Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness

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A Year in Reading: Sheila Heti

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I loved so many books this year, and I feel like I read more this year than in the past three combined. I just really needed books this year. Originally, my list was 15 books long, but then it felt sickening to publish a list of 15 books — almost like showing one’s naked body. It’s a weird and tremulous thing to look at a list of the books you loved in a year — you see the inside of your mind and heart: what you were coping with in January, what mattered most in February and March, what you hope to be thinking about next year. It was just too much.

So at the last minute I scrapped that list and am just picking one book, a recent one for me: Alva Noë’s Out of Our Heads. (I received his other two in the mail only yesterday and they seem equally great, possibly even greater. I can’t wait to get started on them.) He is a philosopher and he talks about how the notion that consciousness is located in our brains is false. There is no evidence for it, and in fact, there’s real evidence against it. Instead, consciousness is something that happens between us and the world. As such, perception is not something that is — it’s something we do. It’s active, a relationship, and one that we have a lot of agency in shaping. This way of thinking — and how he ultimately turns the challenge of being away from our own histories (Freud turned them to our histories) and towards our bodies in space, and what we do with these bodies, and what we do in this space (and also, what this space does to us) — feels like the most exciting thing I’ve encountered all year.

(Okay, one more: Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal – it’s such a perfect companion to the Noë. It moves toward the same end, but begins in the opposite place. In talking about the tangibles of eating and feeding oneself, she manages to model a whole sensible approach to relating to time and the things around us. It’s beautifully written and rather profound and has made me a healthier and saner person, too.)

More from A Year in Reading 2012

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