Rossdavidh's Reviews > The Mind Club

The Mind Club by Daniel M. Wegner
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This book opens with a pretty heavy piece of news. One of the authors, Daniel Wegner, died before it was published. What is more, he died of ALS, and towards the very end of his life, he was essentially a mind only, with his body able to do little more than breathe (and eventually, not even that). It is almost certainly not a complete coincidence that Wegner had become interested in the topic, but since he was a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he must have had an interest in the relations between mind and body long before he became aware that his mind would keep working well long after his body had ceased to. The other author, Kurt Gray, was a student of his, and worked with him completed the book after Wegner's death, at his request.

Well, wow. Welcome to this book. There is not a chapter in it which will not touch on some topic of substantial moral and emotional weight, even the introduction. The subtitle is a pretty good summary of the scope: "Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters". We talk about robots, about animals other than humans, about brain-dead humans, about living humans who have lost part of their mental faculties due to Alzheimer's, about ghosts, about zombies, about infants, about fetuses, about people we regard as enemies. Every one of these topics brings with it substantial moral or psychological questions.

Wegner and Gray assert that we humans tend to want to categorize beings as either Moral Agents, with a capacity for agency and possessing moral responsibility, or Moral Patients, with a capacity for Experiencing and possessing Moral Rights. The more we are able perceive that an entity has the capacity to think and do, the more we think of them in one way, and the more we perceive them as lacking that, the less. So, it is difficult for us to perceive a person as simultaneously a dangerous criminal who does hideously awful things to other people, and the victim of a horrible upbringing full of physical and psychological abuse.

There are a lot of psychological experiments mentioned in this book, many of them very interesting to read about. I did find myself wondering, repeatedly, while reading this book, "did this study effect ever get replicated?" Occasionally I would stop and use my smartphone to look up whether they did (mostly the answer was 'yes, successfully'). It does seem to me that whenever a book written by university academics goes into topics like a belief in God, they have a hard time pretending to be objective. God (or belief in same) gets an entire chapter in this book, and they try as much as one can expect, but were I a devout Christian I would have detected a pretty clear bias. I mean, not Richard Dawkins kind of bias or anything, but Wegner and Gray are coming at some pretty important and emotionally potent topics from a particular point of view, and they are humans, so it is not surprising that they have occasionally allowed some of that point of view to show through.

By and large, I found this to be a good book, that examines important issues about how we think about thinking. I would have liked to see some discussion of how they think their Moral Agent/Moral Patient axis interacts with Moral Foundations Theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_f...) as proposed by Jonathan Haidt and others. But, perhaps the way those two interact simply hasn't been examined, and this is most definitely a book that wants to make sure its assertions are backed up by scientific research. There is not a chapter in it which does not make you think more carefully about a topic worth the effort.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 14, 2018 – Shelved
November 14, 2018 – Shelved as: green
November 14, 2018 – Shelved as: blue

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