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Happiness of Pursuit Hardcover – 16 Feb 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st ed edition (16 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022243
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 15 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 263,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


David Eagleman, Director, Laboratory for Perception and Action, Baylor College of Medicine, and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain "Edelman marries his scientific mind with his poetic eye to give us the neuroscience that matters the most: an understanding of our own lives." Ben-Ami Scharfstein, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Tel-Aviv University, and author of Art Without Borders: A Philosophical Exploration of Art and Humanity"For all its seriousness, ambition, and learning, Shimon Edelman's The Happiness of Pursuit is an extraordinarilyhuman book. It is ambitious because he bases his view of the nature of happiness on what for many of his readers will be an unusual conception of the relation between the brain, the Self, and the body. Happiness, says Edelman, is not simply a state of mind one tries to attain, but an unceasing activity. That is, whenever it does attain its goal, after a pause for savoring its success it must change its goal for a new one. The Happiness of Pursuit shows Edeman to be a witty, resourceful, raconteur. You never forget his presence. He leans out of his book as if he were at an open window beckoning to us to come inside and listen." Dan Lloyd, Brownell Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College "The ancient injunction to 'Know thyself' gets a lively update in Shimon Edelman's eclectic examination of 'knowing' and 'self' through the lens of twenty-first century cognitive science. It's human to wander thoughtfully through real and imaginary landscapes, learning as we go-this is happiness, embodied in Edelman's witty odyssey, which provokes the very pleasures it describes." Nature "Taking passages by luminaries including Homer, William Shakespeare and Jorge Luis Borges as touchstones, Edelman powers along on his 'quest for an algorithmic understanding of happiness', revealing that it is this computational journey that constitutes the good life." Salon "From Bayes' theorem of probability to Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet,' Edelman offers a range of references and allegories to explain why a changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most." New Scientist "The Happiness of Pursuit is for fans of enquiries into the nature of the brain, mind-and happiness itself... [Edelman] offers a happy addition to the classic recipe of 'self-knowledge, self-improvement, and, eventually, selfless conduct'-a coherent notion of the self." The Winnipeg Free Press (Canada)"Edelman's explanations of just how the mind works...are dense but fascinating... Without resorting to empty enthusiasm he demonstrates just what a marvel the mind is. He is especially good at explaining how facial recognition works ('analogy rules all') and how babies learn language ('language is also a game that plays people')." Toronto Star (Canada) "The Cornell University psychology professor demonstrates that the more we understand how the brain operates the better we will understand how our minds process information, knowledge that will make us happy - at least momentarily. We are strivers, forever moving to the next challenge, and that's the key. Edelman's traipses through all fields of human endeavour." Post and Courier"[Edelman] paints a picture about how new knowledge of our brains can inform our ability to achieve happiness... [He] weaves together his scientific expertise about our knowledge of how the brain works with references to Ulysses, Walt Whitman's poetry and Edelman's own passion for the Southwest desert." The Guardian (UK) "[A] cultured and often witty account of brain science and our potential for feeling good. The conclusion is that happiness is to be found in the journey (learning, etc) rather than the destination, at which proverbial advice we arrive after many interesting facts and provocative thoughts on evolution, language, the self and decision-making." Greater Good "An owner's manual for the mind ... an entertaining one." Book News "[An] accessible volume on the science of the brain and mind... Drawing on hard science, literature, and observations of the human condition, the work presents a readable narrative covering both physical and psychological aspects of happiness." CHOICE"Edelman provides a wry, gentle, sometimes frolicking overview of neuroscience by describing the amazing feats of humans' computational brains without flow charts, fMRIs, equations, or drawings of the synapse... How is this book distinct from other recent efforts to explain what brings joy? The greatest empirical hits of contemporary happiness studies are not the focus of this by turns literary adventure (think Homer's Odyssey with a touch of sci-fi), philosophical treatise, and psychological account of what we know and hope to know. Edelman's seven quirky chapters explore why human happiness occurs by speculating how the brain creates the mind. Fans of Douglas Hofstadter's writings will enjoy this book."

About the Author

Shimon Edelman is Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. He has taught at universities in Israel, England, the United States, and South Korea. He is the author of Computing the Mind and Representation and Recognition in Vision, along with dozens of scholarly publications in theoretical neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence, all focusing on reverse-engineering the human brain. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Our sense of free will and the self are not real but virtual constructs that allow us to simulate our environment mentally into the future to make better predictions.

Edelman describes experiments that manipulate our vision or expectations that demonstrate how flexible our experience of reality is - so what we experience as reality can only be a simulation.

Based on computational psychology (that he lecutres in) Edeleman describes human perception as literally computational, with minds that exist not just in our brains, but also extend into our bodies and environment. This insight comes from cognitive psychology experiments and theories, and viewing how humans act and learn from an evolutionary perspective.

Instead of rigid behaviours encoded in our genes, we have an amazingly adpative learning aparatus that continously seek to predict in an "inconstant but learnable" world. We get satisfaction when our computed predictions come true. These rewards through feelings have lead to a virtious circle of further and further discoveries, explorations and understanding that have led to humans dominating the world.

Because the world is "partially predictable" we can simulate in our minds the future using information from the past taking advantage of Bayesian statistics which use your prior beliefs (though we need not be aware we are all Bayesians).

He quite convincingly challenges free will with an argument around everything being cause and effect and computation, so there is nothing for us to be free about. While the strong feeling we have of free will is a handy accouting mechanism for justice, learning and social cognition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, But Not For Everyone 5 Mar 2012
By Book Fanatic - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I ended up really, really liking this book. It took most of the way through it before I really figured out where the author was going, but it was worth the wait. This quite an unusual book and if you read the popular books on the psychology of happiness or on neuroscience you will find it very different. While that was a positive for me I suspect many people will feel unsatisfied by this book. It doesn't contain practical actionable advice on finding happiness, it only points the reader in a direction that might be pursued. It's not really for the general reader and while it is fairly short is is not an easy read. It's not difficult but it's not easy either.

If you want something intellectual and different then I recommend you get this book. If you want light and breezy happiness advice, I suggest you go elsewhere.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Profound 15 Mar 2012
By John Paton - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read Edelman's book in just two sittings. The lessons are profound and I couldn't put the book down. Some of the material in this book is fairly complicated and you may need to go slowly in parts. Personally I'm doing a second reading of this book, and am finding new ideas all the time.

This book certainly is not a self-help book. It is written by a professional academic and is rigorous in it's logic. Honestly, I can't say that I fully understand this book yet-- perhaps a third reading will be required!-- but I am learning a lot from struggling with it.

If you're interested in cognitive science or computational psychology I'd recommend this book for you. If you're more interested in popular psychology then this may not be the right book for you. Some of the arguments are fairly technical, and if you don't want to fight for a good understanding of the material then you may feel lost.

Good luck!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable Read 14 Mar 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book more for what it was not. I purchased it thinking it would be the "not" as I read most everything I can find on it. The "not" I am referring to is the neuroscience pop culture books. I enjoy studies with amazing results, the down and dirty of chemical neuron communication and binding, and wild (because they call into doubt what we know of life and reality)theories and discoveries. This book pretty much assumes you know these things and proceeds to build some framework/extrapolation of living life. If you do not know that your reality is really just a "virtual reality" or that YOU are really a collection of many mental processes coming together, many that never even hit the conscious level, then the book will give you a short proof to convince you, but you will be longing for much more proof to believe what is being communicated.

Amazingly the criticisms I had, and the basis for only 4 stars, are exactly chronicled by the author at the end of his book in his own review looking back after the book was finished. I appreciated that he saw what most readers will as well. I recommend this book to anyone that will not be offended by how far it removes who we are from our typical spiritual and metaphysical views of ourselves. I even recommend it to those who are looking for a quick fix to happiness as you may learn quite a bit to help you on the true journey that pop-psychology books have not delivered yet. Even though the author points it out at the end (you may want to read that before starting the book) do not be too disheartened when you reach the section on goes on and on to make the points (important points)that only took 15 pages in other sections. I found it a "meme" that would be DOA in my opinion. Just move through it knowing there is more to come that will satisfy.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Highly informative and entertaining, two chapters in 2 Mar 2012
By Brian Hines - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The good life, says Edelman, is a journey, not a destination -- a pursuit, not a capture. So I guess it's fitting that I'm writing my "great book!" review after reading only the first two chapters of "The Happiness of Pursuit."

I've read a lot of neuroscience books. A lot. I've also read a lot of books about happiness, mindfulness, Buddhist/Taoist philosophy, and such. A lot.

So kudos to Shimon Edelman for crafting a book about neuroscience and the good life that stands out from the pack of other books about these subjects. Like I said, this morning I only read the first two chapters. But Edelman's crisp thinking, creative writing, sound grasp of science, and appealing sense of humor captured my attention immediately.

I've always wondered, where are the laws of nature? And how does inanimate matter/energy know how to obey them? So I really liked Edelman's discussion of how a falling pebble "computes its trajectory," and how a heating element "computes the current that flows through it." We cognitive animals engage in different sorts of computing through the human brain, but we're not divorced from the universal computations of nature.

I hesitate to draw any final conclusions about this book until I've finished it. But probably what I'll like most about "The Happiness of Pursuit" is neuroscientific support for what the wisest among us have always known. Life is a wandering, not a habitation.

As blurb provider Dan Lloyd says on the back cover, "It's human to wander thoughtfully through real and imaginary landscapes, learning as we go -- this is happiness, embodied in Edelman's witty odyssey, which provokes the very pleasures it describes."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A book that attempts to understand what it means to be human and how humans are shaped by their journey through this world 14 Oct 2012
By Stephen Pletko - Published on
Format: Hardcover

"The fundamental insight that serves as a starting point for [this book] is that the mind is inherently...a bundle of ongoing computations, the brain being one of many possible substrates that can support them.

I make the case for these claims by constructing...a conceptual toolbox that affords the reader a glimpse of the computations underlying the mind's faculties: perception, motivation and emotions, action, memory, thinking, social cognition, and language. This conceptual build-up culminates in an explanation that state...the nature of the phenomenal self and of consciousness."

The above comes from this slim but interesting book by Shimon Edelman. Edelman is now Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. He has also written many scholarly publications in theoretical neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence. Edelman is also an author.

Beware that this book does not give a comprehensive methodology of how to achieve happiness. Edelman says this more eloquently:

"I shall not pretend that the understanding at which we have arrived [at in this book] spells out a comprehensive algorithm for leading a happy life (although it does suggest some well-motivated actionable ideas, which could easily fill another book)."

Rather this book explains (in a scientific but unconventional way) why happiness can be increased and how this happens. This is done within a neuroscience and cultural framework.

What I found especially appealing about this book is that it has end-of-chapter synopses or summaries (except the first and last chapters). What I did when I read this book was to read the synopsis first for a particular chapter, then I read the chapter proper, and finally I re-read the chapter synopsis. I felt I obtained maximum value from this book by reading it this way.

This book, despite being slim, is not an easy read. It gives you a good vocabulary workout. As well, it would help to have a basic anatomical understanding of the nervous system.

What may frustrating to some readers is that Edelman does not talk about happiness until the end of the book. Especially, for the beginning chapters, I found myself asking, "What has this got to do with happiness?" However, in my case, I found the neuroscience intermingled with psychological insight interesting so I stuck with it. I was rewarded by the end of the book.

I think the author may have been aware that readers may become frustrated so he laid out "happiness teasers" along the way. For example, at the end of chapter one he states, "when fishing for happiness, catch and release." In the synopsis of chapter three, he says in the last sentence that:

"The computational nature of the understanding of the nature of perception, motivation, and action offers some intriguing insights into the meaning of, and the prospects for, the pursuit of happiness."

Finally, this book has an appendix (even though it's not labelled as such). This appendix is a review of this book written by the author. In other words, the author reviews his own book!! I don't think I've ever seen this before. I agree with the author's analysis of his book.

In conclusion, I found this to be quite an interesting book providing valuable insight into happiness. I leave you with this poem (written by C. Logue) which the author claims is this book's central message:

"You ask me:
What is the greatest happiness on earth?
Two things:
changing my mind
as I change a penny for a shilling;
listening to the sound
of a young girl
singing down the road
after she has asked me the way."

(first published in 2012; author's note; 7 chapters; main narrative 175 pages; appendix or book review; acknowledgements; notes; further reading; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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