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The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Kindle Edition
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|Length: 178 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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The basic premise of the book is that we have been told that we are isolated beings, "unconnected to the rest of the universe", which has led to our viewing the "outside" world with hostility and "has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world". However, Watts asserts that this belief is mistaken and that we are in fact directly connected to everything else there is. In the beginning of the book, Watts discusses the concept of cultural taboos—things like making direct eye contact with another person or performing an act that is against one's religion. This leads him to make the following point:
"The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego."
The concept of "I" is extremely powerful and commonplace in most societies on Earth, and it is so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, as well as our laws and social institutions. Watts spends many words of this book arguing against the concept of personal selfhood in favor of a more universal concept of identity—one that includes the rest of reality in addition to the components that we would normally judge as "ourselves".
One of the other things I found interesting was Watts' definition of "attention" as "narrowed perception"—because when we attend to one thing, we ignore everything else. In Watts' own words: "conscious attention is at the same time ignore-ance (i.e., ignorance) despite the fact that it gives us a vividly clear picture of whatever we choose to notice."
These are just some of the concepts that Watts describes in The Book. If either of these ideas sound interesting to you, I would definitely give this a read. I wish that this review was able to more fully show how wonderful this book is, but since this is only my first read-through, I feel like I was only able to skim the surface of its ideas and therefore will likely have more to say about it upon successive readings. I definitely give this one two thumbs up though!
This book is, at its heart, Watts' take on the philosophy of Indian, Verdic (Hindu) literature. As usual it is very accessible reading and is filled with witty descriptions and arguments that lead you to think more deeply about life. I read the book several months ago and am still taking on board some of his apparently simple arguments. I found, however, that I agreed with Watts through his long chains of arguments only to balk at his final conclusion. This happened repeatedly. Specifically I cannot agree that man is a total microcosm of the macrocosm, that we are a unique, yet complete, expression of Brahma, God, Absolute Meaning, or whatever you choose to describe the ultimate 'It' as. This is just too much metaphysics and theology for me. It must be remembered that Watts is an ex-Anglican minister and I think his background shows here. I also wished that Watts had spent much more time defining modern man's current predicament as I feel that this is where he is at his very best. For example I loved the first half of his earlier book The Wisdom of Insecurity for that very reason. Of course your understanding of the world may be very different to mine, so you may like the book better than I did. I certainly didn't dislike it, but I do not feel that it is his best.