The Brain and the Meaning of Life

Princeton University Press
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Why is life worth living? What makes actions right or wrong? What is reality and how do we know it? The Brain and the Meaning of Life draws on research in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to answer some of the most pressing questions about life's nature and value. Paul Thagard argues that evidence requires the abandonment of many traditional ideas about the soul, free will, and immortality, and shows how brain science matters for fundamental issues about reality, morality, and the meaning of life. The ongoing Brain Revolution reveals how love, work, and play provide good reasons for living.

Defending the superiority of evidence-based reasoning over religious faith and philosophical thought experiments, Thagard argues that minds are brains and that reality is what science can discover. Brains come to know reality through a combination of perception and reasoning. Just as important, our brains evaluate aspects of reality through emotions that can produce both good and bad decisions. Our cognitive and emotional abilities allow us to understand reality, decide effectively, act morally, and pursue the vital needs of love, work, and play. Wisdom consists of knowing what matters, why it matters, and how to achieve it.

The Brain and the Meaning of Life shows how brain science helps to answer questions about the nature of mind and reality, while alleviating anxiety about the difficulty of life in a vast universe. The book integrates decades of multidisciplinary research, but its clear explanations and humor make it accessible to the general reader.

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About the author

Paul Thagard is professor of philosophy and director of the cognitive science program at the University of Waterloo, Canada. His books include Hot Thought: Mechanisms and Applications of Emotional Cognition and How Scientists Explain Disease.
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 25, 2010
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Philosophy / Mind & Body
Psychology / Cognitive Psychology & Cognition
Science / General
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Eligible for Family Library

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Esquire • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Thought leader, visionary, philanthropist, mystic, and yogi Sadhguru presents Western readers with a time-tested path to achieving absolute well-being: the classical science of yoga.


The practice of hatha yoga, as we commonly know it, is but one of eight branches of the body of knowledge that is yoga. In fact, yoga is a sophisticated system of self-empowerment that is capable of harnessing and activating inner energies in such a way that your body and mind function at their optimal capacity. It is a means to create inner situations exactly the way you want them, turning you into the architect of your own joy.

A yogi lives life in this expansive state, and in this transformative book Sadhguru tells the story of his own awakening, from a boy with an unusual affinity for the natural world to a young daredevil who crossed the Indian continent on his motorcycle. He relates the moment of his enlightenment on a mountaintop in southern India, where time stood still and he emerged radically changed. Today, as the founder of Isha, an organization devoted to humanitarian causes, he lights the path for millions. The term guru, he notes, means “dispeller of darkness, someone who opens the door for you. . . . As a guru, I have no doctrine to teach, no philosophy to impart, no belief to propagate. And that is because the only solution for all the ills that plague humanity is self-transformation. Self-transformation means that nothing of the old remains. It is a dimensional shift in the way you perceive and experience life.” The wisdom distilled in this accessible, profound, and engaging book offers readers time-tested tools that are fresh, alive, and radiantly new. Inner Engineering presents a revolutionary way of thinking about our agency and our humanity and the opportunity to achieve nothing less than a life of joy.

Praise for Sadhguru and Inner Engineering

“Contrarian and consistent, ancient and contemporary, Inner Engineering is a loving invitation to live our best lives and a profound reassurance of why and how we can.”—Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element, Finding Your Element, and Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative

“I am inspired by Sadhguru’s capacity for joy, his exuberance for life, and the depth and breadth of his curiosity and knowledge. His book is filled with moments of wonder, awe, and intellectual challenge. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in self-transformation.”—Mark Hyman, M.D., director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and New York Times bestselling author

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The volume is based on the papers that were presented at the Interna tional Conference Model-Based Reasoning in Scientific Discovery (MBR'98), held at the Collegio Ghislieri, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy, in December 1998. The papers explore how scientific thinking uses models and explanatory reasoning to produce creative changes in theories and concepts. The study of diagnostic, visual, spatial, analogical, and temporal rea soning has demonstrated that there are many ways of performing intelligent and creative reasoning that cannot be described with the help only of tradi tional notions of reasoning such as classical logic. Traditional accounts of scientific reasoning have restricted the notion of reasoning primarily to de ductive and inductive arguments. Understanding the contribution of model ing practices to discovery and conceptual change in science requires ex panding scientific reasoning to include complex forms of creative reasoning that are not always successful and can lead to incorrect solutions. The study of these heuristic ways of reasoning is situated at the crossroads of philoso phy, artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and logic; that is, at the heart of cognitive science. There are several key ingredients common to the various forms of model based reasoning to be considered in this book. The models are intended as in terpretations of target physical systems, processes, phenomena, or situations. The models are retrieved or constructed on the basis of potentially satisfying salient constraints of the target domain.
One of the most striking features of mathematics is the fact that we are much more certain about the mathematical knowledge we have than about what mathematical knowledge is knowledge of. Are numbers, sets, functions and groups physical entities of some kind? Are they objectively existing objects in some non-physical, mathematical realm? Are they ideas that are present only in the mind? Or do mathematical truths not involve referents of any kind?

It is these kinds of questions that have encouraged philosophers and mathematicians alike to focus their attention on issues in the philosophy of mathematics. Over the centuries a number of reasonably well-defined positions about the nature of mathematics have been developed and it is these positions (both historical and current) that are surveyed in the current volume.

Traditional theories (Platonism, Aristotelianism, Kantianism), as well as dominant modern theories (logicism, formalism, constructivism, fictionalism, etc.), are all analyzed and evaluated. Leading-edge research in related fields (set theory, computability theory, probability theory, paraconsistency) is also discussed.

The result is a handbook that not only provides a comprehensive overview of recent developments but that also serves as an indispensable resource for anyone wanting to learn about current developments in the philosophy of mathematics.

-Comprehensive coverage of all main theories in the philosophy of mathematics
-Clearly written expositions of fundamental ideas and concepts
-Definitive discussions by leading researchers in the field
-Summaries of leading-edge research in related fields (set theory, computability theory, probability theory, paraconsistency) are also included
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