This book really got my limbic system and ACC going. Brillantly engaging and deeply frustrating. Bruce Hood is a distinguished academic, (he's won prizes) and a fantastic communicator. "The Self Illusion" is well written, flows seamlessly, and the author's delivery is delightful. The chapter on the www, avatars and social networking is excellent. Yet I spent much of the book shouting at my iPhone. It's not that I mind being an illusion - Allan Watts & Daniel Dennett have claimed as much - it's that it's never very clear what BH means by "the self". He freely hops between the "experiencing self", self as "personality", "self image" or our varied "personas". He rarely refers to the "self" without appending "illusion" thus implanting a paired association. Caveat emptor!
So, yes, we may be a "bundle of perceptions", but a necessary condition is a perceiver. Yes, we may be more or less influenced by other people (depending on our temperament). Yes, we may develop personalities adapted to our environment (mirror self). Yes, we may be deluded by own self image. Yes, we may present different self images (personas) in different situations. Yes, we make sense of our experience using imperfect memories to make a story. Yes, we are not a single "homunculus", but more like a hierarchy of committees (all of whom are "me"). Yes, the preparation for any decision may begin deep in our minds, probably way down in our awareness.
However, none of these for me indicate the self is an illusion, only that it is complex, multilayered, dynamic, adaptable, constrained & mysterious. BHs own mind/brain analogy of a web is helpful, but he misses out the obvious central point - that as the strands converge, sentience (self) emerges, then self awareness. As he states in ch1, "You are your brain", so his subtitle "Why there is no 'you' inside your head" is annoyingly contradictory. Overall however I really enjoyed disagreeing with this book. Well written, well read and much food for thought.
David Deutsch is a genius. As the father of modern quantum computing, he has an exceptional mind, and I found this book full of stimulating ideas and arguments going well beyond the reach of Physics.
His thesis, based on a synthesis of Popper, Dawkins and Hilbert, as well as his own interpretation of the Many Worlds theory of QM, is that through creativity, and the continuous search for "good explanation", we are able to shape our environment in ways no other force of nature is capable, and the reach of that ability is infinite.
At times his arguments are really hard to follow, and I suspected he may be slipping in some slightly dubious logic. For instance, his argument against the "Anthropic Principle" explanation for the "fine tuning problem". However, his early chapters e.g. on Hilberts "Infinity Hotel" and on "fungible" universes in QM are exhilarating.
However, as the book went on, I became increasingly irritated. Having persuaded us of the power and reach of "good explanations", he betrays these very values. In his chapter on aesthetics, he specifically rejects the explanation that we find flowers beautiful for biological reasons (e.g. bright colours as a super stimulus for a species once adapted to seek brightly coloured ripe fruits), and instead opts for an "objective beauty" explanation, which explains nothing.
To add insult to injury he follows this by a lengthy explanation of cultural evolution based on Dawkins "meme" theory, (which itself is a poor explanation, which even Dawkins has not bothered to develop). Deutsch's conclusion that in the past creativity was used to suppress innovation is bizarre. "Dual Inheritance Theory" (which includes memes), provides a better explanation, contrasting vertical (traditional) and horizontal (progressive) modes of cultural information transmission, each of which carries benefits and dangers. His final chapters on ecology, were therefore unconvincing.
Overall, very interesting, often complex, sometimes flawed.
MPs dishonestly claiming expense, banks lying to manipulate the LIBOR irate, price fixing by oil companies... Lying, cheating and dishonesty are all around us! Indeed Ariely's research shows that most of us are just a little bit dishonest, it seems. That's perhaps no surprise. The surprise factor for me, is that the bigger the amount, the LESS likely we are to cheat. The limiting factor seems to be not how much we can get away with, but how much we challenge our self-image by an act of dishonesty - and how far we can justify it to ourselves. This book looks at the many ways we justify our cheating, and how far from the truth and into serious fraud such justifications can subtly take us by salami tactics. Many factors are investigated by Ariely in a series of experiments. How does cheating by others corrupt our own honesty? How much do we calculate the risk of getting caught? Would a pair of drawn cartoon eyes stop you taking unclaimed money off a table? Are highly creative people more likely to tell lies than less creative people? Like his other books, I found this quite an eye opener - into my own attitudes towards honesty, cheating and my own self justifications to preserve intact my own good self-image. If nothing else, I think I recognise my own mental tricks to fool myself more. Enjoyably read by Simon Jones - the narration is like a hitchhikers guide to dishonesty in the very pleasant company of Arthur Dent.