Sunday, February 9, 2014

Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland *****

Ideal companion to the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014. Like the Chinese philosophers over 2,000 years ago, Olympic viewers are stuck with the paradox of spontaneous versus meditated behavior. Do we root for the natural skier or the one who approaches the moguls like a physicist.

Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland combines the ancient Chinese  philosophy with contemporary neuroscience to address the paradox of the timeless debate of trying versus not trying, thinking versus not thinking, learning versus not learning, natural versus artifice. After thousands of years of investigation and debate, and modern neuroscience research, the paradox survives, and every event in your life and at Sochi only serves to reinforce the paradox.

Neuroscience confirms two brain systems: cold cognition, conscious, logical and hot cognition, subconscious, emotional. When cold cognition is in charge, we are sabotaged by appearing fake and insincere, with slow reaction times and uninspired responses. These are the figure skaters that seem like robots. On the other hand the hot system is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Trying to get it to perform on demand is assured to fail, like the figure skater who has performed a routine flawlessly over and over and over in practice, only to fall on the first jump in competition.

Slingerland contributes to this paradox covering the philosophic and scientific background and providing a interesting evolutionary explanation. As social beings, it is critical for homo sapiens to be able to detect cheaters. We are attuned to virtuous people and we identify them by the behavior of there hot responses ... the figure skaters who are enjoying their performances. This 'signal' is very hard to fake because of the paradox. If the figure skaters tries to appear natural, they will most likely fail, but if they don't train, they will lack the skill to deliver a natural performance of any value. Thus, when we see a spontaneous performance, we have reason to believe it is genuine.

In the end, this book provides a perspective on the Olympics, and all human activity: professional, social and solitary.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on December 15, 2013. I received this book on January 3, 2014.

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