As 2016 came to an end, and the new year starts I’m looking back thinking about what 2016 brought to my life, and what I hope 2017 will bring. I can’t stop being human for sure so my feelings come with a sense of paradox. A paradox that brings happiness and sadness together; hope and concern for the future, and an appreciation of what we have and don’t have.
One thing I like to do is read about philosophy and psychology in general. And about human nature in particular. Both from the neurochemical aspect of who we are to the sociological-evolutionary aspect of our development and progress. So this year I read a few books that I’ll mention next.
Let me start with Kropotkin’s Ethics. Continued my reading of Kropotkin after Mutual Aid last year. These books are based on evolutionary philosophy and are contrary to the hypothesis that evolution is an individual phenomena. His main point is the relationship between elements and groups of societies as guiding forces in evolution. Following the trait of relationships I read “No Man is an Island” by T. Merton.
Thomas Merton was a deep intellectual Catholic monk so his book “No Man Is an Island” is based on his theological knowledge and insight. I like in particular the way that Merton has a continuous lead on human nature as it related to the goodness of creation. The main point that I got from this book is the strong sense of connection. There is no way we can be connected to God if we are not connected to each other.
Related to my role in higher education I am looking for insights to be a better teaching professor so I am not only strongly interested on pedagogy and didactics but also deeply interested in the social and political context of our education. Started reading Suzanne Mettler’s “Degrees of Inequality” at the end of 2015 finishing it at the beginning of 2016. In this book Mettler clearly takes into account the relationship of the historical development of higher education in the US with the present circumstances that define both the strengths and weaknesses of our system.
“Crimes Against Logic” by Jamie Whyte is an extraordinary book, a brief and concise account of how we use feelings and cultural norms to avoid looking at the reality of truth, a relevant issue today that when it looks like we are getting into a post-truth epoch. Whyte clearly unmasks trick that people use to argue in favor of their hypothesis or in denial of the opposite ideas. Moving forward to this “post-truth” cultural environment, the strategies outlined in this book become efficient tools for my educator role.
For personal satisfaction and growth I like to re-read some books this time it was Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness.” Russell is always refreshing, and in this book we have to go back to basics. What is the purpose of life? As stated in the declaration of the US independence: “the pursuit of happiness” becomes the goal. I have to make the point that it is not happiness but the pursuit of it that is the goal. Interesting dynamics when in today’s world commodification has made objects the final goal and not states of mind or processes. In these regards the book “The Givenness of Things” that I read for the first time was a great complement.
Author of “When I was a child I read books”(read it last year) Marilynne Robinson wrote “The Givenness of Things” apparently trying to clarify how confusing our thinking is today. Together with Richard White’s “The Heart of Wisdom” bring higher complexity in the way we act every day. I feel that I should take some time to write about these two books as they are by themselves full of great ideas about how we should live our lives.
Related to our minds and thinking I read several books (David Eagleman’s “The Brain”, “Phantoms in the brain” by Ramachandran and Blakeslee, “Mindset Mastery” by Nicholas Dodge, John Medina’s “Brain Rules”, and “Neuroscience and Philosophy” by Bennett, et al.) that helped me understand a bit more the intricacies of thinking. These books guided me in the search for meaning of what it means to be human. Ideas that I will use as I teach because it is important for me to make sure that students understand the connection between them as individuals with needs, desires, limitations, and a great potential and the reality of who we are as individuals members of a society that is hosted in the earth’s environment. Our home in space.
Ending with E. O Wilson “The Meaning of Human Nature” that I am now reading. Wilson the creator of sociobiology is well respected on issues of evolution and is a good “closing” for me as in a way reflects the views of Kropotkin that I started talking about today. The fact that it is through relationships that we have evolved, and making the distinction between progress of an individual within a group, versus the progress of a group within the context of many groups. Wilson states that an egocentric individual has advantages within a group and most likely succeed so his genes will be predominant in heredity within the group, but that groups with altruistic individuals do better than groups of selfish individuals. What seems like a paradox. But Wilson explains in easy terms how we have levels of association and development, as we have levels of complexity in organisms.
So, what is that I am looking for this year? I’ll continue to get good ideas from my friends about books to read. I’m looking forward to continue my conversations about life, nature, and our relationships. Specially, I am looking to learn more about helping my students reach their full potential.
Wishing you all a wonderful, prosperous, and peaceful 2017!