A provocative examination of deep questions—not easy reading but worth sticking with, if only for the fascinating case...

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THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE

INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE STRANGE NEW SCIENCE OF THE SELF

Psychology and philosophy intersect in a study of mental states that raises the question of what we refer to when we say “myself.”

Ananthaswamy (The Edge of Physics, 2010, etc.) based this book on interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and a number of people who experience a range of mental conditions that include Alzheimer’s, autism, and schizophrenia. Each of these involves a departure from what we think of as normal consciousness; with Alzheimer’s, for example, the loss of memory can be equated to the erasure of much of what makes the victim a distinct individual. Many schizophrenics report that their actions are directed by someone outside themselves. More interestingly, Ananthaswamy looks at victims of several less-familiar conditions, such as Cotard’s syndrome, in which the patient believes they are dead, or victims of body integrity identity disorder, in which the patient seeks to have a body part amputated because it “doesn’t belong to them.” A network has sprung up to connect BIID patients with surgeons who will remove the offending limb; the author interviewed several who had the operation, and from their reports, it ended their distress. A different perspective on the nature of the self comes from those who report out-of-body experiences. For some of these conditions, researchers have studied brain scans to determine what regions of the brain are involved. Ananthaswamy also spends a fair amount of time on theoretical discussions of the nature of selfhood, which does little to shed light on the issues at stake. Perhaps more useful are literary connections, such as discussions of Dostoyevsky’s portrayal of ecstatic epilepsy, Aldous Huxley’s use of psychedelics, and Buddhist texts that raise the question of what the self is. But the main portions of the book are accounts of the experiences of specific patients, intriguing and disturbing at the same time.

A provocative examination of deep questions—not easy reading but worth sticking with, if only for the fascinating case studies.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-95419-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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