progressed through history from a village perspective to a multiverse. The author states elegantly, the reality of the multiverse is not a theory in of itself since it comes out of the best theory we have to describe our universe, Inflation Theory. If you accept that inflation describes the universe at a fundamental level, but don't like multiverses you need to first come up with a theory that can explain everything inflation does but take out the part where inflation creates other universes not an easy thing to do. Also, the book works well when he's explaining everything you every wanted to know about the Cosmic Microwave Background but were afraid to ask. It really does give good answers about flat space and dark energy and why it's so important to understand the CMB.
But, the author really didn't write the book to tell us those things. He wrote it for two main reasons. He wants to tell you why the Many World Hypothesis (Hugh Everett III) is the best explanation for the mysterious of physics and then goes on to tell you how our universe is mathematics.
I love math at least as much as the next geek and wish the universe was math, but I gave up those kind of thoughts a long time ago. As Confucius said (no, really he did!), he looked for truth in mathematics and studied it for five years before he realized truth laid elsewhere.
I'm not against using the Many World Hypothesis to explain the measurement problem but the approach the author used just was not convincing. I would strongly recommend the David Deutsch book, "The Beginning of Infinity" it covers the same kind of science but is much more coherent. I'll give a shout out to Tegmark, he quotes people like Deutsch and many others I have read and gives them kudos even though he doesn't agree with him throughout the book.
Another book, I would recommend instead is a science fiction book called "Thrice Upon a Time", by James P Hogan, he covers the Many World Hypothesis in a more consistent way than this book does. (Yes, it's fiction but uses science and speculation to explain).
Overall, the reason the author really wrote the book is the reasons I can't fully recommend this book.
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