Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What I'm Reading: A History of the Mind

This book is another one I picked up ages ago but then never got around to reading until now. Like Vodka Neat, it's pleasantly surprising!

Mine doesn't have this attractive cover; it came from the local Goodwill in a Very 90s Edition. The dust jacket on mine (yes, it's a hardcover!) has long since vanished, but I can tell you right now it wasn't this nice understated one.

Many of the books I've bought at that Goodwill over the years seem to be of a rather unique genre: the "course textbook that no one will buy back from you" genre. However, this one is a nice departure from expectations in that it is obviously more of a "pop science"/"pop philosophy" read than something heavy and dull, printed on tissue-thin paper in a tiny font. I'm only about halfway through but I already know that I'll be keeping this one around for re-reads!

Humphrey's focus is less on proving some kind of thesis about the mind-brain divide, and more on trying to document how our brains and minds may have come to be. If there is any kind of thesis being presented, Humphrey seems to be advocating for a middle course between Cartesian dualism and pure physicalism, mostly by proposing the idea of the mind and brain as parallel processes. In particular, he focuses on the distinction of sensation (the base level data received via bodily sense organs) and perception (which seems to me to be more or less qualia: the higher level organization of, and reaction to, sensations). Humphrey argues that we can have both, and that usually the latter depends on the former, but that we can also have one without the other.

Sometimes he derails into what seem to be irrelevant asides (color, ESP), but he also engages with a long, on-going philosophical discussion about brains, minds, and selves: Dennett, Nagel, and Wittgenstein all keep his speculations pretty firmly grounded.

Definitely glad I finally got around to this one!

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