Saturday, June 14, 2014

2014 – The Year in Books (so far)

Halfway through the year, almost, and there have already been some seriously good books published that will appear on a lot of top-ten lists in December. Some of those books are below, but there also a lot of books below no one will have heard of about side of their respective fields, books from academic publishers or other sources not likely to be found at your local bookstores.

Below is a list of the books I have picked up this year (which is not likely to be very mainstream), and I am including the publisher's ad copy for their books. I would love to review each of these, but I seriously do not have that kind of time. Perhaps, if time allows, I will offer some individual reviews of a few of these books.

2014 – The Year in Books (so far)

Jeremy Rifkin – The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism

In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, New York Times bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin describes how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism.

Rifkin uncovers a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness but is now taking it to its death—the inherent entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.

Now, a formidable new technology infrastructure—the Internet of things (IoT)—is emerging with the potential of pushing large segments of economic life to near zero marginal cost in the years ahead. Rifkin describes how the Communication Internet is converging with a nascent Energy Internet and Logistics Internet to create a new technology platform that connects everything and everyone. Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers can connect to the network and use Big Data, analytics, and algorithms to accelerate efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just like they now do with information goods.

The plummeting of marginal costs is spawning a hybrid economy—part capitalist market and part Collaborative Commons—with far reaching implications for society, according to Rifkin. Hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives to the global Collaborative Commons. Prosumers are plugging into the fledgling IoT and making and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy, and 3D-printed products at near zero marginal cost. They are also sharing cars, homes, clothes and other items via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, and cooperatives at low or near zero marginal cost. Students are enrolling in free massive open online courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost. Social entrepreneurs are even bypassing the banking establishment and using crowdfunding to finance startup businesses as well as creating alternative currencies in the fledgling sharing economy. In this new world, social capital is as important as financial capital, access trumps ownership, sustainability supersedes consumerism, cooperation ousts competition, and “exchange value” in the capitalist marketplace is increasingly replaced by “sharable value” on the Collaborative Commons.

Rifkin concludes that capitalism will remain with us, albeit in an increasingly streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to flourish as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, says Rifkin, entering a world beyond markets where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent global Collaborative Commons.
Michio Kaku – The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind

The New York Times best-selling author of PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE, PHYSICS OF THE FUTURE and HYPERSPACE tackles the most fascinating and complex object in the known universe: the human brain. 
For the first time in history, the secrets of the living brain are being revealed by a battery of high tech brain scans devised by physicists. Now what was once solely the province of science fiction has become a startling reality. Recording memories, telepathy, videotaping our dreams, mind control, avatars, and telekinesis are not only possible; they already exist.
THE FUTURE OF THE MIND gives us an authoritative and compelling look at the astonishing research being done in top laboratories around the world—all based on the latest advancements in neuroscience and physics.  One day we might have a "smart pill" that can enhance our cognition; be able to upload our brain to a computer, neuron for neuron; send thoughts and emotions around the world on a "brain-net"; control computers and robots with our mind; push the very limits of immortality; and perhaps even send our consciousness across the universe.
Dr. Kaku takes us on a grand tour of what the future might hold, giving us not only a solid sense of how the brain functions but also how these technologies will change our daily lives. He even presents a radically new way to think about "consciousness" and applies it to provide fresh insight into mental illness, artificial intelligence and alien consciousness.

With Dr. Kaku's deep understanding of modern science and keen eye for future developments, THE FUTURE OF THE MIND is a scientific tour de force--an extraordinary, mind-boggling exploration of the frontiers of neuroscience.
Peter Zachar – A Metaphysics of Psychopathology (Philosophical Psychopathology)

In psychiatry, few question the legitimacy of asking whether a given psychiatric disorder is real; similarly, in psychology, scholars debate the reality of such theoretical entities as general intelligence, superegos, and personality traits. And yet in both disciplines, little thought is given to what is meant by the rather abstract philosophical concept of "real." Indeed, certain psychiatric disorders have passed from real to imaginary (as in the case of multiple personality disorder) and from imaginary to real (as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder). In this book, Peter Zachar considers such terms as "real" and "reality" -- invoked in psychiatry but often obscure and remote from their instances -- as abstract philosophical concepts. He then examines the implications of his approach for psychiatric classification and psychopathology. Proposing what he calls a scientifically inspired pragmatism, Zachar considers such topics as the essentialist bias, diagnostic literalism, and the concepts of natural kind and social construct. Turning explicitly to psychiatric topics, he proposes a new model for the domain of psychiatric disorders, the "imperfect community" model, which avoids both relativism and essentialism. He uses this model to understand such recent controversies as the attempt to eliminate narcissistic personality disorder from the DSM-5. Returning to such concepts as real, true, and objective, Zachar argues that not only should we use these metaphysical concepts to think philosophically about other concepts, we should think philosophically about them.
Stephen Finlay – Confusion of Tongues: A Theory of Normative Language (Oxford Moral Theory)

Can normative words like "good," "ought," and "reason" be defined in entirely non-normative terms? Confusion of Tongues argues that they can, advancing a new End-Relational theory of the meaning of this language as providing the best explanation of the many different ways it is ordinarily used. Philosophers widely maintain that analyzing normative language as describing facts about relations cannot account for special features of particularly moral and deliberative uses of normative language, but Stephen Finlay argues that the End-Relational theory systematically explains these on the basis of a single fundamental principle of conversational pragmatics. These challenges comprise the central problems of metaethics, including the connection between normative judgment and motivation, the categorical character of morality, the nature of intrinsic value, and the possibility of normative disagreement. Finlay's linguistic analysis has deep implications for the metaphysics, epistemology, and psychology of morality, as well as for the nature and possibility of normative ethical theory. Most significantly it supplies a nuanced answer to the ancient Euthyphro Question of whether we desire things because we judge them good, or vice versa. Normative speech and thought may ultimately be just a manifestation of our nature as intelligent animals motivated by contingent desires for various conflicting ends.
Howard Rachlin – The Escape of the Mind
The Escape of the Mind is part of a current movement in psychology and philosophy of mind that calls into question what is perhaps our most basic, most cherished, and universally accepted belief--that our minds are inside of our bodies. Howard Rachlin adopts the counterintuitive position that our minds, conscious and unconscious, lie not where our firmest (yet unsupported) introspections tell us they are, but in how we actually behave over the long run. Perhaps paradoxically, the book argues that our introspections, no matter how positive we are about them, tell us absolutely nothing about our minds. The name of the present version of this approach to the mind is "teleological behaviorism."

The approaches of teleological behaviorism will be useful in the science of individual behavior for developing methods of self-control and in the science of social behavior for developing social cooperation. Without in any way denigrating the many contributions of neuroscience to human welfare, The Escape of the Mind argues that neuroscience, like introspection, is not a royal road to the understanding of the mind. Where then should we look to explain a present act that is clearly caused by the mind? Teleological behaviorism says to look not in the spatial recesses of the nervous system (not to the mechanism underlying the act) but in the temporal recesses of past and future overt behavior (to the pattern of which the act is a part).
But scientific usefulness is not the only reason for adopting teleological behaviorism. The final two chapters on IBM's computer, Watson (how it deviates from humanity and how it would have to be altered to make it human), and on shaping a coherent self, provide a framework for a secular morality based on teleological behaviorism.
Robert J. Wicks – Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm
For generations, classic wisdom literature has taught that a healthy perspective can replenish our thirst for a meaningful and rewarding life. From its inception clinical psychology has followed suit, revealing that how we see ourselves and the world is more important than what we see or have-in essence, that a healthy perspective is tantamount to possessing the psychological "pearl of great price."

Robert J. Wicks, world-renowned psychologist and author of Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, has written a powerful guide for discovering and regaining a balanced and healthy perspective. Combining classic wisdom with cutting-edge research in cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology, his new book, Perspective, offers concrete steps for overcoming doubt and resistance to openness, so that beneficial life changes become possible. Drawing on the psychology of mindfulness, gratitude, and happiness, Dr. Wicks also reveals how a healthy perspective makes us more aware of the beneficial things already present in our lives.

Perspective teaches us to see ourselves more completely and will inspire us to become the calm within the storm, better able to enjoy our experiences, maintain balance in our professional and personal lives, and reach out to others without being pulled down in the process.
Barbara Ehrenreich – Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything

From the New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed comes a brave, frank, and exquisitely written memoir that will change the way you see the world.

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important thinkers of our time. Educated as a scientist, she is an author, journalist, activist, and advocate for social justice. In LIVING WITH A WILD GOD, she recounts her quest-beginning in childhood-to find "the Truth" about the universe and everything else: What's really going on? Why are we here? In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence, which records an event so strange, so cataclysmic, that she had never, in all the intervening years, written or spoken about it to anyone. It was the kind of event that people call a "mystical experience"-and, to a steadfast atheist and rationalist, nothing less than shattering.

In LIVING WITH A WILD GOD, Ehrenreich reconstructs her childhood mission, bringing an older woman's wry and erudite perspective to a young girl's impassioned obsession with the questions that, at one point or another, torment us all. The result is both deeply personal and cosmically sweeping-a searing memoir and a profound reflection on science, religion, and the human condition. With her signature combination of intellectual rigor and uninhibited imagination, Ehrenreich offers a true literary achievement-a work that has the power not only to entertain but amaze.
Nicholas Epley – Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

You are a mind reader, born with an extraordinary ability to understand what others think, feel, believe, want, and know. It’s a sixth sense you use every day, in every personal and professional relationship you have. At its best, this ability allows you to achieve the most important goal in almost any life: connecting, deeply and intimately and honestly, to other human beings. At its worst, it is a source of misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict, leading to damaged relationships and broken dreams.

How good are you at knowing the minds of others? How well can you guess what others think of you, know who really likes you, or tell when someone is lying? How well do you really understand the minds of those closest to you, from your spouse to your kids to your best friends? Do you really know what your coworkers, employees, competitors, or clients want?

In this illuminating exploration of one of the great mysteries of the human mind, University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley introduces us to what scientists have learned about our ability to understand the most complicated puzzle on the planet—other people—and the surprising mistakes we so routinely make. Why are we sometimes blind to the minds of others, treating them like objects or animals? Why do we sometimes talk to our cars, or the stars, as if there is a mind that can hear us? Why do we so routinely believe that others think, feel, and want what we do when, in fact, they do not? And why do we believe we understand our spouses, family, and friends so much better than we actually do? Mindwise will not turn other people into open books, but it will give you the wisdom to revolutionize how you think about them—and yourself.
The following books are much less mainstream than any of those listed above. All of these books are edited and include a variety of authors presenting their own views on the topics. Most, if not all, are from Springer, and consequently are stupid expensive (which is when it's nice to get review copies).

Brain, Mind and Consciousness in the History of Neuroscience C.U.M. Smith • Harry Whitaker, Editors

This volume of essays examines the problem of mind, looking at how the problem has appeared to neuroscientists (in the widest sense) from classical antiquity through to contemporary times. Beginning with a look at ventricular neuropsychology in antiquity, this book goes on to look at Spinozan ideas on the links between mind and body, Thomas Willis and the foundation of Neurology, Hooke’s mechanical model of the mind and Joseph Priestley’s approach to the mind-body problem.

The volume offers a chapter on the 19th century Ottoman perspective on western thinking. Further chapters trace the work of nineteenth century scholars including George Henry Lewes, Herbert Spencer and Emil du Bois-Reymond. The book covers significant work from the twentieth century, including an examination of Alfred North Whitehead and the history of consciousness, and particular attention is given to the development of quantum consciousness. Chapters on slavery and the self and the development of an understanding of Dualism bring this examination up to date on the latest 21st century work in the field.

At the heart of this book is the matter of how we define the problem of consciousness itself: has there been any progress in our understanding of the working of mind and brain? This work at the interface between science and the humanities will appeal to experts from across many fields who wish to develop their understanding of the problem of consciousness, including scholars of Neuroscience, Behavioural Science and the History of Science.
Ecopsychology, Phenomenology, and the Environment: The Experience of Nature – Douglas A. Vakoch, Fernando Castrillón, Editors

This book seeks to confront an apparent contradiction: that while we are constantly attending to environmental issues, we seem to be woefully out of touch with nature. The goal of Ecopsychology, Phenomenology and the Environment is to foster an enhanced awareness of nature that can lead us to new ways of relating to the environment, ultimately yielding more sustainable patterns of living. This volume is different from other books in the rapidly growing field of ecopsychology in its emphasis on phenomenological approaches, building on the work of phenomenological psychologists such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This focus on phenomenological methodologies for articulating our direct experience of nature serves as a critical complement to the usual methodologies of environmental and conservation psychologists, who have emphasized quantitative research. Moreover, Ecopsychology, Phenomenology and the Environment is distinctive insofar as chapters by phenomenologically-sophisticated ecopsychologists are complemented by chapters written by phenomenological researchers of environmental issues with backgrounds in philosophy and geology, providing a breadth and depth of perspective not found in other works written exclusively by psychologists.
The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Psychoneuroimmunology – Alexander W. Kusnecov and Hymie Anisman, Editors

The term psychoneuroimmunology was originally coined to acknowledge the existence of functional interactions between the brain, the immune system and the endocrine system. As our understanding deepens of the interplay between the brain and the way bodies function, the field continues to grow in importance. This comprehensive handbook is an authoritative source of information on the history, methodology and development of research into psychoneuroimmunology. 

The interdisciplinary nature of the contributions reflects the fact that the subject is a multifaceted field of research integrating the traditionally separate subjects of biological and behavioral science. Psychoneuroimmunology attains a realistic appreciation of the interplay between different biological systems as they collectively maintain health and combat environmental challenges to health. Background material is balanced by a detailed assessment of emerging topics in psychoneuroimmunological research that focuses on the clinical and practical implications of findings from empirical studies on both humans and animals. While specialist readers will appreciate the coverage of progress made in psychoneuroimmunology, newcomers will gain much from its informed and accessible introduction to the field, as well as its exploration of a variety of methodological approaches.
New Frontiers in Social Neuroscience (Research and Perspectives in Neurosciences) – Jean Decety and Yves Christen, Editors

Traditionally, neuroscience has considered the nervous system as an isolated entity and largely ignored influences of the social environments in which humans and many animal species live. In fact, we now recognize the considerable impact of social structures on the operations of the brain and body. These social factors operate on the individual through a continuous interplay of neural, neuroendocrine, metabolic and immune factors on brain and body, in which the brain is the central regulatory organ, and also a malleable target of these factors. Social neuroscience investigates the biological mechanisms that underlie social processes and behavior, widely considered one of the major problem areas for the neurosciences in the 21st century, and applies concepts and methods of biology to develop theories of social processes and behavior in the social and behavioral sciences. Social neuroscience capitalizes on biological concepts and methods to inform and refine theories of social behavior, and it uses social and behavioral constructs and data to advance theories of neural organization and function. This volume brings together scholars who work with animal and human models of social behavior to discuss the challenges and opportunities in this interdisciplinary academic field.
Handbook of Executive Functioning – Sam Goldstein and Jack A. Naglieri, Editors
Planning. Attention. Memory. Self-regulation. These and other core cognitive and behavioral operations of daily life comprise what we know as executive functioning (EF). But despite all we know, the concept has engendered multiple, often conflicting definitions and its components are sometimes loosely defined and poorly understood.

The Handbook of Executive Functioning cuts through the confusion, analyzing both the whole and its parts in comprehensive, practical detail for scholar and clinician alike. Background chapters examine influential models of EF, tour the brain geography of the executive system and pose salient developmental questions. A section on practical implications relates early deficits in executive functioning to ADD and other disorders in children and considers autism and later-life dementias from an EF standpoint. Further chapters weigh the merits of widely used instruments for assessing executive functioning and review interventions for its enhancement, with special emphasis on children and adolescents.

Featured in the Handbook:
  • The development of hot and cool executive function in childhood and adolescence.
  • A review of the use of executive function tasks in externalizing and internalizing disorders.
  • Executive functioning as a mediator of age-related cognitive decline in adults.
  • Treatment integrity in interventions that target executive function.
  • Supporting and strengthening working memory in the classroom to enhance executive functioning.
The Handbook of Executive Functioning is an essential resource for researchers, scientist-practitioners and graduate students in clinical child, school and educational psychology; child and adolescent psychiatry; neurobiology; developmental psychology; rehabilitation medicine/therapy and social work.
Brain Theory: Essays in Critical Neurophilosophy – Charles T. Wolfe, Editor

From its beginnings until the present day, neuroscience has always had a special relationship to philosophy. And philosophy has long puzzled over the relation between mind and brain (and by extension, the relation of cerebral processes to freedom, morals, and justice, but also to perception and art). This volume presents some of the state-of-the-art reflections on philosophical efforts to 'make sense' of neuroscience, as regards issues including neuroaesthetics, neuroethics and neurolaw, but also more critical, evaluative perspectives on topics such as the social neuroscience of race, neurofeminism, embodiment and collaboration, memory and pain, and more directly empirical topics such as neuroconstructivism and embodied robotics. Brain theory as presented here is neither mere commentary on the state of the sciences, nor armchair philosophical reflection on traditional topics. It is more pluralistic than current philosophy of neuroscience (or neurophenomenology), yet more directly engaged with empirical, indeed experimental matters than socio-cultural discussions of 'brainhood' or representations of the brain.
Late Modernity: Trajectories towards Morphogenic Society (Social Morphogenesis) – Margaret S. Archer, Editor 
This volume examines the reasons for intensified social change after 1980; a peaceful process of a magnitude that is historically unprecedented. It examines the kinds of novelty that have come about through morphogenesis and the elements of stability that remain because of morphostasis. It is argued that this pattern cannot be explained simply by ‘acceleration’. Instead, we must specify the generative mechanism(s) involved that underlie and unify ordinary people’s experiences of different disjunctions in their lives. The book discusses the umbrella concept of ‘social morphogenesis’ and the possibility of transition to a ‘Morphogenic Society’. It examines possible ‘generative mechanisms’ accounting for the effects of ‘social morphogenesis’ in transforming previous and much more stable practices. Finally, it seeks to answer the question of what is required in order to justify the claim that Morphogenic society can supersede modernity.
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