Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Selfby Marilynne Robinson
Pub. Date: 05/25/2010
Publisher: Yale University Press
In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought—science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner/i>
In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought—science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest. Instead, in its purest form, science represents a search for answers. It engages the problem of knowledge, an aspect of the mystery of consciousness, rather than providing a simple and final model of reality.
By defending the importance of individual reflection, Robinson celebrates the power and variety of human consciousness in the tradition of William James. She explores the nature of subjectivity and considers the culture in which Sigmund Freud was situated and its influence on his model of self and civilization. Through keen interpretations of language, emotion, science, and poetry, Absence of Mind restores human consciousness to its central place in the religion-science debate.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 On Human Nature 1
Chapter 2 The Strange History of Altruism 31
Chapter 3 The Freudian Self 77
Chapter 4 Thinking Again 109
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Marilynne Robinson is one of today's great public intellectuals. Her published works are few in number but their substance outweighs just about anyone else who writes on serious topics. One of the reasons for that is her honesty in having actually read and studied what she comments on. It's a mark of how far in decline Anglo American culture is that the basic fact of serious scholarship, knowing what you're talking about, is considered a distinction. Absence of Mind is a series of essays that take on some of the big topics, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, etc. and the intellectual umbrella for them, materialism. The central essay, which takes on the materialist treatment of altruism is one of the greatest English language essays in many years. It's worth noting that E. O. Wilson, himself, has been walking away from Hamilton's odd form of selfish-altruism in the period since it was first given, much to the horror of those for whom it is one of their articles of materialist faith. By the end of the book Robinson has done an excellent job of establishing that instead of science amassing a body of evidence that leads inevitably to materialism, an ideological effort aping the form and language of science is inventing that evidence out of materialist dogma. As in so many things online, ideologues of materialism try to slant ratings in ways more explicitly seen in Sarah Palin's fans altering the Paul Revere article in Wikipedia. It might work temporarily to induce superficial people to not pick up the book but superficial people probably wouldn't have stayed with it anyway. In some of the online commentary on excerpts of Absence of Mind the idea that her sentences are too long seems to be intended as an absolute refutation of its value. But silly people can't undo what she has done. This is a magnificent book.
A different and equally powerful commentary, touching both liberal and conservative views of our times is found in The Death of Adam, especially in the included essay on Puritans and Prigs.