Featured New Release Of The Week: Spite by Simon McCarthy-Jones

This week we are looking at an alarming and disturbing book showing insights that have the potential to control humanity ever more subtly. This week we’re looking at Spite by Simon McCarthy-Jones.

You’ve Heard Of The Imitation Game. Meet The Ultimatum Game. McCarthy-Jones does a phenomenal job in this text of analyzing what exactly spite – which he defines as a behavior that harms both oneself and the other – is, why it is seemingly necessary for human advancement, how it seems to have come to be, and even some of the biological bases of the behavior. In the process, he gives some startling and many times counter-intuitive insights on how exactly spite manifests, often using a tool developed in the 1970s called The Ultimatum Game as the basis of the science. Both a fascinating and disturbing book, this could potentially provide saavy operators yet more ways to control the masses in ways that most wouldn’t even realize they are being controlled – and yet by exposing these methods to the masses in question, gives us ever more effective tools to question the propaganda we are so incessantly bombarded with through so many modern communication channels. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Forgetting by Scott A Small

Intriguing New Science. For much of human history and even for much of the last few hundred years – when our scientific knowledge has seemingly gone into warp drive itself, sleep was said to be nothing more than the land of dreams, that humans could work at peak efficiency without much of it at all. Forgetfulness, even in many circles now, has been seen as a negative of various extremes, from embarrassing to debilitating.

But what if we’ve had it all wrong, and forgetting is actually one of our more *useful* adaptations? What if sleep actually plays a significant part of this process?

Here, neuroscientist Small examines what we’ve learned – in many cases, much of it over the last decade in particular – about just how imperative forgetfulness is to the very existence of the human body and human society more generally. From the social/ societal benefits all the way to the molecular, intra-cranial benefits, Small examines it all in a text that is clear enough to work in the “popular science” realm while still giving plenty of technical and precise details. Very much recommended.

This review of Forgetting by Scott A Small was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: Take A Chance On Me by Beth Moran

Not What You Expected, But What You Need. As is often my norm when getting ready to write reviews, I had a look through the existing ones first. And so many were so critical of this book claiming it was effectively a bait and switch and had too many characters.

Now, I’m a man that can have and has had a dozen different books going, and can easily track what is happening in all of them. I’ve compared my (Autistic) mind to an AEGIS threat detection and tracking system before – able to track *far* more things than most can even readily know is happening. I also happen to be the child of two people who each have more siblings than our lead female does here, so again, I’m used to large families and tracking everything. But yes, if your mind is smaller in scale and can’t cope with a dozen ish important characters… you’re going to struggle with this tale. For me, this was actually fairly normal and I thought the dynamics were very solidly portrayed, with no characters feeling unduly flat, other than perhaps the children that were only in a scene or two. (And even then, within those scenes the children in question felt quite alive.)

As to the “bait and switch” of “claiming to be a romance” and actually presenting a “women’s fiction”… The timing for me was actually quite interesting, as in a prominent multi-author book group on Facebook, one of the founding authors asked *just yesterday* what kind of endings people preferred. Of 416 responses across 8 options, with multiple selections allowed per voter, over 2/3 of the respondents to this particular (18 hr old at the time of this writing) poll responded with some form of “surprise me (174) / give me something to think about (75) / messy endings are fine (17) / pull lots of threads together (15)”. So at least in this particular group of readers, I honestly think most of them would be along the lines of how I personally felt about this: I personally thought it was a wonderful tale of life, love, and other mysteries. (Kudos if you get that reference, you’re awesome! :D) YES, if you are an RWA purist, this book will NOT fit all of the RWA rules for “romance”. If you argue (as I do) that Nicholas Sparks writes romances that are often *far* more emotional and loving than many RWA-pure romances and thus should be considered romances themselves… you’ll be fine here. (Though note: This is NOT a tragedy ala Sparks, but that is as close as I get to revealing anything here.) Further, examining the description and even genres listed by the publisher on Amazon, I find no evidence of them claiming this is a romance novel. Instead, the marketing tagline is that you will get a “life-affirming and uplifting tale of love, family, friendship, and risking it all for happiness”.

I would argue that the tagline given is *exactly* the book we ultimately get, and thus any claims of being led to expect one thing and being given something else (aka “bait and switch”) are ultimately baseless and indeed utterly absurd.

For me, this book was a very solid, very fun tale with aspects not seen in many other places, including struggles with childlessness, fostering, different takes on what it means to be married/ have a happy marriage, and even, yes, its central premise and ultimate resolution thereof. For me, this was a book that completely worked from top to bottom, and enough that I personally will be on the look for future books from this author. Which means that, of course, this book is very much recommended.

This review of Take A Chance On Me by Beth Moran was originally written on February 4, 2021.

#BookReview: A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins

Amazing Discussion Marred By Myopia In Its Final Act. This book, by the guy that created the Palm Pilot (who has since turned to study neuroscience, which he had wanted to do from the beginning apparently), describes the intriguing new theory of how the brain works that he and his team have crafted very well. Hawkins does a truly excellent job of making the advanced theoretical neuroscience he works with approachable by all, from those who have barely ever heard of the word “neuroscience” to his colleagues and competitors in the field. In discussing the neuroscience leading up to the “thousand brain” concept and in discussing how the “thousand brain” idea directly impacts computing and artificial intelligence, Hawkins is truly amazing. The perils come in the third act, when Hawkins begins to apply the theory and what he believes it could mean directly to humans. Here, he begins to sound both Transhumanist and Randian in his claims of absolute certitude that certain beliefs are false – even while actively ignoring that by the very things he is claiming, there is so much that we simply cannot know – and therefore, logically, there can be no true certitude on these claims. While it was tempting to drop the overall work another star specifically for how bad this particular section is, ultimately the sections of the book leading up to that point are so strong that I simply can’t go quite that far. So read this book through Parts I and II, just be aware up front that Part III is the weakest section of the book and could easily be skipped entirely. Recommended.

This review of A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins was originally written on October 17, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Idea Of The Brain by Matthew Cobb

This week we’re looking at a comprehensive overview of the science of the most important part of the human body. This week, we’re looking at The Idea Of The Brain by Matthew Cobb.

This was an interesting look somewhat reminiscent of Radley Balko’s The Rise of the Warrior Cop or Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes in that it takes a particular field – in this case, neurotypical neuroscience – and gives a rundown of the history and current issues in the field. As an academic work, it is more lively than some, though lacks a narrative focus that some less accustomed to academic treatises would likely prefer. Overall though, it does a solid job and seems to be truly comprehensive – reading this will give you an idea of what mankind has thought about the brain from the earliest recorded histories through at least some cutting edge research.

Structurally, the book spends quite a bit of time from the earliest histories through 1950 before pivoting to spend most of the rest of the text in the last 70 years of research. Whereas the pre-1950 material is largely divided by time period, the post-1950 material is divided by approach – an interesting dichotomy, but it works. Finally, Cobb wraps up with vague generalities of where the field might be heading.

Of particular note to this reader is the discussion or lack thereof of other researchers in similar avenues that I have read over the last few months, including Richard Masland’s We Know It When We See It, about vision and perception – which Cobb never cites, but discusses some common research as it relates to perception – and Henry Markram, former head of the Human Brain Project and discoverer of the Intense World Theory of Autism. Cobb is particularly critical of Markram and the Human Brain Project, without ever mentioning his contributions to the field of neurodivergent research. (It seems that Cobb has been working from a competing approach, studying simple brains in an effort to understand more complex ones, vs Markram/ HBP’s efforts to digitally model the entire human brain.)

Overall, truly an outstanding overview of the general case of the field that doesn’t bother concerning itself with “special cases”, within its mission this is truly a solid book and is thus very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:

Comprehensive Review of The Field. Cobb seems to do a spectacular job here of giving a general overview of neurotypical neuroscience, from the earliest ways man thought about his brain and cognition to the most current of state of the field in some situations – one citation in particular was from 2019! He doesn’t really address neurological divergences at all, instead focusing on the brain as it is understood for most. But within what he decides to address, this book seemingly gives a very solid, very comprehensive overview of the actual science of the brain. Decently easy to follow as long as you’re ready for an academic review, this book really does what it sets out to do, no more, no less. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: The Boy Who Felt Too Much by Lorenz Wagner

Fascinating Yet Complicated. I seem to be the first Autistic person to be reading this book, at least from reading the available English language reviews on Goodreads after finishing the book yet prior to writing my own review.

Overall, the story is about Henry Markam, his relationship with his son Kai, and how that led to one of the most revolutionary “discoveries” in modern neuroscience: Intense World.

I personally refuse to call this a “theory” because it is fact – a fact which pretty well any Autistic Adult that can communicate can tell anyone who asks. And through this section of the book, roughly the first 2/3 of the text, this is a SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS level AMAZING book. SOOO many times I wanted to literally go to skyscrapers and shout to the world “READ THIS BOOK AND UNDERSTAND ME AND MY PEOPLE!!!!!”. And even with this being something like book 135 or so on the year for me, those level of reactions are indeed rare.

But then we realize that Markram isn’t just trying to *understand* Autistics. He wants to “cure” us. Which is genocide. The text tries to couch this and make Markram and his second wife (and research partner) seem more benevolent, but at the end of the day their research is focused on the eradication of my people.

Along these veins, the recommendations the Markrams make about how Autistic children are to be treated is horrible bordering on monstrous – they want a world devoid of any stimuli other than carefully screened, carefully controlled ones, as they believe that to do otherwise is to “trigger” the development of Autism in young children.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but neither am I neurotypical. I may not be able to point to the exact chemical processes within my brain the way the Markrams can, but I can explain what I understand to be happening within my own skull better than most of my fellow Autistics (though there are some far better than even myself at this).

So I have to say, regarding the back 1/3 or so of this book, to take it with about a boulder of salt. The relationsip aspects amongst the Markrams seem genuine, and the overall goals of creating a legitimate simulation of the mammalian – and specifically human – brain are commendable and needed. But the post-Intense World proscriptions on how parents should raise their children? Take it about as you would any random stranger offering you advice – do some independent research before you commit to an action, and in this particular case… *ask an Autistic adult*, or better yet: several of us.

Overall a highly recommended yet ultimately flawed book, the front 2/3 of it are simply too good not to recommend the book as a whole.

This review of The Boy Who Felt Too Much by Lorenz Wagner was originally published on September 29, 2019.