Saturday, May 24, 2014

Finished (E-Reader) - "10% Happier - How I Tamed the Voice in my Head" - Dan Harris

I saw an interview on TV by Dan Harris promoting his book "10% happier" which explores his journey in the high stress, low security world of TV journalism toward meditation.

The book is interesting, as is the journey, as Dan Harris is not someone you'd typically associate with "finding" eastern religion or taking part in trendy meditation practices.

He was assigned the "religion beat" for his news agency when the religious right began to be organized enough to affect elections in the U.S., and was well placed to be prominent in the early 9-11 news stories about the Taliban.  Through these religious investigations he met a large number of people who had different visions, some were charlatans, and many who truly seemed to believe what they were selling (and some who were both).

Along the way he interviewed several current-day proponents of meditation, who seemed to defy ageing and to be quite centred and happy in a stressful world, without being '60s holdovers on communes.

As Harris' life became more stressful, and he began to explore drugs to assist with the constant stress, he came close to losing it all.  He reluctantly began to explore the methods that he was covering in his job and found that he was better able to handle issues (e.g."respond" not "react").  He honestly explores how this change in philosophy interacts in an industry that would typically sneer at these actions, and how his journey was not a linear success story.

What I like about the book is the understated title - "10% happier" not "This will change your life"-type hype.  The title is a bit of a joke, as it was stated in that form as a humorous answer to people probing on his new perspective, though the "no preach" and "worked for me" approach is a much better sell to me than the slicker-marketed campaigns often shown.

Finished (E-reader) - "The Future of the Mind" by Michio Kaku

I've liked Michio Kaku's books - my first being "The Physics of the Impossible" where he discusses degrees of impossibility (or improbability) and goes through various "mysteries" such as psychic abilities, and assesses their viability in the realm of possibility.

"The Future of the Mind" likewise covers current technology and neuroscience, but is unafraid of looking future-ward to see what possibilities lie ahead.  Can we create a computer that exactly models the brain?  If so, is it conscious?  Do quantum processes affect (or create) consciousness?  Do we have any basis for communication with alien species (e.g. do we share enough commonalities to have a framework for communication, or do the different evolutionary paths diverge enough that there is no common ground)?

Each chapter is relatively self contained, and provides enough background for the reader to understand the arguments given.  The reader is not expected to remember the brain structures and their functions, that information is clearly explained in order to take the next leap (e.g. discussing feedback loops, the structures defined, and making a link to mental illness or increased intelligence).

All in all, a good and interesting read that stimulates dormant brain regions and provokes interesting hypotheses and discussions.

Catching up on "Sirens" - TV Series

I saw the ads for "Sirens" a TV series partially created by Dennis Leary, and it looked like a modern take on "Police Squad" or some other "Airplane-like" slapstick comedy.

I was surprised that the series is actually a little deeper.  Not changing into a drama, or a '60's remake of "Emergency", but a comedy based upon paramedics in Chicago.  The characters are stronger than I would have expected from the ads, and the writing is pretty good.