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10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

From hunter-gatherers to AI takeover.


10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

A treasure trove of books to satiate a curious mind.

The books in this list will tell you about the timeline of history and the lessons we get from it. It will also tell you what lies ahead.

Some of these will take you on the maze inside the human mind, the complex neural pathways that decide what we will do next.

I enjoyed learning a lot from each of them, and I hope you will too.


Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.


10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Are some races superior to others?

A Pulitzer Prize winner, this book discusses history through multiple facets. Biology, climate, evolution, socioeconomics, geography, and more.

Diamond puts forth the argument that the reason why some societies succeeded or dominated others is not because of the differences in their genome.

Instead, it was the environment that created the differences.

“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

For example, the Europe and Asia regions had more plants and animals available for domestication.

The rate of diffusion differed due to continent size and orientation. This is the reason why Europeans dominated North and South America and not the other way around.

“The history of interactions among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern

world through conquest, epidemics and genocide.”

This book will make you discover the untold shades of history, more than the mere black and white.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

This book raises the question: who are we without our thoughts?

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, shares the clinical cases he came across in his career. This book is divided into four parts: “Losses,” “Excesses,” “Transports,” and “The World of the Simple.”

The author shares the medical terminology, understanding, and his comments on the various cases that he discusses. He also raises philosophical questions.

“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self — himself — he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”

The title of the book comes from the case where a man was suffering from visual agnosia. Due to this, he was unable to recognize shapes and faces. He mistook his wife’s face for his hat.

This man’s eyes were fine. The issue lay in his brain as it was unable to derive and interpret visual data.

The storytelling in Sack’s work is vivid, which you are bound to enjoy.


On Amazon


10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Be careful what you wish for!

James Barrat, tells us to be cautious and vigilant. This includes investing in techniques and ways that will keep AI friendly and beneficial to humans instead of turning on them.

When you think of an AI machine gone crazy, the possibilities are endless.

According to the author, we are near to creating AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), which is human-level intelligence. This will lead to ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence) which surpasses the human level.

“…we don’t want an AI that meets our short-term goals — please save us from hunger — with solutions detrimental in the long term — by roasting every chicken on earth — or with solutions to which we’d object — by killing us after our next meal.”

Like the wish from the genie, we have to be careful what we wish for when creating new AI systems.

Whether you welcome technology with open arms or approach it with caution, this book is an information-packed read.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

There is a reason why teenagers are jerks.

After seeing a tweet about this book by one of the bloggers I follow, I ordered it right away.

For me, the most important takeaway from this book is the development of the human mind with age.

The prefrontal cortex of the human brain is responsible for rational decision-making.

That isn’t completely developed until our mid-20s.

The amygdala is a loose cannon.

It is impulsive and emotional. And, it also helps us in flight or fight. That is the part that teenagers use.

‘Oh, that’s why I was so stupid as a teen,’ I wondered. In my teenage years, I thought I knew everything and looked at the world in black and white. Passing my mid-twenties has been an enlightening experience.

I know now that a lot of the world is not black and white, but rather grey..

“Eyes often have an implicit censorious power. Post a large picture of a pair of eyes at a bus stop (versus a picture of flowers), and people become more likely to clean up litter.”

This book discusses not only the development of the human brain but also other multitude of factors that affect human behavior like hormones, surroundings, and culture.

Although Sapolsky cites a lot of studies and research, which is great, I feel that he overlooks confounding variables. That’s the case for many, perhaps.

I cannot recommend this book enough to those fascinated by the intricacies of human behavior.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

True crime enthusiasts, unite!

You are in for a gripping read as you turn pages through Capote’s account of the 1959 murders of a Kansas family. From start to end, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Unsolved cases leave me with a sense of unease, my mind adrift with the thoughts of ‘What really happened?’. There is no closure.

If you have the same issue, put your worries to rest.

This is a solved case. “In Cold Blood” covers everything. The story of the victims, the story of perpetrators, and their capture, trial, and sentence.

“As long as you live, there’s always something waiting; and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”

I don’t want to give you spoilers because I hate them myself.

Once you grab this book, you’ll be glued to it till the last page.


On Amazon


10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Time’s ticking… unless we act now.

This book is a dense read. That is because it is jam packed with the history and the future of Super Intelligence.

Bostrom predicts that within the next 80 years, superintelligence will be a reality. This will lead to Superintelligence Singularity, since the world as we know it will cease to exist. Minds creating AI will become AI themselves.

What is next?

He paints a grim picture of what could happen if that super-intelligent entity is not kept in check. Mankind’s creation can lead to the annihilation of humans.

“…we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization…”

There are possible solutions. Since there is no stopping the AI boom, what we can do is create limits for the machines.

Perhaps we can limit their access to the world or program them with human values i.e. AI ethics.

We’ll never know what will happen when computers take over. Bostrom’s book reveals what may unfold next.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Your mind plays tricks, and you’re a spectator.

“Our brain accepts what the eyes see and our eye looks for whatever our brain wants.”

There are legitimate blind spots in our eyes where the nerve endings are covering part of the retina.

Why don’t we constantly see black spots then? Because our brain invents those missing spots to give us the whole picture.

The brain repeats the same ‘fill-in’ technique for many things. It creates stories without knowing the full picture. Even our memories are deceptive.

“If you are like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people.”

This line made me chuckle (in my head). That is because we are so consumed with our uniqueness.

In reality, we are no more unique than the person passing us in the street.

Gilbert points out that through unhappy experiences, we lower and adjust our expectations from life leading to happiness. He gives the example of a wrongfully accused man and a quadriplegic, both of whom had positive outlooks to offer.

This book will make you look at happiness from a vastly different angle.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Tired of doomsday prophecies, this book offered me a fresh perspective.

Pinker’s optimism for the future is a welcoming change from those who paint a horrifying picture of a world that is dominated by machines.

“There can be no question of which was the greatest era for culture; the answer has to be today, until it is superseded by tomorrow.”

He concludes that we are becoming better. He does so by looking at the decline in diseases and war, and the increase in wealth and quality of life over history.

Ultimately, Pinker argues for the use of humanism, sciences, and reason for continued human excellence which he calls ‘Enlightenment’. He classifies religion, back-to-nature movements, declinism, and anti-science rhetoric as counter-Enlightenment ideas.

I am impressed by how Pinker uses data to back up his claims. For example, fewer people die from terrorism, and more die in accidents.

It’s a book that fills you with hope and wonder for human civilization.

It makes you excited about the future.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Secret forces take the wheel when you’re making decisions.

Ariely tells us how we can be manipulated by the simple mention of a random number before our purchase.

“Standard economics assumes that we are rational… But, as the results presented in this book (and others) show, we are far less rational in our decision-making…”

We are slaves to our biology. Hence, we make the same mistake over and over again. Our irrational behaviors are predictable.

The author writes about multiple experiments which show how being in an emotional state affects human behavior. One example is of male participants who were asked questions about their sexual kinks, and behavior, like whether they were willing to rape or not. Then they were asked the same question in a state of sexual arousal.

Answers differed significantly. Many were willing to do wild things, which they earlier denied they’d ever do.

Why?

Because we don’t know how we will act emotionally.

What is the solution?

It is to learn more about our emotional selves. So, we can think clearly, and decide wisely, even in heated moments.



10 Books Recommended by Sam Harris That Will Rattle Your Brain (But in a Good Way)

Beware: This book will make you rethink evolution.

“The Selfish Gene” is a 1976 book by the renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

It tells us that ‘genes’, the basic building blocks of life on earth, are selfish. This is how life survives. It discusses evolution in detail.

“Any altruistic system is inherently unstable, because it is open to abuse by selfish individuals, ready to exploit it.”

Dawkins tells us about the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS).

Every system requires a balance between selfish and altruistic individuals. If all are altruistic, they will be dominated by selfish ones leading to collapse. If all are selfish, they will cause each other’s demise.

To be honest, I find myself applying this balance of stable vs selfish to individual humans. It is good to be altruistic but not to the extent where everyone walks over you. It’s good to be selfish, where you benefit yourself but not to the extent where you are hurting others.

Any of these extremes will affect the individual negatively.

You’ll love Darwin’s book, especially if you love biology.



 

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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog- https://www.honbasicbooks.com/blog

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