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Simon Laub (Aarhus, Denmark, Europe)
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Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics 1st (first) Edition published by Cambridge University Press (2010)
Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics 1st (first) Edition published by Cambridge University Press (2010)
by unknown
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Materialism or Consciousness., 17 Jun 2014
The anthology ''Information - and the Nature of Reality'' is a great read
that takes the reader inside the struggle to understand what reality is all about.
Do we live in a world decided by the mechanics of materialism,
or do we live in a world where consciousness is actually primary?

In one of many great articles in the book, contributor Philip Clayton gives us a brief outline of materialism - A theory in trouble due to Relativity theory, Quantum Mechanics etc.
But mostly because a mechanical, perfect universe - intolerant of any disorder - would not carry much meaning...
And after reading the book we do become convinced that there is indeed meaning in the universe...

Consequently, in the end, we are lead to conclude that classical materialism - the view that reality consists of nothing but small, classical particles that live in an absolute space-time - is intellectually dead...

Can we now make consciousness the only reality?
Well, consciousness without the material world is still hard to envision.
Human consciousness is of course fully embodied, living inside a material world. And when humans are conscious about something, it is usually about stuff in the material world (With mathematics and similar as one of the few possible exceptions).
Human memories needs to be stored in a physical brain. Memories are not unembodied.

We might not get any closer than this.
Making sense of it all is pretty difficult...
In the end, the information we see in the universe depends on the state of the receiver, of ourselves.
A state which is determined by prior knowledge, expectations etc.
In the end we find what we bring along?

-Simon


Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived
Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived
by Chip Walter
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing twists and turns on every page, 12 Jun 2014
According to Chip Walter: We don't know all that much about our deep past. But often, being human, we may give the impression that we understand more than we actually do.
Indeed, the evidence is too sparse and too random.
The ''illumination of our past is like trying to find a set of car keys in the Sahara with a flashlight''.

So, understanding humanitys past might involve a lot guesswork. Still, Chips Walters great book rings true. Certainly, at the very least, it gives us a lot spectacular insights on how it could have been, on this our long and winding evolutionary road.
Indeed, (It is) An engaging read, with mind blowing twists and turns on every page.

And we obviously need to understand our past, if we want to understand who we really are as individuals and as a species.

Certainly, Chip Walters gives us some good hints on who we really are:
We are all about creativity.
We are ''infovores'' - we crave new knowledge and experience in much the same way that we crave food. Our minds are itching to play. Lifelong children, hungry for new knowledge.

What a remarkable and wonderful book!

-Simon


What a Wonderful World: One Man's Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff
What a Wonderful World: One Man's Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff
by Marcus Chown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.89

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Our Mindboggling World., 4 Jun 2014
According to Marcus Chown, our world is a wonderful world.
Well, certainly, but it is also a mindboggling world.
Indeed, maybe it is both beautiful and mindboggling.

Certainly, there is something truly delightful and
mindboggling on almost every page in this great book.

- - -

A human is a colony of about 100 million million cells
(37.2 trillion cells according to National Geographic, but who is counting ...).
Each cell is as complex as a major city.
Everytime we feel love or hatred, every single thing you ever heard,
is your cells communicating with one another and the rest of the universe.
Cells are indeed stunning things.
Every human starts out beeing just one cell (when a sperm
fuses with an ovum), before it splits into two, four, eight and soforth.
But this is not all. Legions of other cells help us run our bodies.
In the stomach hundreds of species of bacteria work constantly
to extract nutrients from our food.
There are more than 10.000 species of alien cells in our bodies.
40 times the number of cell types that actually belong to us).
5 million bacteria call every square centimetre of the skin home.
The cells need oxygen in order to liberate energy for the cells.
Indeed, the oxygen we breathe in powers all the biological processes in our bodies.
Rather essential. Sure, we can go without food and water for days.
But, cut off oxygen for more than 3 minutes and we are dead.
And, not surprisingly, much of this is very ancient machinery.
Actually, all of these cells (in our bodies, and on Earth) can trace
their ancestry, in a unbroken line, back to the very first cell, which
appeared at least 3.5 billion years ago.
And no matter how complex this story of cells get,
Chown makes sure that we don't lose sight of the stunning
idea that it is all explained by Darwins theory of
evolution by natural selection.
According to Richard Dawkins,
this "greatest idea in the history of science" has passed every test.
And could easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned
up in the wrong date order.

Nevertheless, not all is explained, and a lot of issues are still contentious.
E.g. why do we have sex? According to one theory, a sexually
reproducing population is able to outpace co-evolving parasites.
In one experiment bacteria rapidly drove a non-sexual,
self-fertilising population extinct, while the sexually
reproducing population survived.

And if we think that cells are mind-boggling complex,
but then what about brains then?
Is it not correct that "a human brain can never completely understand
the human brain". Luckily, Marcus Chown assures us that
it is many brains that are trying to understand the brain.
So, maybe, there is hope. Maybe we will eventually understand (something).

More than we did million of years ago for sure?
Going back 3.6 million years, three australopithecines padded on two
legs across a bed of freshly fallen ash in Laetoli, Tanzania
(Discovered by Mary Leakey in 1976). Certainly, it gives time to
pause and reflect. What did these distant ancestors know,
what kind of thoughts did they have?

In the middle of all of this -
Luckily, we humans have each other. According to Desmond
Tutu: "We need other human beings in order to be human".
In reality, there is no such thing as a solitary, isolated human.
As long as our ancestors lived in small, scattered groups,
knowledge might have been gained, lost and gained again, repeatedly.
Indeed, only when hominin numbers swelled was there a chance of
ideas surviving, spreading and spawning. We need many humans...
To invent stuff like writing and cooking.
Imagine the first human that came up with the
idea, that through writing we could have a collective brain
with an external memory! Or that we could have
an "external stomach" through cooking!

Some of the inventions are very recent.
Our connected, modern world began in 1888 when German physicist
Heinrich Hertz transmitted an electromagnetic wave.
Starting the era of radio- and tele-communication.
Which, obviously, also contributes into making our society into a
mind-boggling complex place.

Complexity is everywhere.
Even, "simpler" inventions can contribute to make our world
rather incomprehensble.
Take banking: "A surprising, even shocking, feature of banks
is that they never lend out the money that people have deposited.
They hold that as reserve against losses, and for day to day transactions.
Instead, banks create money. Money comes into existence
in the very act of borrowing it."
So, do we really understand the complex multiply connected commercial
world we have created? According to economist
John Kenneth Galbraith: "Economics is extremely useful
as a form of employment for economists."
Financial booms and busts is, according to former chairman of the US
Federal Reserve Board, "too complex for anyone to understand".
And surely, financial products such as "Collateral Debt Obligations"
is not something many people really understood.
and, it obviously played a significant role in the financial crisis of 2008.
Indeed, maybe it is really time for a Manhattan like project for
economics. With the well-being of 7 billion people
in the global economy it could money well spent.

And we have only scratched the surface.
Probing deeper, our world is really a quantum world.
With a lot of quantum weirdness going on.
Spooky action at a distance,
Particles that can do many things at once etc. etc.
The only reason we don't see it, is because we don't
see individual atoms.
We do not observe the world,
we observe ourselves. We observe thousands of atoms on our own retina,
not the actual photon that caused our retina change.

Even if we understood all the building blocks
of the world that would hardly be enough.
Understanding building blocks is nice, but life is
not found in atoms or molecules, but in organization.
So should we really understand, then we need to understand organization as well.

And still, the mindboggling stuff just keep
coming at us.
(Atoms) Protons in a certain volume of space can only be arranged
in so many ways. After a while the same patterns
begin to repeat. In other words, there are a finite number of
possible stories and an infinite number of locations for them
to be played out in the universe.
Consequently, every history occurs an infinite number
of times. We all have dobbeltgaengers walking around on
other Earths out there. Right now...

Mindboggling.

-Simon


11.22.63
11.22.63
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great wormhole in time back to 11.22.63, 10 Dec 2013
This review is from: 11.22.63 (Paperback)
Surely, finding a wormhole in time that leads from 2011 Maine to September 9, 1958 in your local diner would be a bit surprising...
Especially, when you realize that you can visit the past for as long as you like - days, months, even years, but when you return to the present it's always exactly two minutes later.

Certainly, the hero of this epic King novel, Jake Epping, a divorced high schoolteacher from Maine, is surprised. Perhaps even more so, when the dying restaturant owner then gives him the task of correcting american history, by preventing the assassination of JFK.
Arguing that stopping the assassination would make the Vietnam war and other horrors after that impossible.

And off we are, back to 1958. A world without GPS and mobile phones, cigarette smoke-clouds everywhere, the cold war, idle housewives that go shopping while their men are busy at work and with racism lurking around every corner.
The fifties in America becomes intensely real. Indeed, the King time machine really works.

But, and this is the truly great part, time doesn't especially like to be changed. It disturbs the "harmonies" of the universe.
The machinery of time has a certain logic to it. So, if you drive to Dallas to kill Lee Harvey Oswald on the 21st, chances are that you will end up with a flat tire and get nowhere near Dallas...
Kings description of this is really masterly done and makes the book a real cliffhanger, all 880 pages of it actually...

Another twist is added when our hero falls in love with the lovely Sadie, and becomes torn between his duty to stop the assassination of Kennedy and his desire to abandon the mission to spend the rest of his life with her.
Juggling a life in an apartment next to Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald's wife Marina (he must observe Lee to make sure that he is the real killer),and a girlfriend that doesn't understand his taste in music (Rolling Stones songs from 10 years later) is probably "normal" stuff for timetravellers -
But in Kings version you can actually feel the fabric of time being twisted and turned.
Life is really just performed upon a stage that might crack open at any time to reveal another truth.
Again, masterly done.

The upcoming TV mini series and the movie (obviosuly, there will eventually be a movie) are certainly going to be hits.
The harmonies of time dictates it.

Wonderful stuff.

-Simon


Rip It Up: The radically new approach to changing your life
Rip It Up: The radically new approach to changing your life
by Richard Wiseman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As if, fake it until you make it., 15 Aug 2013
According to Richard Wiseman, you shouldn't think about changing how you think and feel,
you should just act as if you were the person you want to be!
I.e. fake it until you make it! Want to feel happier? Force yourself to smile! Want to be more confident? Stand in a confident pose! etc.
Indeed, it's far easier to change the way we act than changing the way we think.
And, interesting, a change in thinking might follow right after a change in acting.

Richard Wiseman is inspired by american philosopher and psychologist William James.
In one thought experiment, James considered the question, do we run from a bear because we are afraid or are we afraid because we run? And came up with the idea, that the obvious answer, that we run because we are afraid, was wrong, and instead argued that we are afraid because we run.
Our minds perception is the emotion.
Wiseman takes it further: So, to feel in love, all you simply need to do is act ''as if'' you're in love and let your body physiology and sub conscious do the rest...

In the book, Wiseman gives us many examples that seems to indicate that this is actually true. I especially enjoyed Joshua Ian Davis work with women who had just undergone treatment with Botox injections. Botox might give a more youthful appearance, but it will also allow fewer facial expressions. And sure enough, inhibiting peoples behaviour and facial expressions prevents them from feeling certain emotions...
Memory is also affected. According to experiments by Simone Schnall and James Laird, when people adopted a happy facial expression, they tended to remember more positive moments from their lives, and when they looked sad, they were inclined to remember more negative moments.
Procrastination often stops people from doing well in many aspects of life. According to James: ''Nothing is so fatiguing, as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.''
The answer is straightforward using the ''as if'' perspective - By working on an activity for ''for just a few minutes'' (that is, as if you are a highly motivated person), changes the way we see ourselves, and make it far more likely that we will complete the task at hand.

Great stuff, and remember, everything in this book actually builds on well documented research. Following Richard Wisemans advice might actually make us just a little happier, make us procrastinate less, reduce our stress levels etc.


What Makes Your Brain Happy: And Why You Should Do the Opposite
What Makes Your Brain Happy: And Why You Should Do the Opposite
by David DiSalvo
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.33

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Happy Brains, 8 May 2013
Sure, DiSalvos books is basicly a collection of anecdotes demonstrating the quirks and twists of the human mind. And sure, to some that is just pop cognitive psychology.

Still, I kind of liked the DiSalvo book. IMHO, the various studies, anecdotes, and thought experiments presented in the book does make us a little wiser about what a happy brain is all about.

According to DiSalvo, the brain is really a prediction machine.
An amazingly complex organ that process information to determine what is coming next.
Where, our brains prefer stability, certainty, and consistency, and perceives unpredictability, uncertainty, and instability as threats to its survival.

DiSalvo also makes it absolutely clear that our brains are social brains that perform and work within a group.
Brains that becomes lonely, when something isn't right for us in the group. And, certainly,
our brains are not independent thinkers.
Ours is an existence of influence of and counterinfluence - and none of us live on one-way streets.
All of which DiSalvo describes very entertainingly in this book.

In DiSalvos account, it also becomes clear that the brain is not a completely rational machine. Many things influence our thinking:
The books section about ''Weight as an Embodiment of Importance''
is especially telling. I.e. in english, the term weighty is used to signify something substantial and important. The term gravitas is used to connote seriousness. The more someone can lift, the more impressive...
Not exactly completely rational thinking...

Luckily, we can improve our thinking.
DiSalvo explains how geting assistance, slowing-down, breaking goals up into smaller goals and
a finish what you start approach etc. can all help us achieve better results.

All in all, a lively presentation with rays of insight. An interesting book.


No Title Available

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Storms, 30 Dec 2012
Basicly, I think the book consists of three parts:
In the first part of the book we are introduced to pattern recognizers
and how the human neocortex might work. The next part
deals with AI, and inspirations from biology. And, the final chapters are
a tour de force about the future of humanity and human intelligence.

I.e.
In the first part of the book Kurzweil explains his theory on how pattern processing units in the neocortex can make human thinking possible.
Certainly, skeptics will tell us that Kurzweils explanation is way too simple.
That we are no where near understanding or simulating the human brain. That the brain is simply overwhelming complex, and if you think otherwise, you're fooling yourself...

Well, maybe, but I still think that this part of the book is the best part...!
So, is there a unifying cortical algorithm working inside a uniform cortical anatomy organized into columns and minicolumns (As Kurzweil tells us) ?
Well, probably, the brain employs many different mechanisms, and probably it is all rather complex. Still, with Kurzweils ''simple'' model we can move forward, test the model and improve it. Without any models we are left in the quagmire of ''complexity''....
Surely, there are worse sins that making difficult subjects accessible through brilliant writing, and a few (over) simplifications?
So, I certainly enjoyed the first part tremendously, and will give the book five stars for this part alone.

In the next part of the book, Kurzweil uses his rather simple brain model to convince us that we could have human-like AI by around 2029. And a lot of really interesting AI, inspired by biological principles, way before that.

Well, probably, his models are too simple, and we should add a number of years to his figures. That doesn't invalidate his main argument though (that real artificial intelligences might eventually be built according to the principles that makes biological intelligences work).
And that these non-biological intelligences could be way faster and smarter than biological intelligences (In Kurzweils words: A typical human brain contains about 300 million pattern processing units. But AIs of the future might have billions, meaning that machine intelligence would far exceed the capabilities of the human mind).

In the final part of the book Kurzweil deals with the implications of augmenting human minds and having non-biological super-intelligences around in the future. We have heard much of this before in ''The age of Spiritual Machines'' and in the ''Singularity is Near''.

It is still highly interesting though.
And luckily, as others have observed, Kurzweil is clearly an optimist both in terms of the progress he foresees and its potential impact. If he is even partly right in his predictions then the implications could be staggering.

In a book with such an enormous and breathtaking scope, it should come as no surprise that the chapters are a little bit uneven.
Some chapters cover certain topics in depth while other chapters suffer from a lack of depth.
E.g. I would have liked to read more about the attentional mechanisms in the brain (we were only given a teaser in the chapter about the thalamus), and the chapter about the hippocampus and memory also left a lot of stuff unexplained.

Some of the theories presented in the book could probably also be improved.
Nevertheless, the book is a delight to read and a great inspiration.

Five stars!

-Simon


The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head
The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head
by Bruce Hood
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self Illusions, 28 Oct 2012
Bruce Hoods book The Self Illusion is a great book about the mental constructions that makes us who we are.
According to Hood, deep down, our selves might not be all that solid. Instead, other people influence us and changing circumstances continually update our beliefs and our sense of self.

The self is shaped by the reflected opinions of others around us.
And Hood gives us a long list of very interesting observations and psychological experiments that illustrates that our selves are not rock solid things.
From Jane Elliots experiments with a third grade class (She convinced blue eyed
children that brown eyed kids were smarter or vice versa) to Solomon Aschs Conformity test (where students would rather follow the group than give the right answer).
Hood concludes that ''we are susceptible to group pressure, subtle priming cues, stereotyping and culturally cuing, then the notion of a true, unyielding ego cannot be sustained. If it is a self that flinches and bends with tiny changes in circumstances, then it might as well be non-existent''

Indeed, selves are constructed not born, according to Hood.
People don't remember much from before the age of four. According to Bruce Hood, the reason for this is that our selves have not been fully build at that age:
It's not that you have forgotten what it was like to be an infant
- You were simply not ''you'' at that age because there was no constructed self,
and so you cannot make sense of early experiences in the context of the person to
whom these events happened.

And the self is fragile. Even thinking too much about it might be a dangerous thing?
We might be confused, begin to wonder if the construction, the self, can really do anything on its own? Do we, the self, have free will?

We need the self though: Experiences are fragmented episodes unless they are woven together in meaningful narrative. This is why the self pulls it all together.
And, we also think of others as having selves. Indeed, We have not evolved to think about others as a bundle of processes. Rather we have evolved to treat others as individual selves.

What a story. What a book, full of great insights.


The Origin of Our Species
The Origin of Our Species
by Chris Stringer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know Thyself - The Origin of our Species., 14 Oct 2012
According to the ancient Greeks, humans can only acquire higher knowledge and insights, when we have Self Knowledge.
And, in order to know oneself one must understand things like human behavior, morals and thoughts. But is is also important to know where we came from! And that is what Stringers book is all about!

Sure, the story about our origins is still a story with a lot of uncertainties. Humanity's past is in no way a simple story. But Stringer steers the reader through the mess and tries to maintain a consistent picture of what might have happened.

So, what made us human?
Some believe that genetic changes unique to modern humans rewired our brains 50.000 years ago, making us behavioural modern at a stroke. But, for Stringer there is no single right answer to the question of our behavioural origins:
According to Stringer, there are many interconnected strands to modern human behaviour, ranging from our enhanced mind reading talents, symbolism, artistic and musical expression, to rituals and religion.
Even music is an important part of what makes us human....

Indeed, humans might have been sitting around campfires, being social for a very long time indeed. Campfires provided warmth and protection. And a social focus as people sat to talk, sing and dance, around the flames. Eventually, campfires would also gives us cooking, a broader diet and more fuel for our energy-hungry brains.

But with these better social networks we have been able to change almost everything. Amazingly, even our pale skin (in Europe) might only have been with us for the last 11.000 years.
But, more importantly, farming is also quite new (app. 10.000 years old, introduced first in Iraq and Turkey). Indeed, farming is surely the greatest event in the evolution of Homo sapiens since its emergence. As, from farming flowed, in an incredibly short time, population growth, craft, art, religion and technology.

In the end Stringer concludes that we are predominantly of recent African origin.
But what a ride it has been from these origins.
What a book, what a story!

-Simon


Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
by Sebastian Seung
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Inner Worlds, 3 May 2012
We are all unique. And we all have unique brains.
According to Sebastian Seung: In our brains, uniqueness resides in the pattern of connections between the brain's neurons. Where the connectome is the entire collection of our brain's neuronal connections, the totality of how we are wired together.

In the first chapters I found Sebastian Seungs often simple, chatty, informal style
a bit simplistic and too much in the direction of popular science.
But, the book grew on me as I read on.
Actually, throughout the book Sebastian Seung gives us many brilliant insights.
Complex issues are made understandable by good examples and Seungs broad knowledge of the field.

If we are our neural connectome, it then follows that we can change ourselves by changing the connectome.
But, first we must know more about the connectome.
And, to find connectomes, we will have to create whole new machines that produce
clear images of neurons and synapses over a large field of view.

Seung is always careful to note that ''we don't know yet whether a connectome actually contains a person's memories, personality or intellect.
Testing these ideas will occupy neuroscientists for a very long time.''
Still, reading the book leaves you with the impression, that more new knowledge
about the connectome will eventually completely change how we think
about ourselves and how we should deal with the world.

In the final chapters Seung manages to sneak in some comments
about running complete brains as computer simulations.
I.e. would it be possible to extract the connectome from a real brain
and then run a simulation of it on a computer?

Here, Seung is not overly optimistic. Even if we had a full connectome described.
Running a good simulation is still difficult, problems like;
a) Insufficient neural modelling b) Extrasynaptic Interactions
c) Insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature.
Etc. might make it difficult to come up with realistic simulations.

Eventually, Seung believes that we will be able to
find connectomes quickly and cheaply. And, a lot of good concrete
treatment and knowledge will follow from this.

But, fully understanding the brain is a much broader goal though.
Which might take more than just knowing connectomes.
Still, reading Seungs book leaves one with the feeling
that knowing more about connectomes will be a good start.

-Simon


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