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The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force
The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force
by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.89

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Proselytizing for New Age Quantum, Buddhism and Dualism, 20 Jun 2011
Chapter 1 is starting with a frontal assault on `scientism', blind faith in science, materialism, monism and is promising to show all this "blinded materialist" like Dan Dennet and the Churchlands and all those other Neuroscientist who are totally ignoring consciousness that there is (ought to be ?) a metaphysical basic force in nature called consciousness/mind beside time-space, gravity etc... and that Gautama Buddha was right all along... oooops - ok then bring it on Dr. Schwartz.

Chapter 2-7 are then about the history of the brain plasticity research, quite an interesting topic (for which I bought the book) a little stretched with autobiographical content whom he met when and where - and of course with frequent assaults on the ignorant scientific community who is often brushing new finding under the rug.
Quintessence : the brain is very plastic/malleable also into adulthood and this can be used to help stroke victims, OCD, amputees etc... to rewire the brain for a better life . And positive thinking, learning and focusing attention ! to repeat the mantra : focusing attention! Can change the brain wiring, and of course Gautama Buddha was right all along.

Then from chapter 8-10 the grand finale: As the mind (non material spiritual force) can change the physical brain" plus the Copenhagen definition of Quantum Physics (the conscious observer is required to define the quantum state of an elementary particle through measurement): well this is "the final nail in the coffin of materialism" as Schwartz put it.

So here it is : New age Quantum Spirituality (ala F. Capra, D. Chopra), old style Dualism e.g. mind and body separation, immaterial thoughts influence the physical world (`The secret' : pure thinking about something makes it happen) are not far off any more. The `uncaused cause' is not Thomas Aquinas God but according to Schwartz the immaterial natural basic force of consciousness/mind.

However Schwartz fails to describe exactly what those force is, how it acts on the physical brain and act/interact with the unconscious etc... So is the brain an antenna receiving signals and modulating this basic force ? or is the brain creating the immaterial consciousness itself ? or is the brain just consuming/using this force like the lungs are consuming oxygen ??? Well no answer on this Brain and Mind problem - the headline of the book.

About this Quantum Consciousness hype: Consciousness is complex and weird - QM is complex and sounds weird -> therefore one is the cause/key of the other -- all refuted since a couple of years.

The QM uncertainty and the Copenhagen interpretation was raised mainly for small particles like photons and electrons--how I understand the refutation of this QM effects on the brain from Physicists and Neurologists : those QM effects are far too small to cause any effect on huge molecules like Neurotransmitter and even the single Calcium Ions which are not significantly affected e.g. the brain is simply too wet/warm, and synapses too big to have any QM effects. And even if there would be the uncertainty principle relevant e.g. if some Calcium molecule randomly exists or not, or are in the proper place or not .... This would just explain random thoughts popping up not focused attention.

What J. Schwarz and his QM expert H. Stapp simply forget with the Copenhagen definition argument is, that MEASUREMENT is required - and this measurement is influencing the outcome because the photons or electrons shot at the probe are of a similar size like the probe to be tested (so after a location check - the next measurement the result for energy level check is spoiled or vice versa : the uncertainty principle) .

Also the experimenter who decides to test position or energy or spin etc. is NOT just sitting in her armchair and thinking about what to test "asking the right question" e.g. immaterial , but she is conducting a MEASUREMENT e.g. shooting with physical/material particles towards the probe. So for the Quantum Consciousness ala Schwatz and Stapp the brain had not just to think and focus the attention on some topic to influence the QM effects on the right molecules in the right synapse - the immaterial thought would have to MEASURE e.g. physically shoot particles onto the proper calcium ion or Neurotransmitter molecule at the right time and right place with the right energy.

So still all stays inside materialism/scientism which J. Schwartz so hates as he declares materialism and the mere questioning of the existence of free will by Neuroscience (blasphemy ?) - solely responsible for all moral evils in our society. Sorry for objecting and refuting this wishful religious/spiritual thinking with facts.... So please next try better ....
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2011 1:08 AM GMT


Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience
Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience
by Stephen S. Hall
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review of the perception of `Wisdom', 24 April 2010
In his book Stephen S. Hall managed to walk the reader through the 2500 year history of wisdom from ancient philosophers (Confucius, Buddha, Socrates) to the modern finding of fMRI scanners in neuroscience. S. Hall is writing about the recent history (the last decades) of the research what wisdom actually is, with all its different facets. Each chapter in the book shows a new facet like emotional self control, moral reasoning, compassion, humility, altruism, patience and dealing with uncertainty as parts of wisdom, all in its historical development until latest research results.
The wisdom is not necessarily only reached at old age as often thought, but as long term studies of selected persons show, wiser persons just were also wiser already in younger age. These studies show, that hardship in younger years seems to increase the focus on life and wisdom of people during life. Older people with their limited time span left, are focusing more intense on the truly important topics and are usually emotional more stable and less distracted than younger persons.
A very valuable book, which I can highly recommend for anybody interested in the topic.


Gods Brain
Gods Brain
by Lionel Tiger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 19.87

3.0 out of 5 stars Brain soothing as opium for the masses, 18 April 2010
This review is from: Gods Brain (Hardcover)
As there is no description and no other review I will do this review more detailed.

In the introduction and first chapter the authors having some shot's at the new atheists who want to get rid of religious superstition, without understanding the biological and neuroscience basis of religion they are fighting. Unfortunately this book is not providing the answers I was hoping to get, when an anthropologist and neuroscientist are joining their experience to write on the interesting topic.

The book continues in chapter 2 the different facets of religion, a very unstructured brainstorming, throwing around all kind of thoughts at random (a mix of different religious dogmas, devotion, terrorism).

Chapter 3 is providing 3 examples of religious experiences/practices : a childhood indoctrinated male, losing his faith as young man resulting in conflict with the law, until he is back on track `reborn Christian' and find fulfillment in his religious community live. Example 2 is the diary of a young woman in 1870 who seeks help and consolation in her prayers from God during a journey to the Wild West. The next case is of a Jewish family in Germany in the 1930s-40s converting to Catholicism to survive, migrate to New York after WW2 and joining back to their Jewish faith whereas the indoctrinated child stays a Catholic. Quintessence from the authors : religion is no delusion.

Chapter 4 is about `faith in sex', well we know that religion is keen to control the reproduction for Christians to be `fruitful and multiply' to get more followers of Jesus and therefore provide strict rules about sexual practices. What has this to do with "God's brain", how conflicting desires clash with religious rules in the brain etc... is not explained.

Chapter 5 is about the biological law which is often ignored and in conflict with religion. Most animals have their hierarchy, their signs of devotion to leaders etc. we do not need religion for this. Then the authors go on (page 97) to highlight that communism and secularism failed to provide working informal rules for the society, and as the secular rules have no basis in religion they are resulting in conflicts. The authors equate secularism as individualism where everybody should life by his own rules which only work for eremites living in the "remote mountain shack" but not populated areas; therefore secularism is leading to conflicts in society. Wow a typical `believe in belief', e.g. a society without religious rules is doomed to fail according to the authors. Here a quote (page 97-98): ["Moreover, secularism is not cheap. The conflicts and cognitive and emotional disagreements it invites are physiologically costly. This is the central theme in our formulation that deserves repeating. Conflict is physiologically expensive and personally and socially aversive."] I have to disagree completely with the authors here. Living in secular societies in Western Europe, especially Scandinavia is much more peaceful and relaxed than living in a strong religious theocracy like Iran, Saudi Arabia and similar societies with strict religious rules.

Chapter 6 is lengthy explaining the parallels between chimps and humans (common ancestor, similar DNA, similar behavior) to make the point that hierarchy structure, domination and morality are not the recent invention of religion.

Chapter 7 is all about the central topic of the authors: the need for brain soothing. Humans encounter all kind of challenges, uncertainties and stress, resulting in high levels of stress hormones in the brain. And the desire for explanation and consolation might be misused for deceit, which is the more accepted/ignored the higher the deceiver is in the hierarchy. [page 142: " Religious beliefs provide answers, complete stories and provide order "].

Chapter 8 is drilling further into the brain soothing based on a study of monkeys it was found out that high ranking is resulting in high serotonin levels. Serotonin is responsible to feel good and relaxed after a stressful day of low status persons, ergo good to attend some religious gathering where the status of all attendees is equal and the friendly social atmosphere is increasing serotonin, dopamine and norephedrine.

Chapter 9 is about rituals, a simple ever repeating procedure which is easy to learn and memorize, so attendants feel comfortable in the social environment of persons performing the same rituals. Also the memorization is supported from the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex which itself are closely linked to the amygdala the emotional center, so emotions are closely linked (cross reinforcing) to the memory.

Chapter 10 is about brain soothing (again !) : there are people prone to stress and others are more relaxed, and there are challenging and stressful environments. Religion is one of the main possibilities to soothe over the stress. The authors post this as speculation, but there are several studies around that high religiosity correlate very strongly with highly uncertain, unequal and totally defunct societies.

The final chapter 11 highlights some atrocities committed from the faithful (suicide attacks) but the authors do not provide any answer other than the trust in higher religious authorities as cause. And as the conclusion of the book : the brain has created religion itself to soothe the brain for uncertainties and stress, and therefore all kind of religions have prospered and survived for millennia. Not like other explanation attemps of scientist because of better group coherence resulting in the advantage for genetic group selection.

Well a whole book to support Karl Marx and his "religion is the opium for the masses", just that the "opium" is not used as suppression of the working class from the ruling class, but is self produced from the brain (serotonin, dopamine...) to cope better with challenges of life for all classes. I was expecting much more from this book than just one facet.


The Improbability of God
The Improbability of God
by Michael Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 24.88

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for everybody not only for philosophers, 24 Oct 2008
In this new book of Michael Martin he similar has assembled a variety of essays and articles from different authors and also here like in his book "The impossibility of God" follows the arguments between atheist and theists philosophers over the years for specific topics.
The book has 4 main chapters:
1) Cosmological arguments of natural and randomize quantum fluctuations to refute the attempt from theists to use the big bang as proof of theological style creation from a deity. In a modern multiverse cosmological theory the alleged fine tuning of the natural constants of this universe are much more likely showing that there was no creator at all, or if there was a creator it must be a very incompetent one.
2) Teleological arguments where the creation or `intelligent design' is refuted by mountains of evidence of natural selection and tons of very stupid biological design best explained by Evolution and not the creation of a all-knowing perfect deity.
3) The argument from Evil, where the apologetic theist have yet to come up with a proper theodicy why all the suffering is in the world. The free will defense of apologists is frequently refuted here, and the only argument from theist left is "God is unknowable - beyond human ken and moves of course in mysterious ways", so we mortal humans can't see the "big divine plan and intention" from all the suffering. Why free will should also be a theist defense argument for suffering animals, who don't have a free will in the human sense at all to decide their belief in Jesus is also left unanswered in theological arguments.
What was quite shocking for me is the typical argument from apologetic theists that the suffering is caused by the human victim himself and a necessity, a quite pervert idea considering the Jewish holocaust sold as God's plan and part of the free will doctrine.
4) The non belief argument, where it is shown how an omnipotent deity who is concerned about his creation of Homo sapiens cannot possibly restrict his concern for humans to just his chosen people of a small geographical region and until now leaving out main areas of this planet where humans do not belief in the Abrahamic deity. Also why is God only concerned about homo sapiens since Noah and Abrahams times, a very short time span of Homo sapiens existence. And why is there no evidence for the existence of this claimed deity with specific attributes, which results in a high percentage of atheism in this world. And of course the theist defense : "free will and God moves in mysterious ways".
Very clear arguments, understandable also for persons who are not that deep into philosophy and logic.


The Impossibility of God
The Impossibility of God
by Michael Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 26.39

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for everybody interested in philosophy and logic, 24 Oct 2008
This book is digging much more deeper into details than for example "Irreligion", but sometimes a little to repetitive when the same point is made from different authors.
Michael Martin has assembled a nice variety of essays and papers about the impossibility of God based on the usual attributes (omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent etc...) assigned to God from the believers. These `omni...' attributes are self-contradicting and there can be no being which fulfills all these attributes.
Of course the ontological arguments from St. Amseln or Thomas Aquinas are refuted and shown as self-contradicting like many other modern arguments as well.
Sometimes the argument exchanges are followed over the years between atheists and apologetic Christians (Platinga, Swineburne, Lane-Craig).
Often the Christians can just pull back to the usual defense "this is not my God", or "God is unknowable - beyond human ken" or the "God moves in mysterious ways".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2012 6:54 PM GMT


Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up
Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up
by John Allen Paulos
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short logic evaluation of theist claims, 12 Jun 2008
This little book is a short overview about the main logical fallacies of religious deductions as "proof of god" ala Thomas Aquinas or St. Amseln.
J.A. Paulos just show several simple logical claims ridicules them like `I wish this to be true therefore God must exists' to make it very (far too) simple to understand.

The Mandelbrot set for example: instead just a short verbal mentioning it could be displayed as very simple algorithm and then display pictures of wonderful and amazingly complex structures which can be produced with this simple formula. This might show more how complexity can be `created' from very simple things.

A couple of ideas are taken from Richard Dawkins `The God delusion' and some own evaluations about mathematically probabilities with some anecdotes and that's it.
Too superficial for my taste, J.A. Paulos could dig much more into details and make logical sound refutations, but the purpose of this book seems to dumb it down enough, avoid mathematical formulas or logical syntax to make it available to a wider audience.


The Penguin History of the Church, vol.1: The Early Church: The Early Church v. 1
The Penguin History of the Church, vol.1: The Early Church: The Early Church v. 1
by Henry Chadwick
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.59

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Investigations into the in fight of the early church, 11 Jun 2008
This book covers the history from the beginning of Christianity until the 6th century AD.
First all the early different mainstream directions are described until finally during the 4th century AD the orthodox win and rewriting history.
But after Constantine's support and Nicaea 325 AD the in-fight gets even more severe, a mix of political bickering, who is nearer to the emperor is mixing with theological interpretations. Doctrinal discussions about the duality of father and son, the `one substance' interpretation and later including the Holy Ghost as trinity are explained.

Henry Chadwick is describing all the political power play, intrigues and corruption.
- Bishop's still mainstream this year are considered heretic soon after, often not based on doctrinal differences
- The fight between Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome or Antioch versus Alexandria all for the influence and leadership of the holy sea.
- -Alliances of Bishops from one area to unseat another Bishop and gain power.
- Fighting for imperial favor is decided which Bishop is just happened to be nearer to the emperor's wife.
- The split of Greek speaking eastern churches versus the Latin speaking western churches.
- Decisions on doctrinal issues are often made from the emperor
- Split between West and east Rome and different political events and outcome of wars adding to the picture
Mix all this and the history becomes worse or more complicated like a TV soap.
This book `the early church' of the insights of Church power plays is a good combination with B. Ehrman's `Lost Christianities' which focus on the doctrinal contents.


Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neutral evaluation, 5 Jun 2008
The "Lost Christianities" of Bart Ehrman is a very neutral description of the Christian history of the first 3 centuries AD. Ehrman has no axe to grind with competing scholars no dogmatic bias, just the open minded attempt to describe the different streams of Christianities before the orthodox were left as winners.

Part 1 of the book is evaluating the different forgeries of Gospels, epistles, revelations and prophecies which were circulating in the ancient Middle East. Gospels of different authors suppressed from the orthodox winners, sometimes only available as fragmented quotations from opponents of the other camp.

Part 2 is describing the 4 different main directions of early Christianity:
- Ebonite's based on the Jewish ancestry, following more the original apostle teachings, using the Gospel of Matthew and consider Jesus as a human teacher not divine `Son of God' but just adopted from God.
- Marcionites breaking completely with the OT and consider the Jewish God YHWH as imperfect creator of the earth and the true God is sending his son only as spirit (docetic) to wrestle control back from YHWH and forgive the sins of humans entrapping them to YHWH by faking a mortal dead of Jesus.
- Gnostics who are looking for the `Jesus within' everybody and consider only the truly knowing and enlighten elite as eternal spirits. They are predominantly in Egypt and were using several Gospel texts many of them found in Nag Hamadi, interpreting these texts as way to knowledge of the divinity inside themselves.
- The fourth group Ehrman calls proto-orthodox who considers Jesus as divine but made of flesh and blood, which caused many discussions even inside the proto-orthodox camp.

Part 3 finally is about the different tactics of the groups who called their opponents heretics and the trend even within the groups was changing over time. What was considered mainstream like Origen for proto-orthodox could be fall into disgrace a century later and forbidden as heretic.

The group of proto-orthodox had the strategic advantage of their stronghold in Rome which yielded power, money and influence. As Ebonite's would require the circumcision of all males and following the kosher food laws they had not much appeal to the Gentiles. The Marcionites missed the long ancient history to convince the wide public about their `truth'. The Gnostics were too elitist to be accepted from the wide masses. So only the proto-orthodox had a chance to end the final battle in their favor.

After all these detailed introductions I expected Ehrman to describe this as preparation of readers for the final battle at Nicaea 325AD and the tactics of the different groups. However the book is just rushing in a few sentences over this crucial Nicaea council and is ending like under time pressure to deliver the book to the publisher.


God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
by Victor J. Stenger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.99

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific method for unscientific hypothesis, 2 Jun 2008
Victor Stenger is explaining in the entire first chapter the scientific method and what a theory is compared to hypothesis, and why/how science is able to test some of the religious hypothesizes.
The next chapter is then focusing on the testing of supernatural claims and highlights that several studies about the usefulness of prayers have been conducted. These studies were funded from religious organizations like Templeton, so not from "bad atheist scientists" who only want to disprove them. Nevertheless despite heavy intercessory praying of whole religious communities for the health of freshly operated patients, no positive effect of prayer could be found.

After this Stenger is demolishing the `fine tuning' Goldilocks argument about the basic constants of the universe, which is so often used from theists as the last deist refuge to house their God of the dwindling gaps. After reading several books mentioning this `fine tuning' and haven't found a strong scientific rebuttal, I was quite surprised that the so miraculous `fine tuning' argument is only valid if a single factor is changed c.p. (all other left unchanged). Stenger claims that several alternative combinations of the 4 fundamental constants are possible and are providing a stable universe where stars can form and burn for billions of years as well.
To give an example of real life: my car is so fine-tuned if the gearbox is just 2 millimeter from the engine block it would not work, if the clutch is just a few millimeter apart it would not close and can't drive, if the crankshaft is just a little shorter ...etc... yes true if just a single parameter is changed, but there are many other brands and models where another combination of all this parts result in a proper working car.

The maximal entropy of the initial universe makes a deity unnecessary and unable to control any future development of the universe especially when quantum effects prevent any deterministic Lamarckian plan. And the universe don't need to be `divinely created' as the universe has a zero balance of energy and mass versus gravity e.g. coming out of nothing.

All claims of creationist and ID are refuted by the usual arguments from evolution, and the millennia old philosophical word games as `proof of God' ala St. Augustine or Aquinas are countered by logical arguments from modern philosophers, who show logical arguments (proof) that God does not exists.

Also the Biblical history is outed as fiction and fairy tales as most stories from Genesis, great flood, Abraham, Exodus, Canaan's conquest, David and Solomon's powerful `golden empire' etc. are falsified from historical and archeological evidence. Ergo the god YHWH from the Bible as basis for Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith who is interacting with the local tribes of bronze-age gout and sheep herders does not exist.

In short Victor Stenger is claiming the absence of evidence on that grand scale plus all the falsifications of theist claims are evidence of absence and falsification of the theist God hypothesis, and is even a strong indicator for the non existence or of a deist God.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2012 4:46 PM GMT


Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body
Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body
by Neil Shubin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy read - adventure and science combined, 2 Jun 2008
This book is easy to understand for every layperson and could be used even for teenager to understand the development of evolution and the effects on the human body.
Neil Shubin describes a nice mix of adventure story during excavation journeys into the Canadian artic, and how to search targeted fossils expected in geological strata of 375 million years finally yielded the Tiktaalik fossils. He shows how the work of geologist is the basis for paleontologist fossil hunters to allow structured search and digging.

The description and explanation of the fossils he found, especially the link of fish to land animals are shown using the evolution of limbs are easy to understand without deep knowledge of paleontology or anatomy.
Also the building plan of the human body as a result of the evolutionary history can be traced all the way back to the body plan of fish as Shubin shows.
So the bad design of the human body can be perfectly explained by evolution, just what you would expect if there is no Intelligent Design used for the human body.
Also another alleged `missing link' of the fossil record from fish to land animals is closed with Tiktaalik.

I hope some day `Your Inner Fish' will be published as paperback in Europe as well, to make it available to a wider audience which it deserves.


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