Saturday, 12 September 2015

Science & Sanity vs. Atlas Shrugged (and Dune and Watership Down)

Science & Sanity

There is a book I think everyone should read. It is titled above and linked here.

I'm tempted to take the standard route, talk about the book and my thoughts on the book and scatter in a few quotes. Not going to do that, though. Primarily because I do not want to influence the thinking of the reader, give enough insight to allow the reader to think that that is enough, to shrug, to think, yeah, I agree with that, and move on.

I recommend you read the book. It's long, slow, deliberate and purposeful. Science & Sanity isn't an easy
read, and will likely be read more than once by anyone who finishes it. Science & Sanity is a book with value, and I'm going to simply suggest you take my word for it, and I will seemingly move on to another subject.

Other books, maybe, and how elements of those read will inevitably influence the thinking of the reader.

Let me pick one, seemingly at random.

Watership Down.

There, that's a book, well enough known that you will have heard of it even if you haven't read it, and maybe wonder what in heck I'm thinking about by inferring that it will have influenced the thinking of the reader.

Words convey meaning. Or, much more dangerously, some merely seem to. Sentences convey meaning, but the meaning in the speakers mind is far too often different from the meaning in the mind of the listener. The speaker implies, the listener infers, as we all know, each according to their own context and motive (yes, even the listener has a motive, be sure of it).

So, what has that seemingly randomly placed paragraph have to do with Watership Down? Enough for me to put it there, but let me move on to the story of the wild bunny rabbits and their journey (if you haven't read it, I also recommend this book). A psychic rabbit warns of danger to the warren - well, no book is perfect, and for my purpose here this is the least appealing part of the book, even though the story literally couldn't work without it - and based on his warning a few rabbits leave to find a new and safe home. As a team, each with their strengths and weaknesses, they finally make it to a safe haven, which is itself threatened and defended successfully. It's pretty much a heroes journey story.

Let's pick out what the book says that might influence the thinking of a reader, using what I have said a context.

One: Psychic phenomena are real and visions of psychics can help individuals with warnings and such.

Two: Teamwork is a successful strategy.

What I think about the first point is not terribly relevant, and is also a little complicated, fluid, and would take a post of it's own (maybe another day). But it does tie in with residual thinking of an earlier age and thus built into language. Of the two, it is the most likely to influence the readers thinking for that exact reason. Language helps it along by structurally agreeing the idea at a basic level. The idea of no effort, psychically sent, gain without effort, is also appealing and in sympathy with childhood experience. This idea will likely nestle into the readers mind and make itself comfortable, all but unnoticed.

That teamwork is  successful strategy is irrefutable. Very little can be achieved by a single individual - it is not impossible for an individual to 'built a dwelling' but it is impossible for an individual to build a modern house no, really, it is, go mine the ore needed to make a tap/faucet as just one of the many tasks needed to make this happen). I'll come back to this idea later, but it isn't the main point I'm trying to make here. Teamwork is beneficial, not only in getting things done, but in supporting the psyche of every individual in the team. Being part of a successful team is emotionally and mentally rewarding, as well as physically beneficial. No man left behind (person if you like but I really hate making a point of it as it is always implicit in my own thinking, though not in the language). Family means no one gets forgotten or left behind (families are/can be/should be successful teams, after all), and so on an so forth. Teams are good. Teams work. Choosing what team you are a part of, which gang you belong to, is important; it matters, mainly because there are also bad teams, dysfunctional teams, structured teams, teams where a whole layer of the team is disadvantaged by involvement. For my purposes here, any organization can be considered as a team. The company you work for, the country you live in, the species as a while. As a side note, I really do think that the species as a whole would be better served if we agreed an actual objective for the species. Seems like we are bumbling along without one, and has seemed that way for a while.

The difference between point one and two is that where point one would have found itself right at home in most minds and have maximum impact on the thinking of the reader if not thought about at all, but point two can easily be overlooked and won't really make a difference to the thinking of the reader unless noticed and thought about and appreciated.

James Bond

I was going to suggest you pick up any of the Reacher books, if you haven't read one. I don't actually recommend you do, as you will see by what I have to say about James Bond and how he (and other protagonists) effect the thinking of the reader.

Bond is a loner, he uses women like tissues, makes commitments to them and fails to keep them - the body count for women who care about and help bond is very high.

Many, even most, male viewers of Bond (the books are a little different) and readers of Reacher will identify with the slightly tragic loner hero. Its a well known trope, lone hero with a tragic past blah blah.

This kind of story will obviously influence the reader negatively by neglecting to point out one simple fact. Being the tormented and tragic loner isn't any fun. As a species, we need community and connections. No matter what society you live in, what community you are a part of, no matter how small or rarefied, the individual is always connected - to not be part of a community will wreck the mind of any given individual. Bond isn't a role model to aspire to, and nor is Reacher - unless (and I stress this here just in case it's missed) - Unless analysis of his character include his sense of duty and honor instilled in him when he was part of a community and part of a successful team. Reacher would take a bullet to save a girl - bond would use her as a convenient shield to achieve his objective.


Yeah, I know I seem to be skipping about all over the place with the books and examples, but the theme here is how books effect the thinking of the reader (all depending on the context of the individual, considering
the individual as whole).

Dune - a book I do recommend you read - has some fun with how the brain can be used as a tool for the purposes of the individual, and a tool to effect the body and reality outside the body. It is all of that, and grasping that is a very useful thing to gain from reading the book. Just exposure to the ideas expressed and embodied by the Mentat and Bee Gesserit is useful. You, the reader learns, are not helpless - you have a brain that can effect itself, your body and your environment IF you train it to do the chosen job and take action to achieve the chosen task when ready.

Soldier ask not and Dorsie play with similar ideas, and they are also worth reading for that reason.

Dune is also a book about politics - real politics, not the party political fluff and bluster. Politics is a complicated subject all by its self, but read The Prince by Machiavelli as well, if interested. Dune will effect your thinking about politics - the real nuts and bolts of it - but less so if you skip the chapter headings.

Again, I'm seeing a difference between the two ways Dune may effect the thinking of the reader. The semi-mystical presentation of the brain training elements will nestle happily in the mind of most readers, but the grasp of political fundamentals, and application of that gained knowledge to evaluation of the readers reality will only be of any benefit if thought about.

Atlas Shrugged

This is a book that will definitely influence your thinking if you read it. It is specifically designed to do so.

I don't recommend anyone to read Atlas Shrugged. The value of the book can be summed up in a few of sentences.

What you work for is yours (of course, what else? It isn't mine, is it?).

What you do with the product of your work is up to you (Of course. It's yours, isn't it?).

No one has an automatic right to the product of your work (of course, if you give the product of your work,
that is your choice).

Being the recipient of such gifts is dis-empowering and weakening to the receiver (of course, if you don't strive and work for something you don't value it, nor develop the ability to achieve other similar things; just
evaluate how powerless a child would be if given nothing).

These ideas will definitely seep into your thinking should you read Atlas Shrugged. But along with those ideas there are a host of others, some of which will nestle up snugly in your mind and make themselves at home without volition or notice. What you read effects your mind, and is sometimes designed to do exactly that. There is a good deal, especially in that context, about the book and the philosophy attached that I really seriously do not and will not approve of.

There are great chunks of the interconnected ideas that are well worth thinking about simply because they are poison if not at the very least thought about. Let me just point out one that might influence the readers thinking. Many of us have fallen into the negative trap of being selfish in relationships, but to incorporate justifications for that into a supposedly complete philosophy is certainly a selfishness too far.

I'm going to end with Atlas Shrugged for examples, having supplied others to give some context for the first book mentioned. The book that I think has by far the greater value.

Having said that, one of the main ideas rejected in the work, that being 'good' and being 'self-sacrificing' are synonymous is very dangerous to the individual when taken to its logical conclusion. Best not be a sheep when there are wolves about.

I'm spending more time on AS than others, primarily because reviewers keep bringing it up and comparing it to my own work, and making value judgments about me. The latter is annoying. There are people who have known me my whole life who don;t know my mind well enough to make value judgments about it. It's a tad annoying to have some random stranger who read a book I happened to write and tell other people how my mind works.

Well, never mind, can't be helped, but motive and context matter, as I'm fond of saying... because they do matter. To all of us, as we each have our own context - partly consisting of what books with read and how much of them we have absorbed or rejected - and we each have our own motives for what we say and/or do.

My primary motive here is to get the reader to go read a book - this book.

Science & Sanity

Science & Sanity isn't dressed up as a work of fiction. It is a far harder read (even than the very deliberately long and turgid Atlas Shrugged) but it is, I think, very much the most worthy book mentioned. Science & Sanity echoes concepts I have been struggling with for decades - and now I have read it it seems like I was trying to re-invent the wheel. Which is a pity, when you think about it, as it is likely to be the one book mentioned that the majority of readers will not even have heard of.

And now a little light relief, for no readily apparent reason; one of my favorite songs, and likely always will be.