Life Without Principle
Henry David Thoreau | Essay (1863)
With his characteristic wit, honesty, and intensity, Thoreau writes an essay on the meaning of work and labor that remains remarkably relevant even 150 years later. Moving from work to the scourge of frivolities in daily life, he neglects the usurpation of means over ends: “We select granite for the underpinnings of our houses and barns; we build fences of stone; but we do not ourselves rest on an underpinning of granitic truth, the lowest primitive rock.”
Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better? | Philip Gerrans & Chris Letheby, Aeon Mag.
A refreshingly lucid and accessible take on the nature of the self, approached through the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in rendering porous our persistent “self-models”. From the article: “Theoretically we should be able to re-engineer the mechanisms of our self-model, and so change the way we organise and interpret our experience.” The authors take a jargon-free, scientific approach to theories of selfhood, and the potential benefits from probing it.
Where Nature and Mind Meet | Interview with Chinese classics scholar David Hinton, Tricycle Magazine
From the interview: “In the West, we experience language as a separate, timeless realm that looks out on the world and describes it—the word tree refers to that leafy structure in the yard. That’s language as mimesis, or representation, and it’s one of the main reasons we have such difficulty feeling ourselves as a part of nature. Language is the medium of thought and identity, and if language is a transcendental realm, a kind of spirit realm outside of nature, then so is identity.”
The Meeting: Zen’s Challenge to An Individual, Interior Spirituality | By Henry Shukman for Tricycle Magazine, Spring 2017
Dogen writes: “To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things.” In this spirit, Shukman writes a revelatory piece on the sometimes unappreciated emphasis Zen Buddhism places on relationships – pure human-to-human meeting places. In the face of Western culture’s individualistic ethos, Shukman warns that to appropriate Zen into this modern mood would threaten its greatest gifts: “If, under the influence of modern individualism, we blunt the finer points of a tradition with a generic approach that rhymes with our own notions of spirituality, we may risk losing some of what is most vital within each tradition.”
Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul: A philosopher’s lifelong quest to understand the making of the mind | By Joshua Rothman for The New Yorker
A portrait of philosopher Daniel Dennett, who’s spent a lifetime studying how something as complex as the soul emerged from such humble beginnings as single-celled organisms. Dennett is notorious for pursuing a reductionist view, and often criticized for ideas put forth in works such as his Consiousness Explained, where he allegedly misses the point, explaining the easy questions of consciousness while bypassing the tough stuff. This piece challenges such reductions of Dennett’s view, offering a look into his worldview, life, and even spirituality.
For LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman, Relationships Rule the World | David Rowan for Wired (2012)
A portrait of Reid Hoffman; cofounder of LinkedIn, wildly successful Silicon Valley investor, and thinker interested in strengthening “public intellectual culture”. Hoffman initially set out to become an academic, studying philosophy at Oxford. He eventually defected, turned off by the comparatively small sphere of influence professional philosophy has on the general public. He turned to software entrepreneurship, which he believed held better potential for scalable impact, and off he went, maintaining that intellectual foundation constantly contemplating life’s big questions.
Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren | John Maynard Keynes (1930)
A short, insightful, uncharacteristic meditation on the utility of economics, specifically on the larger ends economic growth ought to serve. Keynes predicts that within 100 years, the economic problem of the human race might conceivably be solved, allowing society to turn its gaze from material acquisition to cultivating the “art of life”, in his words. A really awesome read from such a respected economist.
Religion for the Nonreligious
Tim Urban | www.waitbutwhy.com
It’s an infinitely frustrating task choosing just one of Tim’s posts to list here. I chose this one because I think it has the largest scope of his posts (or maybe this one, I don’t know), but they’re all worth your time. Here he dives into his brand of spirituality, dubbed Truthism, which rocks. I truly believe this is a more useful read for 90% of modern humans than most of the classics in religious and spiritual studies. Nowhere is spirituality presented in a more secular way without being stripped of its fruit than Urban’s Truthism. Please read this. Then, read this, this, and this.
Unequal, Yet Happy
The relationship between economic systems and happiness, happiness economics, is emerging as a politically salient, socially critical sphere of research. In this Sunday Op-Ed, the disparity between income inequality and happiness inequality in the US is analyzed through the lens of growing consumer choice, positing that the recent explosion in modes of consumption has masked an underlying gulf in subjective welfare. The piece gives a fresh look at why happiness levels have been stagnating, even converging, yet avoiding the downward spiral that recent economic stratification might suggest.
Man’s Greatest Achievement is a short newspaper article written by Tesla, one of the greatest physicists, inventors, and minds to emerge from what he refers to as the primordial ether, Akasa. The article strays from his scientific writings and presents a brief, beautiful meditation on the nature of reality, and man’s ability to harness it. The esoteric nature of his piece is by no means a rare occurrence; Tesla never worked in a scientific vacuum, but constantly sought to connect his findings to the larger workings of the universe.
“Robinson Crusoe,” David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude.
Jonathan Franzen | The New Yorker
A pluralistic and yet unified piece regarding existential solitude with a personal lens on the life and death of David Foster Wallace. Franzen dismantles the media-induced, illusory memory of Wallace as an angel, “The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms.” Against the grain of Wallace’s superficially pure legacy, especially following The End of the Tour‘s success (due in large part to Segel’s awesomeness), the essay gives a fascinating look into Wallace’s mental landslides visible only to those closest to him, and Franzen’s own fortunately more moderate coping with similar forces.
The Neuroanatomy of Freestyle Rap
Lindsay Abrams | The Atlantic
The fugue state of flow – this article reports on attempts to map the neural correlates of freestyling, spontaneous creativity. Observation of the freestyling brain found, “increased activity that was observed in the part of the brain associated with the inner self, the subjective perspective unmediated by outside stimuli.” Short, fascinating read on what happens when we manage to get our of our own way.
Good Old Neon
David Foster Wallace | Oblivion
In the words of Walter Kirn for the New York Times, the short story, Good Old Neon, from the larger collection, Oblivion, explores in excruciatingly personal detail “a philosophical conundrum: the question of whether human beings can be said to possess authentic selves or whether, like ‘David Wallace,’ the story’s narrator, we are really just a bunch of shabby fakes cut off from our own and others’ essential beings by the inadequacy of language.” Wallace has a way of penetrating our deepest voices of identity through his expansive vocab. This short story is a great place to begin exploring his complexities, riddled with the mellifluous prose of a literary genius, yet set against an anxiety-ridden longing for deeper expression.
Awakening to Pure Consciousness
Jack Kornfield | Personal Website Post
A short excerpt from author and Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield’s book, The Wise Heart. In pleasantly clear yet profound language, this excerpt seeks to differentiate pure consciousness from the contents of consciousness. He aims to guide us in the process of shifting our seat of awareness from the turbulent, transient contents of consciousness, such as thoughts and sense-perceptions, to the abiding peace found when resting in pure consciousness. Certainly not a read for those who balk at the spiritual language of consciousness, peace, etc. But, at the same time, this is as practical and lucid a discourse on the divide between consciousness and its contents that I’ve seen, a divide that even unrelenting skeptics as Sam Harris endorse.