The best books on perception

4 authors have picked their favorite books about perception and why they recommend each book.

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By Timothy D. Wilson,

Book cover of Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live by

Redirect describes the research on how self-stories drive our behavior. “Self-stories” are the small stories we tell ourselves and others about why we do what we do. There are two reasons why this book is so amazing: First, it makes you see that these largely unconscious self-stories are really controlling our whole lives, and secondly, Dr. Wilson shares his research on how very easy it actually is to change the stories and therefore change our lives. I’ve used his techniques many times to make it through my own life challenges and it works. Changing your self-story is the only way to get your life to change. Luckily, if you follow Dr. Wilson’s research and techniques you will discover it is much easier than you think to change the stories.

Who am I?

I have a Ph.D. in Psychology and a lifelong fascination with people and why they do the things they do, including why I do the things I do. My life and career have been all about trying to learn as much as I can about psychology, brain science, how people think, how people learn, and how to use this body of knowledge and research to understand myself and others. My work is about applying behavioral science to the design of technology to better fit and serve people.

I wrote...

How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the art and science of persuasion and motivation

By Susan M. Weinschenk,

Book cover of How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the art and science of persuasion and motivation

What is my book about?

Whether you want your customers to buy from you, your employees to take more initiative, or your spouse to make dinner—a large amount of every day is about getting the people around you to do stuff. Instead of using your usual tactics that sometimes work and sometimes don't, what if you could harness the power of psychology and brain science to get people to want to do the stuff you want them to do.

In this book you’ll learn the 7 drivers that motivate people: The Desire For Mastery, The Need To Belong, The Power of Stories, Carrots and Sticks, Instincts,  Habits, and Tricks Of The Mind. You will learn the research behind each drive, what works when, and strategies for how to make them work.

Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense

By Steve Hagen,

Book cover of Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense: An Inquiry Into Science, Philosophy and Perception

Our daily routine and the full of distractions life of the 21st-century human often draft us away and divert us from the fact that we live in a completely weird and bizarre reality. Steve Hagan digs deeper into this concept and presents amusing and mind-blowing notions about our perception and the things that we made out of it (philosophy and science). 

Who am I?

Mahmoud Elsayed has always been interested in finding rational answers to the big existential questions. This could clearly be noticed in his writings and philosophy. He has also worked in various and somehow diverse fields of engineering and science which allowed him to smoothly, flexibly, and knowledgeably jump from a field of expertise to another in order to make his philosophical arguments comprehensive. 

I wrote...

The Bitter Truth of Reality: The route to skepticism and the case against objective reality

By Mahmoud Elsayed,

Book cover of The Bitter Truth of Reality: The route to skepticism and the case against objective reality

What is my book about?

Reality is the one word that describes everything we live in, everything we know, knew, and will. It represents time, space, and all the other possible dimensions. But what exactly is reality? In his book, The Bitter Truth of Reality, author Mahmoud Elsayed attempts to answer this complex query by taking a journey through physics, biology, human anatomy, history, philosophy, and even religions. Hopefully, by the end of this book, the reader will find an answer to this question that sits at the top of the existential questions list.

A Stone Sat Still

By Brendan Wenzel (illustrator),

Book cover of A Stone Sat Still

I absolutely adore this book by Brendan Wenzel. It’s all about a stone and how various animals see it and describe it in completely different ways. It contains a powerful message about how we all have different perspectives. Many different factors play into our perspectives such as life experiences, our upbringing, our personality, and our attitude. It was a wonderful conversation starter with my children so we could talk about how we can change our attitudes and shape our perspectives to achieve a more happy life. 

Who am I?

I've always believed in the power behind positive thinking, but it’s easy to get caught up in feelings of worry or disappointment. I picked this topic because I feel that perspective is the tool that can help us change a negative attitude into a positive one. We don’t always have control of various things happening in the world around us. However, we do have the power to try to change our perspective and look at things in a more positive way. I believe this skill is essential to find gratitude and happiness in life, and I love how each of these books approach the topic of the importance of perspective in different ways.

I wrote...

The Fun Thieves

By Carli Valentine,

Book cover of The Fun Thieves

What is my book about?

Disappointment looms when fun activities keep getting canceled due to the fun thievery by different elements in nature. But are these thieves really all bad

Children will learn to keep positive attitudes when dealing with frustrating situations and change their perspectives to help them look on the bright sideRelatable situations will help to teach kids to try to find the good in something that seems to be all bad.


By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Ubik

PKD is the master of stripping away the veils of the so-called real world and uncovering the wonders of the Reality that lies beneath—and Ubik is my favorite of his novels. Reading PKD is like ingesting a mind-expanding drug. You’ll want to touch the wall after consuming Ubik, just to make sure the room you’re in is solid and actually there. Questioning the nature of what we assume to be real, as PKD does so well, can lead us to truly transcendent levels of Reality.

Who am I?

In my senior year of high school I had an experience that shifted my view of Life, the Universe, and Everything—and that experience cracked open both my interior and exterior worlds, taking me to extraordinary inner spaces and to the feet of a great spiritual master in India. I cherish stories that can look at the (apparently) mundane and find the glistening jewels of spirit hidden beneath, just as I treasure stories that use the tropes of fantasy to open our eyes to the universe’s sacred wonders. All the books on this list have done that for me. 

I wrote...

The Excavator

By J.M. DeMatteis,

Book cover of The Excavator

What is my book about?

Sandra Rosen awakens to find a mysterious boy standing at the foot of her bed. It is, she soon discovers, her son Henry. But she has no memory of his existence. A mind-hacker has excavated her psyche with surgical precision and now demands a ransom to replace the priceless memories he’s stolen.

Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

By Anthony Chemero,

Book cover of Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

On the last page of The Continuity of Mind, I playfully hinted at a sequel (probably written by someone else) that would continue the paradigm’s push not just away from a “computer metaphor for the mind” but even beyond a brain-based approach to cognition. A couple of years later, Tony Chemero published Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, which (to me) felt like that sequel. 

In Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, Chemero draws on philosophy, then on cognitive psychology, then on dynamical systems theory, then on ecological psychology, and finally back to philosophy to tell the story of a progressive interdisciplinary approach to understanding sensorimotor processing and human experience as belonging to the natural order – rather than being some unique phenomenon that has no overlap with the rest of the natural world. After setting the stage with a treatment of the philosophical background and defining what the theoretical stakes…

Who am I?

Over the past 25 years, I have spent half of my time as a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the second half as a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Merced. The interdisciplinary field of cognitive science invites a much wider range of methods, theories, and perspectives in studying the mind. My work employs dynamical systems theory, neural network simulations, eye-tracking, and other dense-sampling measures of cognitive processes to reveal how the brain, body, and environment cooperate to generate mental activity. In 2010, I was awarded the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society. I have authored two books, The Continuity of Mind, and Who You Are.

I wrote...

Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

By Michael J. Spivey,

Book cover of Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

What is my book about?

In Who You Are, I draw primarily on cognitive neuroscience and psychology experiments to show that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are.

Each chapter incrementally expands a common definition of the self. After first helping you discard your tacit assumptions about who you are, the next chapters describe research that reveals the back-and-forth flow of information between all the regions of the brain and the interaction between the brain and body. The scientific evidence supports a view of mind that is embodied and extended. In fact, you may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Who You Are confirms this intuition with scientific findings.

Becoming Animal

By David Abram,

Book cover of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Becoming Animal changed the way I look at my habitat. I hope it does the same for you. In his philosophical musings, David Abram contemplates why nature is something we look at, not something we are. He suggests our calloused coldness and ordered separation from other species allows us to subdue the wild-ness, but it comes with a numbing feeling of solitude. I too believe our disconnect with natural systems fuels many human ailments (physical and psychological). I love Abram’s suggestion that we change the spelling of Earth to Eairth to acknowledge that we, and the air we breathe, are part of this planet, not separate from it. 

Who am I?

My parents took my brother and me out of school on April Fool’s Day 1979 (when I was 13). We spent the next eight years sailing from the UK to the Americas. Our ‘boat-schooling’ was informed by the world around us: trying to plot our position with sextant taught me mathematics; squinting at a scooped bucket of seaweed taught me about biodiversity; hunkering down in horrendous storms made me realise my insignificance; and finding a way to communicate in local markets took away my fear of difference. April 1st is my most significant anniversary. I'm indebted to my courageous parents for helping me understand I'm a small part of of an incredible planet.

I wrote...

Saving Sun Bears: One man's quest to save a species

By Sarah R. Pye,

Book cover of Saving Sun Bears: One man's quest to save a species

What is my book about?

When I met Malaysian ecologist Dr. Wong, I asked what she could do to help him save the Bornean rainforest. He replied, “do what you do best.” Those five powerful words sparked a Doctor of Creative Arts degree, an enduring friendship, and his award-winning biography, Saving Sun Bears

In this inspirational story, ‘papa bear’ (as he is known), tries to save the ‘forgotten bear’ from extinction. It’s a journey of leaky gum boots, remote helicopter expeditions, incense-smoked Buddhist temples, heart-pumping rejection letters, and momentous goodbyes. Wong’s quest takes him around the world, and in 2017 he is named a CNN Wildlife Hero - proving one person can make a difference.

The Mind's Eye

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of The Mind's Eye

For me, thinking about blindness and the brain all started with an essay by Oliver Sacks called “To See and Not See” (An Anthropologist on Mars). In The Mind’s Eye Sacks picks up some of the threads of that earlier essay and goes deep into how seeing is not just a matter of having functioning eyes. From the pianist who could  suddenly no longer read music to blind people (like myself) who still consider themselves very visual, these neurological tales are intellectually intriguing and emotionally compelling. Sacks even includes his own journal of vision loss as one of the case studies. But whether he is the patient or the doctor, his distinct voice and personal connection to his subject matter has had a huge influence on my own writing.

Who am I?

Thanks to a degenerative retinal eye disease, I’ve lived on pretty much every notch of the sight-blindness continuum. While going blind super slowly I’ve engaged with the science of seeing and not-seeing as an  academic and artist for about 25 years. I like to say that there are as many ways of being blind as there are of being sighted, there are just fewer of us. Besides teaching literature and humanities courses at NYU, I’ve lectured on art, accessibility, technology, and disability at universities and institutions around the country. I love sharing stories about the brain on blindness, and hope you find my recommendations as fascinating as I do.

I wrote...

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

By M. Leona Godin,

Book cover of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

What is my book about?

From Homer to Helen Keller, Dune to Stevie Wonder, the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” Blindness has been used to signify thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). At the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight, such as the poetic gifts of John Milton and  the heightened senses of the superhero Daredevil.

Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it.

Hair Peace

By Dawn Doig, Savannah Horton (illustrator),

Book cover of Hair Peace

This is a wonderful story about self-confidence, self-esteem, and being kind to ourselves. It is easy to want what others have and oftentimes comparing ourselves brings about negative emotions. This story teaches us to embrace our differences and accept ourselves as we are.

Who am I?

I know first hand the damage that bullying can have on children, It weighs heavy on your psyche, and emotional well-being. I was determined to find a way to teach children important values to fight the root causes of bullying. I found an old "sketch" and it was my "aha" moment. With continued tweaking, my bubbly hippo was born that I named Bentley. Sporting his red running shoes, Bentley has become a positive role model for children. He represents resilience, friendship, joy, and kindness. We all grew up hugging a teddy bear, but now it's time for the World to Hug a Hippo. The books I've picked below inspire me and will help kids learn the value of kindness. 

I wrote...

The Adventures of Bentley Hippo: Inspiring Children to be Kind

By Argyro Graphy, Michael Reyes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Adventures of Bentley Hippo: Inspiring Children to be Kind

What is my book about?

Bentley and his friends are en route to the Annual Fair when they hear a fuss at the back of the bus. A crowd has gathered around Toby the elephant, pointing fingers, and making fun of him when the bus finally stops, his glasses are taken from him. Surprised at this behavior Bentley assures Toby that this will be dealt with. Spending the day at the fair, A cry for help is heard in the distance. Will Bentley and the others offer their help? Or should they just keep on searching for Toby's glasses?

A sensitive and difficult topic to discuss, children will learn about peer pressure: different types of bullying the importance of being kind that they have a voice and can be heard how to be a good friend. 

Brain Rules

By John Medina,

Book cover of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

While not a book explicitly about creativity, it opened my eyes to how our brains work, how we can make them work better, and what we’re just going to have to live with. For instance, “multi-tasking” is really a myth—some brains just switch from one task to another faster and women are better at that than men, something rooted in our evolutionary development. And our brains are hardwired for movement, particularly walking. Developmental neurobiologist Medina offers plenty of food for creative brains.

Who am I?

Creativity is a practical, problem-solving, risk-taking endeavor, something we all do, whether we claim it or not. After working for many years with groups of graduate business students, artists, writers, business professionals, women in recovery, men in prison, with those just discovering their creative ability—and with myself and my own creative journey, I realize the question isn’t “Am I creative?” The question is “Am I using it?” or “Am I continuing to grow?” Nothing is more exciting than watching others as they realize just how creative they are.

I wrote...

Create! Developing Your Creative Process

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Create! Developing Your Creative Process

What is my book about?

What is creativity, exactly? In what ways am I creative? How can I be more creative? What is my own personal creative process? If I could be more creative, what would it mean for my personal life and career?

Create! is a six-step guide to developing your individual creativity, a roadmap tested and enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of workshop participants, from those who already defined themselves as creative to those who didn't (yet). With author and creativity expert Cathy Pickens as your guide, you'll discover your best creative process and, if you're not careful, a whole lot about your creative self.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

By Robert Shea, Robert Anton Williams,

Book cover of The Illuminatus! Trilogy: The Eye in the Pyramid, the Golden Apple, Leviathan

Williams’s trilogy of fantasy novels from the 1970s is both incredibly dated in its retrograde sexual politics and prescient in its depiction of a world gone mad with paranoia and bizarre conspiracies. The trilogy’s confusing plot, sense of humor, and shifting and challenging politics trigger the kinds of bewilderment and excitement that conspiracy theories engender. More fun and intellectually challenging than the rabbit holes that the Internet regularly invites us to climb into, Illuminatus! can force a reader to doubt received history and human perception. Erik Davis’s recent book High Weirdness offers context and biography for Wilson and his work, but the trilogy is best read cold and on a lark for a simulation of what it’s like to be swept into a conspiracy.

Who am I?

I’m a law professor who, among other things, writes about the culture and law of secrecy. I’ve written two books: Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, the second edition of which was published in 2008, and The Transparency Fix: Secrets, Leaks, and Uncontrollable Government Information (2017). I hold a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I teach at the University of Florida.

I wrote...

Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture

By Mark Fenster,

Book cover of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture

What is my book about?

Most academic and intellectual commentary has asserted that conspiracy theories constitute a dysfunctional, extremist vein on the margins of a well-designed U.S. political bloodstream. That thesis cannot fully explain either conspiracy theories or “normal” politics, and it ultimately limits our understanding of the pervasive role that conspiracy theories play in U.S. culture and politics. The Trump era and its aftermath more clearly showed what was visible even before our troubling present: we are all, to a varying degree, conspiracy theorists.

As I argue in Conspiracy Theories, the fear of conspiracy isn’t new. From the Revolutionary period through the Cold War, major American political figures and the American public have been obsessed to varying degrees by hidden enemies from outside and within. High, middlebrow, and low culture have carried this obsession into films, novels, television shows, comic books, and games. My book helps us understand conspiracy theory’s longstanding place at America’s cultural and political core.

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