Saturday, January 29, 2011

Two books I just read

It's weird, in hindsight, that I read these two books simultaneously. In 'Loneliness as a Way of Life', the main theme surrounds how we can exist as a single entity and how loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing.

p26: "Loneliness is deeply entangled in all paths of life because it reveals in sharp profile some of the most important limits of who we are and how we are with each other. It may be said that loneliness is fundamental to the very constitution of ourselves."

'A General Theory of Love' on the other hand says that we are physiologically dependent on one another for happiness. They describe love as a "simultaneous mutual regulation". Couples who take care of each other with concurrent reciprocity are more likely to feel whole, centered and alive.

Don't know how the book about love made me feel more depressed than the book about loneliness. Jesus.

A General Theory of Love was a better read overall, and as it is a very psychology heavy book, as well biology-based, it kind of validated everything I've learned in the past 2 years. Also learned a lot of cool stuff about brains. Thought the triune brain hypothesis was pretty cool. Tried to sum it up below.

The triune brain consists of the reptilian, limbic and neocortical parts of the brain. It has a lot to do with evolution, as each part of the brain evolved at different points in time, with the neocortex forming and growing larger in mammals over time.

The reptilian brain is all about automatic processes like breathing, swallowing and heart rate. We need this part of the brain to function physically, but not emotionally. If we only had a reptilian brain, we would function, but basically be "brain-dead". For example, if you shot yourself in the head and damaged the neocortex, you wouldn't necessarily die, you may just be unable to experience emotion or rationalize. However, if you shot yourself in the reptilian brain you would die instantly (not a suicide tip).

Next to evolve is the limbic brain, or the "emotional" brain. This brings the ability to love and experience emotion, along with the ability to play and recognise social order. We share this part of the brain with other mammals. The limbic brain consists of the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and thalamus. You know, all the good stuff.

The neocortical brain is the folded squishy outer layer of the brain which only evolved in mammals roughly 30 million years ago. We have the largest neocortex of any living thing. The neocortex gives us the ability to think abstractly, problem solve, be aware of ourselves and our surroundings, write, speak and reason. Basically, it's awesome. In the book they described it as 'a warehouse of secrets', which I quite liked the sound of.

Loneliness as a Way of Life is divided into four sections: being, loving, grieving and writing. I really liked the first chapter, and in this he explores what it means to be alone in every sense. I didn't really dig 'loving' at all, he mostly just refers to other works such as King Lear, Moby Dick and Death of a Salesman. It seemed really impersonal and dull. In 'grieving', he talks about his own personal experience of loneliness via grief by talking about his wife dying of cancer. I really loved 'writing', it is about how writing as a "process of discovery" can create an awareness of ourselves, and thus help us to work our way through our despair (or, loneliness).

So that's that. I'm looking forward to reading some sweet fiction now.


  1. Hello, Some good intelligent blogging going on over here. Books about love make me feel depressed too. Are you a psychology student?