Non-fiction: formative books

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schiksalgemeinschaft
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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

Post by schiksalgemeinschaft »

I've posted a list of my favorite non-fiction books on my blog. Philosophy is not included, I plan a separate list for that.

https://schicksalgemeinschaft.wordpress ... ion-books/

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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I reviewed a great book on the anthropology of childhood. Recommended reading for all parents.

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF CHILDHOOD --- David F. Lancy (2014)

I bought David Lancy’s The Anthropology Of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings a few weeks after I learned I would become a father. It has been lying around for about two years, and as my daughter is starting to say the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’, now felt like the right time to start it. Verbally expressing preferences is a big deal on the road to personhood.

Lancy is a Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Utah State University, who wrote and edited several books on childhood and culture, starting his own research in the 1970ies. This book feels like a summary of the entire field, and can be considered Lancy’s crowning achievement. He draws on his own research here and there, but the bulk of this book is based on Lancy’s reading of countless other sources, giving it a vast scope.

On the back cover, Barry Bogin of Loughborough University puts it like this: “the most comprehensive, and perhaps only, review of the human child in terms of evolutionary biology and sociocultural anthropology. Based on the best of theory and field ethnography, it is essential for any study of human development and human nature.”

I read the 2nd edition, which adds over 750 new sources to the first edition that appeared in 2008. 750 extra sources: that should be an indication of this book’s thoroughness. There’s 104 pages of bibliography, plus a 6-page author index, a 5-page topic index and a 7-page society index – all small print. The text itself is 410 pages long, riddled with quotes from other studies.

Its thoroughness is the only critique I can muster, as sometimes this book is very detailed, chock-full of examples from across the globe. Mind you, it might be detailed, but it’s always readable, also for those not initiated in anthropology – this could easily serve as an introductory textbook. Lancy does a great job explaining everything, and each chapter can stand on its own. As a result, there is some repetition and overlap.

These minor issues are easily remedied by the reader: if some part is of less interest to you, or if you already get the gist, skimming parts of a chapter is no problem. Lancy does a fantastic job structuring: his chapters and subchapters follow a logical trajectory, with good introductions and summaries, and also the paragraphs are structured clearly and consistently. It truly is topnotch academic writing. This allows you to skim a part in confidence, without the fear you might miss something you don’t want to miss.

But all that is mainly form. What about the content?

(...)

The full review is here

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

Post by Adrian »

https://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Than-Anyo ... lathouwers
this. I always come back to its pages, albeit in Dutch (this is a translation, don't know how well it's been done...) - it was literally life altering to read this, 18 years ago. Someone you don't know and who doesn't know you, describing exactly how you feel about life and all that engages you philosophically - of course probably just me, but...
plus sonat quam valet - seneca

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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I reviewed Brian O's Rowe biography. Maybe the book's not formative, but Keith was.

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

Post by Dan Warburton »

Nice write-up sir - and thanks for including the Rowe Beins Erstlive in your top 5. Always thought that was one of his best.
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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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Definitely worth checking out for those in the field...

THE EMOTIONAL FOUNDATIONS OF PERSONALITY: A NEUROBIOLOGICAL AND EVOLUTIONARY APPROACH - Kenneth L. Davis & Jaak Panksepp (2018)

The main ideas of this book were first formulated by Jaak Panksepp, the psychobiologist and neuroscientist who became a wee bit famous outside the field for his research about laughter in non-human animals, especially laughing rats. He died before it was finished, and this volume could be considered his crowning achievement. The Emotional Foundations of Personality: A Neurobiological and Evolutionary Approach is hard to review, as I’m not really the target audience.

The book is definitely not without merit, but for the general reader there are some problems. For starters, let me try to break those down.

Afterwards I’ll highlight what this reader found to be the interesting take-aways. That list should be of interest to those readers of this blog who don’t care for criticism of this book, but do care about their emotions and their brain

1) I was generally underwhelmed. “Is this it?” seems to be an adequate summary of my basic reaction. This stems from the fact that the basic premise of this book seems so obvious. Of course our emotions are rooted in biology. Of course we share our basic emotions with other mammals. Of course these things evolved. But apparently these things aren’t considered as basic facts among a lot of psychology & personality scientists – that fact was new for me, and maybe one of the most interesting things I’ll take away from reading this. As this is first and foremost a book written for that academic community, it makes that for me a big part of the book read as a defense of the obvious. Then again, common sense is not science, and what this book does extremely well is make these insights irrefutable, drawing on lots of research papers and actual experiments.

(...)

Full review here.

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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This really changed my thinking about biology:

DARWINIAN REDUCTIONISM, OR, HOW TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE MOLECULAR BIOLOGY - Alex Rosenberg (2006)

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Kim Sterenly sketches what it’s about on the back cover:

“Over the last twenty years and more, philosophers and theoretical biologists have built an antireductionist consensus about biology. We have thought that biology is autonomous without being spooky. While biological systems are built from chemical ones, biological facts are not just physical facts, and biological explanations cannot be replaced by physical and chemical ones. The most consistent, articulate, informed, and lucid skeptic about this view has been Alex Rosenberg, and Darwinian Reductionism is the mature synthesis of his alternative vision. He argues that we can show the paradigm facts of biology – evolution and development – are built from the chemical and physical, and reduce to them. Moreover, he argues, unpleasantly plausibly, that defenders of the consensus must slip one way or the other: into spookiness about the biological, or into a reduction program for the biological.”

But for many people, including scientists, there’s a problem with materialistic reductionism, as Elliot Sober explains out on the back cover, before pointing out how Rosenberg tackles those problems.

“For most philosophers, reductionism is wrong because it denies the fact of multiple realizability. For most biologists, reductionism is wrong because it involves a commitment to genetic determinism. In this stimulating new book, Rosenberg reconfigures the problem. His Darwinian reductionism denies genetic determinism and it has no problem with multiple realizability. It captures what scientific materialism should have been after all along.”

I will not get into the nuts and bolts of every argument. Aside from a general appraisal of the book, I’ll elaborate a bit on two small – yet fundamental – elements of critique, and end with a list of nuggets of wisdom I found while reading – a list that is probably of interest to those readers not interested in the general content of this book, yet who do have a healthy interest in science.

(...)

Full review here.

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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Just reviewed a fantastic book on ethnicity. It's from 1981 and has a sociobiological approach, and it's absolutely mandatory for everybody with a serious interest in the topic.

THE ETHNIC PHENOMENON - Pierre L. Van den Berghe (1981)

(...)

Just to get it out of the way: Van den Berghe is unambiguous about the fact that ‘race’ as a workable biological category, or a category to use for social attributions simply does not exist. Nevertheless, there “is no denying the reality of genetic differences in frequencies (not absolutes) of alleles between human groups.” If you get worked up because of facts like that, this book is not for you.

Before I get to the actual discussion of its 301 pages, let me first say this: The Ethnic Phenomenon is a truly first-rate piece of scholarship, setting the paradigm for the thinking about this topic. It is thorough, honest and courageous, attempting to bring some clarity in a highly emotional debate. This is not an ethics treatise, but a scientific study, including 24 pages of bibliography and a 10-page index.

At the same time, the book wants “to exorcise ethnicity by trying to understand it”. I wonder if it could have been written today, in the age of #woke and keyboard outrage. Be that as it may, this is an important book, a landmark, absolutely mandatory for everybody that seriously studies the history and the contemporary effects of colonialism, racism, nationalism and ethnicity.

First I’ll try to give the gist of Van den Berghe’s thinking. Afterwards I’ll zoom in on some tidbits I found interesting, and I’ll end with a few critical notes.

(...)

Full 2300 word review on Weighing A Pig, here

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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Fantastic book on human development.

BECOMING HUMAN: A THEORY OF ONTOGENY - Michael Tomasello (2019)

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Tomasello’s scope is large. He ties the development of human cognition and human sociality together, resulting in synthesizing insights about social norms & moral identity. This in not only a comparative psychology book, but an important work on ethics too. Truly a tour de force, and the first theory I’ve come across that convincingly brings cognition, evolution and ethics together – not in a normative way, but by describing the pathways of how these things arise, starting with newborn babies.

(...)

At first, I was a bit suspicious of Tomasello’s claims: I have read quite a lot of Frans de Waal and the likes, and my intellectual stance the last decade or so had been to not overestimate human uniqueness – not in language skills, not in cognition, etc. I considered differences between humans and other animals basically a matter of degree.

To a certain extent this obviously still holds, but one of the merits of Tomasello is that he uses large sets of experimental data that clearly show there are two things that are unique in humans: “shared intentionality” and “collective intentionality”. Basically, the fact that we humans do things together, know that we do things together and have elaborate insights in other humans’ mental states that influence our own mental states. So it’s not only cooperation itself that is important, but the fact that it is a form of recursive cooperation.

Language obviously is important for all of this, and so this is not only an ethics book, but one that should interest linguists too. The same goes for the cultural transmission of knowledge: instructed learning basically doesn’t exist in the rest of the animal kingdom, so yes, pedagogy too.

Rather than try to summarize Tomasello’s theory, in the remainder of this review I’ll do two things: first I’ll list an extensive amount of the information I found particularly interesting – take a look I’d say, it’s the juice of this review – and I end with a short bit on the book as a book: a few words on my reading experience, not the theory itself, so that interested readers better know what to expect.

(...)

Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig.

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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Brilliant book on evolution, attempting to see if it is possible to derive universal laws from evolution on Earth, zooming in on the nature of 'minds'. Highly, highly recommended!

CONTINGENCY AND CONVERGENCE - TOWARDS OF COSMIC BIOLOGY OF BODY AND MIND - Russell Powell (1980-1983)

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For starters, the summary on the back: “In this book, Russell Powell investigates whether we can use the patterns and processes of convergent evolution to make inferences about universal laws of life, on Earth and elsewhere. Weaving together disparate philosophical and empirical threads, Powell offers the first detailed analysis of the interplay between contingency and convergence in macroevolution, as it relates to both complex life in general and cognitively complex life in particular. If the evolution of mind is not a historical accident, the product of convergence rather than contingency, then, Powell asks, is mind likely to be an evolutionarily important feature of any living world?”

Or, as the MIT website states it in short: “Can we can use the patterns and processes of convergent evolution to make inferences about universal laws of life, on Earth and elsewhere?”

The book doesn’t presuppose a lot of working knowledge: Powell takes care to explain all the concepts and the history of science & philosophy one needs to understand his arguments. As such it is perfectly self-contained, BUT, mind you: this is hardcore stuff, it is not a popular science book at all. It has 280 pages of carefully and tightly argued text, there’s not a lot of redundancy, not even on the sentence level, and as such keeping a search engine at hand while reading this is no luxury.

(...)

Full text on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It

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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

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Had a neighbour called Julie when I was still a toddler.. she was an Anthropologist and most of the people in our area thought she was a bit mad.. she was married to a man who had come from one of the places she had been researching who went by the name of Owl.
Anyway, ofcourse... My mum loved them and so they were basically family.
Must have been around 4 years old when I was given 3 very large hardback books (bare in mind I was raised on books.. my mum goes through one a day)
by julie "UNEXPLAINED MYSTERIES OF THE WORLD: An Illustrated Survey of the myths and the facts" was the one I most vividly recall having a serious impact on me.. I was absolutely fascinated with The section around the Dogon tribe (An idea ruined for me in more recent times) As well as various sections on atmospheric phenomena, plasma production.. Spontaneous combustion, Philadelphia experiment, northwood... etc etc etc the list goes on.. needless to say, it was incredibly formulative.
My dad used to read me various religious texts too as bed time stories, be it the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, The watchtower etc etc etc etc.. which were also very influential.
By the time I had hit my early teens (When I attended highschool.. so 12/13.. I dropped out of school at 15)
I had become pretty infatuated with Carl Gustav Jung (Who has a signed photo here not from me), And pawed my way through most of his literature eventually purchasing what I could afford in hardback format (Though... it doesn't come close to the volume of material available)
Along with this obsession came various other formulaic texts, most of the works by Manly.P.Hall, Rudolf Steiner, Julius Evola and the likes.
Also around this time as my obsession with Religion, Psychology, Archetypes and Origins grew I started taking more of an interest in political ideologies, working my way through the usual suspects, himmler, goebels, marx, stalin, lenin, ol adolf, and all the usual teenage philosophers ala Nietzche, Schoppenhaur, tbh this could get a bit excessive.

I haven't given too many concrete examples but hopefully enough to see where my interests were coalesced initially, I always hated the inability of many of my peers to look into anything which wasn't "on the curriculum" so to speak, eventually taking this point to the teaching staff.. which ultimately led to me finally being able to take my weeks load of work home with me on a friday, and drop it on a monday, no longer having to attend classes. (Which did have some legal predicaments for my ma, which were... soon dispelled thanks to a shite school in desperation of decent offsted reports)

So that would be my non fiction and all of that was ultimately an attempt to find something akin to the progenitor of collective unconscious archetypes.. a continuity in thought forms, patterns and metaphysical belief from the dawn of record...
And that still goes on now, I am deeply engrossed in Hinduism, Hermeticism and various tantric practices, with doses of paganism.

Anyway it's all somewhat academic and boring I imagine to most people (I've learned to just say, "ah a bit of this and that" in real life) But still go off on rambling monologues to those who know me well enough to not fall asleep (Asperger's to fuck, it's taken a long time to really... understand that it's just not for everyone) ]]]



So in regards to fiction
The early formulative fiction.... well there wasn't much, I was never too into fiction
I did have a few Iain banks books (The wasp factory being what I recall vividly) which left a slight mark on me
Ofcourse, the mandatory collection of Lovecraft and a few issues of weird tales.
But ultimately the only fictional writer which truly inspired me was William.S.Burroughs whose books still have a shelf to themselves, though haven't been read in nearly a decade now. Perhaps.. a few ken kesey novels proved influential but at a much more subconscious level, along with keats and "the classics" anything with a penguin label essentially.

Right I'll shut up that doesn't cover half as much as I'd like it to... I have a deep seated hankering to go and expand on the opening paragraph but.. this is a forum.. remember this kid, a forum.. don't write essays... make posts..

They banned me from doing this sort of thing on goregrish so..
I wouldn't take offence aha
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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

Post by Be happy »

Ah and ofcourse, True crime was a staple in the household growing up.. again more down to my ma than anything.
This definitely rubbed off on me and had me slightly obsessed with cartels, hitmen, serial killers, brazilian gangs, the chech war, ukraine atrocities etc etc etc at an early age.. this hasn't proved half as influential as the aforementioned but never the less definitely coloured my world view and had me acquire a very morbid curiosity.. proof of this influence being the copy of Ian Brady's "The gates of janus" Which sits atop my household stereo, atop an old slate/glass ouija board, between trepaneringsritualen and whitehouse
I keep the bits like this I have at the house in a wardrobe though (Everything at the smallholding is proudly displayed) but my partner has a son with downs syndrome so... best to keep such things away from him :p

and now
I will spare you all anymore of my rambling and make sure not to come to this section of the forum again
Many thanks
Behappy
Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can throw away all they believed in have any chance of escape.
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Re: Non-fiction: formative books

Post by Be happy »

schiksalgemeinschaft wrote:
Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:55 am
I've posted a list of my favorite non-fiction books on my blog. Philosophy is not included, I plan a separate list for that.

https://schicksalgemeinschaft.wordpress ... ion-books/
Just noticed your incredible posts, very informative and deeply researched I'll definitely be checking things out and also, don't feel half as bad for my rambling now
Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can throw away all they believed in have any chance of escape.
One side is red
One side is blue
They're both full of shit
And I probably am too