Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book, Part 2

     Last week I was extolling the wonders of Edward Slingerland's book Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity.  Here are some quotes that might give you a taste:
I've argued in this book that the phenomena of wu-wei [effortlessness, flow, spontaneity] and de [the charismatic power that comes from being in that state] are central to human flourishing and cooperation.  The only reason we need to be told that is that recent Western thought has been so obsessed with disembodied rationality that embodied spontaneity -- along with the unique tensions it presents -- has fallen off the radar.  Thinking of moral perfection as a matter of following rules or calculating utility certainly simplifies things.  Reason carefully, throw in a bit of willpower, and you're done.  The problem is that this model is deeply wrong.  It's psychologically unworkable, given what we know about the way the human body-mind operates.  Moreover, it completely fails to reflect how we actually experience our lives.
. . . .
[Scientists] are coming to recognize that the sort of knowledge that we rely on most heavily is hot, emotionally grounded "knowing how" rather than cold, dispassionate "knowing that."  We're made for doing, not thinking.  This has significant implications for everything from how we educate people to how we conduct public debates, make public policy decisions, and think about our personal relationships.
. . . .
Our modern conception of human excellence is too often impoverished, cold, and bloodless.  Success does not always come from thinking more rigorously or striving harder.  In a world increasingly dominated by cram schools, treadmills (literal or otherwise), 24/7 connectivity, and punishing amounts of stress, seeing the world in terms of the power and grace of spontaneity can help us to make better sense of our work, our goals, and our relationships.
This is an important book.  Get it.


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