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The Myths We Live By 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
About the Author
Hillary Huber is a multiple Audie Award finalist, an AudioFile Earphones Award winner, and an AudioFile Best Voice. She has recorded close to three hundred titles, spanning many genres. A huge fan of audiobooks, when she's not narrating one, she's listening to one! --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
'For those who haven't yet read Midgley, these essays are an excellent place to start.' - Jon Turney, The Guardian
'An elegant and sane little book. Unusually for a philosopher, Midgley has a superb ear for the use and misuse of language.' - Edward Skidelsky, New Statesman
'She has, perhaps, the sharpest perception of any living thinker of the dangerous extremism that lurks behind so much contemporary scientistic discourse ... Merely as anthologies of contemporary folly, Midgley's books are essential reading ... we have Mary Midgley among us. We should pay attention and be grateful.' - Brian Appleyard, The Sunday Times
'[Mary Midgley's] latest book is full of good sense and illumination on many topics ... Midgley's pathbreaking efforts should be warmly welcomed.' - The Philosopher's Magazine
'Mary's voice, sane, clear and brooking no nonsense, speaks crisply from every page, debunking scientific and non-scientific pretensions alike. A chapter each evening will help me keep sane.' - The Sunday Times
'Christian readers will be sympathetic abd find much material for helpful reflection on the topics chosen.' - The Gospel and Our Culture Network
--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B000OI15V6
- Publisher : Routledge; 1st edition (September 14, 2005)
- Publication date : September 14, 2005
- Language : English
- File size : 882 KB
- Simultaneous device usage : Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 204 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0415309069
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,438 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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This book is about 'mtyhs' and their importance in science. Unfortunately, 'myth' might not have been the best word to describe Midgley's enterprise. In this book, she is NOT, a.) saying that science is a myth (that it is not trute), b.) using 'myth' to mean 'fairy tale', or c.) going on a fashionable post-modern lit-crit 'exploration' exploring the history of mythology as it relates to science. YEEEECCHHH!
Mary Midgley is much too smart for that. Rather, 'the myths we live by' are those metaphysical concepts that bleed into science now and again, masquerading as part of testable science: concepts like the gene as selfish replicator, materialism that would reduce mind to matter, the AI view that humans are smart machines, etc. Not that these concepts can't be valueable at times, but concepts like these are philosophical assumptions, not not testable fact.
To give an example of Midgley's intent here, my favorite section is that on the bran/mind conundrum that scientists are itching to resolve by pretending the mind doesn't exist. Midgley (and this reviewer) both have confidence that the mind is caused by the brain and that dualism is not tenable. But here's the problem. "Explainling" the mind by neurons and synapses IGNORES the emprically obvious: I can see neurons in brains, but can't 'feel' them in my mind. The brain and mind 'feel' of different qualities, and any explanation of the former doesn't necessarilty 'explain' the latter.
Other theorists like Dennett, say that the first person is an 'illusion' put forth by our genes to aid survival. If so, then it is not an illusion anyone (including Dennett) can 'stand back from' long enough to check whether it IS ACTUALLY an illusion (as one pulls stick that looks bent out of the water to find a straight stick). Others like Blackmore posit memes - units of culture (whatever such units consist of) that infest our minds while we are just passive vessels, waiting for memes to duke it out and replicate. Midgley responds with the obvious: if we are asked to believe that, then isn't it WE who are asked to believe that, and doesn't that in turn create a dilemma? If we are asked to believe that we aren't willfully in control of our minds (but the memes are), then how is it that we could willfully believe that at all? All of this is attempts by scientists to push explanatory theories farther than they seem to be able to go. IF materialism works on a physical level, then we must force it to explain mind. Midgley's answer? The mind seems to resist phsysical explanation in that way. What explains one thing brilliantly, may be clumsey when applied to another.
That was just my favorite example; there are many more. The point she is trying to make is that while 'myhts' are essential to science (mtetaphysics can not truly be seperated from it), we must watch how we use it. In the tradition of William James, Midgley warns that the world is quite pluralistic in its qualities and we may just need a pluralistic approach to dealing with it. Grand unified theories? Don't be so sure. Universal acids? Probably not. Ultra-reductionism? No matter how much we can reduce, there will always be whole organisms that need explaining just as much.
The only complalints I have are these: first, as a long time Midgley fan, I feel that she is, in some ways, writing the same book over and over again. This tends to happen to philosophers that say really original or contreversial things, as thhey keep having to re-explain themselves. If you've not read Midgley before, or not much of her, I wouldn't worry about this. If you have, read it but you might end up skimming some sections.
The second complaint is simply that as this book is ony 170-some pages, and she covers so many areas (myths), she doesn't really go into any in as much detail as I wanted to see. Otherwise, no complaints.
Sage and obvious advice, but nonetheless advice that is often not followed by experts in one field who are then thought to be an expert on everything. One of the most misquoted and misattributed people in history may well be Albert Einstein. For more than a century his name has become synonymous with genius, so some have assumed that he would have wise things to say about everything from God to politics.
This book, although a few years old, deserves to be resurrected and remembered as one of the best examples of a professional philosopher taking on some of the worst excesses of "Popular science." If this book were to come out in a new edition I am sure that Mary would have a great deal of fun with all those people who claim that quantum mechanics is the explanation for everything from how to run a business to the behavior of stock markets. Sadly it is not, and some of the authors of such books have taken "surprising" short cuts.
Mary Midgley is known to be a combative philosopher and here she takes on those scientists who breezily tell us that their equations will help us to "Know the Mind of God." To which we have to pose the Emperor's New Cloth's question: "Who and when was it decided that meaning, purpose, good and evil, are all subject to the laws of the material universe? And secondly that they are to be found in a series of equations that will almost certainly be re-written in the future?"
The answer to the question, "How and when did this happen?" can probably be traced back to the 1930s, when a number of influential scientists at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge embraced an extreme Marxist and Leninist position and advocated a mechanistic and deterministic science that would be able to provide the answers to absolutely everything. In effect they firmly believed in the idea of a scientific priesthood that would hold all the keys to the kingdom of truth. There are still many professional scientists who believe to this day that science as it is now will be able to provide all the answers to "Life, the universe and everything." And by using their positions of authority to promote the idea in popular books, they try to persuade us that current scientific models can answer any question and anything that cannot be explained - including data on parapsychology and unorthodox healing - is therefore "Woo."
Someone once said to me, "Science works, it has given us telephones, computers and airplanes." That is the crux of the problem, and it is a problem: it mixes up science and technology, and allows "scientism" to flourish - the notion that science has ultimate authority over all other interpretations of life and over all other fields of inquiry. And ultimately scientism would have us believe in a universe without value, meaning or purpose. Throughout the essays in this book, Midgley consistently points out that scientism has created a dangerous myth about how the universe operates, and that myth has informed everything from the way in which we treat the environment to the way in which we practice medicine.
Midgley writes that we must continue to develop new ways of thinking, and she points out that the development of ideas of ecology, ecosystems and Gaia are all examples of a welcome move away from the competitive nature of scientism to a more cooperative relationship with each other and with other life forms. In other words we have to understand that we have been mislead into believing a seriously flawed myth, and if we want to achieve lasting change in the world, we need to change those myths. Happily that process is already underway.
Richard G. Petty, MD, author of Healing, Meaning and Purpose: The Magical Power of the Emerging Laws of Life
Top reviews from other countries
For those who do not know who Mary was, she was a British philosopher and one of our greatest modern thinkers. With a dislike for scientism and reductionism so as we see here, she shows how these came about through the philosophers of the Enlightenment. We see that in essence she doesn’t have a problem of a number of things that these thinkers of this previous era had, but in the way that they have become like a mantra being used in ways that were not necessarily those that were originally envisaged, and although giving us advances have in some cases caused us to actually go back. She therefore argues here that we ned to change our ideas and attitudes to accommodate a different world to the previous one.
In her lifetime she did a lot of work on animal rights, science and ethics which have been influential in some ways, but not as we know going as far as they could have done because of older systems of beliefs having gotten in the way. We read of the problems of trying to box in everything under some clockwise universal model, which doesn’t take into account a number of discrepancies and contradictions in not only the way that we think, but also in the reality of what happens around us.
With crisp and clear prose this is a relatively easy book to understand, although it may take you time to get through it as you actually think about issues that are raised here. I like that she openly criticises Richard Dawkins, as he is someone who I personally find rather obnoxious, failing to see the faults in his theories, as well as making atheism into some sort of religion, which it definitely is not.
Trying to cut through certain thought systems we do have to remember that we are not individual units that can do as we please at the expense of everyone else but should work together to come to workable solutions. Taking in morals and ethics these are subjects dear to my heart, but as I look around me and see MPs threatened, and people not taking responsibility for their actions, I can see that there are a number of people in this country who I am wondering whether they are sub-human or parasites, and what thus should be done with them. We all have to live and get on together, but that cannot happen if people are determined to deliberately ignore others and cause trouble and mayhem just because of their stupidity and ignorance.
Myths are are imaginative patterns, networks of powerful symbols, that suggest particular ways of interpreting the world. In political thought they are at the heart of theories of human nature and the social contract; in economics in the pursuit of self interest; and in science the idea of human beings as machines. The machine imagery began to pervade our thought in the 17th century. We still often tend to see ourselves, and the the living world around us, mechanistically.
The way we imagine the world determines what we think important in it, what we select for our attention. That is why we need to become aware of these symbols. Mary Midgley starts by concentrating on myths which have come down to us from the Enlightenment. The machine imagery became entrenched because the 17th century scientists were fascinated by clockwork automata. They hoped to extend this clockwork model to cover the whole of knowledge. The great thinkers of the 17th century were obsessed by the ambition to drill all thought into a single formal system. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, tried to mend the mind/body gap by building abstract systems powered by their models of thought, logic, and mathematics.
The trouble lies in the conviction that only one very simple way of thought is rational. Mary Midgley points out that rationality doesn't require us to have all our knowledge tightly organized on the model of mathematics. We welcome oversimple intellectual systems because they contrast with the practical complexity around us, and we do not criticize them when the particular short-cut that they offer suggest a world view that we like. They express visions that attracts us, and they obscure alternative possibilities.
Mary Midgley emphasizes that conceptual mono-culture cannot work because, in almost all our thought, we are dealing with subject-matters that we need to consider from more than one aspect. She reminds us that we always have a choice about the perspective from which we look, whether it is from the inside, as participants, or from some more distant perspective. And if so, which of many distant perspectives we will choose. We need to combine several perspectives, since they are not really alternatives, but complementary parts of a wider inquiry. The trouble comes when we dogmatically universalize our own generalizations and promote them as laws of nature.
All perception takes in only a fraction of what is given to it, and all thought narrows that fraction still further in trying to make sense of it. The concepts that we need to use for everyday life are often in some ways blurred or ambivalent, because life itself is too complex for simple descriptions. The standards of clarity that we manage to impose in our well-lit scientific workplaces are designed to suit the preselected problems that we take in there with us, not the larger tangles from which those problems were abstracted.
People habitually think that mechanistic explanations are more scientific than ones that use concepts more appropriate to living contexts. Those who use the analogy with machines seem to be claiming that we have a similar understanding of plants and animals. Mary Midgley points out that it's perhaps a rather important difference that we didn't design those plants and animals. She reminds us that obsession with a particular model drives out other necessary ways of thinking. Changing the myth is a way to bring about serious change.[20 ]It's an elegant and thoughtful little book!
 Mary Midgley, The Myths We Live By (Routledge, 2011, first published 2004), p.xii.
 Ibid., p.xiii.
 Ibid., p.1.
 Ibid., p.3.
 Ibid., p.7.
 Ibid., p.27.
 Ibid., p.88.
 Ibid., p.31.
 Ibid., p.33.
 Ibid., p.44.
 Ibid., p.68.
 Ibid., p.107.
 Ibid., p.124.
 Ibid., p.40.
 Ibid., p.194.
 Ibid., p.196.
 Ibid., p.163.
 Ibid., p.171.
 Ibid., p.251.
We live among myths and superstitions and it is great to have a writer open our eyes.
Highly recommended to all those who read and LOVE HISTORY, WITH ABILITY to make a difference between reality and (almost) fake.