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Friday, May 22, 2020

Why We Can’t Think Anymore with Mark Galli


Why We Can’t Think AnymoreThe crisis of thinking begins with a crisis in reading--in particular reading long, thoughtful pieces that put demands on the mind.  This is not a new idea, but every year it’s an increasingly disturbing reality:
Nicholas Carr's 2010 book, The Shallows, begins with the author's irritation at his own truncated attention span for reading. Something neurophysiological is happening to us, he argued, and we don't know what it is. That must be the case, because if there is any law of neurophysiology, it is that the brain wires itself continuously in accordance with its every experience. A decade later, Carr's discomfort is shared by growing legions of frustrated, formerly serious readers.
So writes Adam Garfinkle in “The Erosion of Deep Thought" in National Affairs. Perhaps to prove his point, he wrote a long, deep article to test how many would finish it.  I didn’t, even though I found it pretty interesting. Perhaps I’m one of the growing legions of frustrated, formerly serious readers.  Or maybe he just needed an editor.  Still worth reading--most of it anyway.
Skepticism Works Both WaysWhile we’re on the topic of intellectual skepticism, as I’ve continued to read about the coronavirus, I’m more confused tha never.  Apparently, I’m in good company, with the likes of Nick Kristoff at the New York Times (“Let’s Remember That the Coronavirus Is Still a Mystery”).  And Bonnie Kristian at The Week (“It's Almost Time for Pandemic Apologies”—for so much misleading information by experts over the last few months.)
The increasing skepticism about our pandemic experts is matched by experts’ long-standing distrust of the populace. Such is the argument in this review of a fascinating book about the 1964 earthquake in Anchourage, Alaska.  After the 9.2 quake that lasted four and a half minutes, destroying much of the city and leaving thousands homeless, officials worried about mass panic. 
Almost as soon as the shaking stopped, city officials began worrying about how the populace would respond. With every shop window broken, would looters ransack the local merchants? Would citizens panic at the sight of the dead or wounded? …
The Anchorage officials weren’t being unusually paranoid. At the time, most experts believed any major disaster would cause “a mass outbreak of hysterical neurosis among the civilian population,” as social scientist Richard M. Titmuss had put it some years earlier. Shocked by carnage and desperate for food and shelter, people would “behave like frightened and unsatisfied children.” Only firm control by powerful authorities could keep the lid on such dangerous situations….
Anchorage quickly became a kind of open-air laboratory for testing this public-panic hypothesis.
If you don’t have time for all three articles, do read the Alaska story.  It’s humankind at its best.
Two Takes on the AscensionChrist’s ascension is remembered this week in the more liturgical traditions. Naturally, it’s common for all Christians to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, but the ascension, not so much. Yet it is an event rich in theology.  Here is a distinctly Protestant take, with its emphasis on personal confession of sin. And then there is a distinctly Catholic take, more communal and cosmic in scope. 
That’s Really WeirdI’ve been noting some of the mysteries we face into right now, here’s another: coincidences.  Some are quite amazing, and do leave one in a state of wonder, as this video notes.
Grace and peace,
Mark Galli
markgalli.com

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