Writing these weekly summaries is a strategy to force myself to better understand what I’ve thought about and learned and to synthesize it against other knowledge I have. Putting it online for others to read is a way of keeping myself honest about it.
I’ve been influenced by posts on the Farnam Street blog that talk about a latticework of mental models. Heavily inspired by Charlie Munger, the idea is to incorporate ideas, theories, and frameworks from multiple disciplines to construct a durable, wide-ranging perspective that is not tied to a single school of thought.
So these weekly posts are my attempt to narrate the construction of the latticework of my own mental models. Often I’ll be providing only a high-level overview as a way of summarizing the deeper points I encounter, with links for those who want to explore deeper. My goal is essentially what the goal of philosophy has always been: to learn how to live a better life as a finite human in a world that exceeds our understanding.
I explored two main threads this week: Antonio Damasio’s impressive book Descartes’ Error and the work of the phenomenologists. I spent some time on these intersecting ideas years ago, but was lead back to it with the goal of going deeper. These two domains attempt to situate our reasoning and decision making powers within the context of our actual lived experience as humans, rejecting the idea of reason as an abstract process of the disembodied mind.
“…as we come into the world and develop, we still begin with being, and only later do we think. We are, and then we think, and we think only inasmuch as we are, since thinking is indeed caused by the structures and operations of being.” —Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error
For Damasio this means showing that emotion and feeling are a prerequisite for the effective operation of reason and decision making. There’s an interesting overlap in where the thinking of Damasio goes, and the ideas of Husserl and Heidegger, two of the most important figures in phenomenology. That, essentially, we are thrown into being, and only then do we develop the powers of reason by a constant interaction with our environment — and our interpretation of the environment. (For Damasio this is articulated as feedback loops within the mind and body and for Heidegger it is the hermeneutic circle.)
Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio
I’ll be soon diving into Thinking and Deciding (on the recommendation of Nassim Taleb) to go deeper into the exploration of reasoning and decision making, one of the topics I’m most interested in right now.
And here’s the best of the rest of what I found this week:
Slavoj Žižek: Political Correctness is a More Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism Highly recommended clip from the perpetually twitchy philosopher.
The science myths that will not die I found this one interesting, as I’ve had a hunch that the idea of “learning styles” might be, well, bullshit. “In 2008, four cognitive neuroscientists reviewed the scientific evidence for and against learning styles. Only a few studies had rigorously put the ideas to the test and most of those that did showed that teaching in a person’s preferred style had no beneficial effect on his or her learning.”
From Zorro to Zombie: the rise and fall of the microcredit movement “Even in the very poorest communities there are always enough retail stores which the poor can access to get what they need to survive. But only if they have sufficient financial resources to do so. The problem is thus not a lack of supply, which microcredit can easily resolve, but a problem of a lack of demand caused by the low incomes of the poor. This requires a much larger response than mere microcredit.”