Book review: How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.
This book mostly deserves its fame. It gives simple descriptions of basic techniques that should make most people who follow the advice more likable than average, without requiring prohibitive effort.
I have two modest complaints.
He focuses more than I would like on how to befriend people who like to talk at length, which leaves me wondering what to do with the potentially nicer friend who is too modest to say interesting things about himself.
The chapter called Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct encourages misleading people into thinking something is easier than it actually is. Even if this works 75 percent of the time, I expect that the resentment caused by a few rare cases where it turns out to be more misleading than intended outweigh the benefits produced by its successes. The book Switch describes a better version of this strategy (incorporating an important part of what Carnegie advises): focus on breaking down the task into small steps.
There seem to be serious risks in some food oils that are commonly considered healthy. This report says:
hexane processing strips the remaining nutrients from the oil, and turns a significant quantity of polyunsaturated fats into inflammatory, artery-clogging trans fats!
Hexane processing is apparently common for Canola oil, soybean oil, and other plant-based oils (but not olive oil). Trans-fat levels have been measured at 0.56 to 4.2 percent in commercial oils.
Since FDA-regulated labels are only accurate to about 0.5 grams, and oils are often labeled for 14g serving sizes, a 1 or 2 percent trans-fat content would apparently show up as zero. I suspect those levels are more harmful than most additives that the FDA has banned from foods.
The bottled Canola oil I buy from Trader Joe’s says it’s expeller pressed – no solvents used, so I’m still guessing it’s healthy, but I’ll try harder to avoid processed foods containing plant oils. (There a lot of misleading arguments against Canola oil that should be ignored).
Book review: Going Inside: A Tour Round a Single Moment of Consciousness, by John McCrone.
This book improved my understanding of how various parts of the brain interact, and of how long it takes the brain to process and react to sensory data. But there were many times when I wondered whether it was worth finishing, and I wish I had given up before the last few chapters that focused on consciousness other than neuroscience.
Too much of the book is devoted to attacking naive versions of reductionism and computational models of the brain. His claim that “chaos theory electrified science” is wrong. It electrified some reports about science, but has done little to create better models or testable predictions.
It’s misleading for him to claim the difference between human and animal consciousness “is terribly simple. Animals are locked into the present tense.” There are many hints that animals have some thoughts about the future and past, and it’s hard enough to evaluate those thoughts that we need to be cautious about denying that they think like us. He suggests that language and grammar provide unique abilities to think about the future. But I’m fairly sure I can analyze the future without using language, using mostly visual processing to plan a route I’m going to kayak through some rapids, or to imagine an opponent’s next chess move. I expect animals have some abilities along those lines. Human language must provide some improved ability to think about the future, but I find it hard to specify those abilities.