Archive | June 2014

Consciousness Explained

consciousness-explained-500x500Consciousness is a tricky subject and how we come to be aware of ourselves is something not well understood. In Consciousness Explained Daniel C. Dennett explores the idea that consciousness is not something extra in us, that it is, instead, a by product of how our brains work.

First, Dennett dismantles the ghost in the machine argument. This is the idea that the mind is different to the brain/body which leads to the idea of a soul that continues after we die. It’s an observer, a translator of the processes in the brain, a someone that makes decisions, holds beliefs, acts. Then the book explores what else it might be that creates our sense of self and how it might have evolved.

Along the way, we learn a lot about the state of the science of the brain (or at least where it was in 1991 when the book was published, I imagine it’s moved on some way) and how things really work. There’s a lot of time spent looking at how vision works. I always thought that the eye fills in the gaps created by the pupil, but actually it doesn’t. It doesn’t have to fill in anything because it’s not recognizing the gap.

So, what’s left if there’s no ghost in the machine? No soul? Well, Dennett says that consciousness is a by-product of language and evolved because we tell stories. We are figments of our own imaginations, fictional characters in the story of our lives. Which, as a writer, I find charming.

“Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us.”

This is a hard read, no question. It’s a real work out for your brain muscle and I felt very virtuous reading it. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in knowing how your brain works, but I won’t lie, it takes some reading.


Strip off Your Fear: Radiate the Confidence Within

SOYF-web-coverThis is a book about setting yourself free to live the life you really want to have. In Strip off your Fear, Betsy Talbot talks about the reasons we keep our dreams small and hide ourselves away.

Each chapter focuses on a body part: hair, face, breasts, stomach, genitals and legs. The chapters talk about the ways we’re taught to find ourselves inadequate (dye your hair! wear spanx! cover yourself up!) then about the ways we think about that body part. Talbot then talks about what that body part does for us and the positive attributes it has. Through her descriptions of body language I came to see how people experience me as being a lot more confidant than I actually feel, and also to see how I can own that confidence.

I found the understanding of how we come to have limiting beliefs and project them on to our bodies to be a bit superficial. It suits the tone of the book which is light and positive but might suggest that these things are easily overcome. It’s not a start-of-the-journey book. If you’re pretty au fait with your stories and how you came by them, then this is a fun, inspiring book that will help you find the confidence of your new stories. I enjoyed it, and found it motivational. Could have used a chapter on arms though.

Physics of the Impossible

physicsimpossibleIn Physics of the Impossible, Michio Kaku tackles some of our favourite technologies from science fiction and parapsychology to see whether they are actually possible.

It includes chapters on force fields, telepathy, robots, time travel, perpetual motion machines and lots more. The chapter on robots was particularly interesting, because robots is something that we’re talking about a lot at work. That then leads to a discussion about artificial intelligence and its complications.

The technologies are classified into three classes. Class I technologies are things that are allowed in the laws of physics and will likely be seen within the next century. They include things like invisibility, phasers and starships. Class II technologies are theoretically possible but require resources that could only be at the disposal of a much more advanced civilization.

Lastly, there are two technologies that break the laws of physics as we understand them today. Of course, it’s entirely possible we don’t fully understand the laws of physics yet.

I really enjoyed this. It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel really excited about the future of humanity and our capacity to survive. It’s an easy-ish read, given the subject matter, and a lot of fun.

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

Eating in the light of the moonI picked this up because I’d become aware I wasn’t really enjoying what I was eating and I needed a reminder about working through feelings rather than suppressing them with food.

Eating in the Light of the Moon by Anita Johnston addresses eating disorders through folklore and mythology. Each chapter looks at the various motives we have for using food as self-medication, whether it’s chasing the perfect body because that’s what women are valued for, or controlling your food intake because someone else is controlling everything else in your life, or overeating because you spend all your willpower being the good girl. There’s a lot of chapters.

Each chapter uses a folktale to illustrate the issue, which I really enjoyed. I knew some of the stories but a lot of them were new to me. In context of the work, the symbolism and metaphors took on a deeper meaning than they might have if I’d read them in another context. I liked it. It got me thinking about things in a different way which was just what I needed. If you have any interest in eating disorders, personally or therapeutically, this could be a useful addition to your library.