What we have in this little book is not a robust defense of free will, but rather a focused and well-reasoned look into the main scientific findings tWhat we have in this little book is not a robust defense of free will, but rather a focused and well-reasoned look into the main scientific findings that have been, for the past couple of decades, touted as definitive proof of the absence of free will. I've read a few books and a slew of articles on the topic, and Mele looks at the same few studies that show up again and again- for example, brain scans that show when a subject will flex a wrist or a finger, and make the prediction milliseconds before the subject is conscious of the choice. Mele points out the importance of our working definitions of freedom or free will, as different definitions will allow for different allowances, then presents the studies and shows how they show proof of unconscious elements in decision-making without actually shutting the door on what most people would refer to as free will. His basic argument is that these situations are too focused and artificial to truly make a statement one way or another. A worthwhile read for those on both sides of the fence on this issue, as there are great arguments to be had on both sides, but neuroscience's additions to the debate are not the nail in the coffin some have thought they are....more
I love movies, and have spent a lot of time in classes where I had to analyze the plot and technical aspects of films. At times we discussed how filmsI love movies, and have spent a lot of time in classes where I had to analyze the plot and technical aspects of films. At times we discussed how films can affect viewers, but, as these were humanities courses, we never really discussed why we even experience a movie as a movie, or how our brains make sense of them. If you think about it, it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion that a viewer should be able to process a cut from one camera angle to another as quickly and naturally as we do, because in real life we never suddenly change our perspective to the other side of the room in the blink of an eye. Luckily, Jeffrey Zacks, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, has looked into the psychology and neuroscience behind watching movies, and one of the results is this fascinating book.
Zacks looks at the movie-watching experience from two perspectives- first looking at how and why we feel engaged and emotionally moved by movies, and then looking more into how our eyes and brains actually process a series of still images to create the full illusion of motion and reality that we experience. He cites many studies he and others have conducted on the subject, as well as several theoretical frameworks for his ideas, and the result is an accessible read that will make you realize that processing a movie is a far greater task than you probably ever imagined, and yet we do it seamlessly and without really trying. He shows how filmmakers and editors have discovered some tricks about how we process and notice-or don’t notice- things on the screen that science is just discovering, and suggests that both neuroscience and filmmaking can teach each other a great deal about perception. He ends with a fun look at some possible future technologies for filmmaking, like higher framerates or transcranial stimulation. As he and others look deeper into this topic, we’ll learn a lot more about brains and movies, but in the meantime, this book is probably as good as it gets. ...more
This book looks a number of factors needed to survive in the most extreme environments, from Antartica to the Himalayas and from the open ocean to theThis book looks a number of factors needed to survive in the most extreme environments, from Antartica to the Himalayas and from the open ocean to the Moon. Barrett and Martin look at the physical, mental, and emotional factors for individuals and team that tackle the kind of situations that most of us are glad to experience only vicariously, and what makes these people different. The book is from Oxford University Press, but is written in a very accessible way- in fact, it is a bit strange in that it feels halfway between an academic survey on the topic and a popular book, so at times it can seem a little drier in its prose than the subject matter would suggest, but it also never bogs the reader down in too many technical details. You definitely get a number of amazing stories, but they are told to help explain the factors related to success and failure in extreme conditions, not to transport the reader.
That said, while you are not transported to mountaintops or deep ocean caves, this book is packed with interesting information. Some of it seems obvious once you’ve thought about it, like the huge factor sleep deprivation plays in basically all endurance survival situations, while others, like the ways different people cope with tedium, can be a surprise. For such a relatively short book, it contains a lot of facts and covers a broad range of info on various levels. Recommended for those who have an interest in those who brave extreme survival situations and come back for more. ...more
I studied Spanish literature, but along the way I had a few courses on linguistics and foreign language acquisition, and for the most part I can say tI studied Spanish literature, but along the way I had a few courses on linguistics and foreign language acquisition, and for the most part I can say that I was presented a rather uncritical Chomskian approach to the way we learn language: innate and instinctual, the "language organ" theory. Moving on, I read Steven Pinker's highly entertaining books on the topic, including The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language and The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, which present the arguments in a more scientific light than Chomsky's reasoning and thought experiments. This book, by Vyvyan Evans, looks at the main arguments of the language instinct idea, such as a language acquisition module in the mind, mentalese (the language of thought), and universal grammar, and argues that there is not evidence for this idea, and that language is largely learned using our brain's more general evolved learning mechanisms. Evans does not argue that we are not at all adapted for language, as the very physiology of our mouths and throats show that we are, but rather that the mind is not preprogrammed for language in the way that Chomsky and Pinkers argue- you could say that Evans in arguing against the strong Chomskian approach, where learning grammar is more of flipping pre-existing switches in the mind than parsing out a whole set of strange and arbitrary rules. Evans, like Pinker, brings us a wealth of studies and experiments that support his side of the debate, and is methodical and generally successful in presenting and attacking ideas.
There are some arguments that don't quite work for me, for example, I am not as willing to take the findings of recent new-Whorfian research as far as he is, and I do feel he presents such a strong version of the Chomskian approach that many people on that side of the fence probably do not espouse such bold or unerring versions of these ideas. He doesn't have quite the gift for writing that Pinker does, but he is a whole lot more fun to read than Chomsky, and his overall presentation is brisk and often entertaining. For anyone interested in this topic, I'd recommend this book, if only for some arguments from the other side....more