Saturday, April 26, 2008

Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed

Some of you may need a little help with the first step (admit there's a problem). Others may need help with how to go about finding the something else I keep talking about. A Guide for the Perplexed by E. F. Schumacher addresses both issues.

The first chapter establishes that yes, there is a problem. The map of the universe that most of us use omits things by design that are actually important. The example used in the book is of maps of cities in Soviet Russia which intentionally left out churches. The maps used by scientists (but not quantum physicists) tend to leave out anything that can't be measured by instruments and any phenomena that can't be duplicated.

The second chapter details a major thing that's missing on most scientists' maps: that there are readily apparent differences between inanimate matter, plants, animals, and people. Everyone knows this to be true, but some of the scientists will say that the differences are "epiphenomena." For example, a biologist may reduce life to chemical activity, or a psychologist may say that consciousness is an illusory phenomenon arising from neural activity.

The main part of the book deals with what the author calls "four fields of knowledge." The fields of knowledge are the answers to four questions:

  1. What's in my inner world?

  2. What's in other people's inner worlds?

  3. How do I look to the outside world?

  4. How does the outside world look to me?

The author says that these four questions must be dealt with in order, because the answer to each is necessary to get to the answer to the next. Reading the book and coming up with your own answers to the four questions may help you find the something else. Give it a try.

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