Friday, April 17, 2009

Well I lied when I said I wouldn’t check out any more books!  I’m just utterly hopeless.  Yesterday at the library I saw that in the New Arrivals they had gotten in two books this week that I had seen referenced in recent days and was curious about.

The first one was by Malcolm Gladwell—called Outliers: The Story of Success.  It was a quick little read—I had it more than halfway devoured before I left the library and I finished the rest of it this morning once I got home. 

It provoked some new interesting thoughts which I will be exploring on my blog this weekend.  (I’ll fill you in once I write the blog—if I go into it right now I’m afraid I’ll lose the juice needed to turn it into a good blog entry.)

The thing I had heard about it though was that it talked about how people without exception need at least 10,000 hours of practice in a particular area of interest before they become a master.  It made me think about all of the hours I’ve put into reading and learning about global issues and (now) attempting to write about what I’m learning.  It would seem like I’m working towards some interesting level of mastery.  I have to be getting at least close to that 10,000 hour mark.  It’s just exciting to be reminded that an apprenticeship doesn’t go on forever.  At some point a critical mass of knowledge and understanding is reached and you can begin contributing your own body of wisdom on the subject.

I’m still reading a book about the evolution of language (the book I had allowed myself to keep reading) and the other new book I took out of the library was The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal.  As I mentioned last year when I read How Many Americans, I’ve never believed in borders, so I’m interested in seeing if this guy can make a compelling case for closing our borders.

But, really, after these two books I’m going to take a break from reading for a little while.  I need to take time to assimilate all of the ideas I’ve read recently and explore them through writing.

Except that…I forgot to mention one thing.  A few nights ago online I discovered that hundreds of thousands (if not maybe over a million) of public domain books have been digitized and are available free online.  Ellsworth Huntington’s early book (circa 1915) Civilization and Climate is available, but Mainsprings of Civilization was much later (the 1940’s I think) so it’s not available.  I started to read Civilization and Climate and have given myself permission to finish it too if I wish before the moratorium begins.  I’ve only gotten to page 17 but already his methodology seems crude and his underlying assumptions extremely racist.  I can see why environmental determinism got such a bad rap.  But I still want to plow through it and seek out any nuggets worth keeping.

Every Thursday after I drop Collin off at school in the morning I go get a cup of coffee at a Burger King right near the library and then sit there and read and write while I kill some time before the library opens at 10am.  Burger King is a great place for thinking (of all available options) because of its very un-hipness.  No one else is ever in there except this one guy who has the exact same schedule as me—he shows up at the same time and heads to the library from there.  It’s rare for more than one or two other people to drift through the doors while I’m there with my coffee, so it’s very quiet.

Anyway, while I was there yesterday I was free-writing about what the most recent spate of books is teaching me.  I’m going to include the notes here (because I’m too lazy tonight to clean them up and summarize them more coherently).  Beware all of the incomplete sentences and the way the ideas in the second half of the writing contradict the ideas in the first half—it was evolving as I wrote.

Here it is:

What has my reading binge this week taught me?  It taught me just how recently in the history of our species we have begun to move out of the mythic and unconscious into a rational, conscious awareness.  Still there are many vestiges of our magical thinking—witchcraft and sorcery in recent centuries in European cultures and still in many indigenous cultures today.

--address the need for us as a species to take a longer view.  We think we are these incredibly rational beings but in fact we’re still in a phase where there’s a huge overlap between magical and rational modes of being.  The rational mode of course isn’t superior, just different and fraught with its own set of problems.

Our rational brains make possible global solutions, but more often rationality is used to promote destructive self-interest.  Magical unconsciousness was about self-interest as well, or self-interest extended as far as the tribe but no farther.  Rationality needs to take us beyond self-interest, or at least extend it to global self-interest.  Altruism would be another word for global self-interest.

I need to examine myself to see how often I’m governed by potentially magical thinking versus rational thinking.  Is my experience of the energy of the land magical thinking, or is it something else?

How can I deny the truth of many intuitions?  Am I seeing and projecting connections that don’t exist?  For instance, my intuitions about J a few weeks back?  I dreamed repeatedly of her, had her pop repeatedly to mind, had a dream about N, only to find out that J had been in Phoenix that week and had revisited the place where she lived when N was born.  It would seem that intuitions are causally related to real events.  It can’t just be chance.  So where is the line drawn between magical perception and intuition?  Is superstition and magical thinking actually a crude, early version of rationality?

Maybe intuition and direct perception is a ground—a true mode of perception.  And maybe our crude early experiences with rationality were to try to layer meaning onto intuition and direct perception.  So, magical thinking is beginning to play with meaning and to try to attribute cause and effect to events.  As we began to separate out from the events and places we were immersed in, to become conscious we became aware of everything that was “Other” and needed to make sense of that.  Our myths and superstitions were precursors to science and other modes of “rationality”.

Magical thinking is actually rational thinking, it just may not be accurate thinking, but then again scientific thought is frequently inaccurate, too.  What we’ve been up to with all these modes of “rational” thought is to try to make sense of what is.  Magical thinking wouldn’t be possible if we were still unconscious.  We need to have separated out from the matrix into discrete dots of awareness in order to have magical thinking or scientific thinking at all.

What are we evolving towards?  Direct conscious awareness. Simple, direct knowing of what is.  Expressing what is—being and knowing.  Will the making of meaning be necessary anymore?  Will metaphor be necessary?  Probably not.  Or maybe it will.  It’s hard to imagine a world without metaphor—no poetry, no art, no innovation.  Metaphor, I guess, is the language of manifestation.

I need to expand on this line of thinking, plus there are other insights hovering about from this latest group of books and I need to capture those insights before they melt away.

Discovering Civilization and Climate online this week was a good thing because it let me see clearly how rational thinking has been evolving. His crude scientific methodology seems to fall somewhere between magical thinking and modern scientific approaches. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the biases and faulty assumptions underlying his work, which makes it very similar to the faulty logic of superstition, myth, and magical thinking. But he’s also being methodical, and sincerely trying to eliminate bias (which is impossible to do when the biases are still unconscious). Even present day science is blind to what’s unconscious. I’m sure today we have just as many inaccurate perceptions underlying our methodologies—and we won’t be able to see them until we evolve past those inaccuracies. We need to enter a different paradigm before we can see clearly the inherent inaccuracies and “magical thinking” in this paradigm.

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