If philosophy is the practice of being precise with speech and seeing where it gets you, then this book is a must for any philosopher with an interest...moreIf philosophy is the practice of being precise with speech and seeing where it gets you, then this book is a must for any philosopher with an interest in consciousness or the mind. It's a superb little read: very informative, thought-provoking, engaged with many conversations among leading philosophers, and genuinely funny in a way reminiscent of The Devil's Dictionary.
This book basically goes through the computerization of the mind and the anthropomorphism of computers and shows how sloppiness with certain key linguistic phrases has created an illusion that we know more than we do about how consciousness works. The introduction and the section in "Information" are alone worth the price of entry. "Complexity" is also a great section.
The downsides of this book are that it is 1) not constructive (although it doesn't ever purport to be); 2) even at its terse 93 pages, it's still about 10~15 pages too long, since the arguments get repetitive; 3) it needs a conclusion, especially since it ends with one of the least convincing/impressive critiques in the lexicon ("Rules"). I'm also unimpressed with the author's treatment of John R. Searle under "Levels", which seems to miss Searle's whole point about ontological frames (1st vs. 3rd person).
But even with those complaints, this book is a must-read for people interested in the philosophy of mind, especially anyone who is impressed with Daniel Dennett or Michael Shermer. The author is astoundingly adroit within a whole series of fields, including computer science (my own specialty), and brings that to bear to check a lot of the sloppiness that goes unnoticed and uncriticized in conversations about the mind and brain.(less)
This book is just bad. It's not worthless (the people cited and the examples given in the book are useful to add to your world-view), but it is just p...moreThis book is just bad. It's not worthless (the people cited and the examples given in the book are useful to add to your world-view), but it is just plain badly argued. It's the kind of argument which is going to be adored by people who already believe what it is preaching and panned by people who come from an alternative tradition. Additionally, the style is academic and dry: I would bet dollars to donuts that it is a dissertation with the literature review chopped off the front. But that's not really the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that the book is badly argued.
The author effectively shows that if you want to retain Christian values without God, there are justifications from within the modernist worldview that can be leveraged to accomplish that goal. What the author fails to do is accomplish the book's explicit goal: to justify the existence of virtue and vice with a naturalistic presumption.
If you're looking to retain Christian ethics without all the mystical stuff, I'd suggest What I Believe, What is Christianity?, or The Essence of Christianity. This book might help you if you are looking to retain Christian ethics but have become allergic to the "Christian" label, although the content is effectively the same.
The problem is that once you encounter non-Christian/anti-Christian ethical systems (e.g. Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality), and especially once you are aware of the modernistic presumptions of tradition with its focus on the productive individual, then you're suddenly having to work with a lot fewer presumptions. Statements like this author makes frequently—"Obviously this is better than that"—suddenly require justification.
To give just one example: The author considers Sisyphus, who is condemned to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down when it gets to the top—and this will repeat for eternity. Sisyphus's life is a bad one because it is one of frustration. But consider the case if Sisyphus loved rolling boulders up a hill. Maybe he got a "boulder roller's high", like runners and their "runner's high". In this case, Sisyphus would be getting to do what he loved for eternity. Is this a good life? The author says no...but why not? The presumptions creating into that "no" are massive—and none of which are addressed by the author!
The author is within a very particular tradition and does not break out from that tradition, despite the presumption of naturalism. This book is, ultimately, a very Christian text (what's more, it's actually extremely Protestant), even if it purports to be otherwise and presumes God does not exist. If you come from a Christian background and haven't analyzed your resulting formation critically—or if you have analyzed that formation and decided to go with your Christian formation anyway, even as a naturalist—then this book might speak to you. But as someone who is pretty hyper-critical of ethical presumptions, this book simply presumes too much.(less)
I thought a lot about whether to give this book four or five stars. Ultimately, I am giving it five stars because although the book is superb, it's a...moreI thought a lot about whether to give this book four or five stars. Ultimately, I am giving it five stars because although the book is superb, it's a strangely written little book. Purportedly, John R. Searle set out to write an "intro to" text on the philosophy of the mind, and this book is that "intro to". Yet the text is not really for a new-comer to the field of cognitive science or philosophy of the mind — although I disagree with pretty much every conclusion and method in the text, I'd suggest Consciousness Explained as a better book for a new-comer. You probably also want to pick up Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain or The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human to get a good handle on the cognitive science and some of the complexities of the mind's structure. Once you have those books under your belt, this is a superb read, absolutely worth five stars...but it's definitely not the "intro to" that it advertises itself to be, so I'm giving it four stars for its pedagogical fib. It's a cute rhetorical move on Searle's part, but the book is a lot easier to read if you realize it's not what it is making itself out to be.
The book starts with recounting Descartes, because that is where both the philosophy of the mind started and where it was placed on the wrong track. Although the temptation for a journeyman philosopher might be to skip this part, don't — Searle's framing of the argument is actually setting up his response to it, so pay careful attention to what it is he is laying out. The bulk of the book lays out and defends Searle's biological naturalism, with the final few chapters turning towards frontiers in Searle's philosophy on the matter. The book was extremely convincing to me (although I was fondly disposed towards him to begin with), excepting Searle's treatment of free will (which even he admits is fragmentary).
As a comprehensive overview of the philosophy of mind and Searle's most concise portrayal of his particular take, this book is absolutely superb. Searle argues that we have been using the wrong models of the body and mind, and if we instead refocus our attention on the actual facts of the matter, a lot of the problems simply evaporate. Although that sounds arrogant, the book is actually surprisingly humble, and Searle comes out on a couple of different occasions and outright admits that he does not know the answer to certain questions. All in all, the book is very enjoyable, insightful, and entertaining. It is a kind of "real world" engagement by a philosopher with serious technical chops, which is absolutely wonderful to experience. Definitely read it if you've made it this far into my review.(less)
This book literally changed the way that I think about religion. At the same time, it represents the kind of religious scholarship which I hope to see...moreThis book literally changed the way that I think about religion. At the same time, it represents the kind of religious scholarship which I hope to see more of going forward. If you are at all interested in the academic treatment of religion or in the way religion is conceived of and transmitted, then you really should read this book.
The book considers how religion is transmitted based on cognitive science about learning and motivation. The analysis is extremely in-depth and empirically supported, which makes the case it constructs very strong. The author further provides suggestions for further empirical studies in order to distinguish between his theory and competing theories, and that coming from a religious scholar just blows my mind with its awesome. The book is well-written, engaging, and profoundly insightful. It's a real 5 star book.
My only critique of the book is that it sometimes seems like it is speaking too much about Christian/Jewish/Islamic religiosities, and so some of the purportedly universal claims may not actually be universal. But I don't actually have a particular point where I can fault the analysis of the text as being too "Western" — it's just a general sense I have. And that's the worst thing I can say about this book.
I am not overstating when I say that this book, combined with Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, has fundamentally changed the way that I think about religion and my own religious experiences. It is that significant a text. If you've read this far into the review, you almost certainly should read this book.(less)
I read this book for my "Theology in the Black Church Traditions" class. It was an extremely challenging read and made me think differently about the...moreI read this book for my "Theology in the Black Church Traditions" class. It was an extremely challenging read and made me think differently about the role of theology — how theology can be expressly political. It also helped me understand the 1960s/1970s radical black power movement, which always seemed utterly foreign to me. Overall, though, the text is so contextual and of-its-time that I would not recommend it as a read for most people. And if you're the kind of person who would benefit from reading it, you probably already know that.(less)
This book is a spectacular exploration of not only the cutting-edge conception of the mind, but also an exploration of what that conception of the min...moreThis book is a spectacular exploration of not only the cutting-edge conception of the mind, but also an exploration of what that conception of the mind means for politics. Some other reviews out there have been freaking out and implying that Eagleman advocates a Gattaca-like brain-determinism for society, but that's not the case at all. He's really much more sensitive and insightful to the role of the political system and particularly the criminal justice system. If I have a critique on this part of the book, it is that Eagleman seems idealistic, and doesn't realize or acknowledge that the vested commercial interests in our neo-slavery prison system.
All in all, I highly suggest this book for anyone who has a mind. It's a fascinating read.(less)
Here's the tl;dr review: If you're looking for the ways that we tend to trick ourselves and how to deal with that reality, see Predictably Irrational...moreHere's the tl;dr review: If you're looking for the ways that we tend to trick ourselves and how to deal with that reality, see Predictably Irrational or The Power of Habit. Shermer's book is definitely not the book for that.
Now the full review:
I was really excited about this book. I was hoping that it would update and extend Consciousness Explained with contemporary neuroscience about belief. That was, after all, exactly how the book billed itself through the marketing coverage and through the first couple of chapters.
And, to be fair to the book, there is a fair bit about that going on. I know more about the neuroscience of belief than I did when I started. The science content — which is almost entirely found within the first half of the book — is why this book got two stars instead of one. It's a great book to get some general ideas and get the names of other interesting things to go research. The basic idea that Shermer is pushing is that we choose our opinions first and justify them later, which seems obvious to me. What this amounts to for Shermer is that we decide our opinions based on non-scientific evidence and then have an expectation that science should justify them, and we've got in-built biases that help construct a fitting reality. Once that clarification is in place (Shermer does not supply it), Shermer does a really nice job proving it out in Part II.
The book is also very accesible without being childish. Shermer has a great writing style and his voice manages to remain friendly even when tackling highly controversial topics in a fairly confrontational way.
But that's about all the positive stuff I can say about this book. Beyond that, the book is basically a tour de force of philosophical and anti-religious errors. It's the most adroit, masterful presentation of all the problems with the so-called "skeptic" culture that I am yet to see. Ripping this book a new one could easily be the final project for an undergraduate class on post-modernism or post-colonialism. Let me highlight some of the glaring failings which are still pissing me off, in roughly the order that they really bug me.
First and foremost, the God Helmet, which Shermer treats at length. Seriously, people, let this one go. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul demolished the God Helmet, revealing it as the pseudoscience that it is. Persinger is a de facto huckster selling a magic device to skeptics, and they're eating it up. Shermer falls into the trap, too, and proceeds to announce that the God Helmet "may be the first step toward demystifying a number of centuries-old puzzles." The problem is the God Helmet has never successfully been repeated. Even using Persinger's own equipment, teams other than Persinger could not get the kind of results he found. In short, the more controlled the experiment, the less the effect of the God Helmet. This is precisely Shermer's critique of the experiments around psychic phenomenon. It's a totally warranted and valid critique of psychic experiments. But it's also a totally warranted and valid critique of the God Helmet. Shermer fails to apply his own skeptic standards to a device which he is inclined to believe, instead presenting us solely with his anecdotal experience and a heaping gob of praise. If Shermer is going to call himself a skeptic, then he needs to actually be skeptical of everything evenly, including and especially those things he wants to be true. The only good thing about the God Helmet example is the irony: he fell into this trap because he wanted it to be true while writing a book about how people fall into traps by wanting to believe. So it shows Shermer is as human and fallible and self-delusional as he's casting everyone else to be, too.
Second, Shermer's handling of philosophically loaded jargon and concepts is desperately in need of work. In the first chapter, he disparages philosophy in favor of science (as though they are mutually exclusive), and then proceeds to not just stumble across philosophical hornets' nests, but to actually seek out those hornets' nests and stick sensitive, squishy body parts right into the hole until he's sure he's been stung. It's insane. The most obvious example is his monism. He says that he is a monist—that all that exists is the physical activity of the brain. Fine. Unfortunately, the only defensible monist position vis a vis subjectivity is to deny it outright: for a monist, the only philosophically safe position is to say that subjectivity simply does not exist. You are not a subjective person. You have no subjective experience. Descartes was just wrong. This is Daniel Dennett's take, and Shemer cites Dennett in footnotes, but apparently Shermer missed Dennett's actual point. Instead, Shermer gives a delightful performance as a pseudo-dualist, using terms like "conscious" vs. "subconscious" (which Dennett clearly explains is an erroneous distinction for a monist), "became aware", and even "qualia". He even talks about a sense of free will! But the "qualia" example is the most glaring demonstration—Shermer asserts that qualia are purely chemical reactions (pg 116), which is a pretty astounding assertion, since neither science nor philosophy has come up with any way of accounting how one gets subjective experience (qualia) out of a chemical soup. Despite that radical assertion, Shermer gives no justification...which isn't surprising, since there is none to give. What is surprising is that Shemer makes the claim in the first place: apparently monism and promissory materialism doesn't deserve skeptical treatment by Shermer.
Third, Shermer fails to even handle his own terms well. He defines two terms: agenticity and patternicity, which seem to have promise as descriptors, but then he proceeds to use them inconsistently with his own definitions. Agenticity is apparently the projection of an agent onto experience: this is sometimes warranted (e.g. other people), sometimes not (e.g. wind in grass). But then Shermer treats expecting the recently deceased person to be present in their home as a kind of agenticity. That's not agenticity: it's not the projection of an agent. That's just a disappointed expectation or altered habituation. Other examples are easy to find as you work the book: just keep his technical definition of those terms at hand, and compare that to the way he uses them. Because of this sloppiness, Shermer ends up coming across as not even really knowing what he's even talking about with his own ideas — either that, or speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Fourth, the book takes a massive turn for the worse about half way through. All the science falls out of it, and it basically falls in quality to a level below most science news blogs. It's just ranting opinion stuff without justification or warrant. The conclusion pulls things together a bit, but by that point, the damage has really been done.
Fifth, the book panders to evolutionary psychology like it's science, but it's not. There's no Popperian falsifiability to evolutionary psychology — that is, there is no experiment which could prove theories in evolutionary psychology wrong. Instead, people tell narratives and try to argue that the narratives make sense. But that's not science: that's philosophy. And all you need to remind yourself that evolutionary psychology is lame is to remember that the aquatic ape hypothesis is still a viable evolutionary psychology hypothesis. Worse, Shermer demonstrates his failure to grok evolutionary psychology when he calls it a "full fledged science" (pg. 42): it's not a science at all, but insofar as it is used in science, it is as a framework, not a discipline (that's according to Tooby and Cosmides themselves in Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2007, 30:1, pg. 42-43). But Shermer, following others like Dawkins and Dennett, want to laud evolutionary psychology because of some misguided idea that it disproves something about religion or faith.
Sixth, Shermer is so locked up in the modern worldview that he's busy fighting ghosts of arguments that perished two centuries ago. This is reflected in the very way he frames his core thesis: that we form beliefs first and go looking for evidence later. This is nonsense, as he well knows — the use of the ACC (the brain region, not the NCAA division) means that the brain is processing evidence. What Shermer means is that the we form beliefs without consulting science, and then we accept scientific evidence later. This, of course, is obvious: the brain doesn't have a capability for objective/intersubjective thought, even granting the existence of mirror neurons. There is no repeatable experiment performing homunculus in the brain that spends its downtime reading journals published by other repeatable experiment performing homunculus within other people's brains. Scientific evidence — like all intersubjective evidence and most rational argumentation — reaches the brain through hijacking the primal systems. So when we are forced to construct a belief, our only option is to do so through non-scientific systems. Once we construct a belief, though, that belief is a part of our reality, and so any additional evidence is forced to conform with the reality, or we're left with cognitive dissonance. (And the brain doesn't like cognitive dissonance.) Once a neural network is built, reconstructing/modifying it is difficult, and so the brain prefers to kludge in new facts and cling to existing beliefs rather than destroy existing beliefs in favor of the new facts. It's just how we're wired. But for Shermer and his modernism, "evidence" just means "scientific evidence", and so he misses this entire cognitive process because he wants to cling to the long since debunked Enlightenment idea of human cognition somehow grokking science directly. This modernism blindness also completely wrecks his treatment of dualism. That treatment is pathetically out of date: Shermer has clearly never read John R. Searle when he tries to argue that dualism is somehow hurt by evidence that the brain impacts the mind (the mind which, remember, Shermer should be denying even exists!).
Finally, Shermer basically participates in all the standard Eurocentric, semi-racist, modern ideas which post-modern and post-colonial critiques have ripped to shreds. It's infuriating to see him—a thought leader in this "skeptic" community—failing to acknowledge the legitimate and valid critiques of the project which he is engaged on. And a lot of it is purely superficial stuff which could be modified without losing any kind of core motivation to the project. The most blatant single example of his modernism is when he says that current practices of hunter-gatherer societies are models for our paleolithic ancestors — as though those cultures have been doing nothing for the past 10,000 years but sitting on their thumbs and waiting to be discovered by Europeans. In another place, Shermer presents the Neadrathals possessing Europe for centuries yet not developing culture as evidence of their weak-mindedness — as though Europe itself contains some kind of magic that's not found in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Also, there's a problem with the extensive argument that Shermer builds based on the assumed universal role of a god as judge of the good and the bad: that problem being that such an idea is pretty much unique (or at least central) to the monotheistic religions. It's so wrong that it isn't even Euro-centric, but even more limited than that: even the Greeks didn't have a concept that Zeus was going to get you if you secretly betrayed your society—unless, of course, someone in that society had an in with Zeus and tattled on you, or Zeus happened to be paying attention to you personally at the moment! So that entire way of thinking is just plain empirically erroneous. The idea that science can be the be-all, end-all of knowledge is an idea that has been roundly destroyed by pretty much everyone working post-Nietzsche, and it's especially unforgivable in a post-MacIntyre world. But, of course, Shermer doesn't notice any of these issues, because modernism doesn't deserve the same kind of skepticism that everything else does.
This book was a horrid failure, and it should be an embarrassment for an author who claims to be a critical thinker. The fourth through sixth chapters have some interesting stuff, but everything else is straight up dangerous, because it's compellingly written but profoundly and painfully wrong even by its own skeptical standards. The worst part is that Shermer is a thought leader and writes in an extremely accessible and convincing style, even as he spews bad philosophy and calls it science. Because he's so charming, though, people buy it and pass it on — as evidenced by the 5-star reviews here on GoodReads.(less)
This book is not for a beginner in the Philosophy of Mind. For that, you want Searle's Mind: A Brief Introduction. That said, as someone who entered i...moreThis book is not for a beginner in the Philosophy of Mind. For that, you want Searle's Mind: A Brief Introduction. That said, as someone who entered into this book cynical about materialism, I think this book should be subtitled, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Brain".
This is a superb book for a couple different reasons. First of all, it presents a fascinating exploration of the problems in cognitive science (at least the philosophical subset) by looking over a number of key texts in the field with a leader in the field. Second of all, it pulls the curtain back on professional philosophy, revealing exchanges between philosophers and the way that conversations are carried out. Anyone considering a career in professional philosophy should read these texts.
Searle does not just review other texts, though: he is advocating his own position, which is that consciousness should not be treated as some kind of weird "other stuff", but instead should be viewed as a natural process. He admits to being baffled about how consciousness could be natural, but compares it to how baffled the 18th century natural philosophers were about "life", and whether life was purely mechanical or whether there was some irreducible vital quality.
On a personal side, I was pleased to find that my analysis of Consciousness Explained was roughly in line with Searle's. Dennet's response makes him sound like quite a bully, although it should be noted that Searle had the final edit (and gave himself the last word) in that conversation, so perhaps that's not fair.
The book as a whole is great. The overview of the other texts were enjoyable and gave me a few interesting books to add to my reading list. The introductory and concluding chapters alone were worth the price of entry: Searle's refinement of the Chinese Box thought experiment, as well as some of the clarifying points at the end, really helped to make sense of some of the issues that are circulating.(less)
Rhetorically, this book is a masterpiece. Without a doubt, Dennett is a master of the persuasive argument, and he pulls out all the stops here: see th...moreRhetorically, this book is a masterpiece. Without a doubt, Dennett is a master of the persuasive argument, and he pulls out all the stops here: see the gradual shifts in word choice ("the familiar Cartesian Theater" at the beginning morphs by the end into "our old nemesis, the Cartesian Theater"), very carefully chosen metaphorical models in order to pull in all kinds of technological magic, the way he performs a mea culpa without actually admitting guilt near the end of the book, and prevalent rhetorical questions and blanket declarations to mask over the places where things are most awkward. It's really well done. If it weren't for the theoretical issues (really, one major theoretical issue), this would easily be a 5 star book. It is both rigorous yet accessible, and it is a wonderfully enjoyable exploration of consciousness and its limitations. The book has a lot to teach people about their own self-experience, even (and especially!) those who aren't prone to agree with him (such as me). To borrow a term Dennett uses to describe a fellow philosopher's work, this book is an "instructive failure". It's definitely worth your time to read.
I read this book, however, with a particular question in mind: when I see something in my mind's eye, where does that image reside? (Note that I have a vivid mind's eye — some people don't even have a mind's eye at all, and don't even know they're missing one! See this Discover article for more.) This book was referred to me because it was apparently a solid materialist argument and explanation. Unfortunately, Dennett simply doesn't have an answer for that question. His rhetoric obscures that fact very well (although he cops to side-stepping questions of "the nature of things" in Appendix A), but ultimately he takes a functionalist approach, and that handily does away with the very evidence which I was looking for him to explain.
To see how this happens, it is first necessary to realize that we can't actually prove anyone else is conscious in the same sense we are. As was popularized in The Matrix, we could be dreaming and not realizing it, and everyone else could be projections of our own consciousness. Like in A Beautiful Mind (SPOILER ALERT), we could be populating our experience with non-existent people. No test proves anything more than the fact that it is a very clever illusion or bit of calculation going on — but, ultimately, our own consciousness is uniquely experienced by us. Everyone else could be a zombie (in the philosophical sense), and we have no way to know differently. This is not the point Dennett starts with, but it's implicit within Dennett's functionalist approach. The move Dennett makes is to then project that back on to us, and say that we, too, have no consciousness in any real sense. How could you prove differently to anyone else? What objectively accessible function can you perform as a conscious entity which these potentially unconscious entities could not?
The problem is that the experience of having consciousness — not just computational complexity or a narrative world, but some "audience in a Cartesian Theater" — is not simply a "doctrine" (that word choice is a great example of Dennett's excellent and subtle rhetorical moves), but stems from evidence. It's not functional-objective evidence, but it is evidence none the less. That evidence is the experience of having consciousness. As much as you chip away at what the consciousness is and does (and Dennett does that excellently), there is always still an "I" which is having the experience. That's the whole point of Descartes, and Dennett simply does not feel the need to account for it, instead presenting the epistemological limitations of his "heterophenomonology" as ontological statements. But a map is not the territory, and a scientific model is not the thing itself. Simply because heterophenomonology cannot take with subjective evidence seriously does not mean that subjective evidence should not be taken seriously. This point is very poetically (and popularly) driven home in Nature, Man and Woman, and Dennett is aware of it, but simply dismisses it as not relevant. If you read through my progress in this book, you'll see lots of places where those dismissals are explicitly identified, because they drove me nuts. (Here's an example.)
To a certain extent, though, he is right: phenomonology is not relevant within the context of science, where heterophenomenology is sufficient. As a text in cognitive science, Dennett's approach is really insightful and makes many challenging points. In the world of philosophy, though, the phenomonology needs to be accounted for. It's not philosophically sufficient to assume an air of "anthropological" condescension towards at least our own phenomonology — that's discounting a vital piece of evidence without basis, and if it cannot be accounted for, then consciousness (at least our own consciousness) is insufficiently explained. Dennett claims that consciousness is just an illusion — but who is perceiving the illusion? If it is a deception, who is being deceived? That claim is actually begging the question, and Dennett responds by retreating to functionalism, and saying it is our memories that are being deceived. But I do not simply remember being conscious — I am conscious of being conscious! But that sentence doesn't even make sense in the functionalist conception. But Dennett seems to be paraphrasing Groucho Marx: "Who are you going to believe? Me or your own mind's eye?"
It is notable at this point, though, to mention that the kind of "anthropological" condescension Dennett advocates has actually come under an extreme kind of fire as a Eurocentric and fundamentally racist pattern of thought which results not in real knowledge, but more in generating a hybrid of European presumptions and European interpretative "data". For more on this point, see Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. I bring this up because so much of the argumentation feels like 19th century thinking, not 21st century thinking, and the model Dennett proposes reads more like an artifact of philosophy's own artifices and methodologies than an account of reality. Appeals to the specialness of language (strictly conceived), to Newtonian physics, and conflations between non-materialism and dualism really reinforce that sense.
On top of all of this, Dennett builds heavily upon ideas of evolutionary psychology and memes, which are roundly destroyed as non-scientific materialistic doctrines in The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. There is also some significant ethological ("animal-psychological") claims about the communication and cognition of animals which are simply empirically wrong given research done by people like Marc Bekoff. And the idea that we could have immortality by "copying our brain's software" is not very comforting to this particular copy (a point made well in The Prestige). There is no serious engagement with psi or spirituality, as though they are self-evidently irrelevant to discussions of consciousness.
With all these complaints, however, the book still gets 4 stars. It's definitely worth a read, and it is really an eye-opening revelation of just how complicated the apparently simple idea of "the conscious mind" really is. Highly suggested.(less)
This book blows hot and cold, but pulled itself up from a 3 star range to a 4 star range in the very last chapter. For the best reading experience, sk...moreThis book blows hot and cold, but pulled itself up from a 3 star range to a 4 star range in the very last chapter. For the best reading experience, skip the introduction. The book is really defensive (especially in the introduction and first couple of chapters), so go in expecting that. Don't let that put you off too much, though.
This book does not do a very good job making a case for the existence of the soul per se. What it is very good at is challenging scientific materialism and complicating understandings of the universe which are purely materialistic. This is done through a consideration of the scientific evidence itself, both in terms of materialistic scientific evidence and the scientific evidence that complicates materialism. The God Gene, the God Helmet, memetics, and especially evolutionary psychology are all demolished through the very application of scientific rigor. Evidence—although only limited evidence—is offered which is at least difficult for a materialist to account for, and which the authors outright assert proves the existence of a nonmaterial medium for the mind. There is also scientific evidence offered to challenge some of the broad misconceptions about religious individuals and religious experience (e.g. religion makes people more prone to violence).
Although the scientific parts of the book are really interesting, the philosophy based above that is sometimes weak, or at least insufficiently explained. For instance, evidence of a will does not necessarily imply evidence for a mind. And as someone who spent a lot of time in the Calvinist/Arminian fray, I wince in the way the author uses "free will", both in terms of identifying it and in terms of its necessary consequences.
The evidence offered for "psi" and "NDEs" both need a bit more room to breathe. The case for "psi", in particular, is not well made and generally lacks evidence. The case based on "NDEs" stakes a lot on a single instance, and it would have been nice to hear about some of the studies which have intentionally sought to demonstrate precisely the kinds of evidence the author is looking for.
The book seems like it is taking on a bit too much all at once. It does a nice (if overly defensive) job with the attacks on scientific materialism in the early chapters — those chapters alone make the book worth reading. The concluding chapters with the study for the Carmelite nuns and surrounding conversation on the scientific study fo religious-spiritual-mystical experience is also very good. It's the stuff in the very middle which is a little mushy, and either needed more room or to be removed altogether.(less)
This is two essays, one by J.C. Kumarappa and another by V.L. Mehta. The Kumarappa essay speaks to the parasitic colonialism of the British and the ec...moreThis is two essays, one by J.C. Kumarappa and another by V.L. Mehta. The Kumarappa essay speaks to the parasitic colonialism of the British and the economic situation of India at the brink of independence, and advocates for a return to a more structured society built on traditional trades. The Mehta essay specifically looks at the role of machinery and industrialization, and challenges the presumption that industrialization will solve India's problems. Both of them cast their argument in terms of India's unique contributions to civilization, especially Gandhian nonviolence.
It is extremely interesting to read these essays. They challenge the ideas of progress as necessarily being expressed in bigger machinery and more industrialization on the promise of free time. In a lot of ways, the arguments sound very much like the locaphile/agrarian movement that America is encountering these days.(less)
Gandhi never laid out a systematic theology. Thankfully, he had redactors who did it for him later, and this is the text that is the result. It's a co...moreGandhi never laid out a systematic theology. Thankfully, he had redactors who did it for him later, and this is the text that is the result. It's a comprehensive collection of Gandhi's writings on a variety of religious/spiritual topics. Since these articles/letters weren't written with the intent of being collected into an anthology, there is a fair bit of repetition, and so it is not nearly as accessible as "Satyagraha in South Africa" and certainly not as accessible as the autobiography (the latter of which arguably has more practical theology). But that said, there's lots of very good, very challenging stuff in here.(less)
If the name "Gandhi" conjures up an image of some fantastical demigod of peace and tranquility, this book will solve that for you. It's Gandhi's own a...moreIf the name "Gandhi" conjures up an image of some fantastical demigod of peace and tranquility, this book will solve that for you. It's Gandhi's own account of his life (written in the 1920s, so it wasn't nearly over yet), and it reveals the inner working of a man who is constantly pushed by his own high expectations for himself and for all of humanity.
On the one hand, the book is frustrating, because it thoroughly demolishes the superhuman reality of Gandhi. On the other hand, this book is liberating, because you realize that Gandhi was a purely a human being and not some kind of divine being, and so he is someone that we can model ourselves after. He has failings and struggles and concerns over health and hygiene. He's just some guy. And I find that wonderful, because I'm just some guy, too.
 I wish Gandhi had updated this book. I would have loved to hear him discuss his struggles with untouchability in the same sort of reflective tone.(less)
This book gets into nonviolence as a principle of organizing life. The term "nonviolence" here is somewhat misleading, because the book describes a ki...moreThis book gets into nonviolence as a principle of organizing life. The term "nonviolence" here is somewhat misleading, because the book describes a kind of overall orientation/habituation towards peace much more than any particular stance regarding inflicting violence on others. It's a superb book because it speaks to the science (of all stripes), the politics, and the lifestyle: it's really a broad vision of the future, but with very particular suggestions on how to begin to shape yourself towards this goal.(less)
I'm largely not a fan of fiction, so reviewing this book isn't particularly fair. So let me begin by saying this: the Ethics department at Duke Divini...moreI'm largely not a fan of fiction, so reviewing this book isn't particularly fair. So let me begin by saying this: the Ethics department at Duke Divinity School is ga-ga over this book and the other stuff from this author. A fair number of students int my Christian Ethics class loved this book. And the book is absolutely written in almost poetic prose which is occasionally quite beautiful, and a nice reminder that not all writers come from the Dan Brown school of writing.
But, to me (and this is my review), reading the book was like slogging through molasses. When I finished it the first time, I felt relief that I was finally free of the sticky, thick prose. The book also read self-consciously and gratuitously symbolic: I felt like the book was constantly nudging me in the ribs, winking at me, and saying knowingly, "See that? *ASH*! Y'know, like *Wednesday...? Y'know? Y'know?" A little bit of that is clever—even moving. A whole text that way is insufferable. Beyond that, the book was also overwhelmingly sentimental, which I simply don't care for and which simply fails to grab me.
But the prose and the symbolism does make the book more interesting than most personal epic period pieces, and I did appreciate the way that theology was presented: not as a series of abstract doctrines, but as a loving expression of a way that one recognizes God. Plus, I think Feuerbach gets too little love from among religious folk, who throw out the baby with the bathwater when they disdain him for his atheism, and this book brings back some of that. So that was nice.
This is an account of Christianity by "Gandhi's economist". If I were to sit down and write my own account of Christianity, it would read a lot like t...moreThis is an account of Christianity by "Gandhi's economist". If I were to sit down and write my own account of Christianity, it would read a lot like this. Deeply (and explicitly) influenced by Tolstoy's "What I Believe" and a general sense of pragmatism, book looks at Jesus as a model and teacher for how to live our lives, and it integrates some of Gandhi's teachings. The text focuses heavily on Matthew and John (with occasional forays into Luke), and is particularly interesting to be read in conversation with Jews and Christians: Getting Our Stories Straight, Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation, and J.C. Kumarappa's other works.(less)
This is not really a book, but rather as an edited volume of Gandhi's writings. If you want to find out what Gandhi thinks about caste, this is the ed...moreThis is not really a book, but rather as an edited volume of Gandhi's writings. If you want to find out what Gandhi thinks about caste, this is the edited volume to read. A lot of the content is repetitive, because apparently people struggled to grok some important fundamental points, but that's actually somewhat useful, since those are the same traps that the reader is likely to fall into and the same misgivings the reader might go away with.
That said, the book isn't enthralling. It's not a page-turner. It's not bedtime reading. It's a reference text for someone who wants to study Gandhi's thought, or someone who wants to understand how it is that Gandhi, who is credited as being so amazingly egalitarian, squared that egalitarianism with a system that dictated ones' profession and formed the basis for social division. If that's what you're interested in, this book will reveal it through Gandhi's own writings presented largely unadulterated. On that basis, I give it 4 stars.(less)
Although Michael Goldberg has an overly-Jewish reading even of the admittedly very Jewish Matthew, this book does an excellent job of highlighting rea...moreAlthough Michael Goldberg has an overly-Jewish reading even of the admittedly very Jewish Matthew, this book does an excellent job of highlighting real areas of difference and similarity between Christian and Jewish understandings of faith. It works well to counteract the idea that at the heart of all religions is "the same thing", and so apparent differences are actually simply superficial (and, by implication, vestigial) ornamentation. Very well written, very interesting, and definitely recommended.(less)
This book challenges the assumption that morality is somehow unique to human beings. This challenge is issued through both philosophical critiques of...moreThis book challenges the assumption that morality is somehow unique to human beings. This challenge is issued through both philosophical critiques of speciesist understandings of morals, as well as by direct ethological evidence of justice in natural contexts.(less)
It's hard not to love Julian of Norwich. Even though I find her visions and her entire way of approaching God deeply troubling, by the time I got to t...moreIt's hard not to love Julian of Norwich. Even though I find her visions and her entire way of approaching God deeply troubling, by the time I got to the end of the book, I felt like I had made a new and fast friend. I'm not sure where that occurred, but it certainly did.
My issue with the book is that I just don't share Julian's religious worldview, so although I find her passion admirable and her explorations interesting from an academic standpoint, I just can't follow them too far. So I spend most of the time unable to engage at a low level.(less)