Top critical review
"Nothing new under the sun... ."
Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2021
I wish I would have had read the blurb on the back cover before purchasing what is one of the several hundred books I have read (or partially read) in the genre of "self help".
"This psycho-philosophical self-development book combines the ancient adage that true happiness comes from within... . It integrates the wisdom and insights of ancient mystics into a mindset and method for reprogramming your own psychological software."
This "technology" is adroitly named "Psychitecture".
The first red flag about this book is that its writing is attributed to Designing the Mind, LLC, "a self-development organization (that) "represents a new, modern way of viewing and iteratively improving your mind."
The second red flag for me was the presumption by Designing the Mind, LLP, that this organization had reinvented the wheel. Is it "new"? Perhaps...but in the same way that one might take Gordon Ramsey's recipe for roast beef with caramelized onion gravy and instead of using garlic and thyme, substituted shallots for garlic and marjoram for thyme.
If one wanted to synthesize a "psycho-philosophical" system based on the wisdom of Lao Tzu, Descartes, the Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Nietzsche, Socrates, Epictetus, Aristotle, Spinoza, Seneca, Epicurus, and Jesus, there's little doubt that one could write a book unlike any other ever written. That is not to say that when you look at the big picture the promised gains by employing the strategies would be any different than in thousands of books previously written for the purpose of "improving your mind." There is little doubt that much more accessible books such as Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking", Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", Napolean Hill's "Think and Grow Rich", Maxwell Maltz' "Psycho-Cybernetics", and even Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", have delivered to millions on their promises of personal transformation and still do more than 50 years after they were first published.
The greater problem by far of "Designing the Mind" is that for decades the brain as a computer has been the dominant metaphor in neuroscience. However, if we view the brain as a computer that passively responds to inputs and processes data because of its software, we ignore the fact that the brain is proactive and insinuates itself into the world, the model of "brain-as-computer" breaks down. Worse still (for this book's major assumption) is that neuroscientists don't really have a consensus view on what the brain actually is. And if they don't know after decades of imaging, imagining that we can repurpose our nervous system to run different programs is little more than idle speculation. Clearly, there are hundreds of research papers that Designing the Mind, LLC could cherrypick to make its case but they do not reflect the most recent movement by neuroscientists away from ANY metaphors employed to understand the brain.
Matthew Cobb, writing in the Guardian added this,
"In 2015, the roboticist Rodney Brooks chose the computational metaphor of the brain as his pet hate in his contribution to a collection of essays entitled 'This Idea Must Die'. Less dramatically, but drawing similar conclusions, two decades earlier the historian S Ryan Johansson argued that “endlessly debating the truth or falsity of a metaphor like ‘the brain is a computer’ is a waste of time.'
Neuroscientist Blake Richards summed it up in equally unambiguous terms in a N.Y. Time op.ed:
"The brain is not a computer... the brain doesn’t run any algorithms in reality, so our constant use of the words “algorithm” and “computer” when talking about the brain is misguided."
It's been very trendy the past 10 years for self-help gurus to erroneously apply quantum theory to establish credibility for their own ends. So, too, is the case with uncritically assuming our incomprehensible, 3-lb brains, with its 100 billion nerve cells each capable of connecting with 40,000 other neurons operates in just about the same away as your iPhone.
I find this just a bit discouraging. I much prefer Shakespeare's take on it:
"What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!
In form and moving how express and admirable!
In action how like an angel,
in apprehension how like a god!"
Consequently, this book is headed for a thrift shop.