This is an excellent review of recent theoretical and empirical work in the search for consciousness. Some of the biggest names in the philosophy of mThis is an excellent review of recent theoretical and empirical work in the search for consciousness. Some of the biggest names in the philosophy of mind and all areas of human and animal neuroscience come together in this volume to discuss their respective approaches to the "big question." In such a compilation, it's only natural that some essays speak loudly to a given audience while others provide (generally, but not always, fruitful) points of disagreement; in this particular book, some authors even make direct responses to others and the contrast between them serves a higher use than either alone. I was especially piqued by David Papineau's and Adam Zeman's critiques of the entire endeavour, as they provided viewpoints I'd not seen formalized before. By contrast, essays by LeDoux, Rolls, Milner, Heyes, and Dickinson-- those more firmly planted in empirical psychology-- were more like refresher notes on theories I'd already heard and the evidence to support or refute them. That's in no way to suggest they weren't interesting or useful, but I think more cross-talk with philosophy is going to be necessary to answer this ostensibly neuroscientific question. Indeed, several of the empiricist contributors make a special note in their respective pieces of the value of philosophy in solving some of the "tangles" inherent to the quest.
More than anything else, the book was a reminder that it's an exciting time to be in this field, asking these questions. They are in no way solved yet, despite excellent and rigorous work from all angles. My own views on the nature of consciousness only appear quietly between the lines of those presented here, so I leave the experience both invigorated and reassured that any contribution I can make will find a place in the literature....more
My first foray into Nietzsche has left me shaken to the core.
For better or worse, he was an expert rhetorician; even as one shudders to recognize theMy first foray into Nietzsche has left me shaken to the core.
For better or worse, he was an expert rhetorician; even as one shudders to recognize the seeds of justification for later historical atrocities in his philosophies, one cannot help but feel enamoured by his prose and the undeniable style of his arguments. So many times I gave audible way to awe, reluctantly putting the book down to copy some choice phrases into a notebook.
To my view, this essay was a call to action for generations stuck in an obsession with existing fact and history, as pushed by then-modern education, which Nietzsche felt robbed them of their own culture and personalities and very beings, and led them to be easily ruled. The philosophy limits the value of history to that which stirs active improvement in the present, and warns us against becoming slaves to information-- taking art and feeling to be the better virtues. I agreed with much of it, but recoiled at other times, as when the ugly heads of classicism and xenophobia poked through the poetry; Nietzsche argued, for example, that the infiltration of other cultures into Germany left its citizens overwhelmingly fascinated with irrelevant ideas and histories and further moved them from a unified culture. Of course, I may have brought hindsight to the reading and tarnished his original meaning...
Nevertheless, the arguments in the essay, while generally compelling and endlessly fascinating, are a bit messy. There's a lot of self-contradiction and even meta-acknowledgement of it, alongside scathing critiques of irony that bring the effort full circle to meta-irony. A reader recognizing himself as slavishly reading a historical text that both critiques the slavish attention to history and admires the unhistorical virtues of ancient Greek culture soon finds himself in a tangle of recursion, no longer sure which way is up.
Frankly, I loved that facet of the reading. It made me think. Hard. It tickled my beautiful-prose button and mercilessly challenged my intellectual capacities, my own assumptions and philosophies, and my core beliefs as a scientist. Nietzsche is ultimately, it seems, against science-as-a-search-for-truth, arguing that it only considers what is "true" and "right" and thus "finished and historical." He writes that science "hates the forgetfulness that is the death of knowledge." Whereas I appreciate his point within the context of what he calls the historical malady, I think he has a diminished understanding of what science is. At least to me, science is incredibly fluid and creative, and is never finished. It must adapt to current understandings and must give up the constraints of ego to permit the reality of a constantly shifting truth. Forgetting is as central to science as it is to the beast who "goes into the present, like a number, without leaving any curious remainder," except that for science, the curiosity that remains is precisely the point.
Aldous Huxley's mind became a new favourite of mine by the second page of Doors of Perception; all I'd read of him before was Brave NewAaaaaaaaa......
Aldous Huxley's mind became a new favourite of mine by the second page of Doors of Perception; all I'd read of him before was Brave New World, and that long before I possessed the intellect to appreciate it fully. This short essay is a musing on the author's first experience with mescaline, the psychotropic substance in peyote. Huxley blends anecdote with science and philosophy into a piece that is, without question, the most lucid and insightful account of hallucinogenic drug use that I've ever encountered. His careful consideration of the effects of the drug are given in the measured tone of an intellectual, balancing the introspective experience with the scientific facts of the day and containing himself well short of the sorts of ultimately meaningless epiphanies most drug users will recount. Particularly fascinating were his offhand insights into the nature of perception and memory, as it put into the perfect words a host of thoughts related to my research that I could never have hoped to articulate half as well.
The five stars are here given over mostly to Doors of Perception, which I take as a seriously important work for cognitive science as much as for substance-fuelled philosophy.
Heaven and Hell was much less interesting to me, as Huxley fumblingly ties hallucinogenic (or as he groan-inducing-ly calls it, "visionary") experiences to religious symbolism and suggests that the former informed the latter. Whereas I'm receptive to the general idea, his chosen arguments are a sloppy set, centred largely around classical paintings and sculptures, in which the reader without an art history degree will find little to help him connect the dots of rhetoric. Nevertheless, there were a few profoundly insightful tidbits in this piece as well, rendered perhaps more meaningful by the otherwise dull context.
The book as a whole was devoured in a day and has left me hungry for more of his stunningly poignant prose. Time for a Huxley binge....more
Michael Pollan is swiftly solidifying his position as "somebody I want to know." He's a clever writer, an inquisitive journalist, and a creative storyMichael Pollan is swiftly solidifying his position as "somebody I want to know." He's a clever writer, an inquisitive journalist, and a creative storyteller, as well as a shining light of simple food consciousness in an era of either not asking at all or asking far too much.
This book is equal parts natural history, social history, regular history, botanical musing, plant biology, evolutionary theory, and psychology, with a smattering of classical mythology, memoir, neuroscience, and investigative journalism to hold the threads together. Pollan sets out with the aim of tracking four plants along their coevolution with society, tying each to a human desire that shaped it into what it is today: the apple and sweetness, the tulip and beauty, marijuana and intoxication, and potatoes and control. What he ends up writing from this neat little package of a thesis is something much greater than the sum of its parts, a veritable exploration (I use the word a lot but I think it really applies here) of what it means to be human in a determinedly natural world.
One of the ideas he returns to often is that our relationship to the natural world is a balancing of Apollonian (controlled, geometric, structured, artificial) and Dionysian (frenetic, shifting, chaotic, and natural) forces, and I think he really hit the nail on the head with the notion as much as with the conclusion that it's a much more complicated relationship than it first appears. The complexity of the question is due in part to the many human urges (such as morality) that don't fit cleanly in either camp, and in part to the ambiguity of the agent in control within the framework of nature's chaos. It's an impressively thoughtful approach, and the broad reach allowed by a philosophical, as opposed to purely scientific, foundation means the reader gets to learn a little about a lot along the way.
I won't spoil anyone's enjoyment of the book by divulging details of HOW each plant and desire is examined, but I will assure you that the how is not as straightforward and easy as you'd expect. This is becoming a mark of Pollan's writing as much as it always has been a hallmark of great writing: a clear and simple idea considered with breadth and depth in a manner so well-organized that you don't realize how much you're learning until you're done. I cannot wait to read more of his work....more
Rather than profane this marvelling ode to Nature-- pure poetry from the lifestyle it chronicles to the words painstakingly arranged to capture it-- wRather than profane this marvelling ode to Nature-- pure poetry from the lifestyle it chronicles to the words painstakingly arranged to capture it-- with my fumbling praise, I've chosen to simply share some of its most breathtaking phrases, with the promise that this far from exhausts them and the hope that this illustrates how I feel about Walden in general:
"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I now as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience."
"A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky."
"I fear that we are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, the divine allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, and that, to some extent, our very life is our disgrace."
"The farmer is endeavouring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his shoe-strings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair springe to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it."
"We know but few men, a great man coats and breeches."
"So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant."
"There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes."
"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, and end which it was already but too easy to arrive at"
"I never dreamed of any enormity greater than I have committed. I never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than myself."
"...a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."
"Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep."
"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep."
"Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business."
"The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can ear them. They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically."
"Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost."
"Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and make no mistake."
"At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snow banks, and the sun dispersing the mist smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and white smoking with incense, through which the traveller picks his way from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter which they are bearing off."
"At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable."
"There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate such incredible dulness."
"I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good."
"By this fluctuation the pond asserts its title to a shore, and thus the shore is shorn, and the trees cannot hold it by right of possession. These are the lips of the lake on which no beard grows."
"I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which the rivers of society empty, that for the most part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment was deposited around me."
"You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plough out again through the side of his head."
"What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another."
"The echo is, to some extent, an original sound, and therein is the magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of what was worth repeating in the bell, but partly the voice of the wood; the same trivial words and notes sung by a wood-nymph."
"They are the spirits, the low spirits and melancholy forebodings, of fallen souls that once in human shape night-walked the earth and did the deeds of darkness, now expiating their sins with their wailing hymns or threnodies in the scenery of their transgressions."...more
I was recommended this book by a person who I consider to be extremely intelligent. Having read it, I'm not sure why.
It might have hit a stronger chorI was recommended this book by a person who I consider to be extremely intelligent. Having read it, I'm not sure why.
It might have hit a stronger chord in the 60's, before the idea of creating a new religion to shine light on the perversities of organized religion and human culture more broadly became relatively commonplace. I expect it *was* a shiny new notion back then, and I bet this book *did* ripple in the imaginations of the disenfranchised youth of the time. But to me, now, it read like the effortfully nonsensical ramblings of stoned college students, disillusioned by the wreck that is the world and wanting to escape it-- like a group of guys got together and riffed on one single interesting, though not particularly challenging, idea while high, expanding upon it later to exaggerate the wackiness and insightfulness of their trip.
Chaos is valuable and under-appreciated. Got it. Good. Next idea? Oh you don't have any? Well, why don't you just expound on that one in as silly a way as you possibly can and call it philosophical. Done....more
I have to start by pointing out a serious rift between why I was recommended this book and why I kept reading it: a philosophy major drunkenly tryingI have to start by pointing out a serious rift between why I was recommended this book and why I kept reading it: a philosophy major drunkenly trying to defend free will told me I might be impressed by the book's arguments, and I took it as a challenge. I'd love to see an intelligent response to determinism, a sharp knife to poke at the thick skin of my convictions.
To be frank, I did not find that in this book.
Koestler's arguments against determinism are, to my perspective, peripheral to the bulk of his thesis, which is that evolution has landed man in a blind alley by giving him an exponential growth of cortex that he hasn't yet figured out how to use in concert with the older and more slowly developed subcortical structures. Yet the determinism arguments are treated as foundational in light of the strongly behaviourist tendencies of the scientific era against which he was battling. The result is that he ends up debating a macro-level stimulus-response caricature of determinism that few determinists today hold as sufficient-- a straw man by current standards but, sure, admirable and fairly unique for psychological science circa 1960. It could even be that such relentless (and at the least witty and delightful to read) attacks on behaviourism helped to open bright minds to the cognitive revolution, so we won't hold that against him. But we will hold it against that philosophy major for bringing a knife to a gunfight, and encourage him to read some newer books....
Much of the remainder was a fascinating read, however. Koestler takes us through evolutionary theory and hierarchical systems theory, tying the two together to look at the larger whole of humanity in terms of some evolutionary phenomena.
One of his focuses is on the "blind alley" in evolution, in which a species becomes overspecialized for its environment and then can't adapt properly to new changes in that environment. In the history of evolution, this has happened a number of times, but nature has a way of getting out of it: paedomorphism, basically extending the growth phase of development and evolving off younger forms of the species. This is a process that Koestler calls reculer pour mieux sauter (roughly: taking a step back to jump better), and it's one of the more interesting of the ideas he applies to other levels of the human hierarchical system. For example, he cites this process as the means to creativity in both art and science. Breakthroughs are obtained by breaking down the existing state of thought and working from older ideas in combination with new knowledge (and thus is hit upon the very reason I read old and outdated books like this one).
In a later thread of his theoretical mixology, Koestler takes a closer look at the structure of hierarchical systems, in which each element is both a whole on its level and a part of the level above it-- a duality which he calls a holon and which term is probably this book's most enduring contribution. A holon in a hierarchical system embodies a fundamental tension between integrative (i.e., parts of a whole) and self-assertive (i.e., each part is a whole in itself) tendencies. He not only explains humour, art, and science as lying along a continuous spectrum on this dimension, but also proposes that most of human woe can be explained by the dichotomy. Specifically, that whereas overexpression of the self-assertive tendency can lead to small scale violence, overexpression of the integrative tendency moves the behaviour one step up in the hierarchy and leads to large-scale violence. So nationalism, religion, cults, etc., are a submission of the "wholeness" of the part to the benefit of the larger whole, and lead to destruction on a broader scale. I'm not generally one for such broad theorizing, but I love this idea.
After hitting that broad and impressive peak, he reels the magnifying glass back down to the level of the individual human and argues that we've evolved into a sick blind alley that makes us prone to the delusions inherent in closed systems. A closed system doesn't behave hierarchically, but locks its parts into the part role and leaves the larger closed system the only whole, rejects opinions from outside the system, and so on. Whether these delusions are expressed in terms of mental illness or social illnesses like nationalism/religion, the result is the same and it is not good. Also generally on board with this idea, and at this point I began to develop expectations about where he was going with it...
And then suddenly the message begins a glorious spiral of WTF so far off the mark of the natural extension I'd extrapolated from the book's brilliant middle portion that it took me and my incredulity an entire two weeks to read the last few chapters. Basically, Koestler sketches the need for a drug to "unlock the potentials of the underused cortex" by somehow allowing more distributed communication with subcortical structures, and thereby evading the closed system that amplifies the part/whole tension and leads to our madness as a species-- a madness defined by what he calls the absolute certainty of self-destruction by nuclear war. If the leaps in this synopsis are hard to follow, I'm sorry, but his elaboration doesn't do much better. The 1960's come through loud and clear in these pages, and it's such a pity that he ends on this note, to the tune of my repeating the word NOPE. Not to mention that in the same breath as he expounds on the virtues of such a drug, he deeply misunderstands Huxley's proposal for the virtues of hallucinogens. If there's an afterlife, I hope Mr. Huxley and Mr. Koestler have by now discussed, over magical heaven tea, that they completely agree about what drugs can and cannot do with the contents of a human brain, because wow what a misreading of Huxley. BUT I DIGRESS.
Take the last bit with a grain of salt and forgive Koestler the hubris of assigning a much-deplored relic of psychology's past as his arch-nemesis, and this is a profoundly interesting extrapolation of known scientific processes to new milieus, with at worst thought-provoking and at best insightful results. With the reality of those elements however, it's hard not to take the rest with at least a half-grain of the same salt. If one's foundational assumptions are outdated, it's difficult not to question the validity of anything built on them. Nevertheless, it was delicious and surprisingly far-ranging food for thought and I'm glad I got into a drunken debate with a philosophy major. Even though he's wrong....more
I never knew I had it in me to follow formal philosophical logic, not to mention ENJOY it.... I should by now just learn to trust David Foster WallaceI never knew I had it in me to follow formal philosophical logic, not to mention ENJOY it.... I should by now just learn to trust David Foster Wallace to make any topic equal parts fascinating and accessible.
This book collects together a history of publications, replies, and counter-replies on the topic of fatalism, the idea that one is rendered incapable of doing anything other that what one does do by the constraints of future realities. For example, if there will be no puddles on the ground tomorrow, it is impossible for it to rain today. It's an unintuitive idea that demands time to operate with bidirectional symmetry and presents "troubling" realities about free will (air quotes because I'm a determinist-- though with regard to a string of past causation, rather than future constraints-- and so don't find the negation of free will troubling). Although these dialogues were interesting to read, I found the academic replies to Richard Taylor's original argument for fatalism severely lacking, to the point that without any formal training in philosophy, I could see how badly they missed the mark. The collection culminates in a reproduction of David Foster Wallace's undergraduate thesis in philosophy, some 20 years after the original debates, in which he applies reasonable constraints of unidirectional time to Taylor's arguments to show that fatalism does not follow.
I've seen arguments that his thesis was not that impressive, that it could have been boiled down to 3 pages of argumentation instead of its 40-some pages of formal systems, diagrams, and deconstructions of the historical publications. To those dissenters I point out the night-and-day difference in clarity and style between the original papers and DFW's refutation; the marvel of his work is that he managed to produce such a thorough, compelling, lucid, and articulate piece of formal philosophical theory AS AN UNDERGRADUATE THESIS, while simultaneously writing the preeminent Broom of the System as an English thesis. That his work would not have served as a strong standalone academic publication is as irrelevant to its impressive and preternatural quality as it is to the talent he showed from a very young age for translating even the most opaque topics into good writing.
Aside from my undying DFW admiration, I enjoyed comparing the emergence of formal mathematical logic in philosophy to the emergence of the same in cognitive science, both of which occurred around the same time. The impact of formal theory is plain in Wallace's treatment of fatalism: where professional philosophers spent countless journal volumes riposting to and fro with verbal reasoning, Wallace destroys the notion swiftly and cleanly with the use of symbolic logic. Providing formal frameworks sets definitions for terms concretely, allows the derivation of predictions to be tested, and puts an end to the sort of "talking past" into which academic dialogues can so quickly devolve in the humanities. It was a joy to see one of my favourite authors come to the same conclusions so early in his career :)...more
That a fiction author can refashion the myth of Jesus into one that makes infinitely more sense and presents a vastly more appealing view of spiritualThat a fiction author can refashion the myth of Jesus into one that makes infinitely more sense and presents a vastly more appealing view of spirituality than the one on which millions of people throughout history have built their lives, speaks both to the timeless wonders of storytelling and the hollow nature of religion. Not much is changed in this retelling, except for what happens behind the scenes-- and it makes all the difference. Although well-written and philosophically insightful, it is ultimately a story I've heard before, with embellishments that aren't entirely unexpected to an atheist. I'd definitely recommend the book to thoughtful young adults and those who haven't yet considered the inevitable role of myth in even widely accepted religions....more
It took me so long to read this not because it was in any way bad or uninteresting, but because it presented arguments I already agreed with and reseaIt took me so long to read this not because it was in any way bad or uninteresting, but because it presented arguments I already agreed with and research I was already familiar with. I gave it 3 stars for the same reason; nothing is objectively wrong with the book, and indeed it brings very important ideas to an audience that may otherwise be unfamiliar with either philosophy or neuroscience. Alas, that audience is not me.
Harris argues that science can and should inform judgments of human morality, on the basis of 1) the neurologically-derived illusion of free will; 2) new and upcoming developments in neuroscience that allow for clearer assessments of belief, intent, well-being, and deception at the physiological level; 3) a philosophical consideration of how values are merely a special case of facts; and 4) an updated and more nuanced utilitarian theory, in which the measure of morality pertains to delivering the greatest well-being to the most people, but which he acknowledges is at this point too convoluted to unravel.
That latter point is, I think, key to the disconnect between Harris's view of scientific morality and its detractors: at no point does Harris argue that we currently have the means to achieve this scientifically-informed global happiness, if only cultural relativity were quashed in favour of objectivity. We're simply not there yet. Instead, he posits the need for the further and more explicit development of a science of morality so that we can one day aspire to a world where in-group/out-group clash is not a source of despair and all humans are treated equally and fairly by all. I think that he fails to underscore that necessary caveat, and as such opens himself up to reasonable criticism about intolerance in an age of extreme cultural sensitivity. Harris imagines a world where intolerance is simply not viable, and offers a possible route to get there. I think this is a completely acceptable and even noble thesis that gets lost amidst the details and often oversimplified "easy case" examples.
Harris is a fantastic scientific writer, which I think works to his detriment as a popular science writer. He is so concise and precise in his prose that he makes his point clearly within a few pages and then spends the remainder of a chapter repeating himself in various ways to make up for page count. It's a relief that most of his other books take on an essay format more compatible with his profoundly competent academic style. I generally enjoyed this read, but felt (perhaps because I'd already had these ideas in my head) that the discussion could have been better served by a briefer exploration. Other readers not familiar with neurology, "new atheism," or the determinist view of may get much more out of it and appreciate its level of detail. ...more
A sharp, concise essay on what is simultaneously the most apparent fact of human nature and the one we most resist: Free will is an illusion. The notiA sharp, concise essay on what is simultaneously the most apparent fact of human nature and the one we most resist: Free will is an illusion. The notion's condensing into 65 pages not only highlights Harris's strengths as an academic thinker and writer, but also underscores how necessary and unavoidable material determinism is; Harris lays out the facts and comes to the only conclusion possible, given the facts. He wastes no words doing so, because the argument does not require them.
Having just finished The Moral Landscape, I took one star off because I was able to pick out long passages that were reprinted from it, verbatim. Had I paid for either book instead of borrowing them from the library, I might have felt cheated.
Given that I disagree with him on no point in the book (except maybe the notion of distinct conscious and unconscious systems in the brain, but he doesn't elaborate on the point enough for me to know whether the nuances in our stances are actually as opposed as I instinctively took them to be-- my cognitive scientist senses were tingling), I will instead write up some quotes I particularly enjoyed the wording of. What can I say, I like the way the man uses words (swoon).
"One of the most refreshing ideas to come out of existentialism (perhaps the only one) is that we are free to interpret and reinterpret the meaning of our lives."
"I, as the conscious witness of my experience, am not the deep cause of it."
"The urge for retribution depends on our not seeing the underlying causes of human behavior."...more
Perceptive insight into the flaws inherent in modern society, coupled with a naive, if wonderfully worded, "us vs. them" solution that chews its own tPerceptive insight into the flaws inherent in modern society, coupled with a naive, if wonderfully worded, "us vs. them" solution that chews its own tail impotently....more
An interesting, if long-winded and slightly repetitive, read. It brought me to think about science from a different perspective and consider my placeAn interesting, if long-winded and slightly repetitive, read. It brought me to think about science from a different perspective and consider my place in the history of science as a cognitive researcher. I think it could have been a LOT shorter and still made the same points, but I cannot at all bring myself to regret reading it. Excellent thinking juice :)...more
This was an extremely fascinating, challenging, and at times infuriating read: Fascinating because James accurately predicted so much of modern psychoThis was an extremely fascinating, challenging, and at times infuriating read: Fascinating because James accurately predicted so much of modern psychology in 1890, before the experimental method really existed (beyond psychophysics, which he lambasts as a waste of time when one could just introspect instead); Challenging because he roots so many of his insights and explanations in classical philosophy, a slow and thorough approach that breaks the issues down to their fundamental assumptions for examination (I'm not at all used to approaching psychology in this way, and it was extremely rewarding, if laborious); Infuriating because for all he got right, he also got so, so much wrong. James was a religious man, and while he tries to leave spirituality separate from the study of psychology, it regularly seeps back in through his language and assumptions throughout. Case in point: Mind Dust from the Soul.
The book is also home to a wide gamut of hilariously antiquated social faux-pas, from racism to sexism to good old classism. The "old Princeton boys" manner of speech is pure comedy when applied to an elaborate discussion of how boring Germany must be for psychophysics to have come into existence. I got a lot of enjoyment from the book for this rich-white-Victorian comedy appeal alone.
I'm actually really, really glad I read this book. It doesn't offer much in the way of real insight into my own work, but I feel my perspective has broadened significantly through a consideration of my field's humble roots....more