I hate it when a book cover claims ‘ this book will change your life’. Big claim,until you think about it, since every action pursued will ultimately change you life to some degree, since if you hadn’t performed it then that moment would have been occupied by something else. So in that sense EVERY book will change your life. Nevertheless there ARE books that illuminate, motivate, realign perspective or broaden understanding and lead to significant alterations to the way I look at things forever. Forever. That is a big word. That is the power of language and communication when it is being used expertly.
Over the past decade ( I am currently beginning my sixth) I have intermittently turned to the greats for solace, and for inspiration when I have felt overwhelmed by life, by the challenges and disappointments every life inevitably experiences. I have delighted in wonderful finds, discovering the wisdom of Montaigne, the humanity of Seneca , the beauty of thought from Keats, Shakespeare, Socrates. All of these have helped me to endure and to transcend the present of various difficulties, or simply assuaged the boredom of periods of stasis. Recently it has occurred to me to look towards contemporary thinkers for their take on the human condition. We have had such massive changes in technology during the past 150 years that the context of the human is a changed landscape to navigate. Some of our experiences are timeless, and the ancient wisdom continues to enthrall and to enlighten. I will never tire of being introduced to novelists and poets from any era that manage to capture the wonder in me.
Simultaneously I have been thinking about how my history has been governed by left brained thinking, by the rationalists. How our capitalist Western society has used logic and scientific thinking to produce models for living, working, making money. And I have been thinking how it has failed to produce a society of well rounded, content , productive, creative individuals. Where have our models gone wrong? LIstening to a variety of psychologists on TED (where else) , I have been led to read a fascinating book by David Brooks, ‘The Social Animal’. I am in the middle of it currently, but so delighted by it taht I can’t help sharing it with you all before I have completed it. That could be a mistake, but even if it turns out that I hate the second half, the first half has captivated me. I so want my eldest son to read it, he and his friends could change the world if they read and assimilate the wisdom in there! Brooks brings together information and knowledge from a variety of disciplines,marrying science and pyschology with sociology, politics,cultural commentary and literary. He does it in a style that echoes Rousseau, taking two imagined characters and weaving into their lives the preoccupations of the author, so that it reads more like a novel than a research paper. He is no Tolstoy, but the book is evidently readable since I am finding it hard to put it down and write this blog .
The art of living well is to know how to steer our natures, and slowly remodel our characters.
What interests me is how Brooks relates the way in which we are human, we are not likely to be overtaken by Artificial Intelligence, sophisticated as that is becoming. This knowledge has been intuitively understood for centuries by poets and artists, and it is via their expressions that we less gifted individuals can be matched with that insight, that our humanity itself is something to be celebrated and encouraged , nurtured and supported. The left brained thinking of rationality has to be countered with right brain thinking , bringing back intuition and imagination. Einstein knew it.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Here is Brooks transcribed form the TED talk, introducing the concept behind his book.
… in the study of the mind, across all these spheres of research, from neuroscience to the cognitive scientists, behavioral economists, psychologists, sociology, we’re developing a revolution in consciousness. And when you synthesize it all, it’s giving us a new view of human nature.. …
Through the policy failures of the last 30 years, we have come to acknowledge, I think, how shallow our view of human nature has been. And now as we confront that shallowness and the failures that derive from our inability to get the depths of who we are, comes this revolution in consciousness — these people in so many fields exploring the depth of our nature and coming away with this enchanted, this new humanism…..discovering a more accurate vision of the unconscious, of who we are deep inside, and it’s going to have a wonderful and profound and humanizing effect on our culture
I so hope he’s right. If you read one non-fiction book this year, make it this one. Especially if you are setting out on your life journey. I would love to have read this at the beginning of my career, at the point I chose a life partner, before I gave birth. So good. http://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_the_social_animal.html