Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Four New Books I Want to Read (Someday)

Here are four reviews of new(ish) books that sound interesting and that I hope to one day have some time to read. These reviews are posted at Metapsychology Online Reviews (Vol 16, No 8) - follow the links to read the whole reviews (this is only a taste).
Review - The Extended Mind
by Richard Menary (Editor)
MIT Press, 2010
Review by Joseph Ulatowski
Feb 21st 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 8)

In a television commercial for First Tennessee Bank, a young lady says of the bank's mobile app, "My phone's a part of my body, so it's like having my bank in my pocket. It's with me everywhere I go." The belief that a mobile phone and the apps it contains is an extension of one's own body has been brought about by new technology. Not only does mobile technology permit a person to extend one's body beyond the limits of the epidermis but it allows cognitive function to extend beyond the confines of one's own brain as well. Think here of all the contact information and to-do task lists our phone's are able to store. The prevailing question of extended cognition is: "Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?" Richard Menary's long-awaited anthology brings together some admirable work on the extended mind.

The external mind hypothesis asks whether the mind ought to be confined to the body. Philosophers of mind have assumed that the mind is the fully embodied seat of cognition and consciousness. But, beginning with the pioneering essay, "The Extended Mind," by Andy Clark and David Chalmers, some have argued that it is a kind of prejudice to suggest that cognitive resources be limited to what is contained in the skin. To adopt this view, according to its advocates, one must also accept the "parity principle." Clark and Chalmers write, "If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a process which were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is (so we claim) part of the cognitive process." (p. 29) Only sheer prejudice would forbid us from externalizing cognition, so we have no reason to restrict cognition to that which is embodied. Suggesting that the mind must be fully contained within the skin is to support what's been called by Chalmers "brain chauvinism" -- the mind is nothing other than the brain.
Read the whole review. This one definitely goes on the wish list (if it isn't there already). I am a huge fan of the extended mind approach, although it does not go far enough for me. I prefer the embedded mind.

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Review - From Neurons to Self-Consciousness: How the Brain Generates the Mind
by Bernard Korzeniewski
Humanity Books, 2010
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Feb 21st 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 8)

Korzeniewski's book goes a long way in offering a theory of mind that will be of interest to both scientists and humanists. As he writes:
The relation of spirit (consciousness, mind) to matter (the external world, the objective reality) is probably the greatest mystery in the history of philosophy. The view known as materialism maintains that matter is primary with respect to consciousness, that it is a result or "by-product" of the functioning of the human brain. … Idealism, on the contrary, maintains that consciousness is the only truly existing being, while the so-called external world (or broadly understood matter) is only a product of consciousness, an area of the psyche isolated in a particular manner. … the mystery of the relation of spirit to matter has not been solved until now . . . In this book I present this question within the perspective of the biological sciences. (154-155)
In fewer than two hundred pages Korzeniewski develops a theory that encompasses physical, biological, and conceptual explanations for the "mysterious" self-awareness that we experience but have such difficulty explaining without ending up in either solipsism or panpsychism. He differentiates three levels of reality: "the physical, the biological, and the psychic level, while renouncing any claims of their absolutization."
Read the whole review. This is another one that feels like a must read for me, even though I am sure to disagree with parts of it. He does seem to be introducing a new idea into the discussion of brain and mind - those three levels of reality (physical, biological, psychic).

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Review - Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative
by Marilyn Wedge
W. W. Norton, 2011
Review by Shannon M. Bernard-Adams and Marcus P. Adams
Feb 14th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 7)

Marilyn Wedge has provided an excellent resource for clinicians and parents. Her book, Suffer the Children, is a tour de force argument against the current trend in American education and psychiatry which assumes that children with behavioral difficulties will likely require medication. Throughout her argument against this trend, she provides positive support for the alternative treatment that she is recommending--strategic child-focused family therapy. This support comes by way of numerous case studies drawn from her years of clinical practice; perhaps the greatest virtue of the book is the large number of case studies that she provides for the reader.

In this review, we will highlight some of the book's features that recommend it to clinicians and concerned parents. In chapter 1, Wedge describes the current situation in child psychiatry and discusses some of the trends in family systems therapy since the 1970s. She questions the trend in child psychiatry to label emotional or social disorders as "brain diseases." She argues that medicating in many situations might appear to be a "quick fix," but often medicating a child causes unforeseen side-effects or other negative consequences.

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Review - Psychiatrist on the Road: Encounters in Healing and Healthcare
by Lawrence H. Climo
Bay Tree Publishing, 2009
Review by Cecile Lawrence, Ph.D., J.D.
Jan 24th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 4)
If you have an interest in North American Cultural Studies, you are probably familiar with Story Corps. One could call this collection of interviews "Story Corps on the inside: video shorts in words" with a very special set of interviewees.

At age 65, the author lost his job as an employee of an urban mental health clinic, where he was senior clinical psychiatrist. Deciding not to retire just then, he contracted with three companies that hire medical personnel to work temporarily in various locations around the U.S. With that the author gets on the road.

The word pictures in the first half of the book are like story shorts while in the second half, we're clearly in video-like territory where we experience more intensely the altered realities of those with broken minds and souls. The word "souls" is appropriate as Climo expresses musings increasingly more expansive as we both make our way. This book is very reminiscent also of the hero's journey, or even Cervantes' longer Novelas Ejemplares because Climo presents a focused and mostly indirect critique and interpretation of the social, political as well as medical problems of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, wending his way between history and creative writing.
Read the whole review.
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