A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves

Robert Burton, Author
Robert A. Burton, M.D. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-25-000185-6
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-250-02840-2
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In providing a critical overview of recent advances (and false starts) in neuroscience, the former chief of the Division of Neuroscience at the U.C.S.F. Medical Center at Mount Zion examines the inherent difficulties and flaws of the field, which attempts to unravel the workings of the mind. Much human behavior that seems willful is actually the result of unconscious brain states, Burton (On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not) argues, and those aspects that constitute the experience of the “self in action” are in fact components of “an involuntary mental sensory system.” On the other hand, the strictly physiological explanations, in vogue at the moment, for various aspects of the mind are doomed because the mind is both “felt experience” and an “abstract concept,” neither of which are “fully accessible to traditional scientific inquiry.” Written in a relatable style that balances hard science with philosophy and speculation, Burton’s project is not so much to criticize his peers in the neuroscientific community, but rather to emphasize that “a humble acknowledgement of the limits of inquiry should be the first step in the study of the mind.” It’s an important point, but readers may be disappointed by the lack of specific directives for further study. Agent: Andrew Stuart, the Stuart Agency. (Apr.)
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