Thinking Meat Project reading list

Here's a reading list for the Thinking Meat Project, with a few annotations (more to come). Books are listed more than once if they fall into more than one category. I haven't read all of these, so I can't recommend them all, but they all do seem to be related to the Thinking Meat Project (some more loosely than others). Happy reading, and please email me (mary at thinking meat dot com) if you'd like to suggest a book for the list. Some of the books on the list are offered for sale in association with Amazon.com. Click a title to go to Amazon.

Recent additions Fiction and movies Consciousness Human nature
Evolution, behavior, and culture Religion The arts Emotions
Human history and prehistory Cognition Identity and meaning Personality
Brain and mind Memory Life in the universe Genes
Animal behavior and cognition Language Mating and sex Happiness

Recent additions

Best of the Brain from Scientific American: Mind, Matter, and Tomorrow's Brain
Floyd E. Bloom, ed.

This selection of 21 articles from Scientific American since 1999 covers some of the latest discoveries about the human brain and takes a look at what might be in store for the old gray matter.

The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do men and women really speak different languages?
Deborah Cameron

Don't believe everything John Gray and his ilk tell you about where men and women are from and how they communicate. This book examines popular beliefs about differences in how men and women use language, comparing them to what scientific research to date has revealed.

Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (Oxford Library of Psychology)
Robin Dunbar and Louise Barrett, eds.

The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (Bradford Books)
Owen Flanagan

Flanagan, a philosopher at Duke, tackles the question of how to find spiritual meaning without resorting to the supernatural.

The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies
Steven W. Gangestad and Jeffry A. Simpson, eds.

This collection of brief essays, written by leading researchers in the field, addresses 12 current areas of conflict in evolutionary psychology.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do
Alan S. Miller, Satoshi Kanazawa, and Stephen Hoye

See the caveat for the Richardson book below about evolutionary psychology in general. From what I've heard, this book sounds like it's full of big, sometimes provocative ideas and questions, but it's not clear how strongly supported the answers are. It looks like a fun read anyway, as long as you keep your critical thinking cap on.

Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology)
Robert C. Richardson

This book examines evolutionary psychology as a subset of evolutionary biology and finds that it falls short of providing the evidence that's expected for evolutionary explanations in biology. I haven't read it but I expect it will upset some of the evolutionary psychologists.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Oliver Sacks

This collection of essays on the subject of music and the brain displays Sacks's trademark graceful and humane style, full of compassion. He weaves his own story into those of his patients and others with neurological problems related to music, and creates a touching and beautiful set of variations on the theme of music and identity. See also the Thinking Meat review.

On Deep History and the Brain
Daniel Lord Smail

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
Philip Zimbardo

Zimbardo, in whose lab the Stanford Prison Experiment was carried out in the 1970s, has written about the circumstances in which well-meaning average people can carry out evil acts.

Fiction and movies

Novels

Darwin's Radio
Greg Bear

What happens if human evolution undergoes a sudden jump, due (as I recall it) to the activation of DNA formerly classified as "junk"; I personally found it a bit too far off the deep end for my taste, but your mileage may vary, and the ideas were interesting anyway

Permutation City
Greg Egan

The Mind-Body Problem
Rebecca Goldstein

This novel is about mathematics, mathematicians, philosophy, and the difficulty of knowing your own heart, much less another person's.

Confessions of a Memory Eater
Pagan Kennedy

This novel describes a floundering 30-something academic's experiences with a drug that allows you to relive memories with incredible vividness. (The title comes Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater.) It was an enjoyable read and it engaged my mind, but I felt somehow that it didn't explore the theme of memory and identity quite as deeply as I hoped it might. Still, it was worth reading.

Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes

Classic about a man with an IQ well below average who is given some kind of brain surgery that gives him a fantastic—but sadly brief—surge in intelligence

Vectors
Michael Kube-McDowell

Science fiction story of a neuroscientist who studies consciousness and is pushed into some strange places by an unexpected death. It was interesting but I seem to remember that it started to sound like the neuroscientist was going to wind up believing in life after death. I think this is meant to be first in a series but I haven't read any of the others.

The Cyberiad
Stanislaw Lem

Einstein's Dreams
Alan Lightman

Lyrical explorations of human experience in imaginary universes where the nature of time is different from what it is here.

The Echo Maker: A Novel
Richard Powers

When a young man suffers brain damage in an accident that leaves him with Capgras syndrome, he is unable to recognize the sister who comes to care for him. The two are children of dysfunctional parents and the novel is about the nature of memory and identity, both damaged memory and the ordinary sometimes painful memories of family life. Lots of promising themes but the story left me curiously unmoved. I wrote a review in May 2007. If you want to read something by Powers, I'd recommend Galatea 2.2 (below) instead.

Galatea 2.2: A Novel
Richard Powers

The nature of intelligence and identity is illuminated through a researcher's relationship with an AI program named Helen.

Contact
Carl Sagan

Modern-day classic about how humankind's first contact with other intelligent beings might go.

Factoring Humanity
Robert Sawyer

As in Contact, humans receive alien instructions for building a machine, but in this case the machine lets you inhabit other people's minds; to me this sounds like the advent of hell on earth (not to mention far too unlikely even for an SF novel) but the novel inexplicably describes it as a good thing. I can't recommend this one but would be interested in hearing from anyone else who's read it.

Frankenstein
Mary Shelley

Classic about the nature of life and the relationship between creature and creator

Exegesis
Astro Teller

EDGAR, an AI program designed to retrieve topical information from the Internet, "comes alive" and starts carrying on email discussions with its creator. Moving, amusing, and sad.

Spilling Clarence: A Novel
Anne Ursu

An accident at a pharmaceutical factory exposes residents of Clarence to a chemical that brings back memories with great vividness. A beautiful novel about the beauty of remembering and the necessity of forgetting.

Blindsight
Peter Watts

Passage
Connie Willis

This novel is about a researcher trying to find a natural explanation for what happens in the brain to cause near-death experiences. I read it about six months after my mother died, and it was a powerful reading experience for me. Willis's exploration of how the mind works, how it tries desperately to make order out of the chaos of its experiences even in the moments of death, was deeply moving. I started this book one Saturday evening and stayed up until around 4 the following morning to finish it. If you're not driven by a compelling personal interest as I was, you might find the story a little bit slow going in the first half of the book, but there is a plot twist partway through that should keep you going thereafter. This was an unsettling book to read, and when I finally finished in the hour before dawn, I was glad that the sky was starting to lighten and the birds beginning to sing outside my window.

Short stories

They're Made Out of Meat (Link goes to full text of story)
Terry Bisson

Funes the Memorious (Link goes to full text of story)
Jorge Luis Borges

Movies

Consciousness

Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness
James H. Austin

In the Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind
Bernard J. Baars

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
Antonio Damasio

Consciousness Explained
Daniel C. Dennett
Boston: Little, Brown, 1991

Sweet Dreams : Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (Jean Nicod Lectures)
Daniel Dennett

Wider than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness
Gerard M. Edelman
Yale, 2004

The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context
Timothy Ferris
New York: Bantam Books, 1993

Consciousness Reconsidered (Bradford Books)
Owen Flanagan

The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self
Susan Greenfield
London: John Wiley & Sons, 2000

The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Christof Koch

A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers
V.S. Ramachandran

Human nature

Our Inner Ape
Frans de Waal

De Waal explores the similarities and differences between ourselves and our nearest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, focusing on themes like power, sex, and aggression. By the end of the book, I felt like I personally knew some of the chimps and bonobos he described; I enjoyed his stories and the way he shared the insights he's gained in many years of primate study. His concluding thoughts on human nature were sobering but not discouraging, and I think he hits the nail on the head when he describes humans as "the bipolar ape". For more, see my review.

Human natures: Genes, cultures, and the human prospect
Paul Ehrlich

Radical Evolution : The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human
Joel Garreau

The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit
Melvin J. Konner

Man, Beast, and Zombie: What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us about Human Nature
Kenan Malik

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
Steven Pinker

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Matt Ridley

This is an excellent investigation of how sexual selection works not just in humans but in other primates, peacocks, grouse, and other creatures. Ridley evaluates the ideas he presents, and clearly labels the more speculative among them (e.g., that our brains became so much bigger than those of other apes through sexual selection). He emphasizes that nature and nurture work together to shape behavior. I liked his description of how nature and nurture are like the length and width of a rectangle; you have to use both to calculate the area, just as you need both nature and nurture to describe why a creature behaves as it does. He doesn't shy away from the social implications of research into the differences between men and women. He points out that the different prenatal physical investment in offspring is a fact of life; this and other facts neither endorse male philandering nor jeopardize efforts by women to be treated equally. Rather, they say nothing about morality. Overall this struck me as an honest and careful introduction to an often contentious subject.

Nature Via Nurture : Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human
Matt Ridley

Monkeyluv : And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals
Robert Sapolsky

Essays about genes, behavior, and human nature; previously published in various magazines, with updates and references for further reading.

On Human Nature
Edward O. Wilson

Published in 1978 as a followup to Wilson's Sociobiology, this book provides a beautifully written, clear-headed look at some of the biological underpinnings for human nature. By the end of the book, I found myself admiring Wilson's honest assessment of the sources of human nature and his discussion of how we might find a sound basis for human ethics and how much room we have to change ourselves before bumping into biological constraints. I read a library copy of this book but now want to buy my own copy so I can mark my favorite passages (and there were many). Highly recommended. If you cherish the idea of boundless human potential, or if you'd rather not think of humans as animals, you will likely find this book challenging to your ideas.

Evolution, behavior, and culture

The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture
Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby (eds.)

Us and Them : Understanding Your Tribal Mind
David Berreby

The Evolution of Culture in Animals
John Tyler Bonner

Adapting Minds : Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Bradford Books)
David Buller

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, Second Edition
David M. Buss

Evolution and Human Behavior
John Cartwright

What is Evolutionary Psychology? : Explaining the New Science of the Mind (Darwinism Today series)
Leda Cosmides, John Tooby

Handbook of evolutionary psychology: ideas, issues, and applications
Charles Crawford, Dennis L. Krebs (eds.)

The Great Brain Debate: Nature Or Nuture? (Science Essentials)
John E. Dowling

The Evolution of Culture: An Interdisciplinary View
Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight, Camilla Power (eds.)

The Ethical Brain
Michael Gazzaniga

Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour
Kevin N. Laland, Gillian R. Brown

The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God
David J. Linden

Describes some of our most deeply meaningful features (memory, love, dreams, religion) in terms of the inherent limitations and quirks of the brain's structure and evolution. Does a good job explaining things at the molecular level; the chapter on religion is too brief to do justice to the subject, but then it's a huge subject. Explains how a unified explanation for brain function, one that starts with molecules and goes all the way up to behavior, would look, although the author points out that in most cases we're not able to provide such an explanation yet.

The Riddled Chain: Chance, Coincidence, and Chaos in Human Evolution
Jeffrey K. McKee

The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science
Steven Mithen
London: Thames and Hudson, 1996

Adam's Curse: A Future without Men
Bryan Sykes

The Ape in the Tree : An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul,
Alan Walker, Pat Shipman

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives
David Sloan Wilson

The Moral Animal : Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
Robert Wright

Religion

Psychology of religious behaviour, belief and experience
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Michael Argyle

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought
Pascal Boyer

The Universe in a Single Atom : The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
Dalai Lama

The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins

Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong
Marc Hauser

Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?
Paul Kurtz, Barry Karr, Ranjit Sandhu (eds.)

The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science
Steven Mithen
London: Thames and Hudson, 1996

Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief
Andrew Newberg, Eugene G. D'Aquili, Vince Rause

The Evolution-Creation Struggle
Michael Ruse

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God
Carl Sagan

The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin
Keith E. Stanovich

Starting from the premise that the replicators (genes and memes) that often influence our behavior don't always have our best interests as entire organisms at heart, this book describes how to make sure you're choosing your own best course of action, even if it diverges from those laid out for you by the replicators. For more, see my review.

Darwin's Cathedral : Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
David Sloan Wilson
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002

The arts

Madame Bovary's Ovaries : A Darwinian Look at Literature
David Barash, Nanelle Barash

Beethoven's anvil: music in mind and culture
William Benzon

Acts of meaning
Jerome Bruner

Literary Darwinism: evolution, human nature, and literature
Joseph Carroll

Narrative construction of reality
Joseph De Rivera, Theodore R. Sarbin (eds.)

Story species: our life literature connection
Joseph Gold

The Literary Animal : Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (Rethinking Theory)
Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, editors

Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy : How Music Captures Our Imagination
Robert Jourdain

This book starts at the bottom, with a description of how our brains process the individual tones that make up music, and progresses up to the level of emotion and meaning. I enjoyed the author's gradual unfolding of higher and higher cognitive processes, leading to his explanation for why music can bring us to moments of transcendence. Without going too deeply into any one area (e.g., the neurology of aural perception or the purpose of art) this book provides an excellent overview and plenty of food for thought.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
Daniel J. Levitin

Levitin, formerly a rock musician and music producer and now a cognitive neuroscientist, describes the neurobiology and psychology behind our perennial fascination with music.

Consciousness and the novel: connected essays
David Lodge

Art and emotion
Derek Matravers

Emotion and meaning in music
Leonard B. Meyer

The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science
Steven Mithen
London: Thames and Hudson, 1996

The Singing Neanderthal : The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body
Steven Mithen

Music and memory: an introduction
Bob Snyder

Music and the mind
Anthony Storr

The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language
Mark Turner

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
Maryanne Wolf

A neuroscientist looks at how individuals learn to read and how we as a species became literate, and how the shift to literacy changed our brains

Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind And the Novel (The Theory and Interpretation of Narrative Series)
Lisa Zunshine

Emotions

Sentics: The touch of the emotions
Manfred Clynes

Science of emotion: research and tradition in the psychology of emotion
Randolph R. Cornelius

The feeling of what happens: body and emotion in the making of consciousness
Antonio Damasio

Looking for Spinoza: joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain
Antonio Damasio

Descartes' error: emotion, reason, and the human brain
Antonio Damasio

Alchemies of the Mind : Rationality and the Emotions
Jon Elster

Emotions and beliefs: how feelings influence thoughts
Nico H. Frijda

The private life of the brain: emotions, consciousness, and the secret of the self
Susan Greenfield
London: John Wiley & Sons, 2000

Why we feel: the science of human emotion
Victor S. Johnston

Passion and reason: making sense of our emotions
Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus

Emotion and adaptation
Richard S. Lazarus

The emotional brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life
Joseph LeDoux

The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind
Marvin Minsky

Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile
Daniel Nettle

Emotion, disclosure, and health
James W. Pennebaker (ed.)

Molecules of emotion: Why you feel the way you feel
Candace Pert

Emotions and life: perspectives from psychology, biology, and evolution
Robert Plutchik

Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber : Exploring the Effect of Anxiety on Our Brains and Our Culture
Richard Restak

Mind, stress, and emotions: the new science of mood
Gene Wallenstein

Human history and prehistory

The third chimpanzee
Jared Diamond

Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies
Jared Diamond
New York: Norton, 1997

Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
Jared Diamond
New York: Viking, 2005

Origins of the modern mind
Merlin Donald

The Human Story
Robin Dunbar

The firmament of time
Loren Eiseley

After the Ice : A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC,
Steven Mithen

Mapping Human History : Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins
Steve Olson

A good introduction to how genetic analysis can tell us about human pre-history; this will initiate you into the mysteries of mitochondrial DNA and such.

Seven Million Years (Mapping Science S.)
Douglas Palmer

Reflections Of Our Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes
John Relethford

The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans
G.J. Sawyer, Victor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, Richard Milner

Containing the latest scientific data, great illustrations, and vignettes of the lives our hominid forebears knew, this book is a wonderful guide to the current state of our knowledge about extinct hominid species.

Upright : The Evolutionary Key to Becoming Human
Craig Stanford

The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey
Spencer Wells

Wells directs the Genographic Project, an ambitious quest to map human genetic history. This book describes how genetic data are analyzed to reveal the journey of humankind as it emerged from Africa and spread across the planet.

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins
Carl Zimmer

Cognition

The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius
Nancy C. Andreasen

This book provides a well-written introduction to some of the brain science that explains how human creativity works.

Kant and the platypus: essays on language and cognition
Umberto Eco
London: Secker & Warburg, 1999

The way we think: conceptual blending and the mind's hidden complexities
Gilles Fauconnier, Mark Turner
New York: Basic Books, 2003

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious
Gerd Gigerenzer

Lots of real-world examples fill this investigation into the unconscious processing that underlies much of our decision making.

Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Malcolm Gladwell

Body in the mind
Mark Johnson

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
Eric Kandel

This memoir from the Nobel laureate describes how the study of the neuroscience of memory and cognition developed in the second half of the twentieth century, a process in which Kandel played a key role.

Sex and cognition
Doreen Kimura

Metaphors we live by
George Lakoff, Mark Johnson

Women, fire, and dangerous things: what categories reveal about the mind
George Lakoff

The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind
Marvin Minsky

Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions
Read Montague

This book on decision making looks at the brain as a computational machine that uses both algorithms and emotions to make its choices.

Metaphor and thought
Andrew Ortony (ed.)

Embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience
Francisco J. Varela, Even Thompson, Eleanor Rosch

Identity and meaning

The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them
Owen Flanagan

Self expressions: mind, morals, and the meaning of life
Owen Flanagan
New York: Oxford University Press, 1996

I.D.: How heredity and experience make you who you are
Winifred Gallagher

I Am a Strange Loop
Douglas Hofstadter

The mind's I: fantasies and reflections on self and soul
Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett
Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981

White gloves: how we create ourselves through memory
John Kotre

The synaptic self: how our brains become who we are
Joseph LeDoux

Maps of meaning: the architecture of belief
Jordan Peterson

Liars, lovers, and heroes: What the new brain science reveals about how we become who we are
Steven R. Quartz, Terrence J. Sejnowski

The created self: reinventing body, persona, and spirit
Robert J. Weber
New York: Norton, 2000

Strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious
Timothy D. Wilson

This book is about not the Freudian unconscious as a repository of repressed urges, but a post-Freudian unconscious where sophisticated processing goes on beneath our conscious awareness (often for reasons of efficiency, not to hide things from ourselves). Well-organized and culminating in an examination of how useful introspection is, this is well worth reading as a source of insight into why we behave as we do.

Personality

No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality
Judith Rich Harris

This book investigates the personality differences between people—pointing out that even identical twins, who share all their genes, have distinct personalities—and sets out to explain these differences by describing several mental mechanisms that shape our personalities. Harris is an independent scholar who has done an excellent job at explaining her material and her laying out her hypothesis about the mental mechanisms involved. Her conversational tone and clear explanations make the book both enjoyable and educational. For more info, you can read my review.

Personality traits
Gerald Matthews, Jan J. Deary, Martha C. Whiteman
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 2nd ed.

Personality: an introduction to the theories of psychology
Peter Morea
London: Penguin, 1990

Brain and mind

Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves
Sharon Begley

Begley tells the story of recent discoveries in neuroplasticity, the previously unsuspected ability of the brain to reshape itself, in the context of a meeting between neuroscientists and Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama. For more information, see The plastic brain, my review of this book and another on neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books)
Norman Doidge

Doidge approaches the subject of neuroplasticity through case histories, often inspiring, of how people have dealt with physical injuries or emotional problems by tapping into the brain's ability to heal and remake itself.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious
Gerd Gigerenzer

Lots of real-world examples fill this investigation into the unconscious processing that underlies much of our decision making.

The anatomy of thought: the origin and machinery of the mind
Ian Glynn
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

Visual intelligence: how we create what we see
Donald D. Hoffman
New York: W.W. Norton, 1998

The undiscovered mind: how the human brain defies replication, medication, and explanation
John Horgan

Mind wide open: your brain and the neuroscience of everyday life
Steven Johnson
New York: Scribner, 2004

Philosophy in the flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought
George Lakoff, Mark Johnson
New York: Basic Books, 1999

The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God
David J. Linden

Describes some of our most deeply meaningful features (memory, love, dreams, religion) in terms of the inherent limitations and quirks of the brain's structure and evolution. Does a good job explaining things at the molecular level; the chapter on religion is too brief to do justice to the subject, but then it's a huge subject. Explains how a unified explanation for brain function, one that starts with molecules and goes all the way up to behavior, would look, although the author points out that in most cases we're not able to provide such an explanation yet.

How the mind works
Steven Pinker

The Mind At Night: The New Science Of How And Why We Dream
Andrea Rock

The history and findings of scientific dream research since the 1950s, written in an engaging style with plenty of interesting anecdotes about both researchers and dreamers

The Future Of The Brain: The Promise And Perils Of Tomorrow's Neuroscience
Steven Rose

Mind: A Brief Introduction (Fundamentals of Philosophy)
John R. Searle

Mind Hacks (Hacks)
Tom Stafford, Matt Webb

Strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious
Timothy D. Wilson

This book is about not the Freudian unconscious as a repository of repressed urges, but a post-Freudian unconscious where sophisticated processing goes on beneath our conscious awareness (often for reasons of efficiency, not to hide things from ourselves). Well-organized and culminating in an examination of how useful introspection is, this is well worth reading as a source of insight into why we behave as we do.

Soul Made Flesh : The Discovery of the Brain--and How it Changed the World
Carl Zimmer

Memory

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
Eric Kandel

This memoir from the Nobel laureate describes how the study of the neuroscience of memory and cognition developed in the second half of the twentieth century, a process in which Kandel played a key role.

White gloves: how we create ourselves through memory
John Kotre

The seven sins of memory: how the mind forgets and remembers
Daniel L. Schacter

Tell me a story: a new look at real and artificial memory
Roger C. Schank

Life in the universe

Cosmic Legacy: Space, Time, and the Human Mind
Greg F. Reinking

Rare earth: why complex life is uncommon in the universe
Peter D. Ward, Donald Brownlee
New York: Copernicus, 2000

The life and death of planet Earth: how the new science of astrobiology charts the ultimate fate of our world
Peter D. Ward, Donald Brownlee
New York: Times Books, 2002

Genes

Reflections Of Our Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes
John Relethford

Time, love, memory: a great biologist and his quest for the origins of behavior
Jonathan Weiner

This book tells the story of Seymour Benzer and the genetic research program on fruitflies in which he has been a central figure. Weiner describes time, love, and memory as three essential elements of behavior, and tells how genes are intimately linked to these three elements. This was a fascinating read, with personal stories of the researchers skillfully interwoven with scientific information, and plenty of insights, often humorous, into life in the fly room.

Animal behavior and cognition

Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology
Colin Allen, Marc Bekoff

The cognitive animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition
Marc Bekoff

Tree of origin: What primate behavior can tell us about human social evolution
Frans de Waal

Our Inner Ape
Frans de Waal

De Waal explores the similarities and differences between ourselves and our nearest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, focusing on themes like power, sex, and aggression. By the end of the book, I felt like I personally knew some of the chimps and bonobos he described; I enjoyed his stories and the way he shared the insights he's gained in many years of primate study. His concluding thoughts on human nature were sobering but not discouraging, and I think he hits the nail on the head when he describes humans as "the bipolar ape". For more, see my review.

Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees
Roger Fouts

Animals in Translation : Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
Temple Grandin

Animal minds
Donald R. Griffin

Wild minds : What animals really think
Marc Hauser

The mind of the dolphin: A nonhuman intelligence
John Lilly

The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots
Irene Pepperberg

Language

Words in the mind: an introduction to the mental lexicon
Jean Aitchison

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
Christine Kinneally

The story of the origins and evolution of human language, as far as we know it so far, told in conjunction with the story of how we've discovered the history of language

Linguistic introduction to the history of English
Morton W. Bloomfield; Leonard Newmark
New York: Knopf, 1963

The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain
Terrence W. Deacon

The Unfolding of Language : An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention
Guy Deutscher

This is an excellent book about how languages change over time. Not only is it informative and clearly written, it's witty and sometimes hilarious. Deutscher draws on examples from many languages to explain the types of change that happen to a language over time, driven by three motives: economy, expressiveness, and analogy. The book explained some things that I had always wondered about—for example, why some languages have such complicated case systems for nouns. (E.g., the noun "door" in Latin or Slovene will have a different ending depending on whether you're saying "The door is blue" or "I opened the door" or "the hinge of the door"; in Finnish it gets even more complicated. I can't remember the details but I think it's different depending on whether you're walking through the door or keeping people out by means of a door and things like that.) I knew that these systems were not dreamed up to torment people who wanted to learn the language, and that there must be some logic behind them, but I didn't know how they came about. The book explains this and other mysteries, and the final chapter describes how language could have grown from very simple elements (action words and words for things) into its present complexities. This book was a pleasure to read.

Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language
Robin Dunbar

Dunbar does an excellent job of covering a lot of interesting turf and building a case for why language emerged and evolved in humans. From studies of other primates to studies of what people in restaurants and other public spaces talk about today, Dunbar presents a wide variety of evidence for his thesis that we began to talk so that we could keep tabs on what our fellow humans were doing. The story involves a complex set of factors that have to do with group size, the environment, and gender differences, among other things, which is why this book covers such a range of topics. I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed it all.

Kant and the platypus: essays on language and cognition
Umberto Eco
London: Secker & Warburg, 1999

History of English words
Geoffrey Hughes
Oxford: Blackwell, 2000

Patterns in the Mind: Language and Human Nature
Ray Jackendoff

Evolution of the English language from Chaucer to the twentieth century
George H. McKnight
New York: Dover, 1968

The Singing Neanderthal : The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body
Steven Mithen

Empires of the Word : A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler

Language instinct: how the mind creates language
Steven Pinker

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
Steven Pinker

Words and rules: the ingredients of language
Steven Pinker

The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language
Mark Turner

Mating and sex

Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)
Jared Diamond
New York: Basic Books, 1997

Why We Love : The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
Helen Fisher

The Mating Mind : How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
Geoffrey Miller

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Matt Ridley

This is an excellent investigation of how sexual selection works not just in humans but in other primates, peacocks, grouse, and other creatures. Ridley evaluates the ideas he presents, and clearly labels the more speculative among them (e.g., that our brains became so much bigger than those of other apes through sexual selection). He emphasizes that nature and nurture work together to shape behavior. I liked his description of how nature and nurture are like the length and width of a rectangle; you have to use both to calculate the area, just as you need both nature and nurture to describe why a creature behaves as it does. He doesn't shy away from the social implications of research into the differences between men and women. He points out that the different prenatal physical investment in offspring is a fact of life; this and other facts neither endorse male philandering nor jeopardize efforts by women to be treated equally. Rather, they say nothing about morality. Overall this struck me as an honest and careful introduction to an often contentious subject.

The Case of the Female Orgasm : Bias in the Science of Evolution,
Elisabeth A. Lloyd

Love and limerence: the experience of being in love
Dorothy Tennov

Happiness

The science of happiness: unlocking the mysteries of mood
Stephen Braun

Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert

The Happiness Hypothesis
Jonathan Haidt

On Desire : Why We Want What We Want
William B. Irvine

This book discusses the nature of human desire and why it is so often unsatisfied, or satisfied only briefly. Irvine describes our desires as having their roots in our biological incentive system, which leads us to desire food, sex, etc., and also talks about the way we've elaborated our chains of motivation so that ultimately our desires can be more of less separate from the biological logic that originally lay behind them. E.g., originally we might have wanted to have high status in our social group because that led to us having more mates or better food for ourselves and our children or whatever, and thus enhanced survival and reproductive success, but to some people, high status now seems like a worthwhile pursuit in its own right. Furthermore, now that we have the ability to form chains of goals (I want to climb the tree to break off a big branch to use as a weapon to kill an animal so that I can eat), that ability can be used for projects that are not about survival any more. I was most intrigued by Irvine's suggestion that, instead of rational thought controlling our desires, it might be the other way around, and rational thought might have evolved as a tool to help us satisfy our desires. Irvine discusses the ways that desire can lead to unhappiness, and in the last part of the book examines some of the ways that various religious traditions have tried to cope with the problem of desire. For more information, you can read my review.

In pursuit of happiness: better living from Plato to Prozac
Mark Kingwell

The Science of Happiness : How Our Brains Make Us Happy-and What We Can Do to Get Happier
Stefan Klein

Happiness : A History
Darrin M. McMahon

Authentic Happiness : Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
Martin Seligman

This book is a blend of science writing and—I hate to say it—self-help. Seligman, the father of the "Positive Psychology" movement that has spawned so much research into happiness of late, lays out what we know so far about what factors influence happiness and by how much (that's the science), and offers some self-tests and advice about how best to develop your own capacity for happiness (science and self-help together). All in all this is a good solid explanation of how happiness seems to work. The last chapter took a flying leap into religious conjecture that somewhat tarnished my overall positive view of the book, but it's still well worth reading. For more information, see my review.



Back to top