Suggested readings, #156

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Nature does not care. I worry, sometimes, that knowledge is falling out of fashion – that in the field in which I work, nature writing, the multitudinous nonfictions of the more-than-human world, facts have been devalued; knowing stuff is no longer enough. … (Aeon) [Good counter to the increasingly common “poetic self-absorption” of so many nature writers.]

Neuroscience gets in the way of appreciating art. Describing ourselves in the language of neurobiology has got to be one of the stranger trends in our medical age. I’m depressed because my serotonin levels are low. I cried in the movie because the grieving mother activated my mirror neurons. The dopamine boost from the pinot noir planted me in a garden of bliss. For one thing, simplistic explanations for multivalent situations are a license to charlatans to ring up their cash registers with nostrums for happiness and longevity. More consequently, defining our behaviors in the confines of the brain is a pinched portrait of the ways the world draws out our potential like a conductor draws music from notes on a page. Get with it, people, you are more than your neurons. … (Nautilus) [A good example of philosophical nonsense, read it for amusement, or as an exercise in critical thinking.]

Schopenhauer, opera glasses and the rabble. The year 1848 was decidedly nervewracking for the established rulers of Europe. Not only had Marx and Engels published their Communist Manifesto at the year’s beginning, calling on the proletariat to rise up and throw off their chains, but bourgeois-democratic and progressive forces were out on the streets of European capitals, demanding the overthrow of the old quasi-feudal order. Before the year was out, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, the Austrian Empire and the Netherlands had seen popular uprisings, the monarchies in France and Denmark had fallen, and serfdom had been abolished in Austria and Hungary. … (Quirkality) [I love Schopy, but boy he doesn’t come across very well in this episode.]

Your brain prefers happy endings. That’s not always smart. Let’s play game. Imagine the pandemic is over and you take a vacation. You go somewhere warm with no plans other than to bask in the sun, swim in the ocean, and have lots of drinks garnished with flowers, fruit, and tiny umbrellas. When you arrive, the weather is excellent. The first few days are everything you wanted. But on the third day, there’s a sharp, strong breeze that makes it impossible to go swimming. On the last day, it rains, forcing you inside all day. … (Wired) [Like much neuroscience, this feels a bit like the elucidation of the obvious. Still worth reading, though.]

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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