Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

Blog: awalkingdelight)

Being You (A New Science of Consciousness)

By: Anil Seth

Narrated by: Anil Seth

Anil Seth (British professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.)

Anil Seth’s “Being You” is a difficult book to understand, in part because of its subject, but also because it requires a better educated reviewer. Consciousness is defined as an awareness of yourself and the world, a state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings that emerges from one’s brain. Seth explains neuronal activity of the brain correlates with what “Being You” is you. Seth argues that without neuronal activity, there is no you.

Seth suggests the conscious self operates with a Bayesian view of the world.

Bayes’ theory is that decision making is based on rules used to predict one’s decisions. The example Seth gives is a person living in the desert who sees droplets of water on his lawn and presumes it either rained, or his sprinkler was left on when it should have been turned off. He looks outside and sees his neighbor’s lawn is wet and, with that added information, decides it must have rained. Then he notes his window is dirty and maybe he is not seeing water on his neighbor’s lawn. This reduces the possibility that it rained but not enough to change his mind about it having rained last night. The point is that one continually changes their state of understanding (their consciousness) based on added information.

The difficulty of a Bayesian view of consciousness is that human decisions are a function of human perception of data that is never 100 percent complete.

There are three fundamental weaknesses with a Bayesian view of the world as the prime mover of consciousness. One, humans do not always see clearly. Two, all that is seen is never all that there is to be seen. And three, human minds tend to pattern what they see to conform to their personal bias. The third is the most troubling weakness because, like in police line-ups used for eyewitnesses to identify perps when a crime is committed, mistakes are made. Eyewitnesses are no guarantee for identification of a criminal’s crime. None of this is to suggest Seth is wrong about what consciousness is but it shows consciousness is eminently fallible and only probabilistic.

Seth’s theory of consciousness reinforces the public danger of social websites that influence the public, particularly young adolescents trying to find their way in life. Their search for social acceptance leads them to internet sites that may lead or mislead their lives.

Another fascinating argument by Seth is that the mind is not the source of emotion. He suggests the mind is informed by the organs of the body. The heart begins to race, and adrenalin is released as somatic markers that send signals to an area of the brain that makes fight or flight decisions. Emotions do not originate in the brain. The brain responds to the cumulative effect of the body’s physical and chemical signals.

Seth notes various studies of human decision making that are based on external stimuli with a belief that the primary purpose of consciousness is to survive. Two methods of consciousness measurement are IIT (Integrated Information Theory) and PHI, a number meant to measure quality interconnections between bits of information of a given entity. The resulting number — the Phi score — corresponds directly to a measurement of an entities level of consciousness. A reader/listener should not be discouraged by this technical digression. Much remains in Seth’s book that is more comprehensible and interesting.

Seth explores some of the tests used for consciousness. The mirror test is one in which a living thing is shown itself in a mirror to see if it recognizes the image of itself.

Monkeys show some signs of recognition (dogs do not) which suggests a greater level of consciousness among primates. He notes the evolution of human perception of the world through the eyes of artists like Monet, Mach, and Picasso who see nature’s colors and planes of the face or body in the material world. One thinks of Monk’s insightful “Scream” that reminds some of life’s terror. He shows how a stationary drawing seems to have movement because of a trick of consciousness.

Seth shows how an inanimate rubber hand can be made to feel like a part of the human anatomy by stroking one’s real hand at the same time the experimenter strokes a rubber hand.

Seth expands that principle to show how consciousness can create a full body illusion like that of a Star Trek transporter that sends their body to another planet. A whole host of social problems can be created by image teleportation. Being able to create a perfect duplicate of one person that is televising false information might start a rebellion or start a war.

Seth argues humans have free will and that the brain’s pre-cognition for action is not because of pre-determination of life but a delay inherent in consciousness which is gathering information before acting, just like the sprinkler story alluded to earlier. As noted earlier, to Seth, consciousness is a Bayesian process, not a predetermination of action.

The end of “Being You” addresses Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity”, “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Seth expresses concern and an element of optimism. The evolution of the beast machine bodes a possible end, an adaptation, or an evolutionary change of humanity.

Seth touches on research being done on cerebral organoids, artificially grown miniature organs resembling the brain.

Presently they are being used to model the development of brain cancer to aid in its cure but how far is this from the next step in machine learning, supplemented by the implantation of cerebral organoids?

The beast machine is consciousness.

Genetics discoveries and research hold the potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of human life. Artificial Intelligence is on the precipice of a marriage between all information in the world and sentient existence of beast machines. The beast machine will have greater potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of life.

Human consciousness has created the agricultural age, the industrial revolution and now this technological age. Humans have nuclear weapons of mass destruction that can end our world’s human habitation. The only note of optimism is that the history of human consciousness has generally led to positive changes for humanity, i.e., longer life spans, improved economic and social conditions, and new discoveries about life and living. The world is at its next great social and economic change.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains

By: Helen Thompson

Narrated by: Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson (British Author, journalist with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience.)

“Unthinkable” is a series of interviews of people who have a reputation for seeing the world and their place in it, differently. The author is a journalist.

As an investigative reporter, Helen Thompson elicits human perceptions of the world that are different from what most people perceive.

Thompson argues perception of the world comes from the mind. As synaptic activity of the mind is better understood, she infers what is real or false may become more universally understood.

Though Thomson’s interviews are anecdotal, they suggest the mystery of consciousness holds a key to mental health.

An interesting highlight of Thompson’s investigation is the existence of synesthesia in some people. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where information meant to stimulate one of your senses, actually stimulates more than one of your senses. Thompson notes people who have synesthesia may be able to hear colors, feel sound, or taste shapes. Two people with the same diagnosis may not perceive the world in the exact same way but their brains are stimulated to see more than what most people see, hear, or feel.

Synesthesia may be a mixed blessing in that it can overwhelm one’s senses, but it implies a more multifaceted view of reality.

One of Thompson’s last interviews is of a doctor who has a form of synesthesia that magnifies his empathy for patients. He actually feels some of what a patient is experiencing. Presuming the doctor’s senses are not overloaded by empathy, the patient seems more likely to be better served. If the mind’s neurological pathways for synesthesia can be identified, could empathy become instilled in every thinking being? Possibly, but the question remains whether that would enhance or burden humanity by making people who serve society emotionally drained, tired, and demotivated.

An earlier chapter addresses people who can develop “mind palaces” like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.

They can recall the minutest details of an incident and compare it with information and experience they have acquired over the breadth of their life. If neurological pathways of a mind palace can be replicated in every human mind, could humans use those pathways to recall what they have learned from past experience and education to solve human problems?

One wonders if that is not the direction of A.I. in the future. This leads to concern of life becoming more machine-like than human with the added dimension of life as machine.

A third story is of the man who believes he is dead. His conception of himself is reinforced by brain scans that show very little neuronal activity though he continues to wake up every morning and function like a human during the day. He has little emotion or hunger and feels comfortable spending the day in a cemetery among those whom he feels are fellow travelers. Through medication, his neuronal activity is re-established, and he becomes more aware of his existence among the living.

A third story is of the man who believes he is dead. This anecdotal story reinforces belief that life is all in the mind.

There are more bizarre stories, but the underlying theme is life is defined by consciousness. Examples are given to show how parts of the brain are interconnected by neurons that pass information to the body about human existence in the world. The inference is that as humanity gains knowledge of how this interconnection works and which parts of the brain control neuronal activity, it will be possible to change human life. The impossible question to answer is whether that change will have good or ill effects on society. Of course, that may be moot if humanity cannot come to grips with the harm that is being done to the world’s environment.

This is a book one may set aside as an anecdotal journey into bizarre human anomalies.  On the other hand, it affirms the importance of understanding everyone is part of humanity. It seems search for understanding of consciousness is essential for the continuation of human beings, whether mentally disabled, psychotic, neurotic, or diagnostically normal.


Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

The Data Detective

By: Tim Harford

Narrated by: Tim Harford

Tim Harford (British Author, Master’s degree in economics, journalist.)

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis. Sounds boring, just as the title “The Data Detective” but in this day of media overload Harford castes a warning. Be skeptical of conclusions drawn by statistical data, whether accumulated by business interests, science nerds, or algorithms. Think slow because thinking fast obscures understanding of statistical analysis. Above all, be curious when reading a statistical analysis that either adds or subtracts from your understanding. With that admonition, Harford offers ten ways to question the veracity and truthfulness of statistical analysis.

Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis.

Harford argues it is important to investigate a writer’s qualifications as an analyst, and the “how, why, and when” data is collected. As the famous economist Milton Friedman said, “Statistics do not speak for themselves.” Or, as Mark Twain made famous, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It appears Harford agrees with Friedman, but not Twain, because he believes understanding a statistical study can reveal possible or at least probable truth.

Dr. Cuyler Hammond and Dr. Daniel Horn were smokers up until they finished their statistical report that correlated smoking with cancer.

Harford gives an example of statistical reports that correctly correlated smoking with lung cancer. Cuyler Hammond’s and Daniel Horn’s 1952 statistical study led to the 1964 Surgeon General report that confirmed cancer’s correlation with smoking. The disheartening story Harford tells is the tobacco industry’s purposeful effort to deny correlation. The tobacco industry’s methods were to suggest other causes, like auto exhaust or other carcinogens, as likely causes of lung cancer. They created doubt, whether true or false, which poisons belief in statistical studies.

Like the cowboy Marlboro smoker demonstrating a healthy image of a smoker, advertising obscures facts. The smoking industry successfully created doubt.

Harford explains personal investigation based on curiosity and detective work is necessary if one is looking for a probability of truth.

American free enterprise is created to produce product, service and jobs while making enough profit to stay in business. Sometimes those goals interfere with truth.

As human nature would have it, some businesses care less about truth than profit. This is not meant as a criticism but as an affirmation of human nature.

Harford explains there are many statistical studies purporting rises in crime, inequality, poverty, and medical health that need to be closely examined for validity. He argues every conclusion drawn from statistical surveys that contradict interest-group’ or individual’ belief should be closely examined. The methodology of a good statistical study must be understood within its era, its compiler’s biases, its stipulated human cohort, its conclusion, and its tested repeatability by others.

Harford challenges the supposition that violence has increased in America. This is undoubtedly music to the ears of elected officials who resist national gun control measures. Harford and the famed psychologist, Steven Pinker, suggest statistical analysis shows violence of earlier history is greater than in the 21st century. Harford acknowledges this is no comfort to the heart-rending reality of a child lost to suicide by gun or the horrendous school shootings of the last 3 years. As Horford explains statistics do not register human grief. Statistics are an impersonal unfeeling view of human life.

Harford does not read statistical surveys as truth but as a roadmap for discovery. He looks at a statistical survey like a detective searching for details. Who are the gatherers of the statistics? How were they collected? Why are they relevant? What period do statistics represent and do they relate the present to the past? Without answers, Harford argues statistical surveys are no better than propaganda.

Harford offers a graphic example of the context needed to clearly illustrate the value of statistical studies. The history of America’s invasion of Iraq and its human cost is dramatically and comprehensively revealed in one statistical picture.

Harford’s story shows how graphics can capsulize a statistical truth that shocks one’s senses. Simon Scarr summarizes a statistical report on deaths from the Iraq war with one graph.

Harford advances his view of the metaverse and its growing role in the world. He gives examples of Target’ and Costco’ algorithms that tells a father his daughter is pregnant, and infers a wife’s husband is cheating. A Target algorithm sends a note to a father about the pending birth of a baby based on his daughter’s purchases at the store. Costco sends a rebuy message for condoms to a wife when she calls and explains they never use condoms. Both stores apologize for sending their notes and say their stores made auto-response mistakes. Harford notes email apologies are a common response of stores that use similar algorithms.

Harford notes the irony of a metaverse that invades privacy with algorithms that can easily mislead or affirm societal trends or personal transgressions.

The last chapters of Harford’s book reinforce the importance of statistical studies by recounting the history of Florence Nightingale’s heroic hospital service in Turkey during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Harford explains Nightingale’s interest in mathematics and association with luminaries like Charles Babbage (an English polymath that originated the concept of a digital programmable computer). Nightingale’s hospital service and interest in mathematics lead her to correlate patient’ diseases with causes. The hospital to which she was assigned by the U. K. was without proper food and water. The hospital was dirty, and disease ridden. She had two objectives. First to have food and water supplied, and second to clean the hospital. Her statistical analysis made her realize cleaning was as important as food and clean water in reducing contagion among her patients. Like the statistical analysis of smoking and cancer changed smokers, Nightingale changed nursing.

Florenvce Nightingale (1820-1910, English social reformer born in Italy, Founder of modern nursing.)

“The Data Detective” is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public.

This is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public. With poorly or intentionally misleading statistical studies, opposing interest groups harden their political beliefs.

Harford concludes with an appeal to discordant interest groups to be curious about why they disagree with each other.  Reputable statistical analysis can improve one’s belief in probable truth and decrease echo chamber‘ adherence of disparate interest groups.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Extended Mind

By: Annie Murphy Paul

   Narrated by: Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).

Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.

From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.

This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.

Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.

Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.

Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.

She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.

Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.

Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.

After brief experience as a high school teacher, some of what Paul explains makes sense. The difficulty is implementing her ideas when trying to balance the variety of student strengths and weaknesses with their social and economic difference.

Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.

Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.

She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.

Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.

Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Door

By: Magda Szabo

Narrated by: Sian Thomas

Magda Szabo (Hungarian novelist, 1917-2007, died at age 90)

“The Door” is a story of the human psyche, and religious belief. Every human has a locked door in their consciousness, behind which life’s meaning is hidden.

Often, neither individuals nor acquaintances have a key to that door. Magda Szabo creates characters searching for that key. To some listener/readers, her primary character has the key. Emerence Szeredas is Szabo’s primary character who, some may argue, has keys to other’s doors, as well as her own.

Emerence is a mysterious community caretaker. As Szabo tells her story, listeners find Emerence has lived an eventful life.

She realizes much of life is out of her control but believes that which is under one’s control should be controlled absolutely. Emerence lives in an apartment. Her front door is locked to outsiders–excerpt in a rare circumstance when a fugitive needs to be hidden from the world because of societal transgression. Emerence becomes a place of temporary refuge for societal transgressors in a hidden room in her house.

Emerence cracks the door of her life for a writer who is married and needs help with her household. The writer asks Emerence to become her housekeeper.

The slight opening to the writer of Emerence’s psyche ends in tragedy. Through many years of work and acquaintance with the writer, Emerence reveals personal information about her life. Emerence resists opening her locked door but counsels the writer on how she should live her life. Emerence becomes close to the writer and plans to leave the contents of the house to her when she dies.

Emerence has a stroke. She refuses help from anyone and refuses any food or medical assistance while recovering behind her closed door.

She refuses to allow anyone, including the writer, to come into her apartment. She quits eating and is near death. The apartment begins to stink of pet excrement and rotting food. The writer chooses to organize the community to break down Emerence’s door and force her into a hospital for care. Emerence threatens to kill anyone who tries to knock down her door. In great distress, Emerence wields an axe, inadvertently smashes the door to her apartment, and is unable to stop the community from taking her to the hospital.  

Now that Emerence’s door is broken, both metaphorically and physically, she blames the writer for invading her privacy and denying her the right to die as she chooses.

The writer interferes with Emerence’s fundamental right to control that which she can control. Emerence heatedly explains to the writer that her wish to die behind her door is her choice.

Emerence is saying she has always been in control of her life and if she wishes to die, it is her business, no one else’s.

Emerence is recovering in the hospital. She refuses to talk to the writer. The writer cannot grasp Emerence’s reasoning. The writer feels she saved Emerence’s life. What the writer did not understand is Emerence’s need to be in control of what she can control to give meaning to her life.

Despite Emerence’s physical deterioration, neglect of pets in her house, and the unhealthful condition of her surroundings, in her apartment she had control of her life. Survival in the hospital, the stinking condition of the house, and her physical disability became an embarrassment to Emerence. To Emerence, if she had died in the house, the embarrassment would mean nothing because she would be dead. With survival, Emerence’s locked door would be opened for all to see, a circumstance beyond her control.

Emerence is told by the hospital that she will not be released to return to her apartment. She is to be sent to a convalescent facility. She refuses with anger and physical reaction that ends her life on terms she chooses.

“The Door” appears in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated into French and English. It raises many questions about life, faith, and individual rights. In this age of “right to die”, Szabo’s story has particular relevance.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

By: Lisa Feldman Barrett

Narrated by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Lisa Feldman Barrett (Author, Ph.D, Research in psychology and neuroscience.)

Lisa Feldman Barrett gives one pause about thinking they know something about the brain.  Contrary to what some researchers have suggested, Barrett believes the brain is not segmented into three functional areas. 

Barrett suggests experiment confirms the brain is a singular organ, functioning as a network that controls human thought and action based on experience and memory. 

Barrett argues the brain is not for thinking but for survival. 

Barrett’s interpretation of Darwinian evolution suggests brains evolve based on random events.  A human brain evolves into a network of axons and dendrites that are not segregated but coordinated to preserve human existence.

However, Barrett notes that non-use or lack of firing by a neuron will render it dormant. Key to maintenance of neuronal activity is repetitive firing. (Parenthetically, Barrett notes solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment for that reason.) Firing multiplies the bushy ends of the neuron (the dendrites) which can become lifelong connections for thought and action. Barrett suggests the early years of childhood should be filled with opportunities to learn through different experiences. She believes exposure to different languages at an early age makes later life language-learning easier.

Barrett explains–through environmental influences human brains wire themselves to the world.  Each wired connection comes from repeated events that substantiate the principle of neurons firing together to become wired together.  If neurons are not stimulated, they become dormant. Barrett argues brain plasticity is based on neuronal activity which suggests different areas of a brain can be retrained to repair some functions of a damaged brain.

Barrett explains human brain’ function evolves over much longer periods of time than other mammals. 

Barrett notes neuronal activity evolves in humans over the first twenty or more years of their lives.  This longer period of evolution allows more flexibility in neuronal activity than is inherent for other species of the animal kingdom.

The mixed benefit of a longer period of neuronal evolution is evidenced by a calf, giraffe, or deer that can walk soon after birth while a human takes two to three years.

The benefit of longer neuronal evolution is a human child’s time to increase and improve neuronal connections based on wider experience. Though humans may not learn to walk as quickly as a baby Giraffe, they learn more from the changing environment in which they live.

Barrett goes on to argue that words spoken by one person to another modify brain function based on one’s experience and memory.  This reinforces realization that words do matter.  When one is constantly criticized or ridiculed, the impact of words on human behavior is highly consequential.  Barrett explains occasional criticism has little effect on neuronal activity, but repetitive criticism can significantly impact the way a brain’s neurons wire together with permanent effects on human behavior. 

This gives credence to psychotherapeutic treatment to discover why humans act as they do.  Psychotherapy offers a mechanism for changing one’s behavior.  This harks back to Barrett’s notes about brain plasticity.

Barrett believes every human being has a “body budget”.  That budget is added to or subtracted from by neuronal activity that is grounded in human relationship.  Barrett argues humans are social creatures. Barrett infers relationships have great consequence on how humankind views and lives in the world.  She argues human relations can either add or subtract from one’s body budget. 

The question becomes–what relational qualities add or subtract to one’s body budget?  Barrett infers love and empathy add while hate and apathy subtract from the body budget.  Becoming the best of who we are seems up to us.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Uniquely Human

By: Barry M. Prizant PhD

Narrated by P.J. Ochlan

Barry M. Prizant, Phd. (Author, adjunt professor at Brown University, authority on autism disorders.)

Many are familiar with the existence of a neurodevelopment disorder called autism.  In a 2015 “Global Burden of Disease Study”, it is estimated that 1-2 people per 1,000 may be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. 

Prizant notes it affects more males than females and has a wide range of exhibited symptoms.

“Uniquely Human” is an excellent introduction to autism.  Prizant explains how symptoms are manifested, and how parents, teachers, and the public can help those within and outside the autistic spectrum. 

Autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  Faulty synaptic connections in an autistic person’s brain affects their way of thinking and acting.

Prizant notes the importance of listening to a person on the autistic spectrum and asking questions to understand their thought and action. 

Prizant becomes an investigator by asking parents, teachers, and acquaintances of their experience with a particular autistic person.  By questioning, Prizant can find why an autistic person acts or reacts in a particular way. 

Prizant explains that a person on the spectrum is no different than any human being. An autistic person is thinking and acting based on facts they perceive and how they interpret those facts. 

If something is thought of as a threat, all people act in similar ways.  The principal difference is that one on the autistic spectrum may be interpreting information differently and reacting in accordance with their unique perception.    

When one realizes how information is being interpreted by someone on the spectrum, it is possible to work on reactions that seem wrong for the circumstances.  Prizant goes through several examples.  Being fearful of a boat ride, a particular corner of a street, or meeting strangers may make one who is on the spectrum act out.  With understanding of an autistic’s perception, one can desensitize and change behavior through explanation, environment change, or avoidance. 

In the case of the boat ride for the autistic child, Prizant suggests explaining the safety measures to be taken, adding a comfort toy on the trip, and showing that many friends will be on the boat.  In the case of a scary corner, Prizant discovers that a white building at the corner reminds the autistic person of a trip to the doctor when he was ill and in pain. Explaining to the frightened child that all white buildings are not the same abates fear of the corner. With more careful understanding of an autistic person’s perception, the object of fear can be addressed directly.  Being afraid of strangers is true of many people whether on the spectrum or not.  Knowing there is fear means one can address that fear by gradually introducing friends that do not have to be feared.

The difficult realization in Prizant’s book is that there are so many commonly understood social conventions assumed by people that are not comprehended by those on the autistic spectrum.  Social conventions are often poorly defined or not taught. 

Social conventions like not saying what you think when it embarrasses a person in front of other people comes from experience, not teaching.  This is just one example of how difficult it is for an autistic person to cope with life because societal norms are not precisely defined.  Those not on the spectrum, take societal norms for granted based on their experience.  Prizant notes a person on the autistic spectrum experiences life differently.  They may be completely unaware of social conventions.

Prizant offers tools for understanding and working with all human beings, not just those on the autistic spectrum.  Whether one is autistic or not, it is important to listen, investigate, and understand why people think and act the way they do.  It might be because that person is on the autism spectrum.  That does not mean those who are not on the spectrum may also interpret facts in a way that is inconsistent with most people’s understanding.

Many experiences early in one’s life have consequences later in life. A child remembers a father’s or mother’s rebuke as an eternal judgement when the reality may have been to protect a child from harm.  The shadow is created and remains with the child for the rest of his/her life.

Understanding human beings can only come from listening and questioning what a person thinks and why they act the way they do.  Easy to say, but time consuming and unlikely to be done in this increasingly fast-paced world.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-destructive Behavior


Written by: Richard O’Connor, PhD

Narrated by: Fred Stella


In 1971, Brickman and Campbell coined the term Hedonic Treadmill to explain that people have a baseline level of happiness, regardless of what occurs in their lives.  That definition infers winning the lottery, or being diagnosed with cancer have opposite happiness quotients–one joyfully positive; the other horrendously negative.  The Hedonic Treadmill theory suggests happiness will return to a baseline level of individual happiness when the initial joy or sorrow subsides.

Toward the end of Richard O’Connor’s book, “Rewire”, the term Hedonic Treadmill is used to infer that America’s materialist predilection is like a psychological cul-de-sac; i.e. a mental trap with only one exit. O’Connor explains, in a different way, that the cul-de-sac is created by life experience that imprints memories that become automatic responses to current events.

This reminds one of David Hawkins expressed belief in “Letting Go”. 

O’Connor argues that rational behavior is unconsciously modified by subconscious imprinting from early life experience. The only exit from the cul-de-sac is to leave the way you came, recall how and why you entered, and teach your brain not to take that turn again.  This reminds one of David Hawkins expressed belief in “Letting Go”.

More fundamentally, O’Connor infers American society is more materialistic today; and, as a consequence, Americans are more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.

O’Connor argues that Americans are more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.

Rewire offers a great deal of information about causes and cures for individual mental dysfunction in America.  A reader or listener may disagree with O’Connor’s causal analysis but his examples of psychological dysfunction can be seen in one’s self and in others.  What makes “Rewire” interesting is O’Connor’s suggested cures, based on thirty years of experience as a therapist.

What makes “Rewire” interesting is O’Connor’s suggested cures, based on thirty years of experience as a therapist. O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice. 

O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice.  As an example, he explains the utility of the 12 step program designed by Alcoholics Anonymous for addicts to avoid being trapped in a mental cul-de-sac.  The AA steps are 1) Admit powerlessness, 2) find hope, 3) surrender, 4) take inventory, 5) share your inventory, 6) become ready, 7) ask God, 8) make a list of amends, 9) make amends, 10) continue your inventory, 11) pray and meditate, and finally, 12) help others.

Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being in their 12 step process, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to an individuated baseline happiness.

Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being in their 12 step process, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to an individuated baseline happiness. 

drug use in war
O’Connor suggests drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem. 

O’Connor suggests drugs may be used to treat mental illnesses like depression for immediate results but that underlying causes need to be revealed to change longer-term aberrant psychological behavior.

O’Connor notes that drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem.  With knowledge of triggering events for depression or addiction, behavior can be retrained to make the mind react differently.

O’Connor cautions the reader/listener to understand that negative triggers may be ingrained over years and will not disappear without repetitive behavioral training that avoids or consciously assesses negative emotional triggers.  The key to success is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for depression, or aberrant behavior, automatic.

O’Connor argues the key to success in rewiring the brain is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for depression, or aberrant behavior, automatic.

O’Connor offers several mental exercises to change how the mind works.  Rewire is an insightful book but one wonders if O’Connor is not on the Hedonic Treadmill he criticizes.  After all, one presumes the book is only selling to people who can afford it, and read it.  Rewire seems unlikely to help all who are on the real American treadmill–those who cannot afford the book, pay a therapist, or practice its contemplative methodology.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

By: Robert Wright

Narrated by Greg Thornton

Robert Wright


Robert Wright emboldens Darwin’s theory of evolution in “The Moral Animal”.  Wright argues that Darwin infers evolution is biological, an all-inclusive generative theory.  Not only is humankind evolving physically through natural selection, it is evolving psychologically.


Wright suggests every human action in life is determined by evolution.

The import of that conclusion is that all life is pre-determined at birth by evolution.  Humans, like all others in the animal kingdom have no free will.  Life is physically and morally pre-determined by evolution.  Unlike Richard Dawkins, Wright wastes no time creating the idea of memes (inherited social customs) as a determinant of behavior.  Wright suggests every human action in life is determined by evolution.  In other words, Wright is saying “the devil did not make you do it”, and God is only a false construct of human evolution.

Wright argues that all life is based on arbitrary evolutionary changes in reproduction.  Physical (genetic) and psychological (motive) changes that reinforce survival are pre-determined controllers of human behavior. Wright’s experimental evidence for physical evolution is research on human remains.  His evidence for psychological evolution is advance in biological science.


The discovery of endorphin, serotonin, enzyme, and other chemical interactions that effect human behavior are markers for evolutionary change in human psychological influence and control.

Biological research shows that chemical interactions in the human body effect psychological behavior, just as genetics effect physical being.

Physical and psychological correlation with evolution changes one’s view of civilization and its discontents. It is not only suggests the death of God’s omniscience and control, but the death of free choice.  Humans are born programmed; programmed to be good and evil. Humans kill, cheat, lie, and steal.  At the same time, humans build cities, create art, love others, and sacrifice their lives for something greater than themselves.

Without God; without free choice, where is morality, where is good will, where is value in living?  Wright suggests morality evolves into normative ethics, an ethics of pleasure as long as pleasure’s pursuit does not harm others.  Wright’s idea is that humans level their moral behavior using a “tit for tat” penalty/reward system designed by evolution.  A precursor of this philosophy is inferred by Epicurus in 4th century BC but evolves into utilitarianism in the 19th century.


Without God; without free choice, where is morality, where is good will, where is value in living?  Wright suggests morality evolves into normative ethics, an ethics of pleasure as long as pleasure’s pursuit does not harm others.

Wright argues that humankind historically demonstrated sympathy, empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt remorse, and justice.  Whether evolutionary or God-given, these moral beliefs are historically exhibited by civilization.

Civilization benefits from these feelings. Wright argues that penalties for violating rules of doing no harm to others are a part of a “tit for tat” evolutionary psychology that sustains civilization.  Whether this idea reflects God, evolution, or free-choice; “tit for tat” offers a morally grounded philosophy that has pragmatic and utilitarian value. It helps humans feel better or worse, depending on their side of the “tit for tat”.

Wright suggests Freud was on to something in the idea of id, ego, and superego.  Wright endorses Freud’s suggestion of homo sapient need for social interaction and the libidinous nature of humanity.  However, Wright believes Freud took the idea too far when suggesting humans have a death instinct or Oedipus complex.  Neither a death instinct nor Oedipus complex makes sense in an evolutionary world where replication of life is the essence of being.


English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author.

In summary, like Richard Dawkins, Wright is saying human beings are only replicating machines; without God; without free will, and dependent upon the arbitrariness of natural selection.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons


3 star symbol
Written by: Robert M. Sapolsky

Narration by: Mike Chamberlain


Robert Sapolsky’s “A Primates Memoir” is a masochist’s guide to Africa. (Our 2017 trip to Africa was luxurious in comparison.)  Sapolsky’s trip is what you would expect from a biological anthropologist who sojourns to Africa in the early 80s.  Sapolsky lives in a tent while studying baboons.

Our stay in Africa is luxurious in comparison to Sapolsky’s in the 1980s.

At the age of 12, Sapolsky appears to know what he wants from life. In his middle-school years, he begins studying Swahili, the primary language of Southeast Africa.

Sapolsky’s career is aimed at understanding Southeast Africa.  Sapolsky’s 1984 PhD. thesis is titled “The Neuro-endocrinology of Stress and Aging”. Presumably, his trip to Africa became the basis for his academic thesis. Sapolsky’s experience in Africa is recounted in “A Primate’s Memoir”.

Animal preserve in Southeast Africa

While studying Baboons, Sapolsky is exposed to the worst of African society. His memoir of those years touches on the aftermath of Africa’s colonization, Africa’s ubiquitous diseases, its governments’ instability, and its abundant and frequently poached wildlife.


Robert Mugabe (President of Zimbabwe)
Robert Mugabe (Former President of Zimbabwe)


Though some of what Sapolsky writes has  changed, today’s news shows characters like Robert Mugabe, and Jacob Zuma, who are accused of victimizing the poor to enrich themselves.

Some African, and other nation-state leaders around the world, are corrupt.  Many Southeastern African bureaucrats, foreign business moguls, indigenous apartheid promoters, and wildlife exploiters still walk, drive, and bump down streets and dirt trails of this spectacular continent.

Self-interest often conflicts with general economic growth and stability.  Today’s Southeast Africa is great for tourism (one of the three biggest industries) but the poor remain poor, the rich richer, and the middle class nearly non-existent.

Today’s Southeast Africa is great for tourism (one of the three biggest industries) but the poor remain poor, the rich richer, and the middle class nearly non-existent.

Sapolsky returns to Africa after marrying. He squires his science and marriage partner to revisit a baboon troop he was studying in the 1980s. At the same time, he touches on the cultural norms of a society that seems little changed from his early years in Africa.

Sapolsky recounts the melding of a tragi-comic story of an African who is mauled by a Hyena. In telling the story, he reveals the stoic acceptance of life as it is. However, each time the story of the mauling is told by different people, it changes. The change comes from a blend of truth and fiction that conforms to the tellers’ view of themselves. The essence of the story is that an African man sleeping in a tent is mauled by a Hyena looking for food.

Re-telling of an African story changes with each narration–The change comes from a blend of truth and fiction that conforms to the tellers’ view of themselves..

When the story is told by Masai warriors hired by a company to protect its employees, the victim is saved when the Hyena is speared by the Masai warrior’s courage. When the story is told by the victim, it is a company cook who bashes the Hyena that runs away. When the story is told by a newspaper reporter, the Masai warriors were drunk and not doing their job; the cook bashed the Hyena, and the victim survived. When the story is told by the cook, the victim’s yell brings the cook to the tent; the cook grabs a rock, bashes the Hyena, and the Hyena flees. Finally, when the story is told by the company employer, the victim is not an employee, the Mesai warriors did spear the Hyena, and the employer had no responsibility for the victim.

A cultural interpretation is inferred by these many versions of the same story. Some humans indulge in alcohol to escape reality. Most humans wish to protect an idealized version of their existence. News coverage is sometimes a mix of truth and fiction to make stories more interesting than accurate.

Life is happenstance with each human dealing with its consequence as an end or beginning that either defines, or extends their understanding of life. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Some people are willing to risk their lives for others. Private companies focus on maximizing profit and minimizing responsibility.  Life is not an either/or proposition despite Kierkegaard’s philosophy.  Humans are good and bad; no one is totally one or the other–not even America’s morally corrupt and ethically challenged leader.

Sapolsky shows that baboon families, like all families, are born, mature, and die within a framework of psychological and physical challenges imbued by culture. All lives face challenge but culture can ameliorate or magnify the intensity and consequence of the challenge.

The overlay of Sapolsky’s memoir is the research and reported evolution of a baboon family in Southeast Africa. He shows that baboon families, like all families, are born, mature, and die within a framework of psychological and physical challenges imbued by culture. All lives face challenge but culture can ameliorate or magnify the intensity and consequence of the challenge.

Sapolsky gives the example of Kenyan “crazy” people who are hospitalized, treated, and fed to deal with their life circumstance. In America, it seems “crazy” people are left to the street. The inference is that Kenyan “crazy” people live a less stressful life than American “crazy” people. This is a positive view of Kenyan culture but there are ample negative views in Sapolsky’s memoir. Rampant poverty, malnutrition, and abysmal medical treatment are Sapolsky’s recollected examples.

Sapolsky’s memoir shows he clearly lives an unconventional life, but it seems a life of purpose. What more is there?