I have just started the daunting task of reviewing some of the books that I have read in recent years – books that I consider to be especially insightful in one way or another (now in the ‘book list‘ section). It is no secret that writers, philosophers, scientists, and so on, have their biases – their favored ways of thinking about the world. Kuhn tells us that this is essentially how science works. We subscribe to a particular scientific paradigm involving a community of individuals who have similar views or assumptions about the nature of reality. Martin Spencer similarly talked about ‘conceptual communities’ whose members tend to ‘catch the faith’ of that theoretical worldview. This worldview is henceforth treated, not as a tentative and potentially fallible theory attempting to approximate reality, but as a true reflection of reality itself. In short, we end up believing our favored theory or paradigm to be correct, while the others are viewed as being incorrect or wrong. Our theoretical worldviews are like secular faith-based communities that work to sustain the ‘truth’ of our preferred version of reality. Our own assumptions are seldom challenged because we surround ourselves with people who use the same theoretical jargon, attend the same ‘academic talks,’ subscribe to the same journals, and read the same kinds of books that all work to sustain the paradigm. It seems very difficult to think outside of the intellectual borders that feel most comfortable to us.
Perhaps there is some truth to the notion that you can make certain assumptions about a person based on the books they have in their personal library. Many of us academic-types end up reading a lot of books, but they may not be very wide in scope. For example, someone who reads Steven Pinker, is likely to read Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, but they are perhaps unlikely to read Raymond Tallis, Kenan Malik, or Plato. We tend to read books that fit with our worldview, which in a way, restricts our ability to think. I have made this critique elsewhere on this site.
It is my view that people should not only be ‘well read,’ but that they should also ‘read widely.’ The former is a symptom of someone who treats their science or logic like a religion; the latter suggests that one is able to be more open-minded and capable of challenging their own beliefs or assumptions. For this reason you will see books in my list that attempt to cover philosophy, psychology, biology, ethics, politics, anthropology, and so on. There will be reviews of both fiction and non-fiction books covering modern works as well as older classics. The assumption that older theories and books are outdated is in my mind flawed and based on the myth of scientific, political, or cultural ‘progress’ that is always linear and unidirectional. As Kuhn pointed out, a new paradigm may be capable of explaining some new occurrence, while simultaneously losing the ability to explain or understand something that was previously known. There is no such thing as a linear or historical progression of thoughts and ideas – if there is progress it is not linear.
So be well read, but challenge yourselves to read widely! I hope that there is something useful in the book reviews – more additions will be made in the coming weeks, and I also have some original pieces coming down the pipeline very shortly, so stay tuned!