Some New Books

This comprehensive record of Krishnamurti’s teachings is an excellent, wide-ranging introduction to the great philosopher’s thought. With among others, Jacob Needleman, Alain Naude, and Swami Venkatasananda, Krishnamurti examines such issues as the role of the teacher and tradition; the need for awareness of ‘cosmic consciousness; the problem of good and evil; and traditional Vedanta methods of help for different levels of seekers.

You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You “know” the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001–you know these things, well, because you just do.

In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton shows that feeling certain—feeling that we know something— is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. An increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. In other words, the feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen.

Bringing together cutting-edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain challenges what we know (or think we know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason.

Oxford zoologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype trumpets his thesis in his subtitlealmost guarantee enough that his book will stir controversy. Simply put, he has responded head-on to the argument-by-design most notably made by the 18th century theologian William Paley that the universe, like a watch in its complexity, needed, in effect, a watchmaker to design it. Hewing to Darwin’s fundamental (his opponents might say fundamentalist) message, Dawkins sums up: “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the evolution of organized complexity.” Avoiding an arrogant tone despite his up-front convictions, he takes pains to explain carefully, from various sides, why even such esteemed scientists as Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, with their “punctuated equilibrium” thesis, are actually gradualists like Darwin himself in their evolutionary views. Dawkins is difficult reading as he describes his computer models of evolutionary possibilities. But, as he draws on his zoological background, emphasizing recent genetic techniques, he can be as engrossing as he is cogent and convincing. His concept of “taming chance” by breaking down the “very improbable into less improbable small components” is daring neo-Darwinism. Line drawings.

The third in a series that began with Descartes’ Error, this book deftly combines recent advances in neuroscience with charged meditations on foundational 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and the result is Damasio’s fullest report so far on the nature of feelings. A Salk Institute professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, Damasio makes a useful distinction between emotions, which are publicly observable body states, and feelings, which are mental events observable only to the person having them. Based on neuroscience research he and others have done, Damasio argues that an episode of emoting begins with an emotionally “competent” stimulus (such as an attractive person or a scary house) that the organism automatically appraises as conducive to survival or well-being (a good thing) or not conducive (bad). This appraisal takes the form of a complex array of physiological reactions (e.g., quickening heartbeat, tensing facial muscles), which is mapped in the brain. From that map, a feeling arises as “an idea of the body when it is perturbed by the emoting process.” Because they “bear witness to the state of life deep within,” feelings are a vital guide to decision-making. Damasio goes on to connect his own views to Spinoza’s and sympathize with that thinker’s “secular religiosity,” which identified God with nature. He ends by discussing spiritual feelings, which he relates to “the sense that the organism is functioning with the greatest possible perfection.” Given his professional background, it is not surprising that Damasio is more persuasive when talking neuroscience than philosophy. But overall, he succeeds in making the latest brain research accessible to the general reader, while his passionate Spinozist reflections make that data relevant to everyday life.


About insightsofmind

Hello my name is Jerome and welcome to my blog. Here you will find various media and articles on assorted topics from around the world and some of my own personal interests. I’ve made this blog so you too can enjoy the topics and issues I examine and discuss in detail here. On occasion, I will only post bits and pieces for I am a busy guy. But when I get the time I always try to post as much material as possible. Now that you’re here take the time to look around and see if there’s anything that peaks your interest. Some material you will find will be pictures; others will be videos and articles. I’ve tried to offer a wide variety of mediums so that you the viewer can find the one that most suits you. And I hope with the time you’ve taken to at least read this you are already interested in what I have posted here. Thanks for your time.
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