Category Archives: Cognition

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist’s Odyssey Through Consciousness by Paul Broks

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through ConsciousnessThe Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist’s Odyssey Through Consciousness by Paul Broks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got a review copy of this from First To Read. The description (First line: “Paul Broks weaves together imaginative stories of everything from artificial intelligence to the Greek philosophers in order to sketch a beautiful, inimitable view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.”) grabbed me, so I requested a copy. The rest of the description follows…”When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks’s wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection […]” I had never heard of Broks so his celebrity might be localized. I am also not all that acquainted with neuropsychology, and had to do a little background research (unnecessary for reading this) to familiarize myself.

Broks writes in his prologue

This is not a conventional book and I think you should know what you’re in for.

He’s right. It’s not. Continuing:

What (I hope) you are about to read is a mix of memoir, neurological case stories, and reflections on life, death and the mind.

In short and long passages, he does all that and more.

Broks’ shares his grief following his wife’s death in PART ONE: A GRIEF OBSERVED, meandering through nonlinear memories, fantasy and myth, and talking points of his trade. (He mentions Julian Jaynes, whose Origin of Consciousness is on my to-read list, nudging the book up a notch or two closer to “eventual”.) The grief is palpable.

In PART TWO: A THOUSAND RED BUTTERFLIES, Broks delves more into his trade, musing much on the nature of consciousness between scientific research and theory and philosophical explorations. I kept having to set the book aside and digest his thoughts. One section prompted a mental WTH? and given that in his prologue he said that facts sit alongside fiction and that he thought the fictional elements were easily identified, I’m not sure if he was serious that not all humans are sentient – at least, that’s what a colleague discovered in that particular story (although…there was considerable evidence of such in 2016 and since, but that would make his 10% far too low…) I won’t spoil where the title of this second part comes from…you’ll have to find that out yourself. I admit that I was, because I am by nature, less enamored of the philosophy elements, but the stories are still good anyway.

Broks recommends reading the first chapters first and the last chapters last and the rest can be skipped around. I imagine that would work for some. I chose to read them in the order presented, and in the last section PART THREE: INTO THE LABYRINTH he mixes more myth and fantasy into his reality. He relives some final days again. Cathartic. And his concept of consciousness congeals here. The pace increases until his coda.

I enjoyed this the more I read. On one hand outside my wheelhouse and life experience. On the other, appealing to my scientific curiosity. I might have to look up Mr. Borks’ other work, but he left me with three other book recommendations that I really want to find and read first. Meanwhile, I expect to reread this again soon.

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Over the Verizon…and down rabbit holes…

A coworker likes to say, “It’s never boring”, and around our house, that’s an appropriate phrase. This week we made a radical jump: no more cable television. Yep. Cut the cord…or cable as it were. While we have a few issues with Verizon since we moved back to the states in 2007 (their customer service is deplorable), this one was totally on us.

We haven’t really been watching television, save for a couple of shows, for a long time and to pay the amount of money we were shelling out for a DVR and two set tops boxes and no movie channels was absurd. We DVR’d two shows for everyone (The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family), Once Upon a Time for Drew (though I would watch it with him), NOVA, and a few shows for Andrea that she never seemed to have time to watch. Not worth it at all.

As with many of life’s changes, Andrea makes the decision first…and I more often than not must socialize the concepts for a while before I come around. And when she sets her mind to something, she runs with it. She can spend a couple of long nights researching options and then one day I come home to a small box on the counter containing something even smaller that I have to figure out how to make work for us.

RokuThe magic little device is a Roku streaming player. And little it is, as you can see in the picture. Andrea looked at Apple TV, but we nixed that pretty quick. Too many limitations – content, recurring costs, etc. and it’s wedded to the dreaded iTunes. To be fair, Roku and Apple TV do have a common limitation that I hope someday somebody will figure out: neither can stream from VIDEO_TS folders. DVD content has to be converted into something palatable.

Connecting the Roku is simple. HDMI cable into our receiver, network cable from the router (they do have wireless versions as well.) That’s it. Then you start setting up your channels. They make it pretty painless. Now, some of the Roku channels might require fees – Hulu Plus is one we’re looking into – but the rates per month are fractions of what Verizon was charging us.

How many readers remember television antennas? All but forgotten I’d venture. It probably never occurs to the aluminum foil hat folks worrying about cell phone radiation that they are being bombarded with a constant stream of digital over-the-air broadcasts. But all those local television stations make their content available to anyone with an antenna and a digital decoder.

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Milton, Holmes, and iPods…Oh my

I’ve been reading a couple of books on memory while also listening to a Great Course (The Teaching Company) on the subject and I plan to share some of my thoughts in more detail in a later post or two, but I’ll tease a bit here after a couple of other things.

First, I have to deliberately, if for deceptive reasons, drop two names: Robert Anton Wilson and Stephen Hawking. It seems right after I wrote a piece about Wilson generating a bit of traffic on my blog (Robert Anton Wilson redux), “Stephen Hawking” suddenly became the search term most used to stumble upon my page. I figure that by mentioning and tagging both, maybe I can get new folks to find me and then stay a while. So, apologies to those led here by that infernal engine only to find nothing of what they seek. I also apologize to Stephen Hawking for pairing him with Wilson. Brilliant scientist juxtaposed with nutcase writer who seemed to not be fond of advocates of true science – oh well, sorry, Steve. Um, Stephen. Um, Mr. Hawking.

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