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Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind Hardcover – November 2, 2015
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“Brilliant, compendious . . . Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind is essential reading. The story he tells so engagingly is of a vast, polyphonic argument about what it is to be a human being.”
- Wall Street Journal
“An electrifying narrative of the intellectual disputes that gave rise to the Western conception of the mind . . . highly engaging.”
“The remarkable achievement of George Makari’s Soul Machine is to show how differently . . . many of the ideas we take for granted about our own minds are relatively recent in origin. . . . This book succeeds where few others have.”
- American Scholar
“Fascinating . . . masterful intellectual history.”
- Daily Beast
“An erudite exploration of the high-stakes struggle to make space in the modern world for that part of our being we call our minds.”
- Anne Harrington, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University and author of The Cure Within
“Remarkably vivid. . . . It is still true that nothing less than the meaning of life depends on how we think of minds, souls, persons, and selves. Makari’s book is a fine reminder of a contested space and a contested debate that we continue to inhabit after all these many years.”
- Los Angeles Review of Books
“In the replacement of the ancient doctrine of the soul with the secular conception of the mind, Makari discerns an epoch-making shift . . . an impressively multifaceted narrative.”
- Booklist (starred review)
“An enlightening and gracefully written account of a vital aspect of our history that few of us are aware of―the replacement of the soul by the mind, and the struggle to understand its foundations in the brain.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
“In this sweeping, authoritative, and lively account, George Makari chronicles the emergence of the modern mind as an appealing yet unstable object of scientific inquiry, and shows why the long-standing goal of establishing boundaries between it and the brain and even the soul has proven so elusive. Illuminating and highly engaging.”
- Elizabeth Lunbeck, author of The Americanization of Narcissism
“George Makari’s extraordinary Soul Machine is the urgent narrative of an idea. Firmly grounded in the bloody politics and intellectual battles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this lucid, brilliant book tells the complex, exciting, and passionate story of something that continues to baffle us: the human mind.”
- Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World
“George Makari has written an all-encompassing and invigorated account of how we have come to think about the acts of thinking and feeling. This is a book brimming with knowledge and lucid observations, one that helps us to understand the evolution of our contemporary sensibility.”
- Daphne Merkin, author of The Fame Lunches
About the Author
George Makari's Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis was published in 2008 to international acclaim. Makari is the director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry, professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and adjunct professor at both Rockefeller University and Columbia University's Psychoanalytic Center. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
I was a bit disappointed in the final conclusion as the 21st century has made major contributions to understanding the cosmos. These advances did not come from human brains alone but have depended upon supercomputers to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of analyzing the genome and our universe. 22,000 genes cannot be understood unaided and therefore it is a bit much to expect that previous conversations among brilliant human participants alone will produce convincing conclusions.
Nevertheless this book will enlighten most readers and the author’s mildly humorous asides will only increase your thirst to read more.
For centuries philosophers have debated the imponderable structure of the mind. What is the relationship between the brain and the mind? Is the brain simply the repository for the thinking mind? Is this lump of gray flesh a machine of some sort as it appears to be in most animals? Is the soul physically located in the brain? Can the answers to these questions best be found through philosophy, medicine, or theology? If you’ve pondered some of these questions you should find this book absorbing; not that the imponderables will be revealed, but the author has compiled a fascinating history of the mind and related issues covering a span of about three centuries.
Before The Enlightenment theories of the mind and soul originated with the early Greeks, principally Aristotle, and later with theologians such as Aquinas and Augustine. Then in the mid-17th century Enlightenment philosophers began to question the appropriate relation between religion, medicine, the individual, and the state. Anyone who is intrigued by the theories of philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Spinoza, Hume, Voltaire, and the like will find this account fascinating. Many of their writings are ponderous in the original, but Mr. Makari has summarized them in a highly readable volume. Most of these thinkers wrote copiously on ethics, politics, and the appropriate power of the church and state, but this history focuses on their writing about the mind and soul.
The Soul Machine has a cast of hundreds, many of whom are unfamiliar to most of us, but their contributions enliven the discourse. In addition to philosophers these include physicians, quacks, theologians, charlatans, and other miscellaneous characters such as Marquis de Sade, Franz Mesmer, Oliver Cromwell, and Napoleon. Sir Isaac Newton enters the fray with his theories of a mechanistic universe that responds to predictable and invariable laws. How can this deterministic universe be reconciled with the theories of free will, without which no one can be responsible for his actions?
The book is divided into three parts that are broadly chronological, but zigzag in time and geography, centering on British, French, and German thinking. The participants developed their pet theories and attacked those with competing theories, many of whom could not defend themselves because they were dead. The debates are further hampered by the lack of direct transference of terms between languages and the fact that they all predated Mendel and Darwin, who explained alternate theories that gradually diminished the necessity for God to take an active role in the universe. I highly recommend this book.