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The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew B. Crawford
This post is more commentary and personal reflection than review.

           Are you really in your body at all?  Why is this important?  These are questions that have been rolling around in my mind for a very long time.  Having been an intellectual kid, a daydreamer and a bookworm, I lived in my head, hardly aware I had a body at all.  Luckily I found yoga while I was still in high school and began discovering what it was like to inhabit this body and to have a physical relationship with the world around me.  When I started learning to play the guitar at age twenty-five, the questions became even more intriguing because of the necessary physical dexterity of playing the instrument, which did not come easily.  Twenty years later and I’m more obsessed with guitar playing than ever, and it has much to do with the physicality of the art in contrast with writing, something that I’ve been doing for so long, I can’t remember what it was like to learn how.  Last year, in the midst of my disaffection with writing fiction, I decided I would write about guitar playing.  The crux of this book is that the guitar is a place, an object that by playing it, anchors the player in reality.  This revelation swept me, I think, sometime last summer.
         About three weeks ago, I was browsing in the library when I came upon Crawford’s book.  I imagine—too a much lesser degree—it must have been what Darwin felt when reading Wallace’s theory of natural selection, except rather than feeling my ideas in danger of preemption, I felt the vacuum in which I’d been working fill with a sense a companionship.  I am not alone in my thinking!  Crawford’s perspective is different and fascinating, yet his conclusion about the need for grounding oneself in physical reality—and his means of doings it (skilled craft)—is the same.  Since my ideas pertain so specifically to the guitar, seeing them within the context of Crawford’s ideas gives a sense of validation.  Though it’s possible, maybe even probable, my ideas are not particularly original, I was tremendously excited.

And now I’ll share with you a few quotes I found interesting:

“Getting things right requires triangulating with other people.  Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon.  It typically happens in conversation—not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get to the bottom of things.  I call this an ‘art’ because it requires both tact and doggedness.  And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding.  This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.” p. 63

That is the purpose of this blog.

He offers an historical perspective:

“The creeping substitution of virtual reality for reality is a prominent feature of contemporary life, but it also has deep antecedents in Western thought.  It is a cultural project that is unfolding along lines that Immanuel Kant sketched for us; trying to establish the autonomy of the will by filtering material reality through abstractions.” p. 73

Which leads to:

“When the choosing will is hermetically sealed off from the fuzzy, hard-to-master contingencies of the empirical world, it becomes more ‘free’ in a sense: free for the kind of neurotic dissociation from reality that opens the door wide for others to leap in on our behalf, and present options that are available to us without the world-disclosing effort of skillful engagement.” p. 76

After a discussion of how the gaming industry designs slot machines to seduce gamblers into playing “to extinction,” he offers this:

“I appreciate the freedom-loving, government-hating spirit of libertarians, but I think they take too narrow and old-fashioned a view of the thing they hate—of settings in which the individual is subject to various kinds of rule.  Capital is concentrated to the point that it operates in quasi-governmental ways, abetted by ever more powerful information technology.  Arguably, one of the most important functions of the (actual, elected) government, now, is precisely to restrain and regulate the explosion of unaccountable governmentality in our dealings with outsized commercial enterprises.” p. 110-111

Oh, yes, this is something I think of often.  Have we all forgotten how the tobacco industry researched, designed and manufactured cigarettes to make them maximally addictive?  And yet you will get a vociferous argument for “personal responsibility/freedom” when there is a call to regulate soft drinks.  Are people really in the dark about the amount of time, money and research that goes into making these products as irresistible as possible?  Thin people may congratulate themselves on their self restraint, but it is probable they are less susceptible to the enticement either through genetics or more fortunate environmental circumstances.

But I digress.  Obviously Crawford covers a lot of ground in this book.  This is the part I found most inspiring:

“[T]ell me where you’re coming from in doing what you do.  Give an account of yourself.  In rising to this challenge, you have to own it, whatever the deed…[G]enuine community is possible only among people who are willing to put themselves at risk in the this way and present themselves.  In doing so they may discover some fellow feeling that goes beyond politeness.” p. 187

Is that not what we are all hoping for?

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Actually, what Darwin felt about Wallace is pretty much what you felt about Crawford.

Thanks for the clarification. You oughtta know. :)

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