This year I managed to read about 45 books the vast majority of which were non-fiction. Among them were some great experiences that really inspired me. I thought the new year was a great opportunity to reflect on what I learned. The five books that made the most remarkable impression on me this year were the following
This book could not be more relevant than right now when the idea of democracy and the basis of what Popper calls The Open Society is threatened from the inside and outside. Popper’s relentless criticism of authoritarian ideas embedded in the thinking of famous philosophers Plato, Hegel and Marx is heartwarming. If one ever started to wonder why we want to defend democracy, the rule of law, and freedom one needs nothing further than the razor-sharp intellect of Popper. It is interesting how he transitions his philosophy of science to a philosophy of civil society. Like Science is a piecemeal process of continuous critical investigation, civil society should also be a piecemeal process of social engineering conducted in an open critical dialogue.
This book is an incredibly readable and lucid analysis of modern techdom. O’Gieblyn manages to show the deep religious roots of modern Silicon Valley culture. Everything from transhumanism to the belief in the Singularity is laid out in its proper religious and philosophical context. No one can chronicle the modern experience of living with technology like O’Gieblyn and this book provided me more than any other this year with a new view on what it means to be human in a technological post-modern civilization.
In an attempt to explore the reality behind myths and religious truths, Kastrup takes us along on an incredible ride that is partly autobiographical. The book reads like a novel with interesting insights that probe the depths of reality and the nature of the universe. Perhaps no other contemporary philosopher than Kastrup dares to question the current philosophical metaphysical stance based on varieties of materialism and succeeds in building a compelling case for idealism and constructing a modern view of the universe based on ancient religious wisdom.
Moving down from the high-flying abstractions to the daily grind of practical life, I have found no better guide than James Clear. His concise and readable Atomic Habits connects his own personal experience with psychological research to provide a framework for how modern humans can start engineering their own life in more positive directions. It is clearly a popular book that is based on years of practical experience helping people and organizations build better habits but it has a very real substance. There is perhaps no single human ability with greater power to change the world than habit, yet it is still strangely overlooked. This book gives examples and tools for you to start taking control of your own life.
It is interesting that perhaps the single article I heard referenced most often this year was Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat”. Ed Yong takes this to the extreme and investigates the richness of the nature of perception in animals in general. It turns out that humans are in fact quite restricted when it comes to perception as compared to the variety that animals display. After reading this you will not be able to think about the nature of the world in the same way. Perception is not just a more or less complete view of the external world, it is intricately tied to the needs and interests in the surrounding world of the organism perceiving it.