In this episode of his podcast, Sam Harris interviews his wife Annaka about her new book, Conscious. This book explores the current state of the art of our knowledge about the nature and purpose of consciousness.
In this interview, they go over three main “interesting” questions she poses in the book, and the answers she gives to these questions.
How could any amount of non-conscious stuff become conscious in certain arrangements?
Is there anything we can observe from the outside which proves conclusively that something/someone is conscious?
Lying by Sam Harris makes the argument for radical honesty. This is an interested book which is very different from his previous books, but connects to them on the theme of reasonable and rational discussion of their topics.
Religion, he seems to imply, can only exist in a world where people are comfortable lying to themselves and others. His actual argument in this book is simply that we should be honest, and that it’s always better to be honest.
Letter To A Christian Nation is a very direct critique of Christianity from the perspective of rational Americans. He attacks head on the basis of Christianity and its many arguments, as well as the argument that it is a good thing for anyone.
There are many very excellent arguments in this book which I am already using and will continue to use. This is a book that any atheist or humanist should read.
The End of Faith was Sam Harris’ first book. He published it while he was still a graduate student. This book is an excellent indictment of Christianity in America and the many externalities it perpetrates on the world.
I think if I had read this book twenty years ago, it would have had a dramatic impact on my intellectual journey. As it stands, I already agree with essentially every point he makes. Still, it was a good read that will help me to consider deeper rebuttals of Christianity and its arguments.
There are two huge takeaways for me from this podcast interview. The first is Slot Rattling. The guest is Adam Grant, a organizational psychologist and professor from Wharton. He talks about Slot Rattling as a psychological phenomena which explains a person’s behavior when they identify themselves at a certain undesirable point on a spectrum of a given trait. The reaction is to initially jump all the way to the extreme opposite on that trait. But that isn’t quite right either. The person then tries to find the perfect spot on the spectrum which they are comfortable with. The lesson to take from this example is that there is no correct spot. And by considering other dimensions such as flexibility, we may find that we are sometimes in different spots on that spectrum.
The example that jumped out at me was straight-identified guys who want to do things outside of that identity. They often jump to hyper-masculinity as a defense mechanism which Freud would call reaction formation. Then they move away from the extreme by looking for acceptable alternatives that can fit within their narrative. Freud would call this sublimation. Overall, this is a super interesting concept which I will refer to, often.
The second thing that jumped out at me was Cognitive Appraisal as a useful tool for mitigating anxiety. Anxiety is the anticipation of future discomfort. It comes with a heightened state of arousal in the Reticular Formation. The thing is that the Reticular Formation which moderates arousal is separate from the Amygdala which moderates emotion. The Amygdala is part of the default mode network and subject to executive function. We can choose to change emotions, if less easily the accompanying state of arousal. Grant suggests redirection your attention away from focusing on the anticipation of possible future discomfort to the anticipation of possible future success or pleasure. This seems like a really great idea which I will try to practice.
The most recent book in The Expanse series is easily one of the best so far. The last couple books have felt a little flat, and felt like they were setting up the next one. This one is what they were setting up. It’s full of action and has an ending. Many of the major arcs see significant development. Many story lines are tied up by the end. It’s a very satisfying read.
You can get the audio book for free here or by asking me for a copy.
I first heard about this book in a presentation given to my social justice class by another student. Then I heard about it through a book club which many of my friends attended.
You can get the audio book for free here or ask me for a copy personally.
This book does a great job of exploring many important concepts surrounding white fragility. As a sociologist, I have often wondered how to best articulate some of the things which DiAngelo explores in this book. Reading this book gave me many new tools for exploring these important concepts, not just from a critical perspective but also from a normative one. This book gives many hints for how to be a better white person.
Critically, almost all of these concepts translate to any system of oppression to one degree or another. All systems of oppression work the same way. So any privileged group within a given power dynamic will demonstrate some or all of these fragility behaviors. I think of this as a key lesson from this book.
Since reading it, I have already recommended it to many people who are looking to learn how to better articulate many of these concepts. I have also observed many non-sociologists who read this book making very eloquent and well articulated sociological arguments using this book as a foundation.
I think this book is one of the best and most important things to happen within the field of sociology with regard to white people.
The Magician’s Land is the third and final book in the Magician’s Series. It follows The Magicians and The Magician King. This book neatly ties up the loose ends left by the other two books. It takes us to a whole new level of magic and power, and it ends the series on a consonant tone which leaves you feeling a sense of completion.
You can get the audio book for free here or ask me for a copy personally. Personally, I usually prefer audio books. This one has a great reader who does the story justice.
There is a great deal in the show which is not in any of the books, and most of this book is not in the show. Maybe some of it will come later?
Overall, the Magician King is definitely the best book in the series, while this one is a close second. Definitely worth the read!
The Magician King by Lev Grossman is exactly what I hoped it would be. This is a fast-paced magical adventure book with fully developed characters working together to solve a complex existential problem. This book has all the big magical battles which the first book did not. If you got into this series looking for full-apotheosis mode magical American teenager warriors, this book delivers.
I say this as a scifi fan and a fantasy fan, but the show is great. The characters are interesting. The plot continues to build and get more exciting. Recently I’ve found myself trying to think back to previous arcs and glean some idea of what is coming next. Reading the books seemed like an obvious next step. I was surprised by what I liked most about the book. You can use this link to get the audiobook for free.
Just like the show, the book has interesting characters and great storytelling. The production quality of the audiobook was really high, which definitely helps make it a better experience.
The show is a much condensed version of the more in-depth book series. This is pretty common. Some characters were combined together or eliminated entirely. Many plotlines were shrunk down or eliminated.
But what really impressed me was the way the author writes. Obviously this can’t really come through in the show. For example;
“Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.”
The author uses a lot of contemporary teen vernacular and slang, but it never feels forced. This makes the writing feel at once accessible and crafty. It’s hard to explain. I found myself laughing or judging or feeling what the author wanted me to feel. This is uncommon for me as a reader. I tend to read with a certain emotional stoicism. This author does a good job of getting under my skin.
One of my favorite things about the way these stories are written is that the settings of the scenes are often very banal. These aren’t people who are generally on crazy adventures. They’re just doing the normal things people do most of the time. The characters also talk about normal language being similar to magic. The words we speak on a daily basis have great power to heal, to harm, to destroy, to change the world around us.
Basically, this book makes me think magically about everyday life. Too often we are caught up in our lives and unattentive to the impact of our words and deeds. We all have the magical power to give joy and comfort and happiness to those whose paths we cross. We should!