Book Reviews - Spring 2016

I Think, Therefore ...

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How much can we really know about the mystery of ourselves?

Photo illustration by Stephanie Bastek from a 1619 illustration by Robert Fludd (Wikimedia Commons)

By Kathryn Tabb

February 29, 2016

The Tides of the Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness by David Gelernter; Liveright, 320 pp., $26.95

On Being Human: Why Mind Matters by Jerome Kagan; Yale University Press, 320 pp., $35

Sometimes it takes an expert to recognize when expertise is not enough. In his preface to The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness, David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, explains how for years he tried to answer crucial questions about the nature of consciousness through computer modeling. But while computation can ape reasonably well our rational thought, he argues, what makes us human is our capacity to move up and down a spectrum of consciousness, from the crisp attention we feel when wide awake to the aimless associative states of drowsiness and daydreaming. Therefore, in The Tides of Mind, Gelernter employs not algorithms but introspection, personal reflection, and an engagement with a broad range of literary sources.

Similarly, Harvard developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan has offered up a new collection of essays that shake off the scholarly apparatus of his discipline. On Being Human: Why Mind Matters is unencumbered by thickets of citations, and instead takes as its model the essays of Montaigne.

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Kathryn Tabb is an assistant professor of philosophy at Columbia University, specializing in the history and philosophy of psychiatry.

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