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A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What…

A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us…

by Robert Burton

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This one wasn't worth my time. Here is a sample: an illustrative example posed on page 48 in the chapter entitled "Causation":

To flesh out the complex and overlapping relationships between agency, intention, and causation, consider how, as little kids, we learned to establish causation by witnessing the consequences of our own actions. Suppose that I am tempted to flip the shiny On-Off switch on Dad's stereo. I want to know what will happen. When I do, the music comes on far louder than I expected. Mom sticks her fingers in her ears and screams, "No dessert for you." In my room I review the unfortunate series of events. I flipped the switch (agency) with my hand (ownership of body part) because I was curious and wanted to see what would happen (intention). My intention caused Mom to cancel dessert. The general principle: The closer the fit between intention and outcome, the more likely we are to conclude that the outcome was caused by our intention.

This is a family of idiots. That's my inescapable conclusion. (And the inclusion of the word "shiny" tells us that Burton knows that.) I want nothing to do with any of them.

I wish I could tell you that that was the page on which I abandoned this inflated, pretentious conglomeration of old news and lame examples, but in truth I persevered for another 18 grueling pages before throwing in the towel. At that point I couldn't stand to read any more of his chronically stupid illustrations or see him thrash the same old arguments in language high in verbosity and low in insight and revelation.

I really liked the author's earlier work, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. It altered my thinking in a number of respects and gave me a way of talking about the difference between feeling sure about something and knowing it for a fact. Because of that, I wanted to like this book and gave it a generous opportunity to win me over. Instead, this one feels like an attempt to rehash the same material and sell it again--something any number of popular nonfiction authors manage shamelessly and others just shouldn't try.

(Abandoned on page 66; not rated.)
  Meredy | Jun 12, 2014 |
Wonderful discussion of neuroscience research. A valuable resource for understanding what is reported as fact, but really isn't. ( )
  Rayaowen | Aug 10, 2013 |
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"What if what we consider to be reason-based, deliberative judgment is really the product of involuntary mental sensations? In A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind, Dr. Robert Burton takes a close look at the key false assumptions that permeate the field of cognitive science and offers a new way of exploring how our brains generate thought. The essential paradox that drives this cutting-edge theory is that the same mechanisms that prevent understanding the mind also generate a sense that we can attain such understanding. In A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind, Burton presents his theory of the 'mental sensory system'--a system that generates the main components of consciousness: a sense of self, a sense of choice and free will, and how we make moral decisions. Bringing together anecdotes, practical thought experiments, and cutting-edge neuroscience to show how these various strands of thought and mental sensations interact, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind offers a powerful tool for knowing what we can and cannot say about the mind; how to discern good from bad cognitive science studies; and most importantly, how to consider the moral implications of these studies. This is a pathbreaking model for considering the interaction between conscious and unconscious thought"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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