July 12, 2020

The Wonderbox

Part historical-theoretical, part practical, the book delves deeply into the world’s cultures, both present and historical with a lens that focuses on those aspects of these cultures that touch on our experiences even today. And the purpose, the practical aspect of the book, is to learn from these other cultures and become more self-aware in what we may be doing wrong or perspective we’re missing in our own lives. For example, love: Ancient Greeks conceptualized six different kinds of love and attempted to be precise in their understanding of it whereas today we’re precise in our conceptualization of coffee and its many kinds, e.g., flat white, cappuccino, instant, etc., but very low resolution in our identification of love; this low resolution concept of love we use affects the way we view the world, our relationships and our expectations of them and we take for granted that our current concept of it was not always so and that its shape took form over a specific period in history.  Many other aspects of life are explored like time & our relationship to it, death, the senses (and our taking for granted of the five senses model), etc. One way to use this book is not to read it all front to back but to use it as a reference when you’re in trouble: if you’re feeling stress and overwhelmed, read the chapter on time; if you’re having trouble in your love life, read the section on love. If you keep feeling like something is wrong, it’s possible that the problem isn’t the world, or other people, or even ‘you’, but a certain attitude you have cultivated and formed on the basis of unquestioned assumptions and not-very-well-thought-out concepts. It’s also possible that you don’t feel like anything is wrong (yet), but that you’ve unknowingly adopted certain premises and beliefs from other cultures, e.g., do you know someone who’s all about “productivity and efficiency?” (me) it’s very likely he (or she) has passively absorbed a good Protestant ethic that might be worth rethinking or at least questioning. 

A few personal takeaways for me are: (1) start framing my relationships to others in more precise ways, leaning on some Greek wisdom to do so; (2) try and cultivate the other senses more, e.g., by finding ways to engage my sense of smell and touch more, playing with balancing, taking more notice of what’s around me and how it impacts me; (3) read Orwell & Lakoff on metaphors & Helen Keller’s book (not because they were recommended but because they keep appearing in books I’m reading and people I listen to and provide insight to some things I want to examine). 

Structural Outline:

Structural Outline

(1) Nurturing Relationships

  • Love
    • The Six Varieties of Love
      • The Ancient Greeks were much more precise in identifying love. We’re relatively crude in our expression, using the same term to mean many different kinds of love
      • We have expressions for different kinds of coffee: instant, espresso, cappuccino, flat white, etc. – the Greeks had the same high resolution identifications for different kinds of love:
        • Eros
        • Philia
          • Philia within a family unit, e.g., parent-child, siblings-cousins, the bond of blood.
          • Utilitiarian philia (instrumental friendships) between people in relationships of mutual dependence, e.g., business partners or political allies.
          • Philia between comrades on the battlefield
        • Ludus
          • Playful love, a playful affection between children or lovers
        • Pragma
          • deep understanding developed between long-term couples. See Erich Fromm on ‘falling in love’ & ‘standing in love.’
        • Agape
          • “selfless love” extended to all humans, became a central concept in Christian thought, later translated to cartias in Latin and that is the basis for ‘charity’, CS Lewish ‘gift love.’
          • Arises in Buddhism too.
        • Philautia
          • self-love of two kinds:
          • A negative kind revealed in the myth of Narcissus
          • Aristotle’s idea of “all friendly feelings for others are extensions of man’s feeling for himself.’
      • ‘What is love’ is a misleading question. Ask instead ‘How can I cultivate the different varieties of love in my life?’
    • The Myth of Romantic Love
      • Traces the history of this concept which is a radically new view and demonstrates how it attempts to package all forms of identified love into one kind found in one person.
      • The overriding lesson of romanticism when you look at the literature is not that falling in love is a wonderful thing, but that the obsession with finding that mythical soulmate can cause immense personal anguish and wreak havoc upon your life.
    • Why Kissing Will Never Be Enough?
  • Family
    • Lost History of Househusband
    • Why Family Conversation Is Difficult
      • Become more open with our emotions and more intimate with our conversations.
  • Empathy
    • The Serpent And Dove
    • How To Leave KKK?
      • A story about an x-KKK leader & a black women.
      • His meeting a mentally ill paranoid schizophrenic who had a very philosophic mind who once went to Oxford.
    • How To Become a Tramp
      • Story on Orwell’s exploration of empathy through adventures as a tramp.
      • His empathy grew out of an attempt to liberate himself from his elite background and the imperialism for which he had been a foot soldier.
      • rather than ask ‘where can I go next?’ ask ‘whose shoes can I stand in next?’
    • Mass Empathy and Social Change
    • Invisible Threads of Empathy

(2) Making a Living

  • Work
  • Time
    • Tyranny of Clock
      • The cultural changes that came with the invention of an accurate mechanical clock.
    • Metaphors We Live By
      • Metaphors structure our thinking and relationships with reality – we back out beliefs from the metaphors we use.
      • Lakoff’s example of metaphor’s structuring our map of reality – “she attacked my argument”, etc., and other metaphors relating to conversation and argument that imply an underlying metaphor of ‘argument is war.’ This applies to time too: ‘time is money,’  ‘living on borrowed time’, etc. These structure the way we think about time.
      • Some suggestions for altering our perceptions of time, e.g., leisure as ‘time on.’ and suggestion to become ‘metaphor detectives.’
    • Art of Slow Living
      • We may, in part, be inheritors of a Protestant ethic which encourage us to believe that time must be used ‘productively’ and ‘efficiently.’
    • Arrow, Wheel & Step Out Of Time
      • Different cultural concepts of time
    • Time & Responsibility
  • Money
    • Consumed By Shopping
    • Simplicity

(3) Discovering the World

  • Senses
    • Remembering that for centuries people were convinced we had around ten senses is a reminder that our own conception of the five senses might be too constricted: thermoception, proprioception, nociception.
    • The story of Kaspar Hauser, locked in a small cell, and his extraordinary sensory abilities.
    • Helen Keller
  • Travel
  • Nature
    • How Woods & Mountains Became Beautiful
    • How to Live After the End of Nature
    • Biophilia

(4) Breaking Conventions

  • Belief
  • Creativity
    • A technique based approach to creativity
    • Critique of Edward de Bono
  • Deathstyle
    • Dancing with Death
    • The Community of Death
    • How to Care For Elderly
    • Deathstyle Culture


Posted in Book Summaries