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on 26 January 2014
Koestler begins with a critical look at the overbearing and blinkered nature of behavioural psychology which attempts to quantify what is ultimately a subjective and therefore qualitative orientated study. He argues mental activity from decision to communication is more than simply Stimulus – Response which behavioural psychology of that period (1960s) largely focused on.

Koestler goes on to suggest the dichotomy of the individual whom is both an independent unique being and yet also part of a larger system (family, society, nation etc) drawing reference to the Janus complex.

Koestler describes the mind as having several shades of consciousness (rather than simply conscious or unconscious) describing the more mechanistic functions such as heart beat and homeostasis as the most mechanised, slowly working up to sensory motor reflexes, skills & habits and finally full awareness and decision making. Koestler highlights the more mechanised functions can be thrown into full consciousness at times of emergency, such as driving a car or riding a bike requires no real concentration until a danger is detected and full consciousness picks up the reigns to avoid disaster.

Koestler then looks broadly at evolution suggesting Darwinian natural selection and random mutation is also complemented by a form of ‘internal’ selection touching on the idea of some form of intelligent design. Simply put he suggests when a mutation or change happens (for example offspring are now born into a hard cased egg) a number of internal evolutionary changes happen to accommodate and take advantage of such change (the now egg imprisoned offspring also develop an appendage to break out of the egg) suggesting a coordinated control system.

Koestler then looks at the evolution of the human brain first drawing references to other species. Looking at invertebrates he interestingly points out a theorised ‘flaw’ in their design. Invertebrates have their ganglia (brain) underneath their digestive track rather than above as vertebrates do. He theorises this stumped the growth of the ganglia as too large it would press against the oesophagus and force the invertebrate to choose a bigger brain over the ability to eat. The spider, the smartest of invertebrates sacrificed the ability to eat solid foods (as it now simply ‘sucks’ juices from its prey) for a bigger ganglia.

Looking at humans Koestler describes the human brain seeing explosive evolutionary growth over a short period of the last 500,000 years and interestingly points out where as with other evolutionary changes in species in which newly acquired changes are used the human brain has grown to such a large size so quickly yet we as human are still learning how to use it. He draws reference to an amazing computer being very much under used and slowly the user starts to appreciate its full potential. It raises questions as to why the brain grew so quickly if it has never been fully used.

Koestler describes the brain in three sections:
Oldest is reptilian - Archicortex. Homeostasis
Then lower mammal - Mesocortex - can be related to the id. Feeling.
Finally late mammalian - Neocortex - creates awareness. Thinking.

Koestler highlights that the explosive growth and poor linking of the Neocortex with older parts of the brain is the root cause of many mental illnesses and disorders. He also suggests more mundane mental states such as anxiety, depression, conflicting emotions and logical thought are all due to poor communication and harmonisation between these ‘three brains’.

He concludes with suggesting intra-specie killing and war is innate in humans because unlike ‘professional predators’ whom have developed natural inhibitions towards killing their own humans have not. He draws attention to the efficiency of killing in natural predators and therefore a need for evolution to impose natural inhibitions while humans never needed such inhibitions as they, until very recently, lacked and efficient way of killing their own specie. The explosion of the neo-cortex gave us the ability to craft weapons and now, without such inhibitions are free to kill indiscriminately.

Koestler concludes the book with an odd and in my opinion far fetched idea of subduing such ‘flaws’ in human brain evolution through popping pills.
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I only heard about this Arthur Koestler character last year when I read a few reviews that described him as a rapist, a forgotten fashion and a quack proponent of a neo-Lamarckian Creationism, like one of those New Age gurus one falls for during late adolescence, a philosophical equivalent of the glandular fever, but to whom, once read, one develops a lifelong immunity. Koester, according to the hand clappers, has sunk into oblivion quicker than a pebble in a pond (in other words, he was rubbish).

I bought this book anyway, not just because of the great Gilbert Ryle and Sting title, but because I was bored and when I'm bored I click away on Amazon. Rather than having a little giggle with the rest of today's self assured journalist writers, I was pleasantly surprised by this Arthur Koestler. I will not go into a review here, rather, I will just like to say that this Koestler guy can think deep and weighty imponderables. I do not agree with his clunking pessimism, but I have read a ton of academic guys, like Pinker and Dennett, and the rest, and I can confidently say that this Arthur Koestler bloke is, if not better, then on a par with the `phalanx of mediocrity'. Pinker has just published an optimistic book on human nature, now in the Ghost in the Machine, there is a chapter called The Predicament of Man (you can find it on line), I have yet find an answer to Koestler simple questions. Steve Pinker, to my mind anyway, just ignores the `truths' that Koestler lists in this chapter. He wrote it 40 years ago and it's the freshest look on our sorry state I have come across. No wonder it is ignored so loudly, Koestler was that smart and there is nothing New Age about his writings.

In our culture, if you get a job writing book reviews in the New York Times or The Guardian, then you have `made it'. Arthur Koestler also dabbled in reviews, but that was one of his hobbies, rather than his 'look at me' job. Before his sojourn in the news papers, Arthur Koestler wrote a book comparable to Orwell and Huxley and The Darkness at Noon is only dated because it was of its time. To my mind, Darkness is a better piece than Huxley and Orwell.

One more moan about this fallen into oblivion business I mentioned above. The mathematician, Clifford Pickover, recently wrote a book called A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: Extraordinary People, Alien Brains, and Quantum Resurrection, apart from the New Age title, Pickover listed the top ten bestselling authors from about 100 years ago and they are now forgotten. Happens to us all I suppose.
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on 4 April 2009
An important books that trashes Behavioural psychology and highlights some of the problems that still remain in Darwin's theory. Very readable and highly recommended.
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on 26 February 2001
As a young, lost university student, I find this book so sacred! Arthur Koestler's alternative hypothesis to Darwin's evolution theory( The 'Holon' sub-struture and its hierarchy, eg: A human is a holon, a whole individual yet just a sub-structure of society too) is excellent, and so is his criticisms of the behaviourist theory. I cannot say in so few words, how this book has changed my perspective on life and the reason for our existence, Questioning whether we were just a big mistake of evolution! Although it written quite a while ago, this book is still relevant today. Quite a excellent read for budding scientists and philosiphers, although it creates many questions as it answers( I couldn't believe it when the last page so suddenly appeared). This book emcompasses so many various subjects about human life and their roots(emotion,power,sex,war, etc) it is difficult to stress them all. However this is one of those books you HAVE to read. Quote: (on the brain) "we have still only learned to utilise a very small fraction of its estimated hundreds thousand million circuits....it is entirely unprecedented that evolution should provide a species with a organ which it does not know how to use;a luxury organ..."
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on 28 September 2016
I found this book in my garage, never heard of Koestler nor behavioural psychology.
He starts off with an all out attack on the "stimulus-response" approach that seemed to have been the orthodoxy of the time (of writing), he brings out a series of arguments to expose its superficiality and inadequacy in its approach to human behavioural psychology. Here is the trouble for me, although I would agree with him, not one of his arguments was sufficiently convincing to put a nail in the coffin of established doctrine of the time, and this is after reading page after page of arguments.

What he should have done is simply to point out that the establishment's stifling of any other approach than the stimulus-response paradigm (orthodoxy), without proof that that is indeed the *only* valid approach, is unscientific.

It's a shame because I sympathise with him, I started off really enthusiastic, but got more and more frustrated as I read and finally slammed it shut vowing never to go back and finish the read.
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on 14 September 2012
"The Ghost in the Machine" is about Wholeness as a concept, but in that respect acknowledges the nature of a part in the structure of the whole as having a recognisable identity; thus a holon can be described as, "An entity that has a boundary within its environment, from which it derives its identity" - like a blood cell, or a close knit tribal group within a larger society. Koestler develops this theme but does not really come to a wider view than that which I have just described. However, if one were adventurous enough to take this idea forward from Koestler's 'denigrated view', the concept has a potentially wide role to play in 'informatics'.
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on 28 January 2015
particularly interesting and inspiring. up to everyone to take what they find useful.
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on 10 March 2015
It was a present for a grandson needed for his university course. He likes it immensely. The book is dreadfully expensive new and even an old paperback - in fair condition- cost over £20. That's supply and demand I guess. Still if it's needed...
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on 19 June 2015
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on 12 September 2014
very good.
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