A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.
A critical look at cutting edge and key assumptions in cognitive science that offers a new way of exploring how our brains generate thought
What if what we consider to be reason-based, deliberative judgment is really the product of involuntary mental sensations? In A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind, Dr. Robert Burton takes a close look at the key false assumptions that permeate the field of cognitive science and offers a new way of exploring how our brains generate thought. The essential paradox that drives this cutting-edge theory is that the same mechanisms that prevent understanding the mind also generate a sense that we can attain such understanding. In A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind, Burton presents his theory of the "mental sensory system"—a system that generates the main components of consciousness: a sense of self, a sense of choice and free will, and how we make moral decisions.
Bringing together anecdotes, practical thought experiments, and cutting-edge neuroscience to show how these various strands of thought and mental sensations interact, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind offers a powerful tool for knowing what we can and cannot say about the mind; how to discern good from bad cognitive science studies; and most importantly, how to consider the moral implications of these studies. This is a pathbreaking model for considering the interaction between conscious and unconscious thought.
"An informative, witty, provocative meditation on the mind–brain paradox." Kirkus Review (Starred Review )
"In providing a critical overview of recent advances (and false starts) in neuroscience, the former chief of the Division of Neurology at the U.C.S.F. Medical Center at Mount Zion examines the inherent difficulties and flaws of the field, which attempts to unravel the workings of the mind. Written in a relatable style that balances hard science with philosophy and speculation, Burton’s project is not so much to criticize his peers in the neuroscientific community, but rather to emphasize that 'a humble acknowledgement of the limits of inquiry should be the first step in the study of the mind.' An important point." Publisher's Weekly
Neurologist Burton focuses on new, key aspects of human behavior, specifically the control and lack of control humans have over their minds, treading a fine line of conscious and unconscious actions, thoughts, and decisions. One of Burton's main points centers on assumptions of consciousness for those in comas, vegetative states, and the like. Burton's consideration is tactful given such a sensitive topic, while his blend of science and philosophy provide readers with comprehensive examples.
VERDICT: Burton does an excellent job retracing the history of neuroscience studies and directing readers' attention to future discoveries. He takes an unbiased look at the fundamentals of the field, and posits that, no matter how much the field advances, slippery notions of consciousness and moral decision-making will always allow for some amount of speculation. Recommended for skeptics and enthusiasts alike. - Library Journal
"A stimulating introduction to those with unchallenged assumptions related to neuroscience, while its bibliography gives scholars a fine array of scholarly works to draw upon. Summing Up: Recommended. All academic and general readers." American Library Association 2014
"The neurologist Robert Burton is skeptical, to say the least. His new book, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind, is a scathing indictment of reductionism in all its guises, and a stirring call to consider whether scientists are even asking the right kinds of questions." Salon.com
"Recommended: Notable." Scientific American
“An excursion into the choppy waters of intelligence, consciousness, and language. It is, Burton says, ‘best read as a late-night meditation’, which might explain his slightly circular thesis: that our innate irrationality, revealed by neuroscience, has itself led neuroscientists astray in their attempts to understand the mind. For the most part, his conclusions are spot on.” -- New Scientist
“Burton is no defeatist; he’s a skeptic with something to offer beyond criticism. While reading this book, you’re likely to learn more about what we do know about our elusive brains – and what we can reasonably argue about the mind – than from most others on the shelf.” – Forbes.com
"Skeptic’s Guide is a delight. Burton’s tour through the latest brain research demolishes certainty like a daisy-cutter bomb. By the time he points to a study indicating that brain images themselves are a potent factor in convincing people of neuroscience’s new claims—our brains are impressed by the elegant shapes and ethereal colours—he has us. We have seen the pattern, even if Burton keeps begging us to distrust it. Maclean's
“Examines the latest neurological research, which Burton argues is often overstated by the media.” – Washington Post
“This is heady stuff. It challenges our preconceptions. It is packed with the results of intriguing scientific experiments that raise more questions than they answer. The committee in my brain passed on a strong “thumbs up” vote to my conscious mind.” – Science-Based Medicine
"A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind sharply guides us through illuminating examples countering the conventional wisdom that humans occupy a special place in the animal world because of the uniqueness of their "mind." It is a book that should give philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists reason for pause." Marin Independent Journal
“A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind is a gripping and timely book. With an engaging blend of data and cases, neurologist Robert Burton delivers an important warning that there is often more to neuroscience than meets the eye, and shares surprising insights about how our minds really work. You will never look at the space between your ears in the same way.” Adam Grant, author of Give and Take
“Robert Burton's Skeptics Guide to the Mind provides a thoughtful meditation on the mismeasure of mind. With a rich tapestry of neurological case studies, allusions to film and literature, compelling personal stories, and challenging thought experiments, Burton describes the abundant philosophical and scientific challenges to the belief that we know — or even that we can know — our own minds.” --Daniel Simons, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us
"There is no bigger challenge to our self-understanding than the exploding field of neuroscience, but if we are to benefit from its discoveries, we must learn how to think about them in the right way. And at the moment, we don't. Thus far, neuroscience research has been oversold by scientists themselves and overhyped by journalists. We have to do better. In A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind, Robert Burton does a beautiful job explaining what modern neuroscience has to offer, and just as important, what it doesn't, and probably can't have to offer. A careful reading of this well-written book will go a long way toward enabling us to draw the right lessons from what neuroscience has to offer."
--Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice and Practical Wisdom
“Neuroscientific high jinks of the best sort. A salutary reminder that we only understand 10% of our brains.”--Nick Humphrey, author of Soul Dust, The Magic of Consciousness, and Emeritus Professor of Psychology, London School of Economics
“Burton questions the fundamental assumptions of his field – with A Skeptics Guide to the Mind, he takes on the very foundations of cognitive science, leading readers to valuable insights in the process.”
--Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems
"This engaging book captures the strengths and limitations of modern neuroscience in unlocking the secrets of mind and brain. It stands alone. In a style that joins academic writing, case histories, and narrative, Burton brings the reader to the many places where person and identity, self and society, health and disease, and, most pointedly, where scientist and social responsibility meet." –Judy Illes, author of the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics and Professor of Neurology and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia
“In recent years, there's been a lot of neurotrash infecting everything from economics, business and ethics to romance, gastronomy and parenting. At last, Robert Burton, with the knowledge and wisdom to tackle the subject head-on, dares to separate nonsense from wisdom. With the delicacy of a philosopher and the real life expertise of a physician, he dares to show us how much we've learned but also how much we have to discover. This is one of the most elegant combinations of science and life I've come across for a long time.”--Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness
“Popular media is awash in an endless deluge of neuroscience findings—particularly those that imply neuroscience is the new arbiter of “truth” for everything from why we like certain colors to whether someone is lying on the witness stand. Readers on the receiving end of neuro-mania are left confused about what to believe, which is why Robert Burton’s A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves is such a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in cognitive science. Burton cuts through the clutter and incisively reveals what the current state of neuroscience is truly capable of telling us about ourselves. It’s a top-tier contribution from one of the leading minds in the field.” --David DiSalvo, author of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite
"A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind is a unique combination of science and thought-provoking criticism. I highly recommend it to everyone who is fascinated by the mystery of how our brains make us who we are." Ginger Campbell, MD Host of the Brain Science Podcast
Audio and Video Interviews