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Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  682 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought—science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robins ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Yale University Press (first published 2010)
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Bill  Kerwin
Apr 24, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A clearly written and closely reasoned series of lectures--five in all--concerning the conscious mind, and how what it tells us is invariably excluded from what Robinson terms "para-scientific literature," e.g., writing that adopts the assumptions of science--and often an outdated form of science--to criticize religious beliefs and other spiritual assumptions.

Robinson takes issue with this kind of writing--often polemical in nature--because it adopts the prejudices of science without accepting
Jun 23, 2010 Jon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a hard time with Marilynne Robinson's non-fiction--I find her essays to be a little too allusive, too oblique, too given to assuming I know things that I don't know. I just have a hard time following her. I'm often unsure whether she's being ironic. Other readers seem not to have these problems. Nevertheless, from the 66% of this that I think I understood, I certainly was convinced. She comes down very hard on the "parascience" of our time--the Steven Pinkers, E.O. Wilsons, Daniel Dennett ...more
Justin Evans
Feb 28, 2011 Justin Evans rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Eh. A rambling, less coherent extension of the essay 'Darwinism' in her "Death of Adam," this one deals with what Robinson calls 'parascience,' essentially, the kind of populist journalism written by Dennet, Dawkins, Pinker and their ilk, with the 'problem' of altruism for their dogma, and with Freud. The argument here is weaker than in 'Darwinism,' and simultaneously more polemical, which means people are going to give this one star on the basis that Robinson is a crazy religious nut-bag who do ...more
Mar 04, 2010 SS rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Awesome. Totally refreshing. Robinson argued intelligently for some things I'd been thinking for some time now. It's good to know I have such an ally.

Robinson takes aim at greedy reductionism, particularly the denigration of the human being, which many scientists and popularizers of science have giddily endeavored to do for the past century, especially EO Wilson, Steven Pinker, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, Sigmund Freud, and August Comte.. As noted above, these are not my favorite people,
Corinne  E. Blackmer
Robinson was invited by Yale to give the Terry lectures on the relationship between science and religion. These essays are the result of that invitation. It is quite easy to see why Yale wanted Robinson to give these lectures (in 2009). She had produced a first novel that was luminescent in its implied spirituality and, after that, Gilead, which explicitly deals with two Christian ministers and their theological beliefs--in an extraordinarily moving fashion. She had also published her fine essay ...more
Tyler Grant
Sep 14, 2011 Tyler Grant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The author was featured on The Daily Show and is from Iowa. The book sounded interesting so I picked it up. It is a short book, but don't let that fool you. The author writes in difficult prose more suited for a book on philosophy.

The main premise is very interesting and relevant as a balance to the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries. The premise is that evolutionary theory and psychoanalysis have taken away from our inward self. They do this by claiming to be able to explain all
Sep 29, 2010 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robinson dazzles me again with her non-fiction, this a somewhat continuation of what she explored in "The Death of Adam," that is the lack of intellectualism in today's religions. The difference is here she explores the proliferation of what she calls "parascience" - those thinkers from Bertrand Russell to today's Hitchens and Hawkins, who believe that since science has explained much of what the brain does, religion is no longer necessary. She refutes this claim and instead posits that even tho ...more
Mar 18, 2015 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this collection of essays, Marilynne Robnson starts out as a critic. Her targets are those scientific writers of the 20th and 21st centuries who have sought to take the products of contemporary scientific inquiry and blend them into a coherent commentary on the meaning of life and the universe for the general public. Ms. Robinson does not like their method of inquiry, their style of presentation or their conclusions. She labels it “parascience,” and indeed it is. The scientists in question in ...more
Adam Robinson
Philosophy is one of those things that people think they don't have when in reality all of us do. There are thoughts, ideas, and understandings that shape how we see reality and these form our philosophy whether we know it or not. One of the ideas that seems to be guiding more and more of us is that science has all answers that are worth knowing and any answer that cannot be proved or measured by science is therefore worthless or nonsensical. On the surface this would seem like a fair statement. ...more
I have to admit that, as a fan of some of Robinson's other work (Gilead, The Death of Adam, a few essays and reviews), I was disappointed with Absence of Mind. As a religious person who agrees with her thesis--that atheists like Dennett and Harris have missed something crucial about human consciousness--I didn't find the kind of rigorous argument for which I had hoped. Like the New England Transcendentalists, on whom she draws, Robinson is coyly vague about just how specific religious beliefs re ...more
Corinne Wasilewski
Man I love the way this woman thinks. I’ve never given it much thought before -- the division between modern thought/science and the arts/religion -- but I’ve definitely experienced the fall-out and Robinson frames the problem in a way that makes sense. It’s pretty simple actually – anything to do with the experience of the individual mind is explained away or excluded from consideration when modern thought/science (pseudoscience) makes any rational account of the nature of human being or the or ...more
Alex Stroshine
Oct 10, 2015 Alex Stroshine rated it really liked it
Shelves: apologetics
In "Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self," Marilynne Robinson writes a concise, stimulating rebuttal against modern "para-scientific" thinkers who promulgate a materialist view of humankind. Like C.S. Lewis excoriating Gaius and Titius in "The Abolition of Man," Marilynne Robinson takes aim at certain thinkers, particularly Sigmund Freud, Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, Auguste Comte, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. She critiques the belief that humans a ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, essays
Absence of Mind collects several essays by novelist Marilynne Robinson, which were originally delivered as part of Yale's Terry Lectures in 2009. In them, she critiques positivism and its inheritance to many modern scientists who discount metaphysics and subjective experience in their inquiries. She particularly takes issue with those she calls "parascientists" (e.g., Dawkins, Pinker, Dennett) who reject subjective evidence in their exploration of consciousness and the nature of humanity, but do ...more
May 21, 2012 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As usual, Marilynne Robinson's point of view--in this case on the question of our current cultural assumptions about the human mind--is refreshingly original, steeped in scholarship and deep reading, and thought-provoking. She places the current positivist, "parascientific" worldview in context, examining such influential voices as E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Pinker, down to Freud and Descartes, and ultimately concludes that there may be more to the story than pure science can offer. Ne ...more
Jul 30, 2015 Sheri-lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When Steve asked how I liked this book the first thing out of my mouth was, "It feels like an anchor of wisdom in this wishy washy world."

I like her reference to William James who says 'data should be thought of not as givens but as gifts, this by way of maintain an appropriate humility in the face of what we think we know.'

For me, this read like what I would expect a conversation with Marilynne Robinson would be like. She is lady I would like to sit down with and talk about the big and small th
Andrew Bertaina
Marilynne Robinson is intelligent. I enjoy this about her. At times it makes her essays harder to access. In short, I wish Marilynne would dumb it down every once in a while. Interestingly, when I've heard her speak she's mentioned that she believes her readers, and people in general, are way more intelligent than most people give them credit for. Anyhow, she's giving us too much credit.
Kevin Brown
Jul 07, 2016 Kevin Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Would have been five stars except I found the chapter on Freud a bit abstruse. I just love her writing though. In this, and her other non-fiction, her deep and wide reading leads to some delightful critiques. This volume on parascience and its treatment of religion as well as its neglect of human experience (mind) was very revealing and insightful.
Feb 15, 2011 Mary rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although I am a big fan of Marilynne Robinson's novels, I must admit these essays were miles above my head. There ought to be a shelf for "Tried to read, but NOT for me."
Thomas A Wiebe
Parascience? Fair . . . Or not.Robinson bemoans the loss of influence that religion and metaphysics has today, particularly around the conception of the mind; she is concerned that over the last few hundred years, secular and scientific thought has come to dominate, and this worries her, because she believes that 'whoever controls the definition of the mind controls the definition of humankind itself, and culture, and history.' She is particularly concerned that the intellectual authority and do ...more
Marilynne Robinson is an astonishingly good writer: her prose is incisive, clear, and just beautiful to read. Even though, by its topic, this is a polemical work, its tone is not: Robinson is gently aggressive, but her contemplative prose possesses a self-confidence that does not need to lay into her opponents.

The main point of this book is that modern-day atheists refuse to recognize a distinction between mind and brain, with severe consequences for human understanding of self, its relation to
Aug 06, 2012 Dirk rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let me begin by saying that I’m an admirer of Robinson’s fiction. I’ve read both Gilead and Home with great satisfaction. It happens I have never read her best-known novel Housekeeping. Since this book is involved in a supposed controversy between science and religion I should say also that I’m an atheist and, on the level of glib generalization, uncomfortable with religion and comfortable with science, which I follow as an informed non-professional.

This book sets out to defend the value of subj
Jason Killingsworth
A persuasively written and lively challenge to what Robinson perceives as the condescension of modern scientific certitude and penchant for discounting subjective experience. As a work of apologetics, however, there's a 'God of the gaps' whiff to her premise (we don't understand human consciousness, therefore it ought to cast suspicion upon materialist conceptions). Enjoyed it regardless – a healthy call to humility, both in in how we conceive of the ultimate scope of our knowledge and the regar ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. I can't give it the 5 stars I wanted to because:
a) I think it deserves a second reading (by myself, to absorb the entire thesis better)
b) I thought it could use some editing to make the text more easily understood.

For point b, I mean that in several cases (that I, unhelpfully here, didn't bother referencing) I had to re-read sentences putting mental commas or other punctuation in different places to see what made the most sense. In other words, since this book was adap
Dec 28, 2011 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Equal parts un-engaging and disengaged, Absence of Mind teems with unprecedented insularity. Robinson invests her full intellectual capacity towards analyzing antiquated primary texts, commandeering the marginalized voices of evolutionary thought and planting them center-stage as a surrogate for the movement of modern thought as a whole.

One of the glaring fallacies I believe Robinson's book is almost completely predicated upon is the fallacy of composition. What happens more often that not is an
Paul Cook
Oct 27, 2014 Paul Cook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marilynne Robinson takes on proponents of an increasingly prevalent view of what it means to be human. She traces the approach represented in modernity by such figures as the 19th century positivist Auguste Comte, turn-of-the-century Freud, and current advocates of evolutionary psychology such as Stephen Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and E. O. Wilson. Her argument sees the model advocated by these scientists as deterministic in that it confines the notion of the human self to that shaped by neo-Darwi ...more
Apr 09, 2015 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the third book that I have read by Marilynne Robinson, and I am starting to get more of a feel for some of the themes of her work. One of her themes seems to be mystery. Specifically the mystery of the human mind. In Absence of Mind she argues that those who argue that there is no such thing as a mind are practitioners of what she calls “parascience.” Basically, this is a kind of quasi- or pseudo-science that gets passed off as the real thing. She cites Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, a ...more
p.xviii Is the self no longer assumed to be a thing to be approached with optimism, or to be trusted to see anything truly?

p.72 Why is the human brain the most complex object known to exist in the universe? Because the elaborations of the mammalian brain that promoted the survival of the organism over shot the mark in our case. Or because it is intrinsic to our role in the universe as thinkers and perceivers, participants in a singular capacity for wonder as well as for comprehension.

p.36 [Tit
Feb 18, 2016 Mmetevelis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very provocative book about the reductionism of what Robinson refers to as "parascientific literature" which attempts to use scientific discoveries to radically re-orient the way we conceive of human personhood. Robinson is incisive and acerbic as she argues about aspects of the human condition which cannot be sufficiently accounted for simply by evolution and neuroscience such as altruism and introspection. I laughed out loud several times as she poked fun as the pretensions of pseudo-scienti ...more
Jan 23, 2011 Drew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer up front: I did not finish this book. I know many folks in the 'true believer' camp presume to review scientific-based books or those critical of woo without having bothered to read them.

We on the skeptical side have truth on our side and with truth comes the integrity to be open and honest. I didn't read the whole book because it presents a pattern started with the dust jacket and carries on through as far as I could stomach.

That pattern is this- Robinson seems to try to win over her
Mark Valentine
Robinson's screed against parascience (her term for neo-Darwinism, Freudianism, neuro-science, Modernism and post-Modernist schools) rages for pages. The absence of mind for her is the negation of meaningful mysteries of experience, hope, faith and art denied by the post-Modernists, the ones who debunk the ghost in the machine or expunge the soul from scientific and academic discourse.

At times I thought her arguments were insightful; particularly, her defense of altruism as a genuine rationale
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Her 1980 novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Her second novel, Gilead, was acclaimed by critics and received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the 2005 Ambassador Book Award.

Her third novel, Home, was published in 2008 and was nominated f
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“Another factor that seems to me to be equally important is the great myth and rationale of 'the modern,' that it places dynamite at the foot of old error and levels its shrines and monuments. Contempt for the past surely accounts for a consistent failure to consult it.” 1 likes
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