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message 1: by Maryam (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:51AM) (new)

Maryam | 1 comments I just joined this group because I love everything about the brain and the mind, but being in school, don't get to read much outside of textbooks about it. Any good recommendations?

message 2: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:52AM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments I've always found it tough to make recommendations in this area, since the science is all so new and there's still so many competing 'theories of mind'. Some of the really good work I've enjoyed most has been those books that give information on several different approaches and then go from there, like 'Matter and Consciousness' by Paul Churchland. Another of my favorites is 'Neurophilosophy' by Patricia Churchland. Another one that I don't like as much but that is very readable is 'Consciousness Explained' by Daniel Dennet. One of the best books I've read this year is 'Moral Minds' by Marc Hauser, who sketches out a tentative theory of human morality based on innate principals and parameters. He basically applies the chomskyan framework for linguistics to what he calls the 'moral organ'. Anyway it's a facinating book and, in my opinion, the first in what promises to be a rich line of work on the neuro/materialist basis of human morality. Damn, this was a long post. Hope it helps.


message 3: by Christopher (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:52AM) (new)

Christopher Carr | 3 comments Hello,

I'm new here as well and am a returning student studying linguistics and psychology...especially interested in evolutionary psych..

A "moral organ," eh? So, there would be something like universal moral principals with parameters set by culture-specific stimulus? Interesting.

It seems to me that universal inclinations toward "moral" behavior are pretty neatly explained by "kin selection," which is the idea that behaviors conferring survival benefits to one's relatives will tend to increase in a population. Humans, of course, have spent most of their time on Earth living in small groups in which everyone you meet is likely to be related to you.

For what it's worth, I highly recommend "The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain" by Terrance Deacon.

message 4: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:54AM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Yeah, as I understand what you're saying, it seems to me that kin selection is a good explanation for the fact of morality in humans, that is, that morality exists. What Hauser does is provide a framework for explaining the more specific parameters of morality in the same way that Chomsky's early work outlines the more specific parameters of language, i.e. why certain actions do not offend our basic sense of morality and why others do. Hauser has a really fascinating website through his Cognitive Evolution lab at Harvard that gives more of an idea of what he's getting at in his new book. He also prints most of his papers and links to other good sites on the issues. The URL is - 22k

As for Deacon, I know of the book but haven't read it. I'll check it out.

message 5: by Mark (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:11PM) (new)

Mark Hauser's work sounds interesting; thanks for the suggestion. Among books I've read recently in this area, I'd recommend two: "This Is Your Brain On Music" by Daniel Levitin, takes a structured look at the neuroscience and possible evolutionary explanations for the universal attraction to music, written by a man who is both a cognitive scientist and a professional music producer. The beginning, which deals more with music theory and terms, is a little slow, but you can skip over that to get to the neuroscience.

Also, Cordelia Fine, a young British writer, has done a book on how the brain distorts and deceives us. I'm blanking on the main title, but it should google up OK.

message 6: by Tamar (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:11PM) (new)

Tamar | 6 comments Maryam, I highly recommend consciousness explained... Andrew, I'd be interested to hear why you didn't like it. Also, check out Steve Pinker's How the Mind Works and if your in the mood for a more whimsical approach try GEB or I am a Strange Loop, both by Doug Hofstadter.

message 7: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:11PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Tamar et al,

It's kind of difficult to phrase exactly what my objections to Dennet's approach are. I would definitely recommend Consciousness Explained, because I think it's one of the few comprehensive books on the mind, and Dennet does at least lay out a theory, defend it against possible attacks, then suggest some further lines of productive enquiry. But overall I just don't think there's enough empirical, hard evidence to justify Dennet's overconfidence in his own theories. I mean, it's definitely worthwhile to consider his dismisal of the 'Cartesian Theatre', and he's probably right to dispell a common notion about how consciousness happens, but then he goes on from there to proclaim himself a kind of master of the mind. He's written like 5 books since then, and I just read an interview with him where he just goes on about how right he is. I don't think he's the only one who does this, and I dislike other writers on consciousness for the same reason. I guess my preference in this area is for writers who make their arguments as far as the science takes them, and who then have the foresight to realize they just can't go any further until the actual science catches up with them. I think Patricia Churchland does this extremely well, and that's why I would recommend 'Neurophilosophy'. It's more dense and not as accessible, but it's also a far more detailed look at what is currently known about the brain, and I think the conclusions she's drawn from that, while not as sweeping as Dennet's, are actually far more valid. I do love Hofstadter, though, and GEB was one of the first and best books I've read about consciousness.

message 8: by Tamar (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:12PM) (new)

Tamar | 6 comments I can see where you'd take issue with Dennet's attitude, he does come off as overly sure of his position, despite his lack of expertise in neurophysiology, but part of the argument that he is making is that debunking the myth of Cartesian theater is a purely philosophical exercise and that science is almost irrelevant to the core of his theories of the mind...

message 9: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:13PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Yeah, I guess. But for me the whole problem with Dennet is that he's making purely philisophical arguments but claiming that they're backed with the latest in science, which as far as I can tell doesn't really hold true. So he ends up just kind of cherry-picking from science where it suits him and ignoring scientific work that would discredit his models. And again, he's not the only one doing this. All the bickering that goes on between the different camps would be really annoying if the subject weren't in itself so fascinating, you know?

message 10: by Tamar (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:13PM) (new)

Tamar | 6 comments very true

message 11: by Aaron (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:14PM) (new)

Aaron Brown | 1 comments I had almost this same conversation with one of my friends last week. He was about to embark upon reading "Consciousness Explained" and I advised against it in favor of the following suggestions.

If you are salivating for some extremely empirically grounded cognitive science and reasoned speculation I would recommend:

How The Body Shapes the Mind - Shaun Gallagher

Embodiment and Cognitive Science - Raymond W. Gibbs

Both authors are practicing researchers and actively publishing. They fall squarely in the embodied cognition trend, but that seems to be where things are going, so no harm there. Further, both books have been published within the past two years, so things are pretty up to date. Don't let the heavy research angle deter you, the stuff they present is extremely fascinating (if at times a bit dry).

For some good arguments against Dennett check out "Neither Brain nor Ghost: A Nondualist Alternative to the Mind-Brain Identity Theory" - W. Teed Rockwell (you can find a review on my page).

If you are feeling adventurous, I would also highly recommend "Reconstructing the Cognitive World: The Next Step" - Michael Wheeler. It is the most rigorous refutation of Cartesian inspired philosophy of mind I have come across. It also goes far in establishing a Heidegerrian basis for a new slant in cognitive philosophy which highlights the embodied mind.

All that being said, "Consciousness Explained" is a major work that informs much of today's discussion in the field, so read it for historical interest and context if nothing else. If it's too long, Dennet's "Kinds of Mind" is a short and lucid distillation of some ideas in "Consciousness Explained".

message 12: by Richard (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new)

Richard | 1 comments Hi everyone,
I've just set up an author profile here. Please take a look to find out why I've joined this group. I look forward to participating in your discussions and promise to post more books and info in due course.
In haste,

message 13: by Kat (new)

Kat | 1 comments Hi Maryam, I just joined this group too. I recommend anything by Oliver Sacks--maybe for starters, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat". If you haven't already read his stuff, he presents mostly case studies. They're always interesting and well-written.

message 14: by Jim (new)

Jim | 8 comments I enjoyed The Female Brian whose author is a woman psychiatrist in San Francisco.

Looks at the interaction between the brain and hormones from the womb on.

the book is mainly about what hormones have an affect on the brain, when and what that effect is.

I read it last year after finding it by chance at a bookstore but it has helped me to understand what is happening inside my soon to be teenage Daughter which is the reason I looked at the book in the first place.

The book is interesting throughout and at least I can tell my Daughter what's going on with her.

The only problem is that she really doesn't want me to tell her and she would rather just let it happen and be with her friends instead of listening to me about what I've learned.

Lately, the hormones/concepts discussed in the book keep coming up more and more frequently in other readings.

Book is very readable for even the non-science reader and is very informative from other perspectives as far as evolutionary,anthropological, etc.

Author was apparently the founding physician for the first Woman and Mood Disorder Clinic in the US which is located in San Francisco

message 15: by Nohelia (new)

Nohelia Mercado (pkewelis) | 1 comments Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman? that's a good one!

message 16: by Hiten (new)

Hiten Soni | 1 comments I am a second year psychiatry resident. Just learned about the site and the group. Look forward to getting new reccomandations and exchanging ideas. I am now reading "Status Syndrome".

message 17: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Thibeault (thebookreporter) | 16 comments Hello. I'm also new here. Every second week I read a brand new popular non-fiction at the intersection of science and the humanities and write an article wherein I summarize the main argument of the book and offer up some of the juicier details and anecdotes to be found therein (at Many of the books that I cover are in the realm of psychology, as it is a favourite subject of mine. A few of the books that I've covered recently include 'The Social Conquest of Earth' by E.O. Wilson; 'The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion' by Jonathan Haidt; and 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg. Feel free to drop by the site to check out my work (again,

The Book Reporter

message 18: by K (new)

K (karazhans) | 10 comments Jim wrote: "The only problem is that she really doesn't want me to tell her and she would rather just let it happen and be with her friends instead of listening to me about what I've learned."

This is humorous on a stereotypical principle. The ability to introduce reason to teenage girls (and boys), is a compelling act of futility.

message 19: by Pippa (new)

Pippa (pippa222) | 2 comments Hi everyone, I am a writer (mainly scripts) and I read a lot, in many genres. I am very interested in the brain, consciousness and perception. I have just finished reading Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain which was very good, although a bit repetitive in the second half. I am looking forward to reading discussions like the one on this page to guide me in what to read next. :)

message 20: by Oscar (new)

Oscar | 2 comments Hello everyone! I thought I'd introduce myself! :)

message 21: by Aloha (new)

Aloha Hi, Oscar! Oscar just told me about this group, which is the type of group I've been looking for. I've always been interested in brain study and psychology, since I was in grade school when I read books on abnormal psychology. My childhood fascination with the human brain began with what made it go wrong. I had wanted to be a neurosurgeon but my mom thought that was a silly dream and told me I'm better off working as a paper pusher. I ended up with early admission to study pre-med, then moved on to engineering, but ended up with a Masters in Fine Arts in painting. Art was another dream that was considered silly, and my true passion for a while. Now, I mix everything I know into the graphics art, and interest in literature and writing. Oh, I've always been a huge reader. I read everything in the school library, too.

I'm a big fan of Douglas R. Hofstadter and Steven Pinker. I'm making my way through their books. I recently finished Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is now #2 in my favorite books of all time. The #1, Michelangelo's Complete Collection, is a sentimental favorite and will stay there. I'm currently reading his Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language, which is another incredible book. I've read Pinker's How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, both terrific books.

Wow, this is getting long. I haven't had a long intro since I was a newbie at Goodreads. I must be excited to find this group.

message 22: by Michael (new)

Michael (semanticwarrior) | 3 comments Hello everyone. It's late tonight so I won't write much. Suffice to say, I am a computer professional with an ABD (all but dissertated) in an obscure branch of Experimental Psychology called Ecological Psychology (the school of James J Gibson). I enjoy all things scientific and have been recently blown away by Julian Jaynes book; The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. This treatise blends evolution, religion, brain physiology, psychology, and linguistics into a proposed hypothesis of either utter brilliance or deranged delusion. Either way, I would look forward to discussing this book and many others on models of mind and all things concerning that miracle between our ears!

message 23: by James (last edited Sep 06, 2012 12:42PM) (new)

James Hollomon (etpro) | 6 comments

Hi all. I'm delighted to find a group dedicated to understanding human consciousness. It's an area that fascinates me. I'm a great fan of Steven Pinker. See How the Mind Works as a good starting point.

Right now I'm trying to fathom what turns a bright youngster into a cult leader. If anyone has recommendations on books that will help me understand what turns a person into a cult founder, please let me know.

@Michael: welcome to a small world. I just finished reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I really enjoyed it, though I must say that further work in the study of ancient language has cast serious doubt on its central postulate that in Homer's day, humans had no conscious mind. The Wikipedia article on Jaynes cites leading criticisms of the work. Some might interest you.

message 24: by K (new)

K (karazhans) | 10 comments James wrote: "Hi all. I'm delighted to find a group dedicated to understanding human consciousness. It's an area that fascinates me. I'm a great fan of Steven Pinker. See How the Mind Works as a good starting po..."

While not a book, one of my favorite websites is This website hosts confereses and talks about almost every topic of modern science, history, and basically everything. I'm rather sure anyone who joined this group is one of the target demographics of the site and would quite in enjoy the myriad of talks and presentations.

Diane Benscoter gives an interesting one on how cults rewire the brain and her experiences with them.

The related videos on the side, (What to watch next) are all tangentially related and provide some great information in the area. Although I haven't seen all of them yet.

message 25: by James (new)

James Hollomon (etpro) | 6 comments Kopec wrote: "James wrote: "Hi all. I'm delighted to find a group dedicated to understanding human consciousness. It's an area that fascinates me. I'm a great fan of Steven Pinker. See How the Mind Works as a go..."

Thanks for the suggestion, @Kopec. I did enjoy the talk. Sadly, that's about cult membership and my interest is in what happens in the formative years that makes a Sun Myung Moon, not what happens to make a Moonie, important though that be. I did search TED, being a member, and found nothing on the psychology of those who found cults.

message 26: by K (new)

K (karazhans) | 10 comments James wrote: "Kopec wrote: "James wrote: "Hi all. I'm delighted to find a group dedicated to understanding human consciousness. It's an area that fascinates me. I'm a great fan of Steven Pinker. See How the Mind..."

From my experience, there is little in the way of popular books on the topic unfortunately. As an additional thought, I would also recommend looking into similar leadership positions. What I mean by this would be to research what psychological aspects let terrorist, gang, and religious leaders convince and control their subjects.

If by formative years you refer to the circumstances that allow a rise to power then I would assume the best bet to be a biography of specific individuals.

Incredibly similar life experiences are observed when comparing the childhood of death row inmates. I would not be surprised to find similar patterns in those who ascend to those leadership positions. I look forward to seeing any information you write up about the subject.

message 27: by James (last edited Sep 06, 2012 02:55PM) (new)

James Hollomon (etpro) | 6 comments Good idea. Biographies may be my best bet, particularly those written by writers with strong insight into the psychology that motivates characters they cover. I suspect that something like the circular logic feedback loop that Diane Benscoter mentioned gets established early on in the nascent cult founder's mind; leading them to believe their own delusions of grandeur before foisting those delusions on others.

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