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Piercing the Cloud: Encountering the Real Me

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This spiritual autobiography, written by a neuroscience professor, explores the themes of identity, education, immigration, and more.

Piercing the Cloud: Encountering the Real Me is the autobiography of Jaime A. Pineda (b. 1953), professor emeritus of cognitive neuroscience at University of California, San Diego. The book begins with Pineda's recollection of childhood memories in Honduras and continues up to the present. Along the way, we read about his family, his move to the United States as a young boy, the strict discipline he acquired from his grandmother, his time in the Air Force, his travels in Europe, his academic life both as a student and as a professor, his persistent concerns with identity, his two marriages, and his reflections on science and spirituality. The book is an interesting document about a rich life and the particular times and places associated with that life.


Readers interested in an insider's view of academia and of a lifetime of research in cognitive neuroscience might find much relevant material in this book. Pineda gives us a glimpse into both the scholarly and the non-scholarly sides of academia. That is, we read not only about research questions, methods, and discoveries, but also about the researcher's practical career concerns, self-esteem, competition over limited resources, and other issues surrounding an academic life. His voice, however, is relatively detached and seems more appropriate for a technical report on research findings. The writing is clear, to be sure, but it does not transport us to the author's world. We see reports of events far more frequently than we see the events themselves.


A central theme of the book is identity, at times expressed as an insecurity and an intense preoccupation with the author's self-image. The question of identity is intertwined with almost every other topic in the book, including immigration, race, science, religion, marriage, and family. Pineda insists on drawing self-judgment from each topic, each life event, each line of thought, as if constantly responding to the question: What does this say about me? Of course, to varying degrees, we are all prone to overestimating our uniqueness as individuals, seeing ourselves as the center of the world, and interpreting events exclusively in terms of their relevance to ourselves. These tendencies might render us susceptible to believing in supernatural accounts of our lives. Pineda embraces these accounts. When reflecting on seemingly improbably events of his life, he writes: "… an explanation based on chance and coincidences isn't satisfactory to me any longer." Such passages indicate an on-going tension among different worldviews entertained throughout the book.


We might not always agree with Pineda, particularly with his views on spirituality, but he writes with honesty and humility. He is willing to admit mistakes and does not always insist on creating a positive self-image. Arguably the most troubling part of the book is the unfair treatment of non-human animals in his research. Moreover, his reflections on spirituality and his dissatisfaction with science, both of which are not fully developed in the book, create more puzzles than solutions. His technical writing style demands patience from the reader. Yet, despite its shortcomings, the book gives us, if nothing else, a carefully crafted and thought-provoking document (what we might describe as "raw material") to further analyze and think about.

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I completed my PhD in Psychology at University of Toronto (2015) and I am currently assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Macau. My reading life is mostly devoted to social sciences and philosophy. I also have a YouTube channel, where I regularly post book reviews.

CHAPTER THREE Crossing the Gateless Gate

About the author

My journey to the U.S. began in 1963. I obtained a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 1987. For 28 years I was Professor of Cognitive Science and Neuroscience at UC, San Diego exploring the relationship between mind and brain. I have written an academic book, two books of poetry, and now my autobiography. view profile

Published on December 01, 2020

Published by BookBaby

70000 words

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

Reviewed by