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Gary

Letting the rest of the world go by

Las Cruces, NM, United States | Member Since 2001

764
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 170 reviews
  • 193 ratings
  • 1470 titles in library
  • 41 purchased in 2014
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124

  • The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 36 mins)
    • By Robert Wright
    • Narrated By Greg Thornton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (485)
    Performance
    (343)
    Story
    (349)

    Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics - as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies.

    Darwin8u says: "A Masterpiece of Science Writing"
    "Philosophy for the non-philosopher"
    Overall
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    The book is a Darwinian slant on Darwin the man and its new paradigm (evolutionary psychology). I only started to fully appreciate this book after I realized it was not a science book for non-scientist, but rather a philosophy book for non-philosophers.

    The author coherently ties together through an overriding narrative on our human psychology and moral development. While I've listened to most of the more recent books on the same topic from various authors (Dawkins, Diamond, Pinker, Gazzaniga, Wilson,Kahneman, and Ridley) available on Audible, none of them tied together the story as well as this book and make you feel the philosophical implications of the theory of evolutionary psychology.

    The book is dated (copyright 1994) but not out of date. Most of the stories told in the book I've heard versions of them in the more recent books. That's not a fault of the book. It's just that I read this book (in 2012) after having read the other books.

    I enjoyed this book so much that after listening I started listening to his other book, "Nonzero".

    Warning: this book has the ability to make you reassess you place in the universe and become more interested in philosophy. Enjoy.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Gregory Hickok
    • Narrated By Eric Martin
    Overall
    (5)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (5)

    The Myth of Mirror Neurons, neuroscientist Gregory Hickok reexamines the mirror neuron story and finds that it is built on a tenuous foundation - a pair of codependent assumptions about mirror neuron activity and human understanding. Drawing on a broad range of observations from work on animal behavior, modern neuroimaging, neurological disorders, and more, Hickok argues that the foundational assumptions fall flat in light of the facts.

    Gary says: "Something to offend all mirror neuronscientist"
    "Something to offend all mirror neuronscientist"
    Overall
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    Story

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • 14

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Peter Clines
    • Narrated By Ray Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (11190)
    Performance
    (10156)
    Story
    (10178)

    There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much. At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

    Magpie says: "Super solid listen!!"
    "Exciting, humorous, and never lets you down"
    Overall
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    Story

    From the first page onward, this book never lets the listener down. Sometimes I hated to pause the story because it was getting so exciting and other times the story would make me laugh out loud. The ensemble of characters investigating the anomalies became like a family to the observer of the story and consequently the listener feels as if he is part of the family too.

    If your looking for something strictly for entertainment, this story can fill the bill.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Caleb Scharf
    • Narrated By Caleb Scharf
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2)
    Performance
    (2)
    Story
    (2)

    In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus dared to go against the establishment by proposing that Earth rotates around the Sun. Having demoted Earth from its unique position in the cosmos to one of mediocrity, Copernicus set in motion a revolution in scientific thought. This perspective has influenced our thinking for centuries. However, recent evidence challenges the Copernican Principle, hinting that we do in fact live in a special place, at a special time, as the product of a chain of unlikely events.

    Gary says: "We're special but are we significant?"
    "We're special but are we significant?"
    Overall
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    How special are we? We no longer consider ourselves the center of the universe, but we are in a fortuitous place and time for understanding our place in the universe, and complex life can exist at the nexus of order and chaos at least we have one data point.

    Most of the current thought about our place in the universe rest on false premises and incorrect conclusions. This book gently takes the listener through the step by step process necessary in order to think about the problem in the most correct way. We generally make two kinds of a error in thinking about the problem 'a priori' and 'a posteriori' errors, before the fact and after the fact. (Did you know that most biographies on Thomas Bayes start off with the statement "he was probably born in 1701", funny stuff and this book will tell you why that kind of thinking is needed to understand our place in the universe).

    There our subtle faults in most fine tuning arguments and purely probabilistic arguments for calculating life such as the Drake's Equation (though, I don't think the author used the eponymous equation by name). The author looks at both the telescopic and microscopic data we have, and for example delves into the Prokaryotic (simple single cell) merging into a Eukarotic (complicated single cell, the building block of complex life) and how unusual such an event really is.

    This book is full of cool ways of thinking about the problem. I did not realize how unstable our solar system is and how our current epoch or order within our solar system will almost for sure not last for more than 10 million years or so. The planets orbits aren't stable and the three body problem's solution is always robust (sensitive to initial conditions). The architecture we have to observe leads to how we understand, and the better our tools the better are data becomes.

    The author is just a good science writer. His books should be read by a larger audience, because he really does explain science that well. The author doesn't answer the question whether or not we are the only complex life in the universe, but he teaches the listener how to think about the problem so as not to make the common errors in thought while thinking about the problem.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 33 mins)
    • By Christian Rudder
    • Narrated By Kaleo Griffith
    Overall
    (13)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    As we live more of our lives online, researchers can finally observe us directly, in vast numbers, and without filters. Data scientists have become the new demographers. In this daring and original book, Rudder explains how Facebook “likes” can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person’s sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot.

    Photino says: "Buy the book. Experience it visually."
    "Best book on big data yet!"
    Overall
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    There's a revolution going on around big data and this book explains it better than any other that I've read so far. The author explains how data is cataclysmic (like a flood), how it is changing the way we can study the world, and what are some of the kinds of conclusions we can draw about people by analyzing the data correctly.

    Today is a social scientist's dream world. We can learn things about how individuals (or segmented groups) behave unlike any other time before in history and our abilities to understand our networks, desires and motivations are just waiting for some behavioral scientist (or even more nefariously an evil corporation or a corrupt government) to fully analyze the data trail we leave behind. Instead of guessing about human nature we are in a position to know about our behavior (at least for people up to the age of 50!, post 50 year olds aren't always fully represented in the datasets).

    There is one warning about this book for audible listeners. Of all the books I have listened to this one handled tables and graphs the least effectively. Note to author: take a minute or two and re-write the graphs and tables with the audio version in mind. Sometimes the narrative got lost in reading a table out loud. I could follow the conversation, but it got deadly boring at times.

    This book reminds me of a Gladwell book or Freakenomics, but is much better because it never strays from the data and never lets the model under discussion stray to far from what the data (reality) is really saying. The real strength of this book is not so much the specific examples he gives in the book, but it acts as a guide to how a smart person can change the data from just a bunch of messy information, to organized data, then to knowledge and then finally wisdom.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Stoner

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By John Williams
    • Narrated By Robin Field
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (345)
    Performance
    (272)
    Story
    (277)

    William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life, far different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments.

    Jessica says: "Incredible story with ALMOST perfect narration"
    "A guidebook for life for people like me"
    Overall
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    Story

    Very good fiction can be better than non-fiction at explaining your place in the universe and this book does just that by considering the life and times of just one character, William Stoner. There's not much to his story but for those of us who have had a fairly mediocre life (and who embrace that mediocrity) Stoner's story helps us understand ourselves just a little bit better. It's good to see that university politics never change over time. The stakes are so small making the professors ever more vicious.

    As for the narrator, he made the events come alive and at times I felt as if I were alive in the early part of the last century while being transfixed by the story and the storyteller.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Sam Harris
    • Narrated By Sam Harris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (90)
    Performance
    (84)
    Story
    (83)

    From multiple New York Times best-selling author, neuroscientist, and "new atheist" Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds.

    Jeffrey says: "An Excellent and Inspiring Listen"
    "Self reflection only gets you so far"
    Overall
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    The hard question is "what is consciousness". In the past we had Leibniz's monads and Descarte's homunculus unsatisfactorily explaining consciousness. 'Cogito ergo sum' gave western thought the mistaken impression that there is a single self inside the brain. The author suggests another path for understanding the hard question namely gaining self awareness (of our non-existence) through meditation from which one can discover the illusion of the self which leads the individual to 'enlightenment' and the realization that the 'self' does not exist.

    The author puts his spiritualism without mysticism in to context by reasonably looking at how we think about thinking and gives the listener just enough names of the brain parts without overwhelming the listener, and all the time supporting his path to self understanding by learning to first deny the self.

    In the end the author thinks that the denial of self leads to a greater understandings about who we are and that a guru or some selective use of drugs will help the listener achieve enlightenment and lead to a more ethical person with greater appreciation for life. As for me, I think I'll continue learning about the universe by looking outside of myself and use reason, coupled with empirical data (induction) and properly constructed models and seek enlightenment that way and not get a guru or use drugs and spend too much time thinking about denying myself through meditation and self reflection.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Nick Bostrom
    • Narrated By Napoleon Ryan
    Overall
    (16)
    Performance
    (14)
    Story
    (14)

    Superintelligence asks the questions: What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Nick Bostrom lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. If machine brains surpassed human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become extremely powerful - possibly beyond our control.

    Gary says: "Colossus: The Forbin Project is coming"
    "Colossus: The Forbin Project is coming"
    Overall
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    This book is more frightening than any book you'll ever read. The author makes a great case for what the future holds for us humans. I believe the concepts in "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil are mostly spot on, but the one area Kurzweil dismisses prematurely is how the SI (superintelligent advanced artificial intelligence) entity will react to its circumstances.

    The book doesn't really dwell much on how the SI will be created. The author mostly assumes a computer algorithm of some kind with perhaps human brain enhancements. If you reject such an SI entity prima facie this book is not for you, since the book mostly deals with assuming such a recursive self aware and self improving entity will be in humanities future.

    The author makes some incredibly good points. He mostly hypothesizes that the SI entity will be a singleton and not allow others of its kind to be created independently and will happen on a much faster timeline after certain milestones are fulfilled.

    The book points out how hard it is to put safeguards into a procedure to guard against unintended consequences. For example, making 'the greater good for the greatest many' the final goal can lead to unintended consequence such as allowing a Nazi ruled world (he doesn't give that example directly in the book, and I borrow it from Karl Popper who gave it as a refutation for John Stuart Mill's utilitarian philosophy). If the goal is to make us all smile, the SI entity might make brain probes that force us to smile. There is no easy end goal specifiable without unintended consequences.

    This kind of thinking within the book is another reason I can recommend the book. As I was listening, I realized that all the ways we try to motivate or control an SI entity to be moral can also be applied to us humans in order to make us moral to. Morality is hard both for us humans and for future SI entities.

    There's a movie from the early 70s called "Colossus: The Forbin Project", it really is a template for this book, and I would recommend watching the movie before reading this book.

    I just recently listened to the book, "Our Final Invention" by James Barrat. That book covers the same material that is presented in this book. This book is much better even though they overlap very much. The reason why is this author, Nick Bostrom, is a philosopher and knows how to lay out his premises in such a way that the story he is telling is consistent, coherent, and gives a narrative to tie the pieces together (even if the narrative will scare the daylights out of the listener).

    This author has really thought about the problems inherent in an SI entity, and this book will be a template for almost all future books on this subject.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee
    • Narrated By TBA
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (223)
    Performance
    (176)
    Story
    (176)

    In recent years, Google’s autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM’s Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy! players. Digital technologies — with hardware, software, and networks at their core — will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

    Michael says: "Upbeat but Limited Survey of Exponential Change"
    "The Androids are coming!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Books like this one are easy to enjoy. They are topical, informative and tell their story fairly fast. The digital age with its exponential growth and co-relational development is leading us to an inflection point.

    The authors steps the listener through the changes happening and demonstrates how the old metrics aren't always meaningful. Some of the digital changes such as Wikipedia (who buys encyclepedias today?) or Craig's List (who uses classifieds?) add immense value but they really don't show up in GDP, but yet add immense value to society. Predicting sunspot activities or automobile accidents can be determined better by individuals who aren't experts in the field as stated in this book. The second machine age is affecting change and the book presents many good examples.

    They take their premise to the point where the machines (androids) will start to replace most of what we do now. The authors delve into the economics and what the ramifications will be. The authors give a bunch of prescriptions to solving some of the problems they perceive coming down the pike. This is where the book is weakest.

    I thought Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" covered the economic ramifications of capitalism and Tim Wu's book "The Master Switch" covered changes that the digital explosion have brought better than this book did.

    Maybe everything they are suggesting (mostly government intervention of some kind) is correct and should be done, but the authors make a mistake of getting ahead of the conversation. It's good to be right, but one doesn't want to be right to far ahead of everybody else because nobody will hear what you have to say, and that's a problem with the authors prescriptions, and that was the real reason they wrote this book.





    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

    • UNABRIDGED (22 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Francis Fukuyama
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (340)
    Performance
    (278)
    Story
    (281)

    Virtually all human societies were once organized tribally, yet over time most developed new political institutions which included a central state that could keep the peace and uniform laws that applied to all citizens. Some went on to create governments that were accountable to their constituents. We take these institutions for granted, but they are absent or are unable to perform in many of today’s developing countries—with often disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.

    Henderson says: "Best Summary of Political History I've Read"
    "Always fun to learn about China, India and Islam"
    Overall
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    The author does a definitive survey of political development through out the world while avoiding the ODTAA ("one dang thing after another") trap survey books of this kind can often fall into. This kind of information often pops up in many of the books I read, but is never covered as a primary topic nor as definitively as this author covers this topic. Usually, it's hard to get a good description of the political history of Islam, India and China, and most authors force the story into their comic book characterization narrative of those societies so that it will fit into their narrative so that they can show the supposed superiority of the West. This book doesn't do that whatsoever and gives each region it's full due respect.

    The author not only looks at each major civilization and parts thereof as an end in itself but will contrast it with the familiar when needed.

    Political systems need three things in order to prosper fully: accountability, transparency, and "rule of law". All three aren't necessary, but each sure do help. The earliest systems start with a "kin and friend" system and develops from there. The author steps the reader through the process and how it differs depending on the civilization.

    The author shows that Rousseau (man is perfect until government corrupts him) is wrong about everything, Hobbes (government is only to protect against violent acts) only gives a barely adequate government, and Locke (live, liberty and pursuit of property) gives the most responsive government, and the author shows how these stages can develop or never existed in this first place as in the worldview of Rousseau for the different societies studied in this book.

    The author speaks with authority on the topic and this book filled in a lot of holes on the topic that I got from reading other books which never fully developed the topic.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

    • UNABRIDGED (39 hrs)
    • By Rick Perlstein
    • Narrated By David de Vries
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (34)
    Performance
    (30)
    Story
    (29)

    In January of 1973 Richard Nixon announced the end of the Vietnam War and prepared for a triumphant second term - until televised Watergate hearings revealed his White House as little better than a mafia den. The next president declared upon Nixon’s resignation “our long national nightmare is over” - but then congressional investigators exposed the CIA for assassinating foreign leaders. The collapse of the South Vietnamese government rendered moot the sacrifice of some 58,000 American lives.

    Gary says: "Gives context that newspapers lacked to events"
    "Gives context that newspapers lacked to events"
    Overall
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    The author starts his story with the return of the POWs from Vietnam and ends it with the nomination of Gerald Ford at the Republican Convention. As we're living life and experiencing it as it's happening we don't have the time to put the events into proper context and give it a narrative to tie the pieces together. This is were the author excels. He gives the listener the context and a narrative to tie the story together in a coherent way and enables the listener to understand what was really going on in a big picture kind of way.

    The author is expert at not missing any detail or major pop cultural event and weaving it into his framework. "Happy Days", "The Exorcist", "Nashville" the movie, as well as "Convey" the song are all tied into his story and almost any other event those of us who lived through this time period might remember. Often, as we were living the events during the time period, only part of the story was fully told (e.g. "The Mayaguez" ship, Richard Welch, CIA agent killed, Patty Hearst, and so on) and the author gives us "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say and does in the book. The author doesn't miss a story that shaped who we are and how they lead to the rise of Reagan.

    Reagan's worldview and how the world was changing is at the heart of the book. The author is always aware of his narrative that Reagan is always optimistic, believes if America has done it, by definition it can't be wrong, and "God put America here because we are exceptional", seeing the world in two parts: good and evil, and so on. This is why the book works so well. Every event is seen through the central narrative on how Reagan sees the world.

    I loved relearning these events and putting them into their proper historical context after all of these years and with the perspective of history and hindsight.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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