FEELING & KNOWING

MAKING MINDS CONSCIOUS

Penetrating observations and speculations for scientifically inclined readers.

The renowned neuroscientist delivers a short but definitely not superficial investigation of consciousness, widely but wrongly looked on as mysterious.

Damasio—the chair of neuroscience and professor of psychology, neurology, and philosophy at USC, where he heads the Brain and Creativity Institute—emphasizes that he has no patience with efforts to solve the “hard problem”—i.e., explaining how the mass of neurons in the physical brain generates conscious mental states. His reason: They don’t, at least not by themselves. While the brain plays an indispensable role, it requires input from “non-neural tissues of the organism’s body proper.” At the simplest level, our physical senses provide feelings, and our memory provides context that our sense of self integrates into what we experience as consciousness, which the author defines as “a particular state of mind resulting from a biological process toward which multiple mental events make a contribution,” Feelings, writes Damasio, “provide the mind with facts on the basis of which we know, effortlessly, that whatever else is in the mind, at the moment, also belongs to us. Feelings allow us to experience and become conscious. Homeostatic feelings are the first enablers of consciousness.” Refreshingly for a professor of neuroscience, Damasio writes lucid prose clearly addressed to a popular audience. Even better, the book is concise (180 pages of main text plus notes and references) and helpfully divided into dozens of short chapters—e.g., “The Embarrassment of Viruses,” “Nervous Systems as Afterthoughts of Nature,” “Turning Neural Activity Into Movement and Mind,” “Algorithms in the Kitchen”—many only one or two pages. Make no mistake, however; Damasio is a deep thinker familiar with multiple disciplines, and this is as much a work of philosophy as hard science. Readers familiar with college level psychology and neuroscience will discover rewarding insights, many of which the author covered in his last book, The Strange Order of Things (2018).

Penetrating observations and speculations for scientifically inclined readers.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4755-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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