Monday, August 17, 2009

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Have

I have been traveling for a while; a book reading in Chicago; meeting with a former grad student in SF;a great drive up the west coast to Seattle. I never cease to be amazed how beautiful and varied the US is from one side to another. The trip gave me time to meet some great people, have some very far reaching conversations and read from some unexpected sources. There is one book in particular that I want to pass along.

Lost in the Cosmos by the novelist Walker Percy is a faux self-help book which is, actually, a highly insightful exploration of the problems of the self. Using a series of self-tests written with tongue firmly held in cheek Percy unpacks the fundamental dilemma of being conscious through the slippery and ever shifting nexus of "the self".

A couple of quote from Lost in Cosmos
As soon as the self becomes self-conscious - that is aware of its own unique unformulability in its world of signs - from that moment forward it can not escape the predicament of its own placement in the world.

The self in a world is rich or poor accordingly as it succeeds in identifying its otherwise unspeakable self, e.g., mythicaly, by identifying its otherwise unspeakable self with a world-sign, such as a totem; religiously, by identifying yourself as a creature of God.
But totemism doesn't work in a scientific age because no one believes, no matter how hard he tries, that he can become a tiger or a parakeet.
In a post-religious age the only resources of the self are self as transcendent and self as immanent.

You don't have to agree with all Percy says to see sharp point of his emphasis. Assuming we are the only species on the planet which has granted this evolutionary gift of self-consciousness and, acknowledging the precarious position our use of this gift has placed us in, Percy's insights are timely and useful.

My special thanks to Scott for pointing me to this book.