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Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self

3.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143121657
ISBN-10: 0143121650
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Who are we? Who am I? Those are the questions science writer Ouellette (The Calculus Diaries, 2010) tackles in this elegant and very personal inquiry into identity and the science of the self. Ouellette examines the many aspects of the making of a self, including discussions on nature versus nurture. Regarding the latter, she believes the origins of the self combine both elements, “locked in an intricate dance.” Ouellette leapfrogs through scientific, philosophical, and even pop history, which makes for fun reading as she expresses her views of an array of figures and artifacts, from Gregor Mendel to Francis Galton, John Locke to Kevin Bacon, Harry Potter movies to Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi film, Inception. She discusses the so-called Prozac gene, brain scans, the “hangover gene,” avatars, sexual orientation and gender-atypical behaviors, the persistence and accuracy of memory, consciousness and the soul, and other provocative topics. Sometimes she’s funny, such as when she experiments with LSD for “research” purposes; other times, poignant: “Everyone finds their own way to create meaning out of our allotted time on this Earth.” An entertaining, insightful, and thoughtful reflection on our assumptions about ourselves and the mystery that is at the heart of the human story. --June Sawyers

Review

Praise for Me, Myself, and Why

“Ouellette is a smart, well-studied, and personable companion. . . . There are a number of approaches to defining a person, and this task has engaged philosophers, theologians, scientists, and pretty much everyone who has ever lived, at least since mirrors were invented. Ouellette looks at all of the methods listed above, and more, in trying to figure out who she is and what tools are at hand for figuring out who anyone is.”
—The Wall Street Journal

“In Me, Myself, and Why Ouellette offers curiosity-inspiring glimpses into science , coupled with an obvious love for the material and a healthy dose of humor. . . . The combination of historical anecdote and current research is impressive.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Ouellette explores the concept of identity through scientific, medical, and psychological testing on her journey of self-discovery. She is an expert at communicating tough scientific concepts to broad audiences, and here she uses personal narrative to appeal to her readers as she skillfully recounts her experiences.”
—Psychology Today

“Very entertaining . . . It is hard to imagine a more delightful guide to the science of self than Jennifer Ouellette.”
—Jim Holt, Prospect

“Tackling ‘the science of self’ could easily get tedious or even a little boring, but in the capable hands of Jennifer Ouellette, it’s nothing but fun. . . .  Her ability to make rather advanced theories interesting and relatable makes this a must read for those who have a passion for science but would rather be reading Joan Didion.”
—Bust

“An engrossing and often amusing tour of elite labs and edgy research.”
—Nature

“Who are we? Who am I? Those are the questions Ouellette tackles in this elegant and very personal inquiry into identity and the science of the self. . . . An entertaining, insightful, and thoughtful reflection on our assumptions about ourselves and the mystery that is at the heart of the human story.”
—Booklist (starred review)

“Solid science well infused with readable history, pop culture and personal stories. . . . Ouellette’s personal anecdotes reveal a writer with keen intelligence, curiosity, a spirit of adventure and a sense of humor.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“A clear, direct tour of the biology of the self . . . from an author with a flair for making complex subjects simple.”
—Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143121650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143121657
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Mohawked Reviewer TOP 100 REVIEWER on March 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
As usual I received this book for the sum of nothing in exchange for a review. This time from NetGalley. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

The best summary I can give of this book is that it's broad but not necessarily deep. It starts with Mendel and his peas, makes its way through LSD experiments and brain chemistry, stops for a while in virtual reality and ends up in philosophy. It is all over the place and doesn't spend much time in any one area. This is a book best taken at a chapter every night as your first reading of the evening while you're still wide awake.

To the positive, the book is very easy to digest. Even the most complex ideas (and what's more complicated than the brain) are brought down to earth in a way that anyone can understand. There's plenty of technical jargon here but it's all defined and not at all mysterious even to the neophyte. Also, as I said above, the author covers a dizzying array of topics with wit, cleverness and clarity. For those interested in further reading there's an extensive bibliography that consumes the last 20% of the book so it's a good jumping-off point for further in-depth investigation.

To the negative, there is a lot of personal anecdote spread throughout this book. The book is 20% bibliography, 30% about the author and her life and 50% about science. For some readers this is exactly what they were probably hoping for but those looking for hard and gritty science may find themselves annoyed by how much 'Jennifer' there is in this book.

In summary, if this your first foray into such topics then you'll make a good choice to buy thsi one. If this is your 50th book on the topic, don't bother.
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Self is a process and not a thing and the process is present at all times when we are presumed to be conscious. It is not located in any particular part of the body but it is an emergent phenomenon. If there is no matter (or energy), the mind doesn't exist. Soul is uniquely generated by the causal interaction with myriads of elements of the self. The Self-as-Object (the material "me") and Self-as-Knower (the subjective, self-aware "I") are linked. The former is the fundamental cognitive layer that we share with all animals and the latter is a richer self-representation that is uniquely human.

The Self is viewed differently in many fields of study. Physicists suggest that consciousness and the laws of physics are a coherent whole. Existence is explained by the operation of laws of physics on matter (or energy) in spacetime, and consciousness is inherently entangled with physical reality. For a biochemist, self would result from biochemical mechanisms involving genes, hormones, proteins, enzymes and a host of environmental factors that shapes up an individual. The intricate wirings of the brain are the essence of self for a neurobiologist, and for a social psychologist, it is a product of our environment and surroundings. For Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism and many philosophers, reality is an illusion.

In this book, Science journalist Jennifer Ouellette has done extensive literature study to write this challenging book. Even though she has not done any original research in this field, but she has been in touch with the subject matter from discussions with leading biologists, neurologists, geneticists and psychologists. A brief summary of the book is as follows; one of the most active regions of brain, when it comes to our sense of self, is the prefrontal cortex.
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Format: Paperback
Author Jennifer Ouellette has again taking the complicated and made it simple, this time in talking about the human brain. There was no overarching thesis here, just an anthology of fascinating, well-written and fun (mostly) brain stories. I enjoyed this book even more than I enjoyed Ouellette’s The Physics of the Buffyverse, which was still very good. Ouellette writes in a very conversational prose, with a lot of personal anecdotes, some of which really added to the fabric of the book. This book will appeal to those with or without a biology background.
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This book is well researched and contains a lot of very interested information. However the author bird-walks around, and it seems hard to understand how all of the information really fits together. Some of the information, while interesting, seemed to have little to do with the proposed topic.
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In my early twenties I worked for a few months in an asylum. That experience challenged my perceptions of what constitutes "crazy" and set me up for a lifelong interest in what makes us who we are. This book is a very interesting exploration of current thought on the subject. Ms. Ouellette has an engaging writing style.
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I enjoyed this book very much. It covers a wide range of subjects and perspectives in discovering "you"/the brain/consciousness/neurology/etc., basically the "Me, Myself, and Why" just as the title says is the best way to put it. It is a "self"-discovery first person recount that includes both research and anecdotes without going too technical or not technical enough for the well-educated reader. The author is very talented in her writing style at weaving together history, science/research, and her own personal observations to produce a comprehensive exploration into all of the various factors involved in understanding "you". I have always been interested in the sorts of topics presented in her book from genetics to psychology/neurology and more, and I regularly read scientific studies and perform in-depth research of my own into the sorts of matters discussed in her book (as a non-medical professional). Even though in some parts of the book I thought, yeah yeah, I already know about all that, she nevertheless writes in a way that makes it an interesting read and she nevertheless discussed certain aspects from each discipline that I had never encountered on my own or otherwise presented the information in a way that, read in combination with the rest of the topics covered in the book, made me think more comprehensively about the complex interactions between each subject matter and the potential areas of new discovery in ways that I had never done/thought of before. In sum, it is a well-written thought-provoking book that is not pretentious, pedantic, or narcissistic. I came back to this page not to write a review but to see what other books this author has written that I may want to buy, so that is as good of an endorsement as there is I suppose.
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