PROGRAMMED OR NOT

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Livewired (The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

By: David Eagleman

Narrated by: David Eagleman

David Eagleman (Author, neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine.)

A bright future is outlined for humanity by David Eagleman in “Livewired”. His vision has to do with what is presently known of the brain and its interactions with the world. Eagleman believes what we know of the world from the physics of Newton, Einstein, and Bohr today will enhance human brain capabilities tomorrow.

Eagleman details what is known about the brain. He explains the remarkable capabilities of the brain to adapt to its environment. The neuronal activity of the brain interprets the environment in which the body exists.

The body responds to change by sending signals from the environment to the brain. The brain interprets those signals with synaptic transfer of information for thought and action.

Eagleman explains the creation of language in children begins with babbling which is testing their relationship with others and the world. The sensations they receive from verbal and physical contact are connecting their brain function to the world. The brain changes with contact from people and things in the environment.

World experience changes the brain. Change is widely dispersed by neuronal activity in the brain. Thought and action are not located in one place but in many parts of the brain. Those many parts allow memory of experience to be stored, sometimes forgotten, but capable of resurfacing in one’s thoughts or actions.

On the one hand Eagleman is saying the world is what we see. On the other, he notes the world is an interpretation of reality by the brain. Eagleman explains a brain interprets the world of events. The brain is not a recorder. It is a recreator of events.

The significance of that recreation is in unperceived facts of an event. Additionally, Eagleman notes-if an event continually repeats itself, the brain can hide the event because of the constancy of its existence. An example would be a constant machine noise at a factory or the smell of offal at a pig farm. The mind initially notes the noise or smell but if a person is exposed for long periods of time to the same event, the noise or smell disappears.

The fascinating consequence of Eagleman’s observation of brain function is the truth of events may be quite different from reality. This reminds one of the discoveries of Quantum reality which is probabilistic rather than definitive. What we see may not be what is real. The real-world impact of event recreation by the mind is the threat of misidentification of a person accused of a crime.

The brain can distort reality to create a story and a memory that are not true.

The malleability of the brain has been addressed by many in stories of stroke victims, epileptic sufferers, and handicapped people who overcome sightlessness, seizures, and hearing loss. Eagleman notes young people are quicker and more capable of adapting to these difficulties because they are not as limited by past learned experience.

Eagleman explains older sufferers have learned how to deal with life based on previous experience. That experience is a mixed blessing because it impedes new learning. The ramification is that new discoveries about the world are and will be from the young, much more often than the old. 

Eagleman goes on to explain brain input and malleability extend to all parts of the body.

The skin, the eye, the tongue can be used as a source of stimulation to aid the brain in sending signals to malfunctioning appendages. This realization has led to ways of helping patients with palsy to stabilize their condition, for patients to recover from strokes, for the handicapped to walk with a prosthesis, and for epileptics to manage their seizures.

The optimism engendered by Eagleman is explained in one of the last chapters, titled “The Wolf and the Mars Rover”. He recounts the failure of the Mars Rover because of a malfunctioning wheel that ends its productive life. The Rover is unable to decide what to do to overcome a wheel that would not work. In contrast, a wolf will chew its leg off when in a trap because its brain tells she/he will die if not released. The Rover has pre-determined limits to action. The wolf changes behavior based on brain malleability, and unforeseen environmental circumstance.

Eagleman reinforces Rovelli’s argument that information will reveal all there is to know about the quantum world, and the nature of reality. To Eagleman, that information will come from the malleability of the human brain. Despite Eagleman’s optimism, there are skeptics.

PARENTING

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Little Fires Everywhere

By: Celeste Ng

Narrated by: Jennifer Lim

Celeste Ng (American Author, Received Guggenheim Fellowhip in 2020.)

“Little Fires Everywhere” is a work of fiction addressing American wealth and poverty, freedom, abortion, discrimination, family relationship, academic education, and parenting.  The author, Celeste Ng, artfully creates two families.  The first family has wealth.  The second lives on the edge of poverty.  Both have well educated children who make big and little mistakes borne from their genetic inheritance and environment.  

The two mothers are the primary decision makers.  The mother of the wealthy family (Elena Richardson) is a reporter and college graduate. The mother of the poor family (Mia Warren) is a waitress, house cleaner, and formally educated artist who quit college. The wealthy mother has four children, two boys and two girls.  The artist mother has one daughter.  These families come together in the same exclusive neighborhood. The wealthy mother decides to offer half a duplex for rental to a mother and her daughter.  The duplex is on the same property as the single-family home in which the Richardson’s live.

Parenting

Elena Richardson contrasts with Mia Warren in most ways.  Both went to college but one graduated while the other dropped out.  Both are dominate influencers in their social interactions, but Elena is bullying while Mia is reasoning.

The Richardson boys are near the age of Mia Warren’s young daughter.  All the children are in their teenage years. 

The children in this story reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their parents.  Both family’s children are headstrong, but the Richardson family’s children rely on their economic stability in making choices about life.  The Warren family relies on their independent lifestyle and pragmatic view of the world to make choices about life.

Freedom is never absolute.

The Richardson’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, wealth, and social position. The Warren’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, poverty, and moral conscience. Abortion is a moral and social crime to Elena Richardson. Abortion is a woman’s right and moral choice to Mia Warren.  Discrimination is academic to Elena and her social circle. It is personal to Mia. The Richardson family relationships are autocratic and secretive. The Warren family relationship is democratic and selectively open, limited by the maturity of Mia’s daughter. Education to the Richardson family is important to improve one’s social position. Education to the Warren family is to broaden one’s understanding of life.

Parenting is shown to be the most difficult task of every family. whether wealthy or poor. The lifestyle of the Richardson family creates “Little Fires Everywhere”. The Warren family lifestyle implies a fire retardant. The author tells a story that reveals how difficult it is to be parent of societies’ future.

MEDIA TRANSPARENCY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lie Machines (How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.)

By: Philip N. Howard

Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Phillip N. Howard (Author, professor at University of Oxford.)

The subtitle of Phillip Howard’s book is hyperbolic. Howard offers a glimmer of hope to the public on “How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies…”  He does define the problem, but the solution is elusive.

Howard identifies interest-group’ tools used by lie machines to mislead the public. Howard shows how “Junk News”, some of which are outright lies, have consequences.

Freedom is an essential tenant of Democracy. One does not doubt Howard’s exposé on Democracy’s threat from “…Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.”  

There is the Brexit campaign that lied about thousands of pounds saved per month which Great Britain could use for healthcare. That lie is debunked by most English economists.  There is the Pizza company child pornography hoax during Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. It is clearly identified as a hoax that had no basis in fact.  Howard’s point is that lies have consequences. However, the exact consequence is often not precisely quantifiable. Did voters change the course of history by believing these lies?  Was the Brexit decision and Hillary Clinton’s loss of the presidency caused by lie machines?  Those are fair questions, but they have no definitive answer.

Is it criminal to advertise Prevagen as a memory improvement product when there is little science to prove the claim?  Is that different than an interest groups’ lie about how many pounds Great Britain will save with Brexit? Consumers decide for themselves whether a lie is a lie or just an interest groups’ bias. 

Balancing democratic freedom of speech against what Howard fairly identifies as “junk news” is impractical in the internet age.

As Howard notes, more private information is available to interest groups in the 21st century than ever before.  Government, commercial, and private interest groups are willing to pay privately held companies to gather and collate that personal information. Their ability to distort truth is enhanced by algorithms that accumulate that private information to tell others more about what we believe than what most know or understand about ourselves.   

Media moguls, like product advertisers, are selling belief with detailed information about who we are, what we buy, who we buy from, and intimate details of our lives freely given on public platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

On 4/25/22 we are advised that twitter is being purchased by Elon Musk. Musk idealistically presumes all should have a right to express their opinion. There is truth and lie in that idealism. Truth is the selective statement of facts by major news feeds like the NYT and WSJ. Lie is the statements of muckrakers like Alex Jones.

As Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s once said about pornography, “I know it When I see it”. Freedom of speech can only be regulated by the same yard stick.  A lie is a lie and those who believe in democracy can only rely on themselves for knowing a lie when they see it.

Alex Jones and conspiracy on the Sandy Hook School killings.

Howard’s examination of “Lie Machines” reveals a great deal about how lies become the basis for conspiracy theories that mislead the public.

The best one can say about Howard’s great reveal is that every citizen in any society needs to be skeptical. Ironically, Howard implies skepticism compounds the problem of “Lie Machines” by making one believe nothing.  One must ask oneself—are there special interests promoting this “fact”, is this fact a lie, should I act based on a lie. 

Howard’s solution is to require transparency from the “internet of things”.

He argues any public internet platform should be legally required to reveal the source of their information and that no information should be collected unless authorized by the provider. There is some merit in Howard’s solution. The concern is that there must be supervision of that requirement.  Who is the supervisor?  If it is government, what are the rules of enforcement?  Democracy requires checks and balances. 

Whether one is part of the government, a business, or a private citizen, all are subject to the faults of human nature.  Can a bureaucracy be created with the required checks and balances that mitigate human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige?

America is a government of laws and has prospered in part because of checks and balances that ameliorate the worst consequences of human nature. Is regulation of the internet by government better than self-regulation?  Who regulates government?

Some argue, the voter regulates government by elections.  This is the same voter that elected Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, one of which deserves high praise; the other something much less.

Revealing “Lie Machines” is the best of what Howard has to offer.  The solution revolves around transparency but the mechanism for enforcement beyond individual skepticism and “buyer beware” attitude seem invasively dangerous.

SEXUAL INEQUALITY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

American Philosophy (A Love Story)

By: John Kaag

Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg

John Kaag, (Author, Professor of Philosophy at UMass Lowell)

John Kaag’s view of romantic love seems slightly askew when taken in the context of his two books, published two years apart.  “American Philosophy” is published in 2016 while “Hiking with Nietzsche” is published in 2018.  Having listened to both, one finds “Hiking with Nietzsche” belies the conclusion of romantic love characterized in “American Philosophy”.

In “American Philosophy, Kaag professes understanding the harm done to romantic love by male self-absorption and then ignores that realization in “Hiking with Nietzsche”.

Kaag’s male self-absorption is flaunted in “Hiking with Nietzsche”.  Kaag seems quite dismissive of his second wife in his “Hiking…” adventure.

Kaag seems mostly in love with himself and his pursuit of philosophy. 

Kaag becomes an organizer of a library of first editions for the Hocking family.  The descendants wish to donate the volumes to a library of their choosing but the contents must be organized for appraisal purposes.

Kaag ensconces himself in Hocking’s library of 10,000 books with many philosophical “first edition” writings. 

The story of “American Philosophy” is about the life and times of William Ernest Hocking and his 400-acre estate in New Hampshire. 

William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966, American idealist philosopher.).

400 Acre Hocking Estate in New Hampshire

Kaag accepts the task. The library becomes a refuge from his first marriage which ends in divorce. As Kaag reviews the philosophies of greater and lesser philosophers like Emerson, Royce, Kant, and Hocking, he reflects on his failed marriage.  He concludes his failure is self-inflicted. 

As Kaag begins cataloging the 10,000 volumes, he is joined by a fellow philosopher (who becomes his 2nd wife) from a university for which they teach. 

Hocking library on the 400 Acre Estate.

What Kaag realizes is philosophy looks to the supernatural and, in its pursuit, romantic love suffers.  Kaag exhibits eating, sleeping, and drinking disorders that reflect a self-absorption that damages romantic love.  This is an ironic realization because it seems Kaag celebrates romantic love but cannot partake of it. 

Society treats women as less equal than men.  Oddly, Kaag shows understanding without behavioral modification.  This seems societies’ tragic flaw. 

Women are the equal of men, but society does not treat them equally.  The consequence is the loss of romantic love and women’s rightful place in society. The resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Putin’s militancy, Middle Eastern, Eastern, and Western society show the likelihood of change seems remote, if not unlikely.

Some argue Kaag’s book is a celebration of romantic love, but it is not.  Kaag’s story is about male societies’ inability to overcome the history of misogyny.  The implication is when women are treated as equal, society will change.  Reviewing Kaag’s two books suggests the world is not ready. 

AMERICAN MALAISE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Retreat of Western Liberalism

By: Edward Luce

Narrated by: Julian Eifer

Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)

Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America.    His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”.  If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument. 

Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.

The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories.  It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests.  Trump taps into that discontent.   

The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing.  Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.

Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services.  Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls.  Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth.  In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.

Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans.  Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few.  Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America.  The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot. 

Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration. 

Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world.  Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.

Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care. 

Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”.  The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution.  The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call. 

A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution. 

Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution.  The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task.  Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives?  Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments.  Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.

CRISPR REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)

By: Kevin Davies

Narrated by: Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)

Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins.  Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.

What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.

What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.    

CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.                                                                                        

With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible. 

Beyond the syllabus: The discovery of the double helix. Erwin Chargaff (1951): Rule of Base pairing. Rosalind Franklin & Maurice Wilkins (1953): X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA. James Watson & Francis Crick (1953): Molecular structure of DNA.
Davies notes the key to editing genes are the replication errors between DNA strands.  Those spaces are indicative of disease risk that can be modified with CRISPR, a genome editing technique.

Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life.  He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas.  From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science.  One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation.  Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars.  Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.

Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.

Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty.  Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.

Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans.  An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization.  That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.

On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease.  The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity.  The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment.  In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.

DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.

DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.

The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day. 

Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away.  Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not.  All species on earth have a finite life. 

DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea.  It is here and will be used.  Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside.  In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Great Figures of the Civil Rights Movement

By: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Hasan Kwame Jeffries

Hasan Kwame Jeffries (Author, associate professor of history at Ohio State University,)

A timely refresher on the civil rights movement is given by Hasan Kwame Jeffries in the “Great Figures of the Civil Rights Movement”.  It is timely because of the resurrection of the assassination of Malcolm X and its reification of a fundamental split in the black civil rights movement in America.

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940, publisher and jornalist, black nationalist.)

Jeffries reminds us of the movement initiated by Marcus Garvey.  Though the idea of a return to Africa has come up many times in the history of America, Garvey established a black movement for the creation of an independent African nation.

To one who believes in the principles of freedom and equality for all, the idea of equality through independence is wrong.  All humans live on space ship earth. It is the principle of our equal humanness that preserves civilization. Separate is not equal. The problem is human freedom, equality, and equality of opportunity are works in progress toward a goal of equal treatment by society. 

Women and minorities are not treated equally in America or in most places of the world.  Since America’s beginning as a republic, many believed in qualified freedom, and a few in universal equality, but equality is falsely preached by white power and never achieved.  Slavery is an undeniable truth in world history.  In America, atrocities of black slavery in the south and institutional discrimination in the north are well documented.  It is no wonder that Marcus Garvey successfully tapped into a desire of many black Americans to achieve equality through separation.  Separation’s appeal is in its potential as a base for political power. Even though that power is limited by being a faction in a dominant social and political power structure.

What Jeffries shows is that Garvey is the father of the idea of Black Power that is symbolized by the Black Panther movement in the mid-20th century. 

From Jeffries’ history, one can see and understand a more nuanced and broader American civil rights movement.  White American power did not exhibit much understanding of the black power movement in the 1960s. White America responded with violence. White America murdered Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther Chairman and local leader.  This unjust murder lies at the feet of the City of Chicago and the FBI.

Stokely Stanford Carmichael aka Kwame Ture (1941-1968, 4th Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.)

Jeffries notes the idea of Black Power came from a Stokely Carmichael’s rallying slogan in the 1960s.  (The phrase is said by some to have originated in a non-fiction book, “Black Power”, written by Richard Wright and published in 1954.) Carmichael participates in the 1961 Freedom Rides in Alabama.  They were organized by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to desegregate public transit services and restaurants.  In 1961, Carmichael and others travel to Jackson, Mississippi to sit in a segregated restaurant.  Carmichael, along with other freedom riders, is arrested for disturbing the peace. He is sent to prison for 53 days in Sunflower County, Mississippi.  Because of Carmichael’s bravery and oratorical skill, he became a full-time organizer for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).

Of course, the stars of the non-violent black movement are best known as men like Martin Luther King. 

King’s history is well known but Jeffries notes there were many black women that became extremely important to the movement for black emancipation.  Ella Baker becomes involved with the NAACP (1938-53), SCLC (1957-60), and the initial foundation of SNCC (1960-66) as a black activist and highly successful recruiter. Rosa Parks becomes the face of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.  Diane Nash, as a Freedom Rider, is known for integrating lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.  Nash is also a co-founder of SNCC.  Fannie Lou Hamer fights for women’s rights as the vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party in Mississippi.  The newly formed party successfully gets several local black politicians elected in Mississippi.  Jeffries notes the FDP is less successful on a national level, but Hamer is elected to the U.S. Senate in 1964, and later serves in the Mississippi State Senate.

In order pictured left to right: Ella Josephine Baker (1903-1986, Political activist for the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC.), Rosa Parks (1913-2005, Civil Rights Activist, best known for the Montgomery bus boycott.), Diane Judith Nash (Freedom rider and co-founder of SNCC.), Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977, Civil rights leader, Vice charwoman of Freedom Democratic Party, Co-founder of National Women’s Political Caucus.)

Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998, spent 7 years in exile in Cuba, returned in 1975, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a conservative Republican.)

Jeffries glosses over Eldridge Cleaver’s leadership in ambushing Oakland police officers (two officers were wounded) and his arrest and escape to Cuba to avoid trial.  However, Kathleen Neal Clever, who married and divorce Cleaver, became an active member of the Black Panther Party that helped feed people, provide family medical care services, and provide transportation for families to visit loved ones in prison.  Jeffries notes Kathleen Neal Clever came from an upper middle class black family and supported the early founders of the Black Panther organization with her father’s witting or unwitting financial support.

One of the most interesting chapters of Jeffries book is about Malcolm X, particularly because of the recent release of a wrongly accused assassin.  Jeffries implies Malcolm X is assassinated by the Nation of Islam.  Jeffries infers the assassination is related to Malcolm X’s disillusion with the founder’s (Elijah Muhammad) dissolute sexual behavior, and NOI’s belief that the races should be separated to form a black nation to compete with all nations. 

Malcolm X came to believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God, while arguing the separatist ideal of NOI and Marcus Garvey were wrong.  The history of Malcolm X’s journey through life is fascinating, short, and impactful.  One cannot help but wonder how Malcom X could have changed the course of history had he not been assassinated.

Jeffries could have gone further back in history to tell the story of American black nationalism but he has done a great job of identifying the history of the 20th century heroes of the movement.

BRAIN FUNCTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Secrets of Consciousness

By: Essays in Scientific American

Narrated by: Coleen Marlo

A lot of ground is covered in “The Secrets of Consciousness” but for many who are interested in the subject, little new is revealed. 

Many articles and books have been written about the easy and hard part of the theory of consciousness. 

The easy part is knowledge of the physical characteristics and mechanics of brain function–the “how and where” of information that is stored and transmitted by the brain. 

The hard part remains the explanation of what consciousness means, particularly the “whys”. Why are living things aware of themselves, others, and the world from information transmission within a brain.  Why do humans get angry?  Why do we love?  Why do we hate?  Why are we sad or happy?  Is everything in the universe conscious?

(It is somewhat surprising that “A Thousand Brains” theory is not revealed in “The Secrets…” but it may be timing of publication. Or it may be scientist’s discounting of an engineer’s qualification for understanding consciousness.)

Consciousness is explained as an all-encompassing part of nature.  There is an avenue for consciousness in A.I., once the mechanics of consciousness are fully understood. The focus of first chapters are on scientific experiments showing all living things exhibit consciousness through their actions. 

For example, bees show consciousness by seeing red and in choosing the site of their nests with an ability to consciously navigate the world.

Following chapters explain parts of the brain and the mechanics of brain function.  They explore the complexity and interconnections of the brain and how different parts of the brain have specific functions.  This is the easy part of understanding consciousness because it is something that can be physically measured through brain scans and experiments that correlate actions with brain stimuli.  

Next, there are explanations of how experiments with brain stimuli offers potential for reading one’s mind without verbal communication. 

It opens the door for a consciousness meter that may allow some level of predictability and mind control.  In a positive sense, stimulus experiments might hold a key to reawakening consciousness in comatose patients.  The negative sense is the potential for brain washing a non-conforming human being.

Section 4 of these “Scientific American” articles is about “Altered States of Reality”. 

A particularly bizarre and threatening chapter suggests someone who sleepwalks can murder another person without being legally guilty of murder.

The last two sections of articles deal with psychoactive drugs, spiritual belief, and their effects on brain function.  A listener might view these articles as incentive to experiment with consciousness in two fundamentally different ways. One is with the use of psychedelic’s. The other is to join a monastery or convent.

The last article deals with the end of life. It reveals a possible explanation of why some see a white light just before dying.

Science argues the end of life is the end of consciousness. There is nothing after death–no heaven, no hell, just nothingness.

As an introduction to consciousness, this compendium is interesting.  However, after completion, the hard part of consciousness remains a secret.

AUTISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

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.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Narrated by: Claire Danes

Margaret Atwood (Author)

For a short time in 2017-18, “The Handmaid’s Tale” mesmerized TV viewers.  A 4th and final season is planned by Hulu in 2020.  An interesting speculation in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is–what would happen if misogyny grew rather than diminished in society?  Margaret Atwood suggests misogyny will create a dystopian future. 

Atwood’s view of misogyny’s existence in the world is fulsome and complex. She implies misogyny is perpetuated and reinforced by both sexes.  Both women and men ally themselves in repression of sexual equality. 

Margaret Atwood creates a story about a conspiracy of women to repress equality by exclusively relegating women to propagation and covert management of humanity.  Males are correctly accused and guilty of denying women’s equal rights, but Atwood illustrates both sexes are complicit in suppression and enforcement of sexual inequality.

Many men and women hide behind the veil of religion and secular authority to exploit unequal treatment of the sexes. 

Atwood’s story implies men may rule the world but only under the influence and guidance of women.  Males are sperm providers.  Males possess rights to rule the world, but they delude themselves in thinking they are in control.  The relationship between the sexes makes women not only the vessel of creation but the covert controller of society. Only the female form can create human life.  In most western religions, only women were given knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden.

Love is not necessary and is a negative force in Atwood’s dystopian vision of the future. 

Atwood’s dystopian world suggests management of sexual inequality is perpetuated by women.   Atwood’s story infers God created humanity for man with women as knowledge bearers who reproduce and manage life through nature’s thicket of good and evil.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” exposes the weakness of men and the strength of women.

Atwood implies men’s weakness is in their ignorance, desire for intimacy, failure to control nature, and a wish to see themselves as more than sperm bearers.  The strength of women is in their knowledge of good and evil and how to use it to have some level of control over nature. 

Neither sex can control nature, but knowledge gives women a sharper edge for splitting the difference between good and evil.  What Atwood implies is that women’s superior knowledge of good and evil may lead to her described dystopian world.

The best antidote for a future unlike that shown in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the Socratic importance of “knowing thyself”.  All human beings are created equal.  “Knowing thyself” is the beginning of wisdom.  Neither men or women are superior beings.