“I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it.”
As humans we have at least three stages of growth, with associated principles.
Early development teaches us that the brain grows by use, our development follows a pattern that marries genetics and environment, and when we grow one area of the brain, the whole brain grows. Helping children achieve their human potential is a first point of impact on growth. And we start reading.
In our teens we turn into inquisitive and rebellious beings. That's when we experiment with ideas and people, we're subject to the influences of others and develop more fully our self awareness. The reason why rites of passage existed was precisely to signal this transformation from the chrysalis to the butterfly.
When real challenges don't exist in the environment, we create them. This is where mentoring changes the game. We can all recall at least one or two individuals who have made a tremendous difference for us. Choosing our mentors is a valid option—and here's where books can play a big role in feeding our curiosity.
With maturity, we begin to appreciate the role of values like trust, honesty, and respect in how they inform our thinking, how we think about what we do, and our actions in relationship to the actions of others.
That's where the rubber of what we bring to the interaction with the world and with others meets the road of experience. But it's useful not to discount the experiences and stories of the many that went before us, nor to forget that to hold the most enduring structures we need a broad and solid base—language and numbers are the basis of our world.
Learning to keep growing
We tend to learn the small lessons fast, because we hope not to make the same mistakes again.
But how do we learn bigger, even huge lessons that take years to develop and us decades of experience to figure out? Some lessons are so universal that they apply across industries, others are important to reflect upon to make our lives better. The best way to package those lessons is through reading books.
Here are seven topics for your winter reading.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, is truly short at 78 pages and covers only seven topics that include relativity, quantum physics, particle physics and black holes:
It also touches both implicitly and explicitly on the nature of scientific inquiry, insights into the current bleeding edge physics theories and how they’re developed, and (lastly) how scientists think. The tone is matter-of-fact, which makes the book very accessible. Rovelli reminds us that we need to make space for thinking if we are to create:
“In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don't get anywhere by not 'wasting' time- something, unfortunately, that the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget.”
The final lesson is about ourselves:
“There are frontiers where we are learning, and our desire for knowledge burns. They are in the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, at the origins of the cosmos, in the nature of time, in the phenomenon of black holes, and in the workings of our own thought processes. Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.”
From physics to the marvels of space exploration and seeing earth from afar to gain perspective on life.
Being neutral in a new environment helps us first assess situations with humility and a desire to learn.
“In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn't tip the balance one way or the other. Or you'll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you'll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.”
Attitude is critical, and we have attitude of mind as well.
How to Speak, How to Listen, to understand how to orchestrate the meeting of the minds:
the highest level of mind-to-mind talks “is concerned with the universal principles applicable to the problem under consideration.” It's possible to agree at this level when we figure out an objective truth by looking at facts.
The next step is to look at the “general rules or policies that represent the application of universal principles to different sets of contingent circumstances, varying with time and place.” When we disagree here, we agree to disagree—and that's fine.
Ditto for the third level down, “where general rules and policies are applied to particular cases.” This is the basis for a productive conversation, where we agree to a universal principle and still may reserve the ability to disagree at general rule or specific application level. Some form of disagreement is central to progress.
We're more likely to meet somewhere in between our distance(s) as we become more aware of our unconscious mind rules our behavior.
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior is not about advertising, as the cover design may suggest. Leonard Mlodinow is a PhD in theoretical physics:
Here he employs his signature concise, accessible explanations of the most obscure scientific subjects to unravel the complexities of the subliminal mind.
In the process he shows the many ways it influences how we misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates; how we misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions; and how we misremember important events—along the way, changing our view of ourselves and the world around us.
From the tricks our mind plays on us, to the tricks that no longer work to keep our attention, or do they?
Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World, explores what happens when technology changes the context from scarcity to abundance:
the two concepts that are most useful in understanding advertising in a digital world revolve around how people process information and theories behind how advertising works.
“Digital marketing is not simply a new place to disperse symbols but rather the emergence of a new behavioral grammar for companies, as they begin to engage with their customers in new ways in new spaces, where everyone has an equal voice.”
“If we return to the roots of planning we see at its heart a desire to understand human behavior and provide a robust model for influencing it. Rather than dismantling strategy into endless experimentation, we need a new way of understanding the world, a modern philosophy.”
DNA may have a role in how we process information. What role does it play in how we perform? As a lifelong athlete, the next book is a fascinating read.
I found the chapter on the DNA differences between female and male in Brain Rules fascinating. The book led me to think about how our DNA (in addition to the environment when we grow up and develop) affects performance.
This is what led me to David Epstein's key question: Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?
And finally a call to wisdom and a return to values, where the frontier to growth is limitless. In an age where the only value seems to be money, we have lost the ability to understand what is true and what is beautiful, says Italian philosopher and sociologist Umberto Galimberti.
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, a gentle and deep review of the beauty, courage and grace that are also part of our world:
Krista Tippett listens for a living and has conducted many conversations with people who are doing extraordinary things all over the world, people we sometimes don't know existed and should, on her show On Being. She organized many of these conversations around themes: five raw materials that are basic aspects of human everyday and she sees as breeding ground for wisdom. They are words, flesh, love, faith, and hope.
“What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to be of service to each other and the world? These questions are being reborn, reframed, in our age of inter-dependence with far-flung strangers. The question of what it means to be human is now inextricable from the question of who we are to each other. We have riches of knowledge and insight, of tools both tangible and spiritual, to rise to thins calling. We watch our technologies become more intelligent, and speculate imaginatively about their potential to become conscious. All the while, we have it in us to become wise. Wisdom leavens intelligence, and enables consciousness, and advances evolution itself.”
When we become complacent we stagnate. Biology teaches us that “the only way to stay in place in the universe is to keep moving.” The more we learn, the more we begin to understand how everything is connected with everything else, which underscores the importance of preparation over adaptation.
[Umberto Eco's Antilibrary]