An erudite book that reveals how and why the understanding of consciousness still eludes us.

SOUL MACHINE

THE INVENTION OF THE MODERN MIND

Throughout Western history, the nature of humans’ inner lives has vexed philosophers, physicians, scientists, and theologians. Makari (Psychiatry/Weill Cornell Medical Coll.; Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis, 2008) offers a thorough examination of debates about soul, spirit, and what we now call “mind.”

The author primarily focuses on 17th- through mid-19th-century British and European thinkers. Is mind, he asks, “a necessary theory, a physical thing, a language game, or a deep-seated prejudice?” Language itself has caused myriad problems. The French, for example, were at a loss to translate John Locke’s choice of words—and invention of neologisms—to represent inner life: “consciousness” and “self-consciousness” were not rendered clearly by terms such as la conscience (implying ethical awareness) and esprit, which signified spirit or soul. Besides Locke, Makari examines major theorists such as Newton, Descartes, Diderot, Voltaire, Hobbes, Bacon, Hegel, and Schelling. While these names may be familiar to readers with a background in intellectual history or philosophy, less familiar figures from Makari’s large cast of characters unfortunately emerge less as fully delineated personalities than as purveyors of abstract ideas. The author creates a lively narrative about Franz Anton Mesmer, the eccentric, egotistical perpetrator of animal magnetism, who captivated many in pre-revolutionary Paris and repelled others who feared that he conceived men as “magnetic machines with no will and therefore no capacity for self-governance or self-knowledge.” Political and social change, the author argues, were intrinsically connected to the acceptance or rejection of various thinkers. “When the French Revolution drove out the Church and the protectors of the soul,” he writes, “a fully formed secular, modern lineage of the mind was waiting, ready to emerge.” Despite advances in neurophysiology and research into mental illness, Makari maintains that we still think of dualities when it comes to mind (“the mind-body problem, the Nature/Nurture problem, free will versus determinism”), a view that many readers will share.

An erudite book that reveals how and why the understanding of consciousness still eludes us.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-05965-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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