What if there were One Book, which gave the low-down on all the Big Questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the Universe? H...moreWhat if there were One Book, which gave the low-down on all the Big Questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the Universe? How was it created? No, I'm not talking about the Bible. That doesn't really answer those questions in a way that is palatable to the modern, scientific, skeptical thinker.
Alan Watts wondered what such a book would be like, and in so doing, he ends up writing it. At least I think he did. The first time I read it, it put an abrupt end to all of my philosophical confusions. I've read it a few times since then, each time with more knowledge and understanding of the subject, and it never ceases to be a mindfuck.
Borrowing from Eastern philosophy, particularly Taoism and Vedanta, he answers these Big Questions, effortlessly breezing through paradoxes and circular logic in a humorous way that is very easy to read. He seamlessly integrates modern science into his philosophical musings without resorting to pseudoscience, and without sounding dated, which is amazing for a book written in 1967.(less)
I first read this about ten years ago, and I count this as one of the books that transformed my thinking. It's the story of a Catholic priest of the L...moreI first read this about ten years ago, and I count this as one of the books that transformed my thinking. It's the story of a Catholic priest of the Laurentian order who is tasked with tracking down someone named B, who is suspected to be the Antichrist. As the tale progresses, you learn much of the teachings of B. Trust me, it will make you think. It's a very different perspective on our culture than you'll find anywhere else. If you've read Quinn's first book, Ishmael, you'll know this perspective. This book expands on it.
A lot of people misunderstood Daniel Quinn, thinking he was arguing we go back to hunting-and-gathering. No amount of clarification seemed to dispel that myth. The point, which this book spells out more clearly than any of his other books, is that if we think something isn't working, maybe we should study what DOES work. That's what this book does. We know tribalism worked for a very long time. So long, in fact, that our current culture is only a brief experiment by comparison. If that experiment has failed, maybe we should understand what worked so well for so long, and why it worked, if we expect to fix what's wrong with our experiment, or construct a new experiment. When he says tribalism "worked" he doesn't mean it was perfect. He only means it worked, like flocks work for geese and hibernation works for bears: it's evolutionarily stable. It doesn't bring the planet to the brink of disaster after only a few thousand years.
This book only gives a starting point, by exploring that part of our history we know very little about: the transition from tribalism to what we think of as modern history. Quinn proposes this transition was a kind of cultural assimilation, which is only possible if people started living with a conviction that we now take on faith, that there is one right way to live. So the most important thing is to stop living by that conviction. There is no one right way to live. The biggest feature, and the biggest disaster, of this assimilation is the lack of diversity. So we might want to re-think the massive scale of our culture. He also proposes what he knows will not work: "the world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds, with no programs."
Like most of his books, this is almost more non-fiction than fiction, but it has a much better plot and characters than Ishmael. I found myself wanting to know what happened next. But looking back, I wonder if Quinn had a bit of a heretic complex, thinking people would come after him with pitchforks for making such dangerous arguments. A couple books later (After Dachau) he had a completely different worry: "Nobody cares."(less)
The story of a "reluctant messiah," a fantasy of the author meeting such an "advanced soul" and learning what he has to teach. There are several nugge...moreThe story of a "reluctant messiah," a fantasy of the author meeting such an "advanced soul" and learning what he has to teach. There are several nuggets of wisdom--I especially like the movie metaphor, when he asks the big question, "why are we here?" It kind of puts a whole new spin on the Buddhist concept of eliminating desire and ego-clinging--sometimes ego can be fun and educational. However, upon reading this book again after many years, I feel more disappointed than inspired. It seems to take some already absurd new age notions, like shaping reality with our own minds, quite literally.(less)