The Reading List (Winter, 2018)

It'll soon be time for another Reading Wee--wha? It's over already? Well, it sure didn't last long. (I swear, a week isn't as long as it used to be.) I did actually spend some time reading--mostly papers on neuromagic, but even more time frantically writing my lecture on neuromagic. (It's for PSYCO 403: Advanced Perception, if you're interested).

Anyway, I've got a backlog of books I've read going back to, er, 2016. (I swear, a year isn't as long as it used to be.) I posted some of my favourite recent graphic novels last time; this time it's some random nonfiction.

Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up by William Poundstone
Why do you need to know anything anymore? In a world with Google, what is knowledge worth? William Poundstone argues that it may be worth more than you think. This book, based on original survey research, catalogs the many things that people don’t know. It’s shocking. Would you be able to identify Johann Sebastian Bach in a photo? Do you know the sun is a star? Did you know research shows that people with more general knowledge (e.g., trivia) have higher incomes and are happier (Admittedly, it is just a correlation.) When you phone battery dies, you might start to realize just how little you actually know...
Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence
Spence won the Ig Nobel Prize for his study, in which he amplified the sound of a person eating a Pringles potato chip to make it seem fresher and crunchier. Yes, seriously. This book describes how our experience of food is affected by taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch, as well as the atmosphere, the people you are eating with, and more. Some of the most fun parts are his accounts of the often bizarre world of high-end restaurants. Imagine eating in the dark, or with your hands. How about eating food off a tablet computer? Or being spritzed in the face with scent as you eat? Loads of great perceptual psychology for anyone who eats food. I’m recommending this book to students of my PSYCO 403: Advanced Perception course.
Touch: The Science of the Hand, Heart, and Mind by David J. Linden
My area of training as a graduate student was perception and psychophysics, specifically how the skin processes information, so this book grabbed my attention right away. Be aware that an understanding of our sense of touch is going to require some biology. Terms like HPA axis, stratum corneum, dorsal root ganglia, ventroposterolateral nucleus, and TRPM8 receptor get thrown around a lot--maybe a bit too much for a popular book. If you can get past that, there are some interesting discussions of “hot” and “cool” taste sensations, the nature of itching, touch illusions, and the social nature of touch (yes, that includes sexual touching). I’d recommend taking PSYCO 367: Perception before reading this book.
See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of our Five Senses by Lawrence D. Rosenblum
Yup, another book about perception! (Remember: I’m a perception geek.) Rosenblum’s thesis is that we don’t give our senses enough credit; we focus more on the limitations of our senses. But there are more to our senses than most people realize. This book is not a catalog of our senses; rather, it delves into particular phenomena that highlight extraordinary abilities--some of which are displayed by only a small number of people. Many of these cases will be familiar to students of psychology: the blind man who rides a bike using “sonar,” how molecules in human sweat may synchronize women’s menstrual cycles, and the curious phenomenon of synesthesia. Another recommendation for students of perception.
Selp-helf by Miranda Sings
Why did I read this book again? She was funny or something? If you really love Miranda Sings, you’ll--well, you’ll probably tolerate this book. Just like the real Miranda, it’s best in small doses. Like, really small doses. In fact, you’re better off watching Miranda on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (season 5, episode 4, available on Netflix). That episode made me laugh out loud. Hey, not all these books are winners. Wait--this book was on the New York Times bestseller list? I just can’t anymore...

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