Named in homage to Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, this book contains 19 short essays on consciousness. Ostensibly, a single experiment—the case of a patient who was artificially induced to laugh during brain surgery—serves as a common touchpoint to unify the essays, but I'm not sure how successful it is in shedding light on that case or consciousness in general. House is a clever writer, but because the ideas are presented in the form of poetic prose rather than precise argument, it's difficult for me to get a clear sense of what the questions are, what the proposed answers are, and how those answers are to be assessed. What I took away from the book instead is a menagerie of little facts:
- There's evidence that people having lucid dreams experience subjective time at the same rate as when they're awake—"their subjective, incepted time...not only has a time keeping device but that it may be the same one we always use".
- A study found that some people who played the game Dinner Date came to believe the events of the game had happened to them.
- There are cells in the brain that "overlay a regular, repeating, triangular grid" (and "maybe this is also behind the remarkable effectiveness of 'memory palace' tricks").
- What happens when "you cordon off each eye by placing a divider between them ... and show each eye a different image"? "People ... report viewing ... usually every few seconds, an alternation back and forth between the two images."
- On schizophrenia: "The number one nongenetic risk factor for schizophrenia is migrancy; many of the other risks involve being born in or living in urban environments, and there is a Tolstoy effect, where moving to a rural area can remove the increase in risk."
- Neuroscientist Dr. Jonathan Leong, who was interviewed in the book, had approximately 1/4 of his brain's neurons removed and believed his personality and abilities were largely unchanged.
- Pinball goes back further in history than I would have guessed. (...the second chapter is mostly a history of pinball.)
- There's a spinning restaurant in Norway that sounds pretty awesome.
- The emperor Nero appointed someone to be his "arbiter of elegance", which is definitely a contender for coolest job title ever.