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Mind Wide Open:
Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

by Steven Johnson

Cutting edge brain research.

The Nature of Order:
The Phenomenon of Life

by Christopher Alexander

An essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
by Thomas S. Kuhn

The definitive work on paradigms.

Creating Mental Illness
by Allan V. Horwitz

A bold critique of our current classification of mental disorders.

Jihad vs. McWorld
by Benjamin R. Barber

Democracy, tribalism, and citizenship in the modern world.

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
by David Hockney

The History of art will never be the same.

The Gutenberg Galaxy
by Marshall McLuhan

How print technology changed the world forever.

The Art of Memory
by Francis A. Yates

Relates the ancient and largely forgotten ”artificial memory” to the history of culture.

The Age of Access
The New Culture of Hypercapitalism
by Jeremy Rifkin

Insightful.

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Mind Wide Open Soul Made Flesh
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions A Pattern Language
The Gutenberg Galaxy
Understanding Media
The Art of Memory
Prints and Visual Communication

Soul Made Flesh:  The Discovery of the Brain & How it Changed the World
by Carl Zimmer

A New Kind of Science
by Stephen Wolfram

A new way of modelling complex systems.

A Pattern Language
by Christopher Alexander

A whole lot more than a mere book on architecture.

The Future of Ideas:
The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World

by Lawrence Lessig

Freedom to think and innovate in a world where corporations rule.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order
by Samuel P. Huntington

World cultures in conflict.

The End of History and the Last Man
by Francis Fukuyama

“A provocative exploration of issues of human history and destiny...”

Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man

by Marshall McLuhan

His most famous work.

Prints and Visual Communication
by William M. Ivins, Jr.

Exactly repeatable pictorial information was equally important as the invention of type.

Emergence
The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson

Slime mold and spontaneous intelligence.

Guns, Germs, And Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond (W.W. Norton & Company, New York and London:  1997).  Diamond's book is an effort to Guns, Germs, and Steelanswer his New Guinean friend's simple question, "How come you whites ended up with all the cargo?" By "cargo" he meant the technology of the developed world.  On further examination, the question expands to, "why did the developed world, particularly Eurasia, end up with all the steel, guns, food crops, domesticated animals, and infectious diseases?"  A born naturalist who took up bird-watching at an early age, a world traveller, and a talented linguist with a PhD in molecular physiology, Jared Diamond is uniquely qualified to synthesize disparate information from fields such as archaeology, cultural anthropology, evolutionary biology, epidemiology, linguistics, physiology, and history to help us view the evolution of human societies in a different perspective. 

Historians so rarely take into account the biological constraints on civilizations that they often misconstrue the real reasons for their rise and fall.  In summing up why Africa did not develop at the same pace as Europe, Diamond states:  "In short, Europe's colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume.  Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography--in particular, to the continents' different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species.  That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate."

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Darwin Among the Machines, The Evolution of Global Intelligence, by George B. Dyson (Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts: 1997), is a remarkable intellectual tour from Hobbes' Leviathan to the Internet, touching on the history of ideas, telegraphy, cryptography, cybernetics, economics, biology, and the origin of music and language. The best way to get the feel for this book is to read some excerpts:
Darwin Among the Machines
"The step-by-step expression of evolutionary intelligence, compared to the human attention span, is immeasurably slow.  The evidence may become inescapable when speeded up.  The invisible web of connections that bind an ecology--biological, computational, or both--into a living whole begins to move at a visible pace when the machines evolve from year to year, new generations of software are exchanged in minutes, and control is exercised from one microsecond to the next.  [...]  ...our definition of intelligence is so anthropocentric as to be next to useless for anything else."  (pp. 187-188)

"Individual cells are persistent patterns composed of molecules that come and go; organisms are persistent patterns composed of individual cells that come and go; species are persistent patterns composed of individuals that come and go.  Machines...are enduring patterns composed of parts that are replaced from time to time and reproduced from one generation to the next.  A global organism--and a global intelligence--is the next logical step..."  (p. 191)

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Books on the Nature of the Self
and the Origin of Consciousness

AION, Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, by Carl Gustav Jung (Bollingen Series XX, Vol. 9, II, Princeton, 1959).  No list of books about consciousness and the self would be complete without a mention of C.G. Jung.  I have chosen this volume because it is most pertinent, but all of Jung’s works are worth reading and re-reading.  Jung’s concept of the self as the archetype of wholeness and integration, and his writings on the “process of individuation” are crucial to understanding the psychology of modern men and women.  I was unable to find this volume listed on Amazon.com, so I presume it is out of print.  Have a book search service find it for you, or check with your local used book store. 

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A History of the Mind, by Nicholas Humphrey (Harper, 1992).  Subtitled “Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness,” the book is a serious attempt to create a theory of consciousness that fits all the known data and isn’t rooted in metaphysics.  Humphrey concludes that consciousness is the result of neural feedback loops in entities that are capable of sensory perception.  His chapter on the phonomenon of blindsight is fascinating.

 

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The Prehistory of the Mind, by Steven Mithen (Thames and Hudson, 1996).  Subtitled “The Cognitive Origins of Art and Science.”  This is an excellent book on the development of mind by an archaeologist.  He provides an excellent summary of various “modular” theories of mind which posit multiple intelligences that may be autonomous or interdependent, depending on the evolutionary branch of the entity involved. When these various intelligences or modules function together, interdependently, we have a modern, conscious homo sapiens sapiens.  This is a highly speculative work, in that it tries to link the evolution of these mental modules to the evolution of the primate group that leads to modern man through a careful review of relevant information gleaned from archaeology and paleontology.  I don’t always think his analogies appropriate, but I find them helpful nonetheless.  I feel obliged to throw in a ritual gripe about modern authors’ inability to use the subjunctive tense in English, but it’s a very interesting book nonetheless.

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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston: 1976).  This book has been a major influence on my thinking for more than a decade.  Jaynes' thesis is that consciousness is a relatively recent The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mindphenomenon, little more than three millennia old.  Consciousness can be correlated with the development of connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which in turn can be correlated with the evolution of language and the emergence of writing.  This connection of the brain's hemispheres was more tenuous in early women and men, who were not conscious in the modern sense.  Jaynes refers to them as bicameral people--people with divided minds.  Jaynes theorizes that right brain communicated with left brain via the anterior commissure utilizing the mechanism of speech; that bicameral people (more or less) heard a voice in their heads that told them what to do in every situation.  This is the origin of god (s).  The voice of God told bicameral people what to do.  Jaynes' first illustration is from the Illiad of Homer:  every time there is a crisis among the Hellenes, a god appears and tells the hero what course of action he should take.  Jaynes interprets schizophrenia as a reversion to bicameral functioning--it is invariably accompanied by voices in the head which compel the victim to do things.

I read this book with great skepticism, but the further I read the more I thought Jaynes must be on to something.  He is not right in every particular and some of his terminology is awkward, but I believe he has uncovered a useful paradigm for the evolution of consciousness.  Jaynes was professor of psychology at Princeton University.  He died in 1997 at the age of 77.

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