A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, Blind Lake
Well, I was in the library the other day and I saw a very interesting book on the shelf, picked it up, realized a split second later that I'd read it few months ago - so I said, hmm, I really want to use my blog to at least remember what I read! So, here goes, just some books that I've been reading since I last posted 5 (!) months ago.
A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, by V. S. Ramachandran
My dad kept quoting the ideas in this book. At first I was reluctant, because the last book he got me into (Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe) turned out to be, well, too much of a slog. But this was turned out to be a real breeze, the neuroscientist author talking about peculiarities of the human mind and cases of rare neurological disorders and what they might teach us about how the mind works. Yes, a lot like some of Oliver Sacks' stuff, but still fun to read.
Most interesting is how scientists set up truly ingenious experiments to try to test certain neurological functions (using a mirror to trick the mind into thinking a paralyzed limb is moving, for example). Also, the part on synesthesia (cross-referencing perceptions, like seeing colors in numbers or sensing tastes in shapes) leads to an interesting suggestion on how metaphor may be a form of synesthesia. The part on neurological bases of art (neurasthetics, he calls it) is a bit iffy but the final part on meta-representation (the brain makes representations of what happens in the world but it takes meta-representation to make conscious interpretation of these representations) rings true. A short and easy-to-read book, but by the time I finished, I felt I got more out of it than from other, "heavier" books.
Blind Lake, by Robert Charles Wilson
Ok, now this is the book that I picked up off the shelf and realized that I had already read and enjoyed! This is the second book I've read by Wilson, and I found it a lot better than the first one (Chronoliths). While Chronoliths had great momentum and a very interesting premise (gigantic monuments appear, apparently having been sent back in time by a future megalomaniac ruler), it really petered out at the end for me.
Blind Lake was equally intriguing (possibly sentient computers record observations of truly alien life that scientists try to interpret) and held its own all the way to a gripping ending. The various threads (are the computers sentient and how are they actually getting these observations? are the aliens real and what do their actions signify? how do scientists grapple with subjectivity? why has the observation station been completely isolated and how does the society of scientists and administrators deal with it? does the 9-year old girl with a tenuous relationship with reality actually touch upon a deeper reality?) are developed well and the characters are interesting. Really a recommended read.