The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life

BOOK: The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life
Table of Contents
Computing the Mind: How the Mind Really Works
Representation and Recognition in Vision
Teach your parents well
According to one popular conception of science that goes all the way back to Francis Bacon’s invention of it in 1620, scientific endeavor is all about getting answers from nature. That said, given that the quality of answers one gets depends conspicuously on the quality of the questions one asks, scientific inquiries lacking in intrepidity, imagination, and insight are likely to yield little more than scientifically validated tedium.
In the science of human existence, one half expects things to be easier. As someone who
its subject matter, am I not in the best position to ask questions that go to the heart of it? And yet, it often seems to me that the really important questions hover at right angles to reality, manifesting themselves merely by a faint sense of unease or a premonition that I am about to miss the point of what is happening.
By acting swiftly and decisively, it is sometimes possible to apprehend a fleeting question and put it away for study. Here, I make a public example of four such questions, captured while stalking me on a hike through the canyon country of southern Utah:
1. A juniper tree, hanging on to a gravelly mound in a bend of the canyon, until the next flash flood.
2. A set of lizard tracks in the drying mud.
3. A dusty drive toward a far trailhead, down a narrow wash bordered by steep banks, arriving at length at an impassable sand trap.
4. A butterfly.
As you can see, such questions lose little of their cunning even in captivity, where they pretend that they are not questions at all, or that they are of no concern to the busy scientist and should be released into the custody of poets or philosophers. Such guile is best overcome by setting aside the conventional divisions between science and the humanities. This is why in this book my take on the life of the mind and how to make the most of it, while decidedly scientific, is not entirely conventional.
Home Is Where the Mind Is
No justice, no peace.
A journey is mapped out.
Allons! whoever you are, come travel with me!
Traveling with me, you find what never tires.
Leaves of Grass: Song of the Open Road
(1892, 82:9)
No Justice, No Peace
When I was eight years old, I read a book in which a few lines of a poem were quoted. The book was
Monday Starts on Saturday
by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The poem was by Christopher Logue, in a Russian translation. (I forgot to tell you that this was happening back in the USSR; the book’s real title was

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