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The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

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In the Beginning by Karen Armstrong
 - a new interpretation of Genesis

"Only 192 pages" well don't be fooled, 50 of those are just a copy and paste of Genesis. That aside, and, well, based on her previous work (I read The Battle for God back in 2011) which gives her some authoritative clout, if you want to gain a little understanding of the first book of the Bible then this is a good place to turn. As a book, it could have been something more, why just Armstrong's views? I have read a few historical books, and ones on religious topics, to know there are many interpretations of Genesis, this book could have been something more by collating some views from other sources, some which would agree with her view, and some would illustrate her point about the contradictive nature of the text.

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The Psychic Pathway by Sonia Choquette

Aside from the typos and mistakes every few pages that should have been picked up by a proof-reader, I found this book to be an interesting read. The term 'psychic pathway' was a new one to me and I still find it strange, much preferring to err on the idea that we each have a soul and it is that which guides us. This book made me ask myself "what do I actually believe?"

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The Fall of the West by Adrian Goldsworthy
 - The Death Of The Roman Superpower

At 560 pages this book is quite a hard slog. While the author had a large task on his hands to bring together the history of the Roman empire, that's what he's done, but there is little passion or enthusiasm and the result is dry.

Back in 2010 I read The Roman World by Martin Goodman, and that was much more digestible.

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The Infernal Machine by Carr

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Strange Telescopes by Daniel Kalder
 - An epic quest across Russia in search of lost cities, demon hunters and the traffic cop messiah

I picked up this book to try and get an insight into the world that is Russia. This is quite a funny book - I liked Kalder's dry sense of humour. It's about his year long journey and exploration of strange things and people in Russia. There are four main areas of discovery: underground tunnels, exorcists, a guy that believes/people believe is the messiah and another that built the tallest wooden building in Russia.

There is a key character for each topic and for the first three Kalder discovers a concept whereby these strange characters create a reality around themselves and he becomes part of that as he is drawn into their beliefs - whenever he feels like he's on the outside looking in on these people then the reality essentially falls apart. For the final topic it becomes, as he realises, about his own reality and how the tables are turned and he's trying to make the people he meets see the world through his eyes.

I wasn't sure if this book would give me much of an insight into Russia, but my local library was somewhat lacking in the travel section on this country so I took my chance with this one. It was quite random, and in a way lead you into a Russia, the real Russia, that I don't think a typical Visitor's Guide to Russia would reveal. In the end it was a great read and the fact that I churned through the 400 pages in less than a week (that's good going for me!) shows that it was easy to read and I'm thankful for the insight.


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The Sign and the Seal by Graham Hancock
 -
A quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant

Whilst reading The Lost of the Covenant by Tudor Parfitt, Parfitt mentioned that he had read Graham Hancocks The Sign and the Seal, and felt that he had failed to follow through on certain aspects of the Ark. That said, Parafitts own journey, and the thus the book also, ended on a bit of a flat note - the Ark, according to him was nothing than a wooden box that he had found on a shelf in a dark store room.

Curiously, after I purchased this book but before I started reading it, a friend of mine notified me of a video I should watch at www.thrivemovement.com which I did, and then discovered that The Sign and the Seal was mentioned on the website as a point of reference. I later wrote about this on my blog: http://bmhonline.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/chasing-gooses-2

Once I was finally on my way and reading this book and following the author's journey on his quest to locate the Ark I learned that his quest would take him to Axum. Just prior to reading about his journey there I caught the last few minutes of David Badiel and Hugh Dennis' episode of World's Most Dangerous Roads (series 2 episode 3, Ethiopia) [link], just as they were arriving in the city of Axum/Aksum to the church that (supposedly) houses the Ark.

The two comedians weren't allowed inside to view the holy relic, and that was also to be the conclusion of Hancock's own journey. As entertaining and informative as the book was, like Parafitt's journey, the conclusion, as I'm coming to accept in these cases, was to end on a flat note.

I re-read this book in 2018.


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Brian's Little Library

 

Prehistoric Belief by Mike Williams
 - Shamans, Trance and the Afterlife

The author does a thorough job of revealing the lives of neolithic man, from when we were 'simple' hunter gatherers, through when we started to farm the lands, up until the Roman invasions.


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The Time Machine by H. G. Wells


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Brian's Little Library

 

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Signs and Symbols

Pretty much what it says on the cover. I didn't read it from cover to cover but instead flicked through it and made notes of particular symbols I find interesting.


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The Treehouse by Naomi Wolf
 - Eccentric Wisdom on How to Live, Love and See

 

 

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Jeremy Clarkson - Round the Bend

This book is 400 pages of articles from Clarkson’s Sunday Times column, bound together and a price tag slapped on to earn the comical motoring journalist a bit of extra cash (for his children). Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because not everyone reads the Sunday Times.

Notes:

p.17 “It’s this obsession everyone has got with speed now that speed kills – it doesn’t. Suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you.”

It was back in 2005 that I read Clarkson – I Know You Got Soul – Machines with that certain something. I think I remember hearing Clarkson’s voice as I read that too, which if you can’t stand the guy isn’t a good thing.

p.39 "... have you ever actually tried those [car] cleaning products that are available in supermarkets? There are any number of sprays, creams, waxes, shampoos. It's like being in Richard Hammond's bathroom cabinet. Except, so far as I can tell, they don't actually do anything. 'Simply spray onto the glass,' it says on the tin, 'then, after two minutes, wipe down with a clean cloth.' Rubbish. You can never trust any instruction that begins with the word 'simply'. I'll give you a hint here. When your windscreen is completely covered in dead flies, the best way of seeing where you are going is to buy a new car."

He talks more sense on page 45: "Market forces dictate behaviour."

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The Book of Destiny by Carlos Barrios
 - Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012

 

I was half way through this book when it dawned on me (to my disappointment) that I had in fact finished reading it already (it wasn't due back at the library for another week.)

It would have been nice if this book was clearly laid out in two parts because the first half is about the Mayan's, their history and the author's discussions with Mayan elders, which I found quite interesting, and the second half is a glossary of Mayan Signs, like you would find in a book on astrology, and not something you would read from beginning to end, so I didn't.

The Mayan's would object to this latter half being classed as astrology, because technically it's not based on star signs but cycles, but to anyone who has read a book or two on astrology they would think it is astrology - you look up your sign in the table at the back of the book (based on your time of birth) and then refer to the section for your sign. And the wording is like astrology too with positive and negative aspects of each sign, governing body parts, colours, complementary signs and suitable professions etc.
 

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Incidentally, when I looked up my sign it didn't read like me, but since I was born in the early hours of the morning I turned to the details for the previous day and it was a better fit and felt more like me.

Back to the first half of the book, I found it quite interesting (hence my disappointment when it came to an abrupt end). It covers other topics I have read about, such as the pyramids of the world (sounding like the author has read books by Graham Hancock) and crystal skulls. The author points out early on that December 21st 2012 will not be when the world ends - it is merely the end of a cycle and the start of the next (the "fifth cycle"/"fifth cycle" called "Job Ajaw", a period of change-over which we're already in). Some might take the author's "claims" as a pinch of salt, just like The Only Planet of Choice which I read last year, which reads similar - although the author there claims its wise words come from aliens, rather than an ancient, earth-bound race, trying to teach us how to treat our planet "...respect everything that exists because... nothing on this earth belongs to us." So a little more credible, but whether you accept where the words come from or not is beside the point, it's what those words are that, I believe, are still worthy of an ear and indeed, worth acting on too.The Only Planet of Choice Compiled by Phyllis V. Schlemmer & Palden Jenkins

Because some of the topics are on global warming, materialism, and how the West behaves, and has behaved towards the native Americans, the author (or who he's quoting) does sound like he is just having a rant at times, even a bitter one. I think there would have been a better, more constructive approach here:

"We believe we are all-powerful, we worship reason and materialism, and we have become slaves of our own marvellous innovations..."

"...instant personal gratification seems more important that humanity's well-being."

"The other side is clear about what is wants. It would rather destroy so that it can continue to rule without sharing or ceding power. It is defined by this role and works on the side of negativity. It doesn't discuss, argue, or fight over positions - it knows who is boss." (my italics)

"Globalisation has created little financial cliques that vie for the world's resources, goods and services. We have no idea we are being manipulated."

"We constantly compete to accumulate material wealth to fill our houses with as many symbols of our riches as we can, but the struggle leaves us empty inside. We'd rather have the latest gadget than sit and watch the sun set."

"What's left if we take away a person's car, credit cards, cell phone, and designer clothing? Nothing but a poor, depressed, lost individual who thinks he or she is a failure and has no reason to go on living because having things is the value on which we base success."

"...Everything has been dulled - our minds and our senses. Led by technology, we have lost our way. We are all responsible for this... [and how we distract ourselves with] television and radio [and the internet].

This last point is echoed in The Shallows which I read earlier this year and a topic about the effects of computers which dates back to the 70's in the book Computer Power and Human Reason which I have also read.

 

 

Use Your Head by Dr. Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman
 - The inside track on the way we think

 

On of the things I learned early on in reading this book, is that I am an extrovert. No seriously. I was always under the assumption I was an introvert. In fact I'm still struggling to get my head around my prior grave misunderstanding of the term. But I am to be forgiven it seems:

"...contrary to received wisdom - introverts aren't necessarily shy. Shyness is essentially anxiety about how we're perceived by others... Introverts may well enjoy the company of others; they're just able to get along better without it than extroverts for most of the time."

The is a personality test on pages seven to eight and I rate highly under extroversion... which means I'm ideally suited to climbing Everest!
 

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p.10 "[It has] been suggested that the brains of people who score highly on extroversion are especially sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine..." I don't know about being sensitive to dopamine, but what about caffeine?

The Secret History of the World by Jonathan BlackI found the topics of consciousness interesting as I have read about such before, in particular how our unconscious mind can be simply where gut instinct comes from - our unconscious mind can come to a decision in split second and then our conscious mind simply tries to rationalise that decision. What we believe is happening is we're making up our mind, but in actual fact our mind has already been made.

p.264 "The brain is so powerful that, even though it accounts for just 2.5% of body weight, it devours 20% of the body's energy."

In all this book is easy to follow and covers a wide range of topics, all in enough detail to comfortably digest and ponder.

 

Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum
 - From Judgement to Calculation

 

I read the 1976 edition of this book (illustrated) although it has been re-published (and presumably updated) in 1993. I have read about similar topics, first in 50 Digital Ideas and then in The Shallows (see below). You'd think that in 35+ years this book, being about computers, would by now be pretty dated, and admittedly some concepts are, but the overall point is still valid. You would think the concerns about what effects computers have on us are more evident, but it's as if they have fallen on deaf ears - we blindly go on and move forward on this technological path we have made for ourselves. Computers in virtually every school and home, and a large proportion of people using the internet each day.
 

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It all sounds quite doom and gloom doesn't it? Well the book begins and end this way I think. Beginning with a negative look at how youngsters spend/spent their time in computer arcades, fighting, shooting and killing "the vision of countless youngsters standing hypnotised before computer displays... I think what is happening to young people... is a parable of our time, a sad and disturbing story." And that was the 1970s and these days it's all in our homes with games consoles and laptop computers and so you'd think those concerns would be more apparent now than back then with how graphic and real-looking video games are for example, but there is a "psychic numbing" induced on players of video games, and I believe, they lose their ability to empathise and thus the effects haven't turned out as serious as perhaps it was thought they might. Like video games, then as now, the internet puts us at a distance from the real. I would use the term "reality" but I think that is unique for each of us, so we can't be distant from reality... although we can lose ourselves. "...what is even more worrisome is that the kind of naive simple mindedness I am here talking about, results in the end in, yes is, an abdication of responsibility, a closing of the mind to reality without an accompanying sense of incompleteness..."

The book is in part about artificial intelligence (AI) and the author's concerns about the moral implications for allowing this to progress down certain paths. I think the truth is that AI has developed at a slower pace than was anticipated and so the concerns in this area aren't as important (although still important) but these concerns can be transferred to the new uses for computers and how they have developed along a path that wasn't foreseen, namely the social impact uses. Today we have mobile computing and social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, and it is here that the moral issues should be focussed.

"Joseph Weizenbaum's influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgement To Calculation (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976; ISBN 0-7167-0463-3) displays his ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while artificial intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom." - wikipedia

Moving on to the core of the book, here the author uses some BASIC programming and other technical concepts to bring the points across, which would now feel pretty dated to read by anyone, although luckily for me I've dabbled in BASIC in the past and was already familiar with some of the concepts so it wasn't too much of a chore for me to slog through. Then, as mentioned, the book ends with the doom and gloom it started with. Towards the second to last chapter Weizenbaum to me seemed like he went on a rant - making some good points but a bit muddled (as rants tend to be).

Weizenbaum hits on topics I have read about before, such as the balance of the rational/scientific/materialistic vs. morals/gut instinct and questions (rightly so). He questions why we spend so much money on defence budgets for example instead of looking at other means to solve global conflicts "...the introduction of computer into our already highly technological society has... merely reinforced and amplified those antecedent pressures that have driven man to an ever more highly rationalistic view of his society and an ever more mechanistic image of himself." We can no longer see a life or world without what we have created, it's as if this is the only way, hard, cold, no soul. It's not that we've created machines that have taken over the world, it's that we have become the machines we have created. "Fuck the system" Sorry, but we are the system. But there is hope, I believe, because "...every attempt to solve life's problems by entirely rational means always fails."

If anything this book is more relevant today than when it was written, but only because its points have not been properly acknowledged or addressed by those in power. As individuals we could choose not to buy into technology the way we do, working so many extra hours each week to pay for a materialistic lifestyle that is seemingly more comfortable, evolved, dignified, scientific, progressive than an unconsidered alternative.

 

The Lost Ark of the Covenant: The Remarkable Quest for the Legendary Ark by Tudor Parfitt

 

I do like reading about such topics as the Ark of the Covenant, so when I saw this book at my local library I promptly borrowed it.

This book is written like a novel with the author playing the central character. For this reason it is easy to read, but compared to other non-fiction books I've read on the topic, I gleaned fewer points of interest - the facts and what the author has to say is padded out with who's wearing what, what make of car they're being driven around in and what everyone is drinking during discussions with other 'characters'. It has adventure, love and romance. This also makes the overall story less credible, and not potentially groundbreaking as the author wants us to believe.

However, perhaps, as the author points out, it is the biblical accounts of the Ark that are played up, making it out to be something unique, an awesome gold-lined box of wonder, whereas it was more likely a simple wooden box that was commonly used at the time, thus when/as the truth is revealed it can feel like a let-down.

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The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr

 

This book must have been quoted in 50 Digital Ideas I read earlier this year as I ordered it from my library.

I grew up first without the internet, then when I was about 17 I bought my first computer and soon after that I got hooked up to and hooked up on the internet. Now a days there are people who grew up in the internet age and thus have never experienced a time without - they have no comparison. For me, I'm quite aware of how my world has changed and Nocholas Carr has noticed how his world has similarly changed too. It's a concern and his book outlines those concerns, not through scaremongering, but with honesty and facts. I think a greater concern is how the internet not only affects individuals, but society as a whole, and how a large number of individuals are probably oblivious to its effects and perhaps how their life could be better without it.

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King Jesus: From Kam (Egypt) to Camelot: King Jesus of Judea was King Arthur of England by Ralph Ellis

 

The title say it all, but leaving it there is quite an understatement for this book as it took me a while to consume the 581 pages. But it was well worth the slog. By extending the life of Jesus, who wasn't how the Bible portrays him, beyond the years that he supposedly died on the cross (for that was John the Baptist) there is then more of the life of Jesus' life, and the author does a good job of filling us in - and it's all perfectly plausible to me. Later in his life Jesus escaped to Britain, Chester to be exact and this is where his story merges with that of King Arthur, which the author sets further back in time (which again makes sense to me).

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50 Digital Ideas by Tom Chatfield
-
you really need to know

 

This book was received as a gift and provides what it says on the cover. Now I’m never one to claim I know everything about technology and computers, and in fact this book made me more aware of how little I do know.

Notes:

The @ symbol p.17 “Until its first use in emails in 1971, the @ symbol was an obscure accounting symbol… Since then, it has become one of the world’s most widely used symbols and has gathered a… variety of different descriptions in different languages. While in English it is simply called the ‘at sign’, others are more poetic. In Italian, it is chiocciola, ‘the snail’ thanks to its shape, while the Finnish language thinks it looks more like a curled-up cat (miukumauku). Russian leans towards a dog (sobaka) and the Chinese sometimes call it xiao laoshu or ‘little mouse. But perhaps most colourful of all is the German interpretation: Klammeraffe or ‘spider-monkey’.
 

50 Digital Ideas

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Brian's Little Library

 

Netiquette p.47 “if you wish to be part of a civilized digital culture, treat it as you would any other civilized realm, and maintain the same standards that govern decent interactions between people – who, whether the space they are interacting within is virtual or physical, themselves remain real.”

DAMHIKIJKOK p.57 “don’t ask me how I know, I just know ok” I’ve not come across this one before!

Mashups p.113

Lolcat Bible: “In teh beginz is teh meow, and teh meow sez ‘Oh hai Ceiling Cat and teh meow iz teh Ceiling Cat’” – www.lolcatbible.com

Culture Jamming “is ‘jamming’ in the same sense that one side might attempt to disrupt radio communications during a conflict: it aims to disrupt and subvert mainstream cultural messages, often for satirical or political ends. Given the ease with which digital media can be manipulated, culture jamming broadly describes whole swathes of online activity and an ‘alternative’ scene that has itself become sufficiently established to merit further satire and subversion.” p.116

This is a topic I find particularly interesting. I do believe we are all controlled, some more so than others. Controlled through advertising which encourages us to buy things we don’t need, buying into pointless products and pointless technology. Controlled through the media to believe certain things or to see the world from a certain perspective, most notably during conflict. Controlled through entertainment which portrays certain lifestyles, causing us to aspire to them because we are lead to believe what we see is the norm. And the reason for this control? On a basic level it is just money – material wealth by the controllers, the ones at the top. On a deeper level, maybe non-material.

Going viral “The most followed people on social networks are actors, musicians and celebrities… This reflects not so much the loss of internet subcultures the loss of the internet as a subculture.” p.171 It’s a shame isn’t it?

Virtual worlds “are… self-contained unreal places that people can ‘visit’, interact within and use to experiment with different ways of being… In the last few decades, they have moved with remarkable speed from being mere imaginative experiments to both powerful artistic and experimental arenas…” p.172

“Anyone who is worried about the effects of virtual worlds on social interaction should direct their concern at television long, long before they look at virtual worlds” – Richard Bartle, “British writer, professor and game researcher, best known for being the co-creator of MUD1 and the author of the seminal Designing Virtual Worlds.” – wikipedia

“…virtual worlds have continued to grow in influence. In 2003, American company Linden Lab launched Second Life, an online space in which players were given an unprecedented degree of freedom to live out virtual lives through their avatars, buying virtual land and consuming virtual goods from a variety of real-world companies with a virtual presence within Second Life.”

“…it is primarily a social space, and one for indulging in the fantastical delights of building everything from virtual places to factories, but it has featured as a virtual venue for everything from business meetings to artistic collaborations and teaching… some people refer to [it] as the ‘three dimensional internet.’”

“The migration of attention towards virtual worlds brings with it many concerns, some of which centre on the neglect of real life… exceptional cases will always exist [such as wives] who leave their husbands. But studies do suggest that those predisposed to addictive behaviour should exercise caution around the extraordinarily compelling experiences some game worlds can offer.”

Avatars p.177 “How does the way someone looks in the virtual world change the way they and others behave? Perhaps unsurprisingly, experiments using different kinds of avatars have found that people tend to be more confident and willing to engage others when they are using more attractive and more appealing-looking avatars. More interestingly, though, research suggests that these effects can coss over in a limited way into the real world, and that after using attractive avatars and behaving confidently online, people may for a short period of time be more confident in the real world.”

 

Every Word Has Power – Yvonne Oswald
- Switch on your language and turn on your life

 

This is very much a positive thinking book – the words we use in our vocabulary, not just vocally, but in our heads also, carry energy, good and ba… not so good (see, I am learning!)

I am very much an optimist but I was interested to see just how much more positive I could be. And even the most cheerful of people can’t surely be upbeat all of the time, so this book can even help you bounce back quicker.

One task to help improve your attitude and ensure you speak with only positive and high power words is to work with a friend, colleague or family member and correct each other if they speak a not so good word. Interestingly I do this with my step dad already as he is quite the pessimist – he’ll even speak of something in such a negative way and with such authority, like if some DIY needs doing it’s always “it can’t be fixed” – it amuses me to correct him, and then prove him wrong!
 

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This book also talks about the power of intention which I read about back in 2011 in The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart:

The Intention Experiment is largely about how to help people using your mind – giving out good intentions. The body (not just the brain) communicates these intentions as electro-magnetic waves. Interestingly, increased solar activity, such as sun spots/solar flares which reach the earth and are known to disrupt satelites and earth-based electronic equipment will inevitably have an effect on the human brain (some dispute this as the effects are going to be subtle in most cases), but McTaggart documents correlations between experiments and ‘magnetically stormy days’ and indeed, “people with weaker constitutions [such as mental health patients] are at the mercy of the Sun’s restless activity.” (p.146). It seems to me that while it is known/believed that the Moon can have such effects, seemingly based on gravitational energy, if it is the Sun’s electromagnetic energy that has these effects, then in actual fact, it is the Moon’s effect on the Earth’s magnetic field when the Sun is on the opposite side of us that plays a/the part.

The Intention Experiment was much more scientific in it’s angle with references to actual experiments carried out, not to say that Every Word Has Power doesn’t have any rational basis, but Oswald does raise topics and has ideas that will stretch the imagination of some. Having said that, she does refer to findings by physicists, such as referring to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (p.41), but these can be a little bit like “look, it’s real, science says so”. Having said that, it’s certainly worth a read and even after reading the first chapter I was feeling quite upbeat.

Oswald also talks about other topics I find particularly interesting, such as reality and how we each perceive it, the subconscious or unconscious mind and dreams.

p.1 “‘reality’ is simply your perception of what you believe to be true.”

p.8 “Your reality can be as good as your heart desires because, if you can imagine it, your unconscious believes it to be true and can attract it for you.”

p.51 “Our experience of reality is simply the memory of what we perceived at the time.” It was at this stage in the book that I was reminded of a book I read back in 2001 called Time Shifting in which the author, Stephan Rechtschaffen, revealed to me that the ability to kind of time travel, or at least slow down time exists in our minds. I remember to this day as I always will, the moment I carried out an experiment in the book – I became hyper-aware and where I was and what I was seeing at that moment became imprinted on my mind – an image that isn’t all that spectacular or important in itself as I was only working a drab part time job in a supermarket at the time, but the ability and point of it is all important, as is the ability to shift back to that moment in time, the image fresh like it was yesterday – time and indeed reality are just an illusion.

p.97 “You are naturally a seeker. Your deepest neural networks are programmed to complete patterns.” This explains why we can spend so long puzzling over our dreams, trying to decipher the symbols and why, if someone lies to us, when we get a hint that it is a lie, it eats away at us as we puzzle over it, trying to discover the truth.

p.98 “Your dreams are one of the ways the unconscious attempts to balance [emotions] and sort out the feelings.”

 

 

Because some of my reviews on books have increasingly included vast notes and quotations, I would like to point out that I do recognise that these books are protected by the Copyright act. I put my views online to share with other internet browsers in the hope that little snippets of information may be useful and my views interesting. I have always included links to the online retailer Amazon and encourage anyone that finds any title particularly interesting (thanks to what I have to say) to either buy a copy or borrow one from their local library.

 

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