December 26, 2008

Psyched out: more from the Goat Rope book shelf

You know who. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Tis the season at this blog to discuss the waning year's reading material. I don't know about y'all, but it's been a good year of psychology books at Goat Rope Farm. One of the best was Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, which filled up a lot of blogging days round here this past summer. I'd put that one on the "must read" list.

A fun overview of research in the field can be found in Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Her book led to me some classic Old School psychology, such as Leon Festinger's 1956 classic study of cognitive dissonance When Prophecy Fails, a case study of a UFO cult that miscalculated the date of the end of the world.

One of the most interesting books of the year was Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Pinker demolishes certain misconceptions enshrined in some models of social science and in some "left" circles. These include a denial of the legacy of our animal past and some of the nastiness that might entail (the blank slate), the belief that people in a "state of nature" are peaceful and holistic (the noble savage) and the idea that mind is independent of brain (the ghost in the machine). Some bubbles need busted.

For something completely different, Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain takes and interesting look at people with strange and interesting musical abilities and disabilities.

I also revisited some old items on the shelf, including Man and His Symbols by C.G. Jung et al and James Gilligan's unfortunately neglected Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. Jung, by the way, was the subject of a huge but interesting biography by Deirdre Bair.


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