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The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation [Hardcover]

John Horgan
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)


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Book Description

September 14, 1999 0684850753 978-0684850757 1
The mystery of human consciousness, of how and why we think, has stimulated heated scientific inquiries throughout the world. In The Undiscovered Mind, John Horgan interviews scientists engaged in every aspect of the search for answers -- including neuroscientists, Freudian analysts, behavioral geneticists, and artificial intelligence engineers -- and lays bare the weaknesses, fallacies, and, sometimes, the absurdities of their conclusions.As he investigates everything from the effectiveness of Prozac and other treatments for mental disorders to the robot designed at MIT to replicate human thinking, Horgan dismantles the myth that science can establish a final theory of the mind. Engaging, witty, and profound, The Undiscovered Mind presents a persuasive argument that understanding the essence of human nature transcends the most sophisticated methods of scientific inquiry.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What are the limits of self-knowledge? Acclaimed science writer John Horgan takes a penetrating look into the world of neuroscience in The Undiscovered Mind, a follow-up to his more general The End of Science. Already pessimistic about the long-term prospects for the grand endeavor of scientific progress, he finds even more reason for skepticism about the claims of those who study the brain and the mind. Will we ever cross the explanatory gap between our reductionist neuroanatomical knowledge and our everyday awareness of the qualities of our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings? Horgan's answer is no.

He's no neo-Luddite, though--his aim is not to disillusion the public, not to reduce funding, but to address the hubris of the neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists, and artificial-intelligence researchers who all proclaim a new golden age just around the corner thanks to an imminent grand unified theory of consciousness, a theory Horgan believes unlikely and far off at best. His clear, entertaining prose is more conversational than polemic, and his verbal portraits of luminaries such as Eric Kandel and Lewis Wolpert make for engrossing, thoughtful reading. Even if you disagree with him, as many neuroscientists do, his point of view is refreshing and challenging, and hence well worth consideration. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

With a gadfly's stinging sense of human limitations, Horgan, author of the controversial and bestselling The End of Science, turns a quizzical eye to the claims of contemporary scientists, psychologists, philosophers and medical researchers who, through mind and brain science, hope to explain rationally human consciousness and behavior. His extraordinarily provocative and wide-ranging treatise moves from an analysis of modern social science's belief in the subjectivity of all research to a near apologia for Freud's profound skepticism of the scientific method, to an exposure of the reductionist claims of evolutionists, genetic theorists, psychopharmacology and cybernetics. During his rollicking stroll though the varied creeds that compose the terrain of consciousness studies, Horgan both educates and entertains. He employs anecdotes drawn from quirky personal encounters with leaders of consciousness theory, including Frederick Crews, an anti-Freudian who arrives at one meeting "dressed like an executioner"; Steven Hyman, the self-described "equal opportunity sceptic" who's the director of the National Institute of Medical Health; Peter Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac; and Harold Sackheim, a specialist in electroshock therapy. These anecdotes are complemented by Horgan's own erudition, which is considerable. Here is a writer equally at home with the canonical assertions of literary critic Harold Bloom and language philosopher Noam Chomsky's critique of Locke's epistemology and its subsequent behaviorist adherents. Horgan's light but never shallow journalistic style keeps his skepticism from descending into grim cynicism, and he concludes on an optimistic note: we are, he contends, capable of epiphanies that transcend the bonds of mere scientific method. How true, for readers of this contrarian, challenging book may themselves experience an epiphany as Horgan celebrates what he sees as the fundamental mystery of consciousness, of life, of the universe itself. Agent, John Brockman. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (September 14, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684850753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684850757
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read on the brain December 29, 1999
Format:Hardcover
Horgan leaves you open-mouthed at the breadth and depth of his reporting. From Prozac to psychoanalysis to PET scans, he puts all of mind science in place; and does it so deftly and entertainingly that you don't realize till later how much you have learned. He has made fewer waves with this book than with The End of Science, but if anything this one's even better. He is not the bad boy of science journalism (as he's been called lately) so much as the smart man --capable of handling any subject with grace, wit, and honesty, and appropriate levels of skepticism. Where he is skeptical he is judging scientists by their own standard: the evidence. My favorite chapter was his deconstruction of evolutionary psychology. I found myself less pessimistic than Horgan about the potential of neuroscience, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book. He writes with a point of view, which makes him interesting, but he doesn't abuse you with it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, lively, sometimes irritating October 25, 1999
Format:Hardcover
What a refreshing change from the usual stuff of science writing, which treats researchers with reverence and awe while failing to ask elementary questions about the limitations of the work. He provides a highly readable survey (a dance across the territory might be more accurate) of a broad field of knowledge. In the area where I knew the material and most of his sources, I can testify that he got facts just about right. As the self-styled "bad boy" of science writing, he sometimes skewers his subjects with deadly accuracy and at other points descends to sophomoric put downs and innunendo. But if anybody doubted whether Horgan was basically right about how little the neuroscientists in particular knew, the latest headlines prove his point: An experiment at Princeton showed that new brain cells appear ever day and are used for higher level mental functions. This is a little like spending several decades studying how automobiles work only to discover they have wheels. (Gosh, no wonder they move so fast).
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Horgan's deficit thinking May 8, 2000
Format:Hardcover
Most of what Horgan says about mind science is, I think, correct. He is right that much of psychology isn't really moving toward a unified theory of the mind, and shows no signs that it really can get there. Horgan's solution to this problem is, he seems to suggest, that we should think of much of psychology as more akin to "philosophy and literary criticism" (his words)than to hard science. I think Horgan is right when he says this. But, the trouble I have is that he understands "philosophy" and litcrit in a superficial and condescending way- and therefore, psychology too, insofar as it is akin to these disciplines. He sees such disciplines as merely _less_than_ science. He defines them negatively, by what they _can't_ to, rather than what they can. For instance, he says that these disciplines, the humanities, are not empirical and don't have unified paradigms. So this is what they _don't_ have, but what about what they _do_ have and _can_ do, that science can't? I think the trouble here is that Horgan doesn't know an awful lot about the humanities. Horgan's offhand depiction of several philosophers (Kuhn, "French philosophers," etc.), for instance, is mostly amateurish, uncomprehending, and often not especially respectful. And in an encounter he depicts with some literary-oriented psychoanalysts, he quotes some of what they said and aggressively dismisses it as "obscure." If one looks at what he quotes to show this "obscurity," it turns out that the psychoanalysts were merely using the common diction of literary criticism discourse, which Horgan obviously does not understand. Read more ›
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good antidote to the hype December 22, 2003
By AJ
Format:Paperback
At a time when we are constantly bombarded with claims and counter claims about the mind in the media and the popular press, it is good to see someone finally rise above the hype and take a good critical look at the current state of Mind Science.
Opening with a discussion of the mind body problem or as Horgan calls it the "explanatory gap" and the difficulties in constructing a single theory of the mind, Horgan leaves the reader wondering if in the final analysis, such a thing is even possible.
While ultra critical, Horgan does not make the same mistakes as he did in his first book. He treats each argument fairly and reasonably. As one reviewer pointed out "Where he is skeptical he is judging scientists by their own standard: the evidence"
In my view he is at his strongest when critiquing Bio-Psychiatry and especially the pseudo- science Evolutionary Psychology, which he rightly points out its inability to perform experiments, and the impossibility of objectively determining what is a cultural or innate trait. He likens this budding "Science" to the now fading psychoanalysis, which has interesting views on human nature, but whose theories can never really be verified.
Finally, he tackles the old philosophical problem of consciousness, and highlights all the competing contradictory views on how to tackle the problem.
Of course ultimately we may solve the problems that Horgan thinks are beyond our grasp, but until then, Horgan's Critical rationalism will do just fine.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking and incisive critique
In the Undiscovered Mind, Horgan argues (quite rightly) that we are far from a scientific accounting of mind and consciousness. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Librum
3.0 out of 5 stars some parts crisp, others tedious and biased
As with many other reviewers, I came to "The Undiscovered Mind" having read "The End of Science" at some point. That one is much better. Read more
Published on February 23, 2008 by T. Burket
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding and controversial
I'm familiar with John Horgan's earlier book, The End of Science, and I recently came across this book. Read more
Published on November 22, 2007 by Paul J. Fitzgerald
2.0 out of 5 stars 'Swift-Boating' neuroscience
It's healthy bear in mind, as Horgan urges, that neuroscience has yet to produce medical or technological breakthroughs on the scale of physics, chemistry, or other areas of... Read more
Published on February 2, 2006 by Matthew H. Phillips
4.0 out of 5 stars a high level survey of mind science
I found Horgan's book valuable as a survey of the highly varied fields relating to the science, engineering, and philosophy of the mind. Read more
Published on May 31, 2005 by Paul0
4.0 out of 5 stars Discover lots of explanations...
Reading individual scientific works on brain/mind issues with the goal of gaining insight into how the mind works can be - well, mind numbing. Read more
Published on November 15, 2004 by John Fabian
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read
Horgan takes the reader on a journalistic tour of mind science.
With wit and depth of reporting he shows just how far off we are from understanding the mind.
Published on December 9, 2003 by "ajames443"
1.0 out of 5 stars Wanders a Lot: Gets Nowhere!
For me, a firm believer in science and its ability to know, there are still a few basic criterion for the rubric, "Science. Read more
Published on November 30, 2002 by Kevin Currie-Knight
3.0 out of 5 stars Advice
Mainly Horgan critics Neorological Science, a new field for brain studies that gained attention in 90's. Read more
Published on May 19, 2002 by Andreia Hamada
1.0 out of 5 stars Lost in itself !!!
John Morgan has lost himself in such skeptical toughts... In summary, he does not believe in sience, in knowledge, in knowning patterns, in medicine, in neurology, in anything... Read more
Published on May 9, 2002 by "augustorosauro"
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