by Jeffrey Schrank ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 13, 2020
A shrewd and comprehensive study of the importance of reality construction in human life.
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A writer offers a wide-ranging exploration of the nature and role of storytelling in human society and psychology.
In his book, Schrank takes a broad look at the many pivotal roles stories play in what he refers to as “Normalworld.” Tales, he contends, are the tools people use in their ongoing “Reality Construction Project.” They use stories to construct their shared reality and then explain it to themselves. This project is fundamental to human nature, the author argues: “This seemingly effortless ability to wing it, to make up a story on the fly, is part of our survival toolkit. We experience confabulations as reality, not as stories.” Schrank conceives of this faculty as a defining aspect of humans, who at all times make up and tell tales by instinct about everything (“We are all confabulists,” he writes). He maintains that when these stories diverge from actual reality, humans very often prefer to go on believing the tales instead. In the course of his book, he explores several of these stories and examines their reality versus their various confabulations. Delving into perception studies and visual cognition, he examines subjects ranging from popular political positions to widespread disinformation campaigns, always striving to differentiate between perception and storytelling. For example, he dissects what may be the most dramatic example of confabulation: the prevalence of conspiracy theories, where humans take what they know and use it to tell stories that explain what they don’t know. “Our perception,” he writes, “is a game of fill-in-the-blanks.”
Throughout the work, Schrank is a calm, methodical guide to subjects that often tend to raise readers’ hackles (his section on the nature of immigration in the United States, for instance, methodically differentiates between what Americans believe, what they’d like to believe, and what is actually true). His ruling contention is that humans “seek connections and patterns to use as building blocks in our story creation,” and he’s cleareyed about both the positives and the negatives of the phenomenon. One of the foremost negatives connected to serial confabulation is what’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people’s ignorance about a subject (based on the stories they tell themselves) has an inverse relationship to their confidence about that same topic. As Schrank puts it, “Incompetence masks the ability to recognize the incompetence.” The omnivorous nature of his curiosities is the book’s most consistently surprising and enjoyable element; he can move with ease from investigating the nature of acoustics (and audio illusions) to the human tendency to invest all kinds of inanimate objects and processes with personalities. These and other subjects (whether or not plants feel pain, for instance) take on new elements of interest when examined through the lens of storytelling. And throughout the volume, the author is mindful of the perils inherent in this habit of spinning yarns. “The more an answer feels right to you, the more certain you are of its correctness,” he writes in one of his many reflections on the insidious process of confirmation bias. “We use this feeling of rightness as evidence of accuracy.” Storytellers of all kinds will be captivated by every page.A shrewd and comprehensive study of the importance of reality construction in human life.
Pub Date: March 13, 2020
Page Count: 392
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2020
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by Ted Christopher ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 25, 2020
A thorough, right-wing perspective on the philosophical vices of modern science.
A theoretical critique of scientism, the hyperbolically confident view that scientific materialism is capable of explaining the universe in its totality.
Christopher announces an ambitious agenda: to challenge the “scientific vision of life,” the reductive attempt to capture all existing phenomena—human and otherwise—in the categories of scientific materialism. The author principally devotes his attention to the relentless attempt to explain human behavior from the perspective of DNA, the alleged “language of life.” However, Christopher contends, with impressive clarity and rigor, that such an attempt has long been exposed as a failure—explanatory recourse to DNA simply doesn’t account for the whole spectrum of behavioral differences or variations in innate intelligence. Despite the mounting difficulties with the explanatory power of DNA, however, the scientific community has doubled down on its commitment to it—a type of “faith-based” rather than evidentiary allegiance. The author interprets this commitment as an expression of irrational scientism, which combines a “total confidence in the materialistic model of human life” with a self-congratulatory “hype and arrogance.” Christopher devotes so much attention to the field of genetics precisely because he sees it as the crucible of this scientism: “I suggest that biologists/geneticists are effectively in the front lines of the defense of materialism. That foundational scientific belief that life is completely describable in terms of physics dictates that DNA fulfill the heredity role. Never mind some of the extraordinary behavioral challenges, DNA has to cover all of materialism’s bets.”
Christopher also assesses the ways scientific dogma clouds discussions of environmental sustainability, race, intelligence, and even meditation—in the latter case he furnishes a fascinating discussion of the limitations of the analysis of Sam Harris, a philosopher and neuroscientist who is a well-known critic of religion. Further, he does a credible job of not only exposing the vulnerabilities and limitations of DNA as a theoretical panacea, but also the ways the scientific community routinely dismisses them, betraying their avowed commitment to intellectual openness. “Contradicting the certitude of science there are bunch [sic] of behavioral phenomena which are very difficult to explain from a materialist perspective. The inability of science to acknowledge this situation contradicts the regularly proclaimed openness and curiosity of scientists. In fact science has its own rigid materialist purview and strongly defends it.” The author, whose perspective is unmistakably locatable on the right of the political aisle, claims he does not supply a “nuanced effort,” and this is sometimes true. In his discussion of black communities, he offers common racist tropes: “A relatively weak commitment towards education and a tendency towards violence are still substantial problems in parts of the African American community.” Overall, the author’s argument is clear and free of technical convolution, a remarkable feat given the forbidding nature of much of the subject matter. His chief goal is to demonstrate the “sacred” nature of the scientific community’s fidelity to DNA as a settled theory and, as a consequence, encourage it to “start looking elsewhere for explanations.” At the very least, he accomplishes this goal.A thorough, right-wing perspective on the philosophical vices of modern science.
Pub Date: March 25, 2020
Page Count: 178
Publisher: Wise Media Group
Review Posted Online: July 27, 2020
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by Ruth O. Saxton ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 8, 2020
A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.
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A literary critique examines portrayals of older women in fiction.
Throughout her life, Saxton has known many strong older women, like her mother, aunts, and grandmothers, who—despite the physical challenges of aging—possessed a lifetime of spirit and energy. As a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, California, the author attempted to introduce her students to fiction that celebrated the vibrancy of real-life women, but she was often disappointed. Instead of stories about positive aging, in which women over 60 years old became their “truest selves,” Saxton noted that much fiction about older women was structured like “Deathbed Bookends”—in other words, the tales opened and closed with the memory of a youthful (often romantic) past, and the protagonist’s glory days were sadly over. In this well-organized presentation, the author lays out a thoughtful analysis of works of fiction from the 20th and 21st centuries, like Tillie Olsen’s powerful short story “Tell Me a Riddle” and Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg’s comedy-of-errors novel, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Thirty stories are examined in five categories—"Romancing the Past,” “Sex After Sixty,” “Altered Realities,” “It’s Never Too Late,” and “Defying Expectations”—and each segment contains illuminating critiques of six tales grouped into pairs. Saxton’s conclusions are memorable; for example, in Chapter 1, she writes that Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” and Susan Minot’s novel Evening both use Deathbed Bookends for their structures. The comprehensive work concludes with a compelling analysis of Margaret Drabble’s complex 2016 novel, The Dark Flood Rises. Though the chapters feel like individual essays that could be used in the classroom, Saxton’s beautifully fluid prose would be a pleasure to read while relaxing at the beach.A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.
Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020
Page Count: 304
Publisher: She Writes Press
Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020
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