April 29, 2016

Are you a vulnerable feeler or a thinking doer?

How do you know that your friends and family aren't mindless zombies? Does your cat love you like you love it? Does God ever get hungry?

This book won't answer those questions but it will make you think outside of the box and ask even more questions which in my opinion is awesome. The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters by Daniel M. Wegner and Kurt Gray was a fun ride. These two psychologists look at what makes up a 'mind' and who should be entered into the mind club (e.g. plants wouldn't be included). In the opening chapter, there was a little chart which represented how mind is measured by agency (mental abilities such as self-control, morality, communication, etc) and experience (capacity to feel hunger, pain, desire, pride, etc). I had never looked at the world in this kind of framework before and it was fascinating to see that God has a lot of agency (He is seen as all powerful and knowing) but no experience (God doesn't crave a cheeseburger or a nap). This had never occurred to me before but now it seems obvious that humans consider God to be a member of the mind club but he is not a full member like we are because he has no experience.

Here's the chart in question:

From page 12 

Each chapter investigates a different mind to see if they warrant entry into the mind club. The chapteres cover such topics as animals, the silent (those in vegetative states or locked-in), the dead (yes, dead people), robots (THE SINGULARITY IS NIGH), and at the very end of the book the self (that's us). The book was chock full of data from studies conducted by those that the authors worked with as well as from other academic sources. I liked this because it shows that they weren't just theorizing without anything to back them up. However, if you're going into this looking for concrete answers about what makes up the 'mind' then you're barking up the wrong book. Much like philosophy, the book reads like a thought experiment where many things are posed but nothing has a definitive answer. And that's fine! The book was fun and fascinating. I'm definitely going to comb through the Notes to get some more book recommendations (my one complaint was that the Notes weren't more expansive...it's just a standard bibliography where I'm accustomed to annotations). If you like thought experiments and/or you're interested in the psychology of the mind then this book is right up your alley. XD

Also, the authors are hilarious. Check out this passage:

From page 240

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

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