Saturday, November 7, 2015

More Reviews....

‘THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES’ by K. R. POPPER begins with a telling declaration: “If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that if we wish our civilization to survive we must break with the habit of deference to great men.” The author makes a very good attempt to show, how great men make great mistakes, and a better attempt at connecting some of the greatest thinkers of the past with the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Popper begins with Plato, whose teachings, like, “change is evil, and rest divine”, “history is a history of social decay”, and his attacks on equalitarian theory that "Equal treatment of unequal must produce inequity" set the pace for future exponents. Plato, as he did not wish his leaders to have originality or initiative, altered education accordingly, with less attention to independent thought, which we have been continuing ever since. Popper then follows it up with the historical progress of closed societies, Hegel and Marx shown as the significant sources that gave widespread acceptability to such ways of thinking.
‘THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES’ by K. R. POPPER is not an easy book to read. The volume I of this book is comparatively clearer, the assessment of Plato’s contribution to the making of closed societies, and the way those tenets deviated from the teachings of Socrates and other wise men of early Greece make interesting reading. Volume II is a bit harder. How the ideas propounded by the author leads to a closed society, or close an open society, is not demonstrated very well. For example, the pioneering ideas of intellectual intuition from Aristotle and the resulting vagueness, are shown to have contributed immensely to the birth of such societies. So also is the doctrine of definition (what he calls ‘hairsplitting’). But how that takes place is not very clear, especially why the others’ (other thinkers of ancient and modern world) writing did not have any such impact.
However, it made one thing clear to me. The present world with the tumultuous human society is not an accident of history. It is the result of dedicated efforts by the followers of Plato, who continued with such sharp dogmatization, aided handsomely by the indifference shown by others. And we are faithfully perpetuating it, of course, with each generation adding some more bite, to those added by the previous generations. Just as the large majority of good, reasonable, talented or moderate ones among our forefathers left the world without a trace, the right thinking majority of the present also will make its silent exit. Just as we come across our worthy ancestors during much of our explorations, coming generations might learn of the good, silent majority of worthy forefathers, if the society then is open to explorations of the past.

‘Secular meditation : 32 practices for cultivating inner peace, compassion, and joy’ by Rick Heller is a practical guide for meditation. The book is divided into 4 parts, and in Part I is discussed the ways of harnessing compassion and joy for meditating. Part II discusses the concept of mindfulness and how it aids in meditating, that too with the help of the reality around us, like ambient sounds, our own body and other invocations. Part III focuses on cultivating joy and introduces us to more esoteric topics like walking meditation, mindful observation, conscious eating etc. Additional practices are handled by Part IV, which discusses mindfulness of emotions, using daydreaming for meditating, and a discussion on ways to handle the risks associated with meditation, bringing the book to a close.
This book is written for nonreligious people who want to cultivate a meditation practice that will not only enrich their lives but also help create a better world. As we can easily see, by associating its practice with familiar actions, as well as dissociating largely from the esoteric world of the mysterious, the author has succeeded in bringing meditation practices into our living rooms. It’s fairly easy to meditate, I found, whether while listening to beautiful music, or meditating to ambient sounds. Using whatever sounds are present at this very moment provides a deep insight into where we can find joy in our lives. This is an insightful book, a great help, especially for people like me who find the religious impositions on such activities, a little too much.
A NEW THEORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION by SIR ARTHUR KEITH examines questions of human evolution, like how and in what circumstances and by what means were the body and the brain of an ape transformed into those of a human being. The book further examines many of the other related questions, like, when and where did this transformation take place?, is there a “machinery of isolation” resident in the mentality of ape and of man, as well as, what caused the  division of evolving humanity into a multitude of small, separate, competitive communities or societies. Exploring humanness, the book seeks to address issues like, how far man’s nature of surrounding his territory by a delimited frontier affected evolution, what effect did co-operation, bias, resentment, revenge, group spirit and patriotism have on evolution, and, how did status, loyalty, morality and elements of leadership affect evolution. The book concludes with a dissertation, highlighting the ascent of man as a denizen of all parts of the world, dividing and conquering the planet as five major divisions of mankind.
This book is a collection of independent, self contained essays on the topics covered. Each of them answers certain facet of the whole problem, convincingly and with necessary material support, maintaining a logical flow of ideas. I found this book very interesting; it enabled me to see evolution in a totally different light. The conclusions drawn by the author are so intuitive that it made me wonder, why I didn’t think in these lines earlier.

‘Biases in Social Judgment: Design Flaws or Design Features?’ by Martie G. Haselton and David M. Buss defines human character thus: “Humans appear to fail miserably when it comes to rational decision making. They ignore base rates when estimating probabilities, commit the sunk cost fallacy, are biased toward confirming their theories, are naively optimistic, take undue credit for lucky accomplishments, and fail to recognize their self-inflicted failures. Moreover, they overestimate the number of others who share their beliefs, demonstrate the hindsight bias, have a poor conception of chance, perceive illusory relationships between non-contingent events, and have an exaggerated sense of control. Failures at rationality do not end there. Humans use external appearances as an erroneous gauge of internal character, falsely believe that their own desirable qualities are unique, can be induced to remember events that never occurred, and systematically misperceive the intentions of the opposite sex.” And hence there is a need to examine of our cognitive machinery and to address the defects in its design. It begins with the evolutionary foundations of social judgments and decisions, and examines one important aspect of human nature: we are apt to want our version of the truth, rather than the truth itself to prevail. One good example of this, the book mentions, is the over-perception of womanliness (his interest!) by men and under-perception of commitment (her interest!) by women, leading to a far greater prevalence of disruption in such kind of relationships. After analyzing a horde of social issues, the book concludes that the social world is replete with uncertainty, pointing to the necessity of further studies.

‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kanheman describes the working of the mind as an uneasy interaction between two conceptual ideas, System I and System II. System I is mostly of automatic response, and System II, always of considered responses. The book analyzes the whole gamut of our mental transactions as a combination of responses from two functional parts, identifiable as the experiencing self and the remembering self. How each of these take part in our daily transactions of the mind, like warding off the effect of anchors, maintaining a mental image that is greatly different from reality, and the enigma, of humans showing a deep resistance to demystification, are only few of the imponderables that are covered by this analysis.

‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kanheman is a scholarly discourse on the functional aspects of our brain. This book did help me a lot in finding answer to some of the incomprehensible quirks of human nature, widely observed in our inexplicable reactions and the uniqueness of each individual’s approach. Like the huge level of inconsistency, we show in our responses to  everyday triggers or the penchant we exhibit to make complex, even the most fundamental. These and other distinct signs and elements of human conduct find careful consideration in this book. For example, how the same event can lead to different reactions, in the same mind at different times, and in many minds at the same time. This book does throw much light on the working of the mind, showing and explaining in easy, clear and witty language, what makes our psyche work the way it works. The illustrations provided by appropriate real life examples simplify to a great extent, the peculiar working of the human brain. Rich with a flurry of anecdotes recalling instances of enigmatic behavioral patterns of fellow humans, this is a real page turner for anyone who would like to mind ones mind.