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Consciousness and the Social Brain
Consciousness and the Social Brain
by Michael S. A. Graziano
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.85
31 used & new from $19.43

19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important works on consciousness in the literature., October 28, 2013
As a Graduate student in Neuroscience, usually, when I hear people begin expounding on their theories of consciousness, I swear to God, I reach for my gun.

There are two traps that people tend to fall into: for thinkers like Tononi, Koch, or Penrose and others, the trap is that rather than actually explain consciousness, they are happy to attribute it to something equally mind-blowing and decidedly non-explanatory, the magic = magic fallacy. Take your pick, consciousness emerges from "information integration" or quantum mechanics, or something equally opaque and indecipherable. Identifying an obscure foundation for something already mysterious only replaces one mystery for another and ultimately fails to explain either. They are incoherent and unprincipled.

At the other end of the spectrum are social neuroscientists who examine attribution, attention, and theory of mind, but often fail to account for the rich phenomenological components of conscious awareness, Chalmers would argue that they are tackling the "easy problems" of consciousness.

Mike Graziano's book is something new. It is something different. It is extraordinary and eye-opening. It is the best written, most convincing and clearest book I have ever read on the subject.

Graziano's ideas succeed in delineating a clear and parsimonious account of consciousness where so many other ideas fall short.

The literature lacks testable ideas and functional claims about consciousness, like biology before the innovation of evolution. Graziano begins by delineating what a theory of conscious must account for and proposes a novel mechanism which explains both the phenomenological and social components of consciousness (and it is a doozey!). Like Darwin's idea, Graziano's theory accounts for so much complexity with an idea that feels so obvious, if only in retrospect, that it is almost brilliant.

I'm not going to give away the spoilers, because I think this is one of the most important theories in decades on this subject and if you are interested in the topic, you are hereby commanded to put this book at the top of your reading list. In ten years, I believe that his approach to studying this topic will prove decisive and the field will take these ideas for granted.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2014 5:50 PM PDT


Statistics As Principled Argument
Statistics As Principled Argument
Price: $22.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victory for exciting stats!, January 29, 2013
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The most fundamental mistake that most students make in misconstruing statistics is thinking the subject laborious and too abstract for an analysis that most of us have "gut feelings" for in any case. Everyone knows, for example, that basketball players have hot streaks, that betting on black is safer after several rounds of a roulette ball landing on red, or that the mind possesses a mystical way of knowing the world (ESP). In Statistics as Principled Argument, Abelson does the reader a great favor by making the stakes of statistical literacy relevant by turning these intuitions on their head. Null hypothesis testing, in his words, are an extremely ritualized exercise of "playing the devil's advocate" against our intuitions, against the fundamental attribution error. The fact that he is able to make this exercise fun and meaningful for nearly 200 pages is a testimony to a rare author who has both a clear mastery of the subject and the ability to communicate that mastery to naïve and expert audiences. Upon completion of the book, it is hard not to like, because it is authoritative and comprehensive enough, and at the same time, approachable, entertaining and even light-hearted. In this reviewer's opinion, such a combination makes this the perfect text (or at least a well-placed additional text) for teaching courses in statistical analysis, particularly in psychology departments, a topic from which Abelson concentrates on throughout the text.
The greatest strength of the text is Abelson's talent to simplify the process of making statistical arguments. He prescribes a system that bins results into ticks, significant results supporting a theoretical argument, and buts, statistically significant exceptions to these arguments. He uses this system to paint a thought-provoking picture of how fields are advance knowledge systematically. He devotes considerable attention to importance of parsimony in this framework as well, a term he systematized by suggesting that claims with the fewest numbers of ticks and buts are, by definition, the most parsimonious claims (and the best kinds of claims).
Abelson, echoing long held sentiments in the field of null-hypothesis testing, also attacks the largely derided .05 level of significance as beautified with false saintliness. His suggestions, taken from his mentor John Tukey, prescribe using less categorical or more flexible conclusions from null-hypothesis testing. For example findings that may "lean", or "hint" at p =.06 may be useful when subject to cumulative replication, a process which is the ultimate rectifier of misleading analyses in any case, according to Abelson.
There are only two areas where Ableson's analysis may leave some readers slightly disconcerted: MAGIC and mathematical formalism. MAGIC (magnitude, articulation, generalization, interestingness, and credibility) is Abelson's way of systematizing our folk-intuitions about the importance or worthwhileness of a particular claim. It is unclear what version of the universe requires that we systematize principles of "interestingness" precisely because such judgments are often made post-hoc. Here, Abelson may be falling victim to the very fundamental attribution error he so vigilantly crusades against at the onset of the book by expounding on and formalizing what has historically made findings interesting to him. There are several cases where findings, which at first seemed marginal (and which would certainly fail MAGIC standards if the authors were choosing their projects by this system) came to re-define fields in unexpected ways. In no way did an environmental biologist studying algal proteins expect to revolutionize the field of neuroscience by discovering optical tools for neuroscientists, as an example. As the ecosystem of scientific findings expands exponentially, increasingly, this complexity will likely defy the author's intuitions about what makes a finding "MAGICal". Such systems, by design, exclude the sorts of intellectual peregrinations that are yielding increasing and unexpected rewards in an era of high-throughput science.
The last failing of the text, if it can be called that, is that it is very sparse on both graphs and mathematical and theoretical formalism. This is not to say the author doesn't deal with these subjects - Abelson's review of multiple comparisons, for example, is thorough and helpful. As a stand-alone text however, this makes the prescription for this book as a standard textbook extremely challenging without a more formal and dense theoretical companion volume for those more mathematically inclined.
In total, Abelson's book accomplishes the aim of making statistics relevant for researchers and makes this reviewer wish that Statistics as Principled Argument had been recommended before a quantitative analysis class or at least at the beginning of one. Since making stats relevant and interesting is what commends the book so strongly, its best deployment would either be in concert with or preceding more formal analysis. Very few books succeed in conveying a sense of fun and excitement about the topic of statistics, and fewer succeed in in planting conviction for the importance of principled argument and critical thinking, but hats off to Ableson for succeeding with both at the same time. Overall, I would strongly recommend this book to lay person and expert alike.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2014 9:51 PM PDT


Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
by Chade-Meng Tan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.67
89 used & new from $8.46

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Also, sign up for an SIY course!, April 30, 2012
Make sure to check out SIYLI on google! Apparently, they are offering teacher certification and consulting to teach the course for businesses and orgs.


Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
by David Sloan Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.20
83 used & new from $4.69

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars incredible new territory, September 4, 2011
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This book will end up being one of the most influential volumes on evolutionary perspectives in the modern analysis of religion; but a more interesting and less academic can of worms is the question of how this thinking will reflect how religions determine their own best practices... there is an intriguing notion that a reader can tease from the pages of this book -- the potential that science can make religion more adaptive, more expressive of our deepest values. This enrichment of complex meaning systems must also penetrate into the orchestration of science, which afterall, is not a scientific endeavor per se, but a human one.


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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is like cheating, July 27, 2005
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I almost feel like a bad parent putting my kid in this... it is the only thing that will calm her down sometimes and I always use it as a last resort.

never fails though.


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