3 books that changed my thinking
Books change you.
Yes, I think that every single book you read changes you in some way. I actually think that’s true about all of your experiences. Even if what it does is reinforce a prior held belief, the fact that that belief is now harder to shift is another (and sometimes very) important change.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m choosing these books at random. ;)
In each of these cases, I would say that the change was conscious. I can articulate something that shifted…there is a before and after, and I can see a causal relationship to having read the book.
I also am only picking books which are available in Kindle editions in the USA.
While that is becoming less of a factor, it’s still significant for many books I have read, especially those I’ve read decades ago.
I’m also going to try to pick books I haven’t talked about repeatedly in this blog in the past. I think all my regular readers know that my having read the Doc Savage adventures has shaped who I am today. I keep the Doc Savage oath on my computer at work, and I use that as an inspiration. I do strive to make myself better so that “all may benefit” by it, and to help those who need it. :) That also eliminates
which I know I’ve referenced repeatedly. The basic idea that you should be able to be fluid in your beliefs about facts also informs what I do and how I (tolerantly, I think) approach others’ beliefs.
I’m also not going to limit myself to non-fiction, although they may turn out to all be that. I say they “might” because I haven’t chosen the books yet…I’m going to let inspiration strike me as I reflect and write. :)
Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape is one of the most important books of the (relatively) modern era…and is not available in the USA Kindle store. However, this isn’t just a case of “I can’t have that, so I pick this.” ;) The Human Zoo treats humans like other animals (which is what Morris did in The Naked Ape).
The fascinating thing here is the discussion of how living in crowded city conditions affects our behaviors…and the parallels there are to animals living in zoos.
When you think about it, city dwellers may see hundreds of people a day which they have not previously assessed as not a threat.
We don’t have the tactical option to choose “fight or flight” every time…and we know we may encounter some of them again (the bagger at the grocery store, for example).
That means that we can’t use our normal social skills, which changes our behavior.
It turns out that animals in zoos or other artificially crowded conditions have some changes in the same way.
One thing that I remember (and it’s been a long time since I read this) was the idea that rats in a confined space may end up having “teenage gangs” that would rove around and terrorize other rats. That’s not something that happens in the wild, where there is a lot of territory.
An adolescent rat in a confined, crowded environment doesn’t have the ability to establish their own territory…or to move out of a territory already dominated by another rat.
Being in a “human zoo” (a city) doesn’t mean that all the characteristics influenced by that will be negative, of course, but this gave me an intriguing insight into the impacts it does have…and how they aren’t unique to humans.
Thinking, Fast and Slow (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
by Daniel Kahneman
4.4 stars | 1,688 reviews
I wrote a review
of this one just over a year ago, but I haven’t talked about it over and over since then.
Quite simply, I think this may be one of the best books you’ll read to understand your own thinking.
Understanding doesn’t necessarily mean that you can change any of it, but if you know you are likely to act in one specific way even when that way is not optimal, it can help you recognize the risks and take steps to mitigate the damage.
The key thing here was thinking about two processing systems in my mind. One that is super quick and where I’m not even aware of it. The other one that is slower and more deliberate and conscious.
Both are absolutely necessary.
In the fast system, for example, you are constantly assessing threats.
When I sat down to write this post, I didn’t say to myself consciously, “There isn’t a mountain lion in this room which might attack me.”
Without being consciously aware of it, though, I had scanned the room.
How do we know that?
Since I would have noticed the mountain lion if there was one. If I wasn’t scanning the room without thinking about it, the mountain lion would be invisible to me until I said to myself, “Initiate threat scan.” ;)
That’s just not the way it works.
This book does a great job of making you aware how the two systems work together, and what the strengths and flaws are of each.
Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers (at AmazonSmile*)
by Jacques Vallée
4.8 stars | 18 reviews
One thing true Forteans learn is to not think, “You are wrong, I am right,” since there will be elements of the rightness in the wrong and the wrongness in the right. In the Fortean paradigm, the correct theory and the incorrect theory are actually just different degrees of the same thing.
Let me stress that I don’t mean this about morality, but only about matters of fact.
It’s very simple to substitute one belief for another. However, as John A. Keel said, “Belief is the enemy.”
Let’s take UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) for example.
Many people substitute the belief that they all reports of UFOs are the result of hoaxes or misidentifications with the belief that they are structured vehicles from another planet.
It’s not scientific (or Fortean…contrary to what some people think, those come very much from the same place) to say either one.
They are both different possible explanations…and while you certainly might think one is more probable than the other, to say that one is definitely true is to close your mind to new evidence which might sway you.
Passport to Magonia was a shock to many when it was published in 1969. Vallée is an astronomer, and had already written books which people saw as perhaps supporting the ETH (Extraterrestrial Hypothesis).
Magonia suggested something very different: that what we now interpreted as UFOs and aliens was the same phenomenon that we had previously interpreted as fairies (among other things).
What was important about this for me was that it was clear that the consensus reality belief could be wrong without it proving that an alternative belief was correct. They could both be at least incomplete.
It also was a big deal to me that Vallée had to some extent shifted.
To me, I had already assessed Vallée as intelligent, imaginative, perceptive, and empathetic. This was somebody who was scornful and bullying of other’s beliefs, and had the intellectual and emotional tools to really see things in a new way.
Those are things I admire…and if a person like that could set aside a prior leaning and go in a new direction…well, that encouraged me to strive to be able to always do the same.
There you go! Three books which have affected me, and by extension, affected you. :) I would be a different person without having read them, and that means this blog (if existed at all) would be different, too.
Don’t think reading something can change your thinking?
I can tell you something right now that can change your thinking.
However, I’ll warn you…you may not be happy with the change. :)
For that reason, I’m going to put it at the very bottom of the post**, even after my normal “end matter”…so you’ll only read it if you choose to do that. You’ve been warned… ;)
What do you think? Can you point to specific books which changed your paradigm? Is it good to have solidly held beliefs in matters of fact, or is it better to be able to shift…or both? If books do change the way we think, does that justify their suppression (whether in public libraries, school libraries, or by the government)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.
** LIFE CHANGING MATERIAL ALERT…DO NOT PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE HERE UNCHANGED: Many years, I read a science fiction short story. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who wrote it or what the title was…if you recognize this, please let me know. In the story, someone wakes up in bed…and feels that there is something missing in the room. They look around, and can’t tell what it is, but the feeling persists. Later, the character finds out…they have become invisible, and they are no longer seeing the blurry outline of their nose that you can otherwise always see. That’s the change…from time to time, in the future, because you read this, you’ll suddenly become aware that you can see your own nose… ;) END LIFE CHANGING MATERIAL