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Posts Tagged ‘William James

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”*…

 

Books hopper

As the year draws to a close, some of us like to look forward, and some of us backward—and some way backward. Last month, while working on the not-at-all-controversial Books That Defined the Decades series, I was often surprised by the dissonance between the books that sold well in any given year and the books that we now consider relevant, important, or illustrative of the time. I repeatedly regaled my colleagues with fun and interesting facts like: “Did you know that in 1940 the best-selling book of the year was How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn? That was also the year The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Native Son came out!” They made me stop eventually, and so I compiled all my comments into this very piece…

Some general takeaways:

1. The biggest bestsellers of any given year are not necessarily the books we remember 20, 30, 50, or 100 years later. (Something to remember when your own book goes on sale.)

2. Sometimes books take a little while to work themselves onto the bestseller list. Books suspiciously absent from the list of the year they were published sometimes show up in the next year, likely due to paperback releases and/or word of mouth (or they may have simply been published too late in the year to compete with the spring books).

3. People like to read the same authors year after year.

4. John Grisham owned the 90s.

5. There are so very many books, and we have forgotten almost all of them.

Here’s to remembering (the good ones, at least)…

A century of best-seller lists, compared with the books published in the same years that are well-remembered today: “Here are the biggest fiction best-sellers of the last 100 years (and what everyone read instead).”

* Haruki Murakami

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As we turn the page, we might spare a thought for Henry James III; he died on this date in 1947.  The son of philosopher and psychologist William James and the nephew of novelist Henry, he was an accomplished attorney, administrator (manager of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and Chair of TIAA), and diplomat (e.g., a member of the Versailles Peace Conference).

But like his famous elders, he also wrote– in his case, biographies, for one of which (a life of Charles W. Eliot) he won the Pulitzer Prize.

HJ III

Henry James III holding his sister, Mary Margaret, in his lap (source)

 

Written by LW

December 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”*…

 

As a neuroscientist, I am frequently asked about consciousness. In academic discourse, the celebrated problem of consciousness is often divided into two parts: the “Easy Problem” involves identifying the processes in the brain that correlate with particular conscious experiences. The “Hard Problem” involves murkier questions: what are conscious experiences, and why do they exist at all? This neat separation into Easy and Hard problems, which comes courtesy the Australian philosopher David Chalmers, seems to indicate a division of labor. The neuroscientists, neurologists and psychologists can, at least in principle, systematically uncover the neural correlates of consciousness. Most of them agree that calling this the “Easy Problem” somewhat underestimates the theoretical and experimental challenges involved. It may not be the Hard Problem, but at the very least it’s A Rather Hard Problem. And many philosophers and scientists think that the Hard Problem may well be a non-problem, or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein might have said, the kind of problem that philosophers typically devise in order to maximize unsolvability.

One might assume that as a neuroscientist, I should be gung-ho to prove the imperious philosophers wrong, and to defend the belief that science can solve any sort of problem one might throw at it: hard, soft, or half-baked. But I have become increasingly convinced that science is severely limited in what it can say about consciousness. In a very important sense, consciousness is invisible to science…

Yohan John on “Why some neuroscientists call consciousness ‘the C-word’.”  Via the always-illuminating 3 Quarks Daily.

* Erwin Schrödinger

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As we muse on mind, we might spare a thought for Mary Whiton Calkins; she died on this date in 1930.  A psychologist and philosopher, Calkins studied psychology at Harvard as a “guest” (since women could not officially register there in her day).  Though she completed all requirements for a doctorate, and had the strong support of William James and her other professors, Harvard still refused to grant a degree to a woman. She went on to become the first prominent woman in her fields:  After leaving Harvard, she established the first psychology laboratory at a women’s college (Wellesley), and later became the first female president of both the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical Association.

 source

 

Gumby: “Do you want to try it, Pokey?” Pokey: “No thanks, I prefer grass”…

source: L.A. Times

If you have a heart, Gumby’s a part of ***YOU!***
– Gumby Theme Song

Art Clokey, the creator of the whimsical clay figure Gumby, died in his sleep Friday at his home in Los Osos, Calif., after battling repeated bladder infections, his son Joseph said. He was 88.

Clokey and his wife, Ruth, invented Gumby in the early 1950s at their Covina home shortly after Art had finished film school at USC. After a successful debut on “The Howdy Doody Show,” Gumby soon became the star of its own hit television show, “The Adventures of Gumby,” the first to use clay animation on television.

After an initial run in the 1950s, Gumby enjoyed comebacks in the 1960s as a bendable children’s toy, in the 1980s after comedian Eddie Murphy parodied the kindly Gumby as a crass, cigar-in-the-mouth character in a skit for “Saturday Night Live” and again in the ’90s with the release of “Gumby the Movie.”

Today, Gumby is a cultural icon recognized around the world. It has more than 134,000 fans on Facebook…

Instead of flowers, the family suggests contributions in Gumby’s name to the Natural Resources Defense Council, of which Art Clokey was a longtime member.

“Gumby was green because my dad cared about the environment,” his son said.

Read the whole story in the L.A. Times (January 9, 2010), more about Art here, and more about Gumby here.

As we recall that in the end we’re all “just clay,” we might raise a toast to the Pragmatist-in-Chief– American psychologist and philosopher William James (brother of novelist Henry James and of diarist Alice James); William was born this date in 1842.  James’ theories of interrelations– recognized in his day as importantly novel, but problematically weird– seemed, on the heels of Einstein’s work, to have been positively prophetic.

William James

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