Some notes on books I’ve read, and a collection of ones I’ve yet to read for reference. Broadly in chronological order.
Destined for War
I am a Strange Loop
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Another perspective-shifting number. This book explores the world as it happens to the central characters of the gene. I selected this book because of the nagging question of the origin of life – specifically why moving, replicating matter would bother to spring into existence – and it doesn’t disappoint (the author’s contention is that it doesn’t matter, that at some point replicating cells evolved, and they’ve been doing a good job at just that for a while.)
Highly recommended, and delivering some fascinating insights into the beauty and power of natural selection.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
I’ve never read a book so replete with breath-taking ideas. Like most people who have read this I’ve arrived at the conclusion that it’s either complete nonsense, or one of the most important theories ever proposed. In essence the central idea is that consciousness is a learned phenomena generated through language.
The book explores the notion that prior to being conscious, humans literally heard voices and saw hallucinations. Thus explaining the literary style and stories of hearing the gods on top of mountains, or from burning bushes, and the later stories of gods deserting humans.
One unexpected meta-exploration here was the question of why humans are so interested in finding answers to things like “why are we conscious” – here the book reached out and slapped me around the face – I’ve been guilty of absolutism and a desire to understand everything around me. Perhaps our very nature causes this behaviour.
I’m still processing the ideas herein, but it’s seriously affected the way I think about consciousness.
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Having read Black Swan many years ago, I was excited to have my world view shifted again, and I wasn’t disappointed.
My main learnings from this book included the understanding that large, centralised systems are almost always significantly more fragile than much smaller, self-organising ones. In fact, after relating the idea via the analogy of a souk vs. a supermarket being hit by a power cut, and how each had a different exposure to such an event, the same week I was turned away from a supermarket because of a power surge! Alas, there are no souks in Manchester that I’m aware of.
This was an interesting departure for me away from the ideas of centrally-planned components of society. I’ll probably re-read this to ensure further absorption of the ideas. Taleb is a true joy to read – an empathetic and extremely entertaining writer.