Kathleen's Reviews > Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson
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's review
Jul 21, 2010

it was amazing
Read in March, 2012

She's an amazing writer. I always take my time reading her because it requires focus and thought, whether it's her non-fiction or her fiction. I was particularly interested in these essays, as 1)they are pursuing the tensions and relationship between science and religion and 2) one of the scientists she examines is Edward O. Wilson, someone I admire. I was quietly thrilled that the one issue I have with Wilson is the area she directly addresses: the scientist's definition of altruism. (I prefer cell biologist Lynn Margulis's scientific definition, one not limited to a post-Darwinian "selfishness" but one showing a true contrast with so-called "selfishness" and thus a model in nature and biology for two ways of being: selfish and altruistic. Not just selfish and also selfish, as much of science would have it today.)

Robinson details and laments the loss of "mind" from today's prevailing thought, philosophy, and what she calls "parascience." If mind is equated only with brain function...it is already limited by one way of seeing it, excluding centuries of culture and human experience. Robinson sees clearly what real science has done and can do, and looks at philosophers and psychiatrists with respect and in their historical contexts, illuminating the complexity of life, not reducing and simplifying, as is so common today. (See also, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided, though Robinson would ask Ehrenreich to take another look at Jean Couvin/John Calvin, as Robinson herself has, reading his work, rather than the work of those who dismiss him. Etc. But that's another book, The Death of Adam.)

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