A brilliant and comprehensive history of the creation of the modern Western mind.
Soul Machine takes us back to the origins of modernity, a time when a crisis in religious authority and the scientific revolution led to searching questions about the nature of human inner life. This is the story of how a new concept - the mind - emerged as a potential solution, one that was part soul and part machine but fully neither.
In this groundbreaking work, award-winning historian George Makari shows how writers, philosophers, physicians, and anatomists worked to construct notions of the mind as not an ethereal thing but a natural one. From the ascent of Oliver Cromwell to the fall of Napoleon, seminal thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Diderot, and Kant worked alongside often-forgotten brain specialists, physiologists, and alienists in the hopes of mapping the inner world. Conducted in a cauldron of political turmoil, these frequently shocking, always embattled efforts would give rise to psychiatry, mind sciences such as phrenology, and radically new visions of the self. Further, they would be crucial to the establishment of secular ethics and political liberalism.
Boldly original, wide ranging, and brilliantly synthetic, Soul Machine gives us a masterful, new account of the making of the modern Western mind.
©2015 George Makari (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
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"Encylcipedic in its presentation"
The author starts the book with Hobbes (1650) and ends it with the Romantics (1810) and a little past that with the study of phrenology. I love books about the Enlightenment. As far as I'm concerned a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for liberal democracy was to first have an Enlightenment.
It takes John Locke (not the character from "Lost", but the philosopher) to introduce the word "mind" and "consciousness" into our lexicon. At the start of the Enlightenment witchcraft and mental illnesses coming from the devil were both considered real, by the end both were considered explainable within purely natural terms.
I wouldn't call this a philosophy book though the author does use the philosophers as a device so he can can introduce doctors, scientist and other practitioners of the time period and show how they thought about dealing with problems of the mind.
Usually, most books I read seem to be rehashes of other books I have read but not this one. He doesn't seem to miss a person relevant to the story. That's sort of a problem with this book. That makes this book read more like an Encyclopedia presented in chronological order. I think the author missed a real opportunity by not tying his story neatly together in a comprehensive narrative. He hints at how he could have done that in the epilogue by identifying the dichotomies that exist through out his story: mind/body, nature/nurture, deterministic/free will, and secular/faith. I think he could have written a masterpiece if he took a stand on each dichotomy and wrote a book with his bias inserted and making it part of the narrative.
As it is, I liked the book, and would recommend it to others, but warn the listener that at times it seemed like reading an Encyclopedia (something I like to do, but I realize not every one enjoys that as much as I do).
I am an academic brain scientist. I got into neuroscience because of teenage interest in exactly the philosophical questions addressed in this book, in short, the mind-body problem. Most books on consciousness, however, are failures. This book succeeds where others fail because it does not (poorly) attempt to solve the problem. Rather, it is an historical account of the idea of physical substance for mentality, and all its entailments. This is not light reading. It commands attention but, it also delivers.
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