80+ and counting – What I’ve been Reading Recently – My Bookshelf #8

80+ and counting - What I've Been Reading Recently - My Bookshelf #8

Intro

I read little over 80 books in 2015. And I still have about 2 more weeks to add a few titles to the list.

Some background information for my 2015:

– traveled more than in 2014
– published 3 books (compared to 2 in 2014) and I’m in the processing of finishing another one by the end of the year
– in terms of books read, I’m ahead of my 2014 performance with 20+ titles.

How do I do it?!

First of all, reading is not one of my hobbies. It’s what I do everyday. It’s a necessity for me. It’s like my brain craves knowledge. I devote most of my reading time to books from the fields I’m mostly interested in: genomics and nutritional genomics, epigenetics, neuroscience, and entrepreneurship.

I also leave room for books that are on different subjects, as a way to flavor my daily routine. Besides book, I read a lot of research studies, listen to audiobooks and also podcasts on the subject.

One of the things that seem to keep fueling this habit is that I apply concepts learned from these books. Otherwise, this would be futile.

Knowledge without action is meaningless.

I learned from personal experience first and then from other people that to succeed [in whatever you want], you have to take action everyday.

No drama, no romanticism, no motivational self-talk. Just take raw, massive, and persistent action everyday. Be proactive, as Stephen Covey said.

And as per Brian Tracy, it’s easy to talk; everyone can do it. But the ones who achieve [broadly speaking] are the doers.

Hence, enough with the talk! Let me share with you some of the titles that I read since my last similar post. To see all my previous book-related entries: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 and #7.

Mantra from previous posts:

The more I read, the more I realize the little I know.
Reading is not a hobby; it is part of my daily routine. It wasn’t always like that.
I don’t do speed reading. I avoid being superficial.
I don’t want to skim through the books I read.
I take a significant amount of time to digest each of them slowly.
I read 7-10 books at a time. It’s not easy. But I enjoy it a lot.
Even though I do not practice speed reading, it seems that I can visualize and process words faster; so I read faster.
I think that through practice, I’ve been able to develop this skill.

The List #8

  1. Guido Mase – The Wild Medicine Solution – Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants

I found out about this one from a Ben Greenfield podcast. Since I am interested in studying and experimenting with plant compounds to optimize my biochemistry, this was definitely worth the read.

The book structures plant medicine in three major categories: aromatics, bitters, and tonics. I learned a lot about linden, ginger, peppermint, garlic, dandelion, burdock, chocolate, hawthorn, and several other adaptogenic and non-adaptogenic herbs and medicines. Including concepts from epigenetics and the xenobiome is definitely a +1 for this book.

“The work of Mithridates proceeded along two tracks. First, he learned all about the toxic plants and how to prepare and administer them. This was accomplished through experiments on himself (and others, including many animals) both to determine dosage and also to build a tolerance to the poisonous alkaloids found in these herbs.”

  1. Nick Lane – The Vital Question – Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

This is not your average bedtime story book. Though not a researcher, Nick Lane has done an amazing job at presenting in painstaking detail a modern response to the age-old question of ‘what is life?’.

Building on Schrödinger’s work, his book dives deep into primordial hydrothermal vents and tells us how simple life may have evolved there through an uncomfortable (and forced) reaction between H2 and CO2.

I learned about endosymbionts, mitochondrial energy dynamics, chemiosmosis, carbon fixation, lateral gene transfer, the origin of complex cells, and how the popular tree of life may be widely inaccurately designed. I share his fascination about the ATP synthase and I applaud the level of detail he provided for such an incredibly small enzyme.

“This huge electrical potential, known as the proton-motive force, drives the most impressive protein nanomachine of them all, the ATP synthase. Motive implies motion and the ATP synthase is indeed a rotary motor, in which the flow of protons turns a crank shaft, which in turn rotates a catalytic head.

These mechanical forces drive the synthesis of ATP. The protein works like a hydroelectric turbine, whereby protons, pent up in a reservoir behind the barrier of the membrane, flood through the turbine like water cascading downhill, turning the rotating motor. This is barely poetic licence but a precise description, yet it is hard to convey the astonishing complexity of this protein motor.”

More on life:

“We have established on thermodynamic grounds that to make a cell from scratch requires a continuous flow of reactive carbon and chemical energy across rudimentary catalysts in a constrained through-flow system.

Only hydrothermal vents provide the requisite conditions, and only a subset of vents – alkaline hydrothermal vents – match all the conditions needed. But alkaline vents come with both a serious problem and a beautiful answer to the problem.

The serious problem is that these vents are rich in hydrogen gas, but hydrogen will not react with CO2 to form organics. The beautiful answer is that the physical structure of alkaline vents – natural proton gradients across the semi conducting walls – will (theoretically) drive the formation of organics. And then concentrate them. To my mind, at least, all this makes a great deal of sense.”

“Rock, water, and CO2; the shopping list for life.”

Returning to Earth from this primordial microscopic adventure, I start becoming invulnerable to the myopic-view of improving wellbeing through diet (macros) and exercise alone (which is the conventional message popularized within/to society).

Yes, I find it unacceptable to think that in the world of today you become healthier by focusing on your macros and by exercising (whatever the protocol may be).

  1. Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden – Life on the Edge – The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

To make matters worse and to increase my awareness of the little I know, I had to add a book on quantum field theory to my reading list.

The authors do an admirable job at introducing the reader to this fascinating subject. And they also present the latest concepts and breakthroughs in quantum biology, a field increasing in popularity.

One exampled that is being mentioned several times throughout the book involves magneto-reception and how some birds can guide themselves when migrating with the help of Earth’s geomagnetic field.

There are many ideas that overlap with the previous book, such as: the life and work of Erwin Schrödinger, as well as the works of other revolutionizing scientists such as Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg, to name a few.

Unless you are intimately interested in the field of quantum theory, which is still somewhat regarded as esoteric, quantum biology is by far unapproachable. So, I’d rather not go into too much detail about it. Moreover, there are many concepts that I find difficult to understand myself and I know that it will take a lot of time for me to get to a solid ground with this. So, I take it slowly.

  1. Masoro and Austad – Handbook of the Biology of Aging

Yet another textbook/handbook/manual on one of the areas that I’m currently interested in. This 500-page monster is unbelievably technical. It takes you through the biology and biochemistry of the aging process in different organisms: from the humble C. elegans to yeast, flies and eventually to mammals (including humans).

I was particularly interested in this book because more than 40 people contributed to its creation, including several researchers that I follow with avid interest: George Sutphin, David Sinclair, Luigi Fontana, Caleb Finch, and Eric Greer are to name a few.

  1. Lanza and Langer – Principles of Tissue Engineering

Unless you’re interested in synthetic biology and tissue engineering, this is not something you’d want to read. 1,900+ pages long, simply makes this book unsocial and unappealing, unless you’re working in the field or unless you are some sort of weirdo like me who enjoys the excruciating level of detail and the highly technical terminology.

One of its contributors is a researcher whose work I follow and appreciate tremendously: Robert Langer of MIT.

  1. Annas and Elias – Genomic Messages – How the Evolving Science of Genetics affects our Health, Families and Future

This is an easier, though still technical, read on the current state of genomics and the research that’s undergoing in this field. It’s more approachable than the previous books, but it’s still unappealing if you’re not interested in the topic.

I enjoyed reading it particularly because it used numerous examples to make a point with respect to different genetic mutations and also to various epigenetic modulators. Most importantly, I would recommend it because of its high practicality and the focus it puts on the legislation that should be created for this field (which is still chaotic).

We have the technology. We’re not exactly sure how to make use of it in the most ethical manner. The same story goes for autonomous cars and A.I. (artificial intelligence).

  1. David Eagleman – The Brain – The Story of You

To continue with the trend, this title is even more accessible to the reader interested in non-fiction books. It is the book version of the PBS series under the same title.

David Eagleman is a great storyteller and he’s got a +1 from me because of the remarkable job he does when explaining neuroscience in lay terms. Several times while reading the book I had that AHA moment.

I was literally thrown away by the cognitive limits we impose to our neuro-cortices (to be read: we limit ourselves in our thoughts – cage thinking).

One of the AHA moments was when I read that our brain likes to encode/decode information in a pattern-like fashion. We want/tend to find meaning in any experience we are subjected.

That is how we acquire spoken language. We gather knowledge through our senses (eyes, ears, nose, etc) and then we process/decode/organize it accordingly. Okay, this is the conventional approach.

Unconventional idea (exemplified):

You scroll through social media feed for 2 hours everyday. You absorb information through your eyes (mostly), which is then encoded/included in your neural network.

Your brain doesn’t subjectively differentiate between the methods through which you input information (vision, hearing, smell, taste, etc). Its purpose is to extract/find meaningful information, to categorize/tag it, to store it for future use or to discard it.

Now here’s the kick:

Instead of spending 2 hour to get that information to your brain, you could wear a vibrating wristband that is connected to your social feed, encoding information in a predetermined (preset) vibrational language.

Feeding this information to your brain for a certain amount of time will allow your cortex to makes sense of it and, most importantly, to decode/understand it/digest it the same way you understand spoken language. Ingenious right?! Give it some thought…

Watch Eagleman’s TED talk about this.

  1. Perry Marshall – Evolution 2.0 – Breaking the Deadlock between Darwin and Design

This book was so important to my understanding of both faith and science that I devoted 2,600+ words to write about it. See here.

Darwinists underestimate nature. Creationists underestimate God.

Major take-away message:

Stay away from dogmatic/myopic/dual(either this or that)/cage-like thinking.

Instead of always looking at/seeking evidence to prove your beliefs (which is a sign of weak thinking), try to look at evidence to disprove it. You’ll be far better with this strategy. Please don’t believe all the thoughts that cross your mind.

And please don’t take my word on this. Do a quick research on logical fallacies and cognitive biases that the human brain is subjected to all the time.

  1. Sam Harris – Free Will

The ideas from this book align with the previous take-away message.

Free will may be an illusion, especially if you look at it through neuroscience and through psychology lenses. Sam Harris does a great job explaining his rationale for the illusion of free will in a relatively short read.

“People feel (or presume) an authorship of their thoughts and actions that is illusory. If we were to detect their conscious choices on a brain scanner seconds before they were aware of them, they would be rightly astonished – because this would directly challenge their status as conscious agents in control of their inner lives. We know that we could perform such an experiment, at least in principle, and if we tuned the machinery correctly, subjects would feel that we were reading their minds (or controlling them).[11]

[11] Daniel Dennett talks about an unpublished experiment in Consciousness Explained, one of his books. In the experiment a neurosurgeon connected the motor cortices of his patients to a slide projector. Asked to advance the slides at their leisure, the subjects were said to have felt that the projector was reading their minds. Unfortunately, there is some uncertainty as to whether the experiment was performed.”

Certain or uncertain, I’ve heard of similar experiments. And to get a deeper insight into the flaws of the human brain, I’d recommend slowly digesting Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain and Steven Novella’s Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills. The latter is more laden with technical terminology, while the former is more accessible to the lay person.

  1. Seth Godin – Tribes – We need You to Lead Us

Moving on to more readable books and getting into a field that I’m passionate about (entrepreneurship), who is more appropriate to learn from that Seth Godin?!

Tribes is the current day version of a motivational-action-demanding book.

If you’re having a hard time to get up and do something with your life, you may start by picking up this title. Same as Sam Harris’, this book is a relatively short-read.

The illusion of many graduates today:

“Or consider the MBA student I met yesterday who is taking a job at a major packaged-goods company because they offered her a great salary and promised her a well-known brand. She’s going to stay “for just ten years, then have a baby and leave and start my own gig.” She’ll get really good at running coupons in the Sunday paper, but not particularly good at solving new problems.
What a waste.
Step one is to give the problem a name. Sheepwalking. Done.
Step two is for those of you who see yourself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.
The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that’s to embrace nonsheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it. As we’ve seen, just about everywhere there’s been growth lately is where the good stuff happens.”

  1. Daniel Levitin – The Organized Mind – Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

From an evolutionary and neuroscience perspective, the human brain likes to operate by organizing and categorizing the information it sucks up through senses.

Reading Levitin’s and Eagleman’s books in parallel would be a good way to better understand the way you think.

You’d be able to optimize and improve the efficiency of your inner CPU that could translate into a more productive, focused, non-chaotic, and anti-entropic existence.

“Attention is created by networks of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (just behind your forehead) that are sensitive to dopamine. When dopamine is released, it unlocks them, like a key in our front door, and they start firing tiny electrical impulses that stimulate other neurons in their network. But what causes the initial release of dopamine? Typically, one of two different triggers:

  1. Something can grab your attention automatically, usually something that is salient to your survival, with evolutionary origins…”
  1. Taylor Pearson – The End of Jobs – Money, Meaning and Freedom without the 9-to-5

Even though this may not have been Taylor’s primary objective for his book, I found it very inspirational and action-driven. It makes you want to jump out of the chair and work relentlessly to reach the objectives you set for yourself.

I learned how Taylor engineered the release and the march of his book to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.

Detail oriented? Yes!
Feedback analysis and continuous improvement?! You bet.
Tireless action? Definitely.

In my most recent trip to the States, I had the opportunity to have lunch and exchange some ideas with Taylor. It was an interesting and insightful encounter with a like-minded individual. Meeting Taylor would not have been possible had I not received a tip from Andrei Ghimus, a fellow Romanian virtual friend.

“One common mistake early entrepreneurs make is that they think they need a business idea. That’s rarely the case: you don’t need a business idea – you need relationships.”

Taylor, I couldn’t agree more!

Conclusion

I know that some of these books are not relevant to many of you, mostly because they reflect the fields I’m currently interested in.

Disregard them? You could. Challenge yourself to learn something new? Will you?

Make your own choice.

What any reader should/could take away from this write-up is that I would have never achieved anything that I achieved so far had I not put unlimited time to reading books/research studies, to listening to audiobooks/interviews, to viewing lectures and to attending seminars in the topics of my interest.

It is futile comparing myself to others. I match my current achievements to the possible nonsuccesses I would have seen, had I not been so engaged in active knowledge acquisition and most especially in the experiential/empirically application of that knowledge.

I’d appreciate if you can recommend some of the books you highly-regard and some of the inspiring people you have chosen to follow.

Comments and questions below.

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