I wanted a break from all the books on consciousness I had been reading and the title of this book appealed to my sensibilities. Mostly does exactly what it advertises: diamonds are bullshit, expensive wine is bullshit, the art world is bullshit, etc. One of the chapters that didn’t really fit this format (and ended up being the one that stuck with me the most) was the one written by David Raether, a former comedy writer who describes his slow decent into homelessness.
This book covers similar ground to Metzinger’s, highlighting the many ways that our sense of reality is a highly developed illusion of the brain. I particularly liked the chapter where Frith uses a Bayesian perspective to discuss how our brains constantly filter new information in light of our prior experiences and beliefs. In addition, Frith emphasizes the importance of comparing our (highly fallible) mental models against those of other people in order to not be fooled by ourselves.
‘Ego tunnel’ is Metzinger’s term for the narrow, highly filtered subjective experience that individuals mistake for the stable and true ultimate reality. The book is an interesting discussion of how modern neuroscience is finding the ‘neural correlates’ for any number of subjective states of experience. Much like modern discussions of free will, the explanation of highly personal experiences (such as dreams) as involuntary physical process further calls into question the traditional Western idea of the self.
Pollan has written a deep and important book. He does an excellent job telling the history of psychedelics, giving an overview of the science of consciousness they are being used to study, and most importantly, giving an inside look at the experience of using them.
This came highly recommended by many people, which could be why I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more to it. The core of the book can be captured in one sentence: organize your life so that you spend as much time as possible working on important, difficult things.
Still fresh from the experience of reading it, I feel like this could be my favorite work of fiction I’ve ever read.
Jenny Hval is a Norwegian musician that I quite like. This is a short novel, recently translated into English, about rotting apples, urine, and sexual discovery.
After having previously read a handful of Gray’s books, there’s very little in them that still surprises me. I read this mainly as part of my on-going research for a project I call ‘Life Under Hard Determinism’, an exploration of what it means to take the hard determinist stance seriously.
Reading Ligotti’s book will let you know how far down the rabbit hole of nihilism you have the courage to go. The main thrust of his argument is that the form of consciousness inhabiting the heads of humankind is a tragic mistake of evolution, one we should end by voluntarily abstaining from further procreation.
Reading these three novels right after reading Galen Strawson’s book, I found myself seeing connections to themes he had written about, regarding the self-deception of believing there is a story that can make sense of one’s life.
I discovered Strawson’s work through his writing on free will. This collection of essays covers that topic as well as others, all with a dry wit that I enjoyed. The essay that some readers seem to have had the hardest time with was the one I most enjoyed, where he argues that it’s philosophically simpler to assume all matter has some form of consciousness, since we know for certain that we are a form of matter with consciousness.
A detailed look at how Niels Bohr ‘brainwashed’ a generation of physicists into accepting the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. The spoiler here is that no alternative explanation is currently widely agreed upon. As Becker acknowledges in the last chapter, it’s disappointing to learn the degree to which political maneuvers and unquestioning ideology shaped the history of the field.
Bohm blends physics and philosophy to describe his revolutionary idea of implicate and explicate order. Parts of this book are accessible only to those with an advanced understanding of physics (not me), but I found it to be one of the most daring and creative books I’ve ever read.
I did not have a chance to read Kant during my university education, so coming to his thinking now has been a huge revelation. This book does exactly what I’d hoped, which is offer a serious but accessible overview of Kant’s most important work.
This is not an easy or quick read, but it’s worth the struggle. Popper carefully works through a thorough takedown of the totalitarian elements in Plato’s philosophy, the prophetic elements of Marx’s system, and, well, everything about Hegel, while defending the ideals of open-ended debate and democracy.
Harris’ presentation is concise, enjoyable and pursuasive. I can’t entirely recommend it, though, because it feels like Harris doesn’t flesh out his arguments fully, nor does he spend much time on prior literature in the field. However, it does serve as a useful introduction to the idea of free will.
I picked this up on the recommendation of Susan Fowler. Of the Feynman literature I’ve read, this one was my favorite. The lectures that make up the book were aimed at a non-specialist audience, so the material is accessible while still being fairly deep. I particularly enjoyed chapter 5, “The Distinction of Past and Future.”
An enjoyable beginning and end with a very long and tedious middle.
Fresh off reading Middlemarch, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the struggles of the young in both novels to rise above the place they were born into. The violence and passion of this story gives it an uncommon edge.
This volume is comprised of previously published essays, many of them centered on Graeber's analysis of bureaucracy. In his view, not only does bureaucracy create stupid behavior, but more importantly, it works to prop up social situations founded on structural violence. Graeber speaks of the complexity of actual human relationships, the value of political imagination, and the tangled connection between rules, freedom and play.
Reading this rekindled my love of massive old novels. What struck me most acutely is the depiction of how the narrowness of others’ expectations can crush almost anyone. Nearly every character finds their life shaped by the disappointment of discovering that their relationships are based on each partners’ false ideals of the other.
I read this mainly on the recommendation of David Deutsch. It’s in the same vein as other sweeping histories of humanity, society and science (think Sapiens or A Brief History of Nearly Everything), but has a more poetic and moral tone at crucial points. Bronowski shares with Deutsch the belief that scientific knowledge will inexorably grow, but also stresses that it is always threatened by a pendulum swing back to tyranny and dogmatism.
This book gave substance to my own gut feelings about the bullshit-nature of so much that goes on in the modern workplace. I read this at the right time in my life and it’s felt a bit life changing. Graeber is an excellent writer and theorist and manages to be radical without being dogmatic.
Makes clear just how wrong most philosophy (for that matter, all human understanding) has been over the course of history. It has largely been gropings in the dark, some better intentioned than others. But this book deserves the praise it has received, as it’s an excellent overview of early philosophy.
When I initially read this in early 2017 I found myself balking at many of Deutsch’s stances. Coming back to it after reading Magee and Gottlieb's books, I discovered that I was now much more philosophically aligned with it. Many of the more speculative claims that Deutsch makes are difficult to judge one way or the other, but the main message was incredibly inspiring: we must pursue knowledge with the understanding that no matter how much we know, it’s only the beginning of all possible knowledge.
I read this in fits and starts over the course of months. I kept hoping that the narrator would rebel and destroy the claustrophobic world Atwood created, but it turned out it’s not that kind of book.
This book came highly recommended by Nassim Taleb. The main thrust is this: our unconscious mind plays a larger role in our lives than we suspect and is often at odds with our conscious thoughts. Wilson recommends ways of bringing the conscious and unconscious into greater alignment.
Magee has written a grand tour of philosophy from an autobiographical perspective. He is an excellent expositor of both the philosophy he loves (Popper, Schopenhauer) and detests (logical positivism). This book (along with Gottlieb’s two books) was very useful in helping me to clarify my own philosophical beliefs.
This collection of three essays is one of the best places to start with the writing of Seneca as well as the Stoic tradition. The classic themes are all here: avoid wasting your time on superficial endeavors, seek after wisdom and moral clarity, protect your happiness from the unpredictable turns of chance.
A very strange book, but one that has become a cult classic since its publication in 1976. Jaynes’ theory is that up until several thousand years ago, humans did not possess a form of self-consciousness that we would recognize as our own. Instead, they heard the ‘voice of the gods’ in their heads and felt compelled to obey their commandments.
An incredibly moving story about Paul’s diagnosis of cancer and his struggle to confront the meaning of his life and the prospect of his death.
Frankl tells the harrowing story of his time in a concentration camp and his discovery of how one can still retain a sense of the beauty and meaning of life even in the face of this experience.
I’ve often recommended this short book as a useful tool to diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. It asks you to answer a handful of questions (for instance, ‘Am I a reader or a listener?’) and recommends that you focus more on improving your strengths rather than trying to improve your weaknesses. The conclusions likely won’t come as a surprise, but it will be a helpful reminder that life is far better when you work with your instincts rather than against them.
This book tells the story of Yvon’s life leading up to the creation of Patagonia, and then goes into depth on the philosophy he uses to run the company. ‘If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.”’
I once had a conversation with a stranger at a bookstore next to Harvard Univerity where I was told that Clayton Christensen is a genuinely good human being. This is a sincere and straightforward book that discusses a few simple principles that Christensen sees as fundamental to living a good life: find meaningful work, pay attention to those you love, and don’t go against your moral beliefs.
‘Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.’ A look at the inner experience of work and employment, those human feelings that persist despite the effort to maintain a zone of ‘professional’ decorum.
Crawford meditates on the value of getting deep inside one’s work, engaging with it whole-heartedly, and discovering the pleasure and meaning that comes with doing and making. He describes office life as a tangle of contradictory or meaningless obligations and rituals and offers tangible, personal work as a way out.
First, a description of the unhappiness that comes from the misalignment between our present lives and the expectations we believe society has for us. Second, strategies to escape these anxieties and enjoy a richer inner world, with success coming on terms we decide for ourselves.