The Meta-verse – And How it will Revolutionize Everything, by Matthew Ball

Why this book: I’m fascinated by the idea of humans developing a parallel virtual “world” in which they can act out, or try out lives that they don’t live in the physical, or “real” world.  That is happening, and this book comes highly recommended as an explanation as to the status of the ongoing development of the Metaverse. 

Summary in 3 Sentences: The author outlines for techies and non-techies (like me) alike, the origins of the idea of the Metaverse, offers a working definition,  what is happening today (as of 2022) and the many challenges that must be faced to develop the Metaverse as many envision it.  He talks a lot about the world of computer gaming which he notes is breaking trail and incrementally solving many of the problems that must be overcome for the Metaverse to evolve and become a reality. And he concludes with how he envisions a Metaverse changing much of how we live and spend our time, challenges in sorting through the pros and cons, and making a few tentative predictions for the future.   

My Impressions:  Extremely well written book which covers a lot of territory in this very complex issue. I can’t say that I understood all of it – since much of how the Metaverse will evolve will be built upon the technologies and lessons learned in the current world of advanced computer gaming – and I have not participated in that world. But it is a world that is evolving rapidly, and the evolution of computer gaming is bringing the Metaverse to us more quickly.  Many believe that the Metaverse is the next evolutionary step.  Some will say that we are already in the early stages of the Metaverse, but it will take a decade or more for us to get to the next large step, and that will be in increments as well – also probably tied to gaming. 

The author is not only articulate, but also (from my perspective) well versed and informed in the world of computers, gaming, tech business, and the digital economy.  All of those are key pieces of the puzzle that will become “the” Metaverse.   He begins by giving us his definition of the Metaverse and what the idea represents, which also  is somewhat controversial. The term itself came from Neal Stephenson’s  science fiction futuristic novel  Snow Crash, which the author claims provides the inspirational ideal for the Metaverse.   

He divides the book into three  parts and below, I offer a few thoughts about each:

Part 1: What is the Metaverse which includes chapters entitled A brief History of the Future, Confusion and Uncertainty, a Definition (Finally,) and The Next Internet.

His chapter entitled “A Definition (finally)” offers his contribution to the controversy of what the idea of Metaverse represents.  At present it is more than simply an ideal – the rest of the book makes the case how indeed the world of tech and gaming is rapidly moving in this direction, though in the conclusion of the book, he notes that the future is almost impossible to predict.   He notes that the Metaverse and Web3 (he claims they are not the same) are “successor states” to the internet that we know it today.  He states “…the principles of Web3 are likely critical to establishing a thriving Metaverse.”

His working definition is:   A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.   In that chapter, he has sections about each of the these aspects of the metaverse and some of the challenges associated with each of them – sections with titles like:Virtual Worlds, 3D, Real-time rendered, Interoperable Network, Massively Scaled, Persistence, Synchronous, Unlimited Users and Individual Presence.  

He explains why gaming companies are in the lead in developing that future thriving Metaverse – they have the developers, they are making huge amounts of money that is needed to develop the technology to drive the Metaverse, they are already fully engaged in creating and rendering realistic 3D online environments in which people will want to synchronously engage with others, and where they want and choose to spend time. 

Part 2 Building the Metaverse includes chapters entitled Networking, Computing, Virtual World Engines, Interoperability, Hardware, Payment Rails, Blockchains.   This section of the book examines the many challenges of building a Metaverse, and was a challenge for me to follow because I am so new to this world, which demands a greater understanding of computer networking, gaming, and hardware than I have. But I give the author credit for regularly stopping to provide metaphors for some of his arguments that helped me to understand how this world relates to the world that I know.  He addresses bandwidth issues, technical challenges with “latency” – how long it takes for a computer to receive, load and render information it gets from another source – and he goes into some depth on the challenges of real-time rendered virtual 3D worlds, especially when one is measuring time in tiny fractions of a second.  He notes that “latency is the greatest networking obstacle on the way to the Metaverse” and that “Every single additional user to a virtual world only compounds synchronization challenges.”

The chapter on Computing lays out pretty clearly the technical challenges of creating a Metaverse that people envision, that would be accessible and interactive with people all over the world.  The animation rendered in the Metaverse would need to be created every .016 seconds, and would require a supercomputer to serve concurrent users all over the world. To create the Metaverse that is envisioned, “…accessible to billions of humans in real time will require a 1000 times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art.” 

We are also dealing with the variety and limitations in the personal computational devices used by those accessing the internet, and eventually the Metaverse.  Likewise the capacities of the networks will be a  limitation.  Really smart people are working on these problems and possible solutions are being explored, such as renting enterprise grade equipment for finite windows,  accessing and using the unused computational capacity of millions of personal and commercial computers when they are not being used. This option is already being explored by UC Berkeley (SETI@HOME) in their search for alien life.   Blockchains also provide both the technological mechanism for decentralized computing as well as an economic model.  One thing is certain he says, “The availability and limitations to compute will shape which Metaverse experiences are possible, for whom, when, and where.” 

He describes how eventually the huge challenge will be developing the means for different “universes” to interact and for changes and experiences in one, to carry over into another.  But he says that these different platforms, with their own rules and competing standards are not a Metaverse, rather they are multiple meta-galaxies, and until standards and competing 3D formats and exchanges become interoperable, people will have to choose between platforms and technologies – like  between Android and Apple, between a variety of email platforms, video sharing tools, Mac or Windows,  etc  That is essentially what gamers have to do today.    The book points out that “As the global economy continues to shift to virtual worlds, these cross-platform and cross-developer technologies will become a core part of global society.” 

The chapter on Payment Rails was fascinating.  The business side of gaming that is and will continue to fuel the Metaverse has many challenges which he describes.  Competing companies create firewalls and some have developed key services and price structures that inhibit innovation in software and other new technologies.   As he tells it, this payment rails dimension has been very frustrating and inhibiting to the most creative and innovative game and technology developers. “The policies of Apple and Google limit the growth potential not only of virtual world platforms, but also the internet at large.” 

“The concept, history, and future of the Metaverse are all intimately tied to gaming, as we’ve seen, and this fact is perhaps most obvious when we look at the basic code of the virtual worlds.”

The chapter on Blockchains is complicated, but he concludes with five very different and competing views of the role of Blockchains as it might affect the Metaverse. These competing views are: 

  1. Blockchains are a wasteful technology propped up by scams and fads.
  2. Blockchains are inferior to most, if not all alternative databases, contracts and computing structures, but have some value.
  3. Though Blockchains will not become dominant for storing data, they will become key to many experiences, application, and business models.
  4. Blockchains are not just critical technology, but also key to disrupting today’s platform paradigm.
  5. Blockchains are essentially a requirement for the Metaverse that we imagine.

The author seems to lean toward views 4 and 5.  After describing so many challenges and obstacles to creating the Metaverse, he says: “So why am I optimistic that, given all these complications, there will be a Metaverse?  Economics.” p127

Part 3: How the Metaverse will Revolutionize Everything.  This was the most fun section to read. It includes chapters entitled: “When will the Metaverse Arrive?” “Meta-Business,” “Metaverse Winners and Losers,” and “Metaverse existence,” concluding with a chapter “Spectators All. “

The author notes that though as much as 70% of app store revenue comes from gamers, the virtual world is still not part of the lives of the vast majority of people. Fewer that 1 in 14 people routinely engage with the virtual world, and these are almost exclusively gamers, and these people at this point have only marginal influence over society at large.  But as we know, this stuff can move pretty quickly when it gets traction and reaches exit velocity. He notes that cross-platform interoperability remains a huge obstacle and will be essential to the development of the Metaverse.  He also notes what he calls ‘the ongoing destigmatization of time spent in virtual worlds, ” and how gaming and virtual reality involvement is gaining broader acceptance. 

He points to two key factors: 1. how the “underlying technologies required for the metaverse are improving on an annual basis, and  2. there is an ongoing march of generational change – more than 75% of American children game on a single platform – Roblox. (including my own grandchildren) and with these two factors – the idea and the reality of the Metaverse is gaining increasing, almost unstoppable momentum.

In this section he addresses a number of fascinating ways that increasing use of virtual reality tools and links to the Metaverse will impact so much of what we do and how we live, including education, dating, mindfulness, meditation and physio and psycho – theraby, sex work, movies and interactive entertainment, fashion and advertising, industry, urban planning, medical diagnosis and surgery.  

In his chapter on “Metaverse Winners and Losers” he addresses the so-called GAFAM tech giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) who are already positioning themselves to compete well in the new world.  and how their competition is in some ways actually slowing down the momentum toward the Metaverse “ideal.”  But there are new disruptors out there who are not well known today, but who, in the near future, could be the new change agents in this realm and tech giants of the future  – and they include the gaming companies such as Epic Games, Unity and Roblox and other players such as Intel and Nvidia.   He notes that the real battle will be between centralization and decentralization.  Centralization involves control and stability, but it hampers creativity and progress. 

He points to how the tech landscape and power structures will need to change for Web 3.0 (a term frequently conflated with the Metaverse) to be an overall positive force in society and peoples lives. He describes how most of us look to the future to improve on many of the disappointments of Web 2.0 which provides us free services in exchange for our data, which the tech behemoths use to manipulate us and to serve their ends (buy products from their advertisers.)

In his chapter “Metaversal Existence” the author points to many of the concerns that the future Metaverse poses for those of us who want less tracking, manipulation,  misinformation, unsolicited advertisement, harassment and abuse from unknown tech manipulators in our digital and non-digital lives.  And he foresees some interesting moral and cultural challenges that the Metaverse will pose, for example, asking whether it will be acceptable for a white man’s avatar to be that of an Aboriginal woman.

And he addresses the likelihood that the Metaverse will widen the “digital divide,” in that more affluent countries will have access to the joys, sorrows and advantages of the Metaverse, but most of the developing world will not, and will be relegated to supporting those countries which are rapidly moving into a whole new cultural dimension, thereby widening the gap between the developed and developing worlds.  

On the positive side, he comments:  “Few among us dreamed of retirement and a long life in order to spend half of each of our remaining days watching TV.  The Metaverse may offer no substitute for actually sailing in the Caribbean, but manning a virtual sailboat alongside old friends is likely to come pretty close and offer all sorts of digital-only perks – and beat watching midday Fox News or MSNBC.”  

He addresses the role of government in regulating the Metaverse, and preventing the worst abuses. He proposes that “government take on a more serious approach to data collection, usage, rights and penalties.”  As an interim step to a single Metaverse, he sees multiple national Metaverses, given that different governments will have different protocols for the rights of individuals and corporations, and the role of government oversight. He notes that “It’s a good bet that China’s Metaverse will be even more different from and centrally controlled compared to that of Western nations.” 

He concludes with “I am certain about much of the future.  It will be increasingly centered around real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds.  Network bandwidth, latency, and reliability will improve. The amount of computing power will increase, thus enabling higher concurrency, greater persistency, more sophisticated simulations, and altogether new experiences…. By the end of the decade, we’ll agree the Metaverse has arrived and it will be worth many trillions.”

But he reminds us of a quote by Tim Sweeney: “If one central company gains control of the Metaverse, they will become more powerful than any government and be a god on Earth.”  

He concludes his book by noting that the trajectory of the Metaverse will be similar to the trajectory of smart phones and social media.  “Eventually, a thing that seems trivial – a mobile phone, a touch screen, a video game – becomes essential, and ends up changing the world in ways both predicted and never even considered.”


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Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Why this Book: Selected by my Sci-Fi reading group because it is THE source of the term “Metaverse” and the vision of the Metaverse in this book continues to guide big tech in moving in that direction to this day. It is a classic in techie circles. 

Summary in 3 Sentences: The story is built around the idea of people experiencing two versions of reality – one in our standard “Reality,” and one in the Metaverse – an online world with its own rules in which each person has a single Avatar which has attributes and experiences in the world of the Metaverse.  In Snow Crash there are a few “good guys” and a few “bad guys” and they interact in reality and in the metaverse.  The good guys are young people who are comfortable going back and forth between Reality and the Metaverse and stumble upon a group who have found a way to turn people into automaton zombies with a religion-like pitch and to disable the computer “nerds” who won’t fall for the new religion by changing their brain chemistry through a computer program.  

My Impressions:  After the meeting with my Sci Fi reading group to discuss Snow Crash, I described it as “… something of a hodge-podge of fascinating ideas, great imagination and foresight, interesting but rather shallow characters, great satire and biting social commentary, a dystopian look at America’s future, a somewhat disjointed plot, an intriguing look at coming prospects of living in multiple realities, and a crazy, surreal, and unresolved ending.”  

The plot seems to be an afterthought and an excuse to imagine and create a world in which people interact on two levels – Reality and in the Metaverse.  The idea of the Metaverse itself is the true star of this book.

It begins with a crazy scene taking place in the Metaverse, which has different rules than reality – the rules of physics are suspended a bit – and frankly I couldn’t figure out what was going on – I was in a sort of culture shock.  After the first couple of chapters, the author introduces us to the characters in Reality who I’d been confusedly trying to follow in their Metaverse adventure in the first two chapters. 

The hero of the story is not-very-subtly named “Hiro Protagonist” a late 20s something computer hacker who lives in a storage shelter with a buddy near LAX and gets paid to upload information into the successor to the CIA, called the CIC -Central Intelligence Corporation which, after the economic collapse of America, merged with the Library of Congress to become the repository of all knowledge and information.   The book’s female heroine is named “YT” for Yours Truly  – a 15 year old white, blond, precocious skateboarder who gets paid as a Kourier – delivering information or other things. Kouriers serve as successors to FedEx or the Postal system which no longer function in disaggregated and disorganized America.  Important things get delivered by Kourier.  In addition to his work for the CIC, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza on the side for the Mafia. 

Throughout the first two thirds of the book we get to know these two characters and a few others, as the plot slowly evolves to let us know that there are indeed bad guys with a lot of power in the semi-anarchic world that has succeeded the US of A as we know it.  

Intitially, it’s all pretty confusing – random characters doing bad things, Hiro being a CIC agant as well as a Pizza delivery boy, and YT being a Kourier, bold, brash, getting into trouble. and I’m not following it all too well.  Then we start getting more clues about the evil that is occurring below the surface and Hiro, with his CIC agent hat on, gets some clues from his former girl friend, and he starts digging deeper into certain anomalies and his intuitions.  He goes into his Metaverse reality and calls on his librarian, who is a ChatGPT-like AI  robot who has access to all knowledge that  has been uploaded into the CIC/Library of Congress data base.   Hiro asks the librarian questions and we start learning about some of the origins of religion, culture and language, going back 5,000 years to what he refers to as the “pre-rational religion.” We learn of very smart Southern Preacher Business man with plans to establish a pre-eminent power base in the world by tapping into a primal impulse that most people have – especially those not particularly well educated – to become religious zealots – Hari Krishna-types.  The book calls this later version of the primal religious impulse “post-rational religion.” And he has a separate tool to lure the more educated into his web through a computer program tied to what he calls “Snow Crash”  

The book culminates in a battle between our megalomaniac Religious leader and the Mafia leader who ran the organization for whom Hiro delivered pizzas.   The Religious leader and his army of religious automatons and killer thugs is doing all it can to take out his competition – the Mafia with whom Hiro and YT are aligned.  Hi tech stuff going aback and forth between Reality and the Metaverse and pretty crazy.  It appears at the end that the not-so-bad guys defeat the Religious Manipulator and then it’s over.  


  1. The idea of putting on VR glasses and entering another universe where one can interact with the avatars of other people in a variety of settings.  People “own” property in the Metaverse, create stores and businesses, have relationships, fights, disputes most of hte same things we have in reality, but the rules are somewhat different. 
  2. The Metaverse is 3 dimensional but there is one “Street” that is thousands of miles long and communities are built up on that street – kind of like how the trans-continental railroad spawned towns all along the railroad.  Avatars buy property and build communities along the Street, and move from community to community along a metro rail that can go as fast as you want.  The communities spread out into “burbclaves” away from The Street. 
  3. People can interact in Reality and in the Metaverse simultaneously – on VR glasses in the Metaverse, on the phone in Reality.
  4. There is a lot of satire of US culture in the book, some of it very clever, and often not at all politically correct. 
  5. YT’s mother works for the FED – what is left of the US government bureaucracy – and describes her workplace as a Dilbert-like hell.   The bureaucracy lumbers along becoming ever more absurd and inefficient, and is the target of much satire and ridicule (deservedly so). The best example is the 2 page required reading memo on the proper use of toilet paper.  

Some interesting quotes from the book: 

The Metaverse has now become a place where you can get killed.  

“Meta-virus” – an informational entity that causes information systems to infect themselves with customized viruses.   Culture itself is seen as having virus like qualities. 

It takes as much computing power realistically to model the smoke coming out of Ng’s mouth as it does to model the weather system of the entire planet. 

Everything that you see in the Metaverse, no matter how lifelike and beautiful and three dimensional, reduces to a simple text file: a series of letters on an electronic p417

The US has become paranoid. YT has to sign a document certifying that she is not a terrorist, communist, homosexual, national-symbol desecrator, pornography merchant, welfare parasite, racially insensitive, a carrier of any infections disease, or advocate of any ideology intending to impugn traditional family values.  

Hiro’s favorite band:  “Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns”  Their hit:  My heart is a smoking hole p361

A guard’s Question to Hiro:  “Are you a lazy shiftless watermelon-eating black-ass nigger, or a sneaky little VD infected gook? Hiro Protagonist’s response. “Is that some kind of trick question?”

America is wonderful because you can get anything on a drive-thru basis. Oil change, liquor, banking, car wash, funerals – anything you want. p269

The social structure of any nationstate is ultimately determined by ists security arrangements.  p266

All Feds go to work early and stay late. It’s a loyalty thing with them. The Feds have a fetish for loyalty – since they don’t make a lot of money nor get a lot of respect, you have to prove you’re personally committed and that you don’t care about those trappings.  p209

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The Leader’s Brain, by Michael Platt

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is leaders-brain.jpeg Why this book: Selected by the SEAL reading group I’m in – suggested by my friend Jay.  I also listened to a podcast discussion with the author and was impressed.

Summary in 3 Sentences: The author takes a neurologists look at our DNA and the role it plays in how a leader influences others to work together to perform at their best at a common mission.  There are certain aspects of being human that impacts how we are motivated, and how we respond to others – especially leaders – in driving our behavior.  He covers the social dimension, communications, team building, decision making, creativity, and concludes with a look at the future of how brain science will affect business and leadership.

My Impressions:  Very interesting perspective on Leadership – from the perspective of a neurologist who is looking at the role that human DNA and our basic humanity play in what we would call good leadership.  This book could also be a companion volume to The Extended Mind – it’s shorter, but its conclusions are very much in harmony.  While he notes that some people have genetic advantages in some of these positive influencers that seem to lead to effective leadership, he notes that we can pay attention to them and improve how we interact with and influence others.

Of course, much of the book is about our genetically driven social impulses – what he calls our social brain network –  and many of the unconscious behaviors that affect how people respond to us.  Much of the reseearch upon which he bases his findings was done not just with humans, but also with monkeys and other animals – to help identify how our shared DNA drives certain behaviors, and he provides some fascinating examples of how our distant cousins in the animal world reflect similar behaviors as we  humans.  All of us – humans and animals – are trying to succeed in the environments we find our selves, socially as well as biologically – all in the interest of survival and reproduction..

His point that most resonated with the SEALs was the importance of how we relate to people as a key component of effective leadership.  He offers neuro-hacks and techniques for getting people to believe you follow you, connect with you – all key components of leadership.  The book gives techniques for winning “hearts and minds” of subordinates with cues and techniques that are related to our innate neurological responses and our “social brain network.”   He also talks about the “group identification effect” and the implicit bias we all have against members of outside groups.  If we believe someone is not part of our group, we tend to distrust them and find it more challenging to collaborate with them.

He also discusses the “mirror neuron system” – an instinctive impulse to copy or do what we see others are doing and how such physical synchrony develops a bond with the person we are copying. Subtly copying the movements of other people is wired into our brains to support establishment of rapport and connection – a nonverbal signal of trust and support.  Also, eye contact activates our social brain network – people naturally respond (often unconsciously) to eye contact – and depending on context,  eye contact can bring people together, or drive them away.

His research indicates that “the more power (real or perceived) you have, the less attention you pay to others, especially those of lower status….it turns down the activity in your social brain, making you less attentive and thereby, less likely to take the perspective of others. We all recognized this as something that leaders need to be aware of and combat against.

The book includes a great chapter on team building and how to create a team identity – to hack into the brain’s natural impulses to build trust and alignment. He offers different tactics and strategies to get people aligned and collaborating.   He notes that when we have a strong connection to people around us, patterns of neuronal activity become aligned as we naturally get into physical synchrony.  Physical synchrony is an indicator of a strong team.  Synchronized heart rates strongly are associated with group flow.

The book includes a whole chapter on how to communicate in such a way that prime’s the listener or audience to accept and respond to the speaker’s message.  Methods such as story telling, simplicity of message, linking your message to “high arousal” and voice pitch are important. He explains how and why in-person speaking is more effective than online, text, or zoom.  He notes that feedback is always more impactful if the person asks for it, than when it is offered unsolicited.

His chapter on Innovation and creativity was particularly interesting.  He noted that we reflect a similar tendency he’s seen in animals. Some animals will tend to look for food in the same area, optimizing their exploitation of the area they are in and familiar with. Others of the same species are more ready to explore other areas – he calls these foragers.  The foragers represent the most innovative and creative, the optimizers/exploiters are the more stable and predictable. These have there analogs with humans – those who prefer to stay with and exploit the familiar; those who get bored quickly and are anxious to try new things – the innovators.

The chapter on innovation also notes that we can’t be very creative if we are task-focussed.  He gives us a new word: “frontoparietal attention network” that supports focus and routine task performance.  This is in contrast to the “default mode network” which we are in when we are relaxed, and in this mode, our minds wander and allow new ideas to emerge, and giving room for new ideas and creative impulses to arise.

HIs chapter “Decision Making” offers a simple five step taxonomy of decision making;

  1. Sense your options
  2. Weigh the evidence
  3. Consider the value of the options
  4. Make a choice and take action
  5. Evaluate the outcome – and this includes evaluating what another decision might have rendered.

He states that accurate decisions typically require more time, that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy in decision making  – which is not completely supported by Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. He also discusses the paradox of choice – more and more options to choose from, can frequently paralyze us.  Easy to choose between chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, but give us a choice of 55 different flavors of ice cream and our decision making process can get overwhelmed.

He concludes the book with a fascinating chapter “The Future of Brain Science in Business” and looks at how Brain-Computer Interface mechanisms are being developed to enhance our access to knowledge and other interesting applications of neuroscience to how well we think and interact with each other.

This short book (106 pages) is a different perspective, and a valuable one, for anyone trying to better understand leadership – what works, what doesn’t, and why.


POST SCRIPT Michael Platt spoke on a Cleveland Guardians Speakers series and the show notes are a useful addendum to my book review;

Make time for social interaction – Leadership is about connections and relationships.

  • Google’s Project Oxygen reinforces the value of relationships in their study of what made great managers. 
    • The 10 Oxygen behaviors of Google’s best managers (behaviors 3 and 6 have been updated and behaviors 9 and 10 are new):
      • Is a good coach
      • Empowers team and does not micromanage
      • Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
      • Is productive and results-oriented
      • Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
      • Supports career development and discusses performance
      • Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
      • Has key technical skills to help advise the team
      • Collaborates across Google
      • Is a strong decision maker

Human Brains wired to connect

    •  Unlike any other animal; humans are able to create and build together – cooperate
    • Social Brain Network is tasked with connecting
    • Facial muscles enable us to connect and show emotions
    • Connection leads to resonance => Empathy
    •  People who have more friends have a bigger social brain network
    •  The more you use it, the better (use of lose)
      • So whether it is at the farmers market or coffee shop – even small talk can strengthen your Social Brain Network
    •  Clear msg, if you want to get the most out of any interaction, you need to devote your attention and presence to your team
  • Looking at your phone under table (texting)….is like having a bag on your head
  • Consider a phone jail / basket – give your team, family, friend, 100% of your attention

Our Brains need breaks 

  • Taking breaks allows your brain to return to the Default-Mode Network – aka, the innovation engine.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion depends on social brains

  • Opportunities and challenges in MLB
  • Color can lead to implicit bias
    • Unfortunately, the research on the benefit of Implicit Bias Training concludes that there has been very little improvement
    • The research demonstrates that there seems to be a disconnect with what we report and what is actually happening in the brain
  • Videos “Needle to face”.  Michael shared the research of a study that asked participants to view needles injected into the faces of both Caucasian and Chinese individuals
    • Contrary to self-reporting, FMRI study demonstrates a high empathy for watching the video of people of the same race; and extremely low empathy for other race.
    • Similar studies demonstrate the same behavior in rats

GOOD NEWS – How to Hack the brain for Brain Empathy

  •  Being the same team boosted empathy
  • Whenever we can, leaders need to find ways to emphasize “on same team”
  • Counterpart to empathy is perspective taking – mental model
    • Putting yourself in someone else’s’ shoes
  •  Lamp commercial.  Why do we feel bad for the lamp?
  • Taking perspective makes you more effective in sales, coaching, etc
  •  Flatten the hierarchy can also lead to increased empathy 

Teams and synchrony

  •  Heart beat together; breathing together => increase in productivity
  • Tools to build synchrony in Teams
    •  Story telling synchronizes
    • Mirroring – Builds trust
    • Eye contact
    • 1 on 1 conversations with 100% focus (not distracted by phone)

Breakout Questions

Breakout Gems

  • Case Western Professor, Ellen VanOosten shared her “1 – hour of mandatory Fun” exercise” where students in her MBA class are partnered up and part of their assignment is to spend 1 hour together on something fun.  The only runes are that they can’t have any discussion of work / school 
    • So, while the students usually roll their eyes and grumble with the assignment, by the end of the course, the course reviews tell a far different story.  Students share how impactful the exercise was in building a strong team.
  • UPENN Professor Charline Russo shared one of here favorite “empathy exercises” with her question, “…tell me about your shoes; where they have been, why you picked them today?”
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The Lessons of History, by Will and Ariel Durant

Why this book: Selected by my SEAL Reading Group as our selection for January 2023, on the recommendation of of one of our members.   

Summary in 3 Sentences:  In this small volume the Durants offer the reader the distillation of their insights about human nature and civilization, that I have frequently described as a brief volume of the  “wisdom of the ages” regarding the nature of man and and our efforts to survive, live together and thrive over the millennia.  In this short book, Will and Ariel Durant offer us their distilled insights that they acquired after writing and then revising their highly regarded 11 volume set The Story of Civilization. They conclude with a reason to be pessimistic, but what they feel is a more compelling reason to be optimistic. 

My Impressions:   I loved this little book.  In paperback, this book is only 102 pages  – short but not to be read quickly. I read the book – a couple of chapters at a time, underlined a lot, many of my underlines I provide below.  When the group of Navy SEALs met to discuss it on zoom, nearly all were enthusiastic about it, many of us thanking the fellow who recommended it.   Indeed there were some quibbles with conclusions they had drawn about man and society, but it was noted that it was written in 1968, when we were in the middle of the Vietnam War,  when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated,  and the Cold War with Russia was nearing its apogee.   There have been some new developments and new research that might challenge some of their conclusions, and a few that could be updated,  but I would say these points are merely in the margins.   I tend to agree with their conclusions that there is little truly new under the sun – that the nature of man recycles many of the same lessons and experience, simply in different times and contexts and most of what has happened in the years since they wrote this book merely reinforces their conclusions.   I was reminded of a quote by E.O Wilson that in today’s world, our challenge is that “We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology…” 

Some of those on our zoom call listened to rather than read the book, and they shared that the Audible version concluded each chapter with a recorded interview with the authors, done after their writing of the book, about the contents of the that chapter.   Those who listened to it shared that these recorded interviews added a lot to the content of the chapters.  Given that it is so short – the audible version just a few hours long, I intend to listen to it next, and enjoy the benefit of the voices of the long deceased authors commenting in their work. 

There are thirteen chapters in the book, and here is a brief look at what I saw as highlights: 

  1. Hesitations. They speak of the challenge of writing a short book that covers so much, concluding with “It is a precarious enterprise, and only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions.  We proceed.” 
  2. History and the Earth. They note that human history is a brief spot in space and time, and its first lesson is modesty.  They share how “geography is the matrix of history, its nourishing  mother and disciplining home.” They point out that “history is subject to geology,” and that distances, bodies of water, natural boundaries, mountain ranges, rich top soil, climate have all been major drivers of civilization.
  3. Biology and History. “The first biological leson of history is that life is competition….The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection…. The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed. (Nature) has a passion for quantity as prerequisite to the selection of quality; she likes large litters, and relishes the struggle that picks the surviving few.”  Other lines from this chapter:
    •  “Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.” 
    • “Freedom and equlity are sworn and everlasting enemies and when one prevails, the other dies.
    • “If the human brood is too numerous for the food supply, Nature has three agents for restoring the balances: famine, pestilence and war.”
    • “Ideally parentage should be a privilege of health, not a by-product of sexual agitation.”
    • “Biologically, physical vitality may be, at birth, of greater value than intellectual pedigree;  Philosophers are not the fittest material from which to breed the race.” 
  4. Race and History.  Their overall point is that race is a trivial superficiality that humans have elevated far beyond its importance.  They make the descriptive (vice prescriptive) observation that, “All strong characters and peoples are race conscious, and are instinctively averse to marriage outside their own racial group.”   They point to how races have mixed, changed and evolved over history. Noting, (though not necessarily agreeing with) that “The South creates the civilizations, the North conquers them, ruins them, borrows from them, spreads them: this is one summary of history.’  “History is color-blind and can develop a civilization (in any favorable environment) under almost any skin.”
  5. Character and History. Fascinating chapter. They create a table of human character elements which they claim is fundamental to humans everywhere.  The instincts they list, each with their associated habits and feelings, and each of these with positive and negative manifestations are Action, Fight, Acquisition, Association, Mating, Parental care.   They describe how the “hero” or “great man” who changes the course of history is simply a person who “grows out of his time and land and is the product and symbol of events as well as their agent and voice.”
    • “Society is founded not on the ideals but on the nature of man”
    • “We may define human nature as the fundamental tendencies and feelings of mankind.”
    • “By and large, the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them.”  
    • “Customs or institutions of society …are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.” 
    • ‘So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it – perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts.”
  6. Morals and History. “Morals are the rules by which a society exhorts (as laws are the rules by which it seeks to compel.)”  Noting that morality is relative and evolves, they say “Probably every vice was once a virtue – ie, a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group.  Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.” And they conclude this chapter with, “.,.much of our moral freedom is good: it is pleasant to be relieved of theological terrors, to enjoy without qualm the pleasures that harm neither others nor ourselves, and to feel the tang of the open air upon our liberated flesh.” 
  7. Religion and History.  He begins this chapter “Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age.”  They describe the ongoing tension between religious and secular leaders, and how nationalism, skepticism and human frailty break even the most idealistic dreams of spiritual unity. “History has justified the Church in the belief that the masses of mankind desire a religion rich in miracle, mystery, and myth.” And they conclude that “As long as there is poverty there will be gods.” 
  8. Economics and History.  They give much credit to Karl Marx’s view that History “…is economics in action – the contest, among individuals, groups, classes, and states, for food, fuel, materials, and economic power.”  There is “…little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity….Naturally and generally men are judged by their ability to produce – except in war, when they are ranked according to their ability to destroy.”  Accepting that “the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable…all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.” 
  9. Socialism and History.  “The struggle of socialism against capitalism is part of the historic rhythm in the concentration and dispersion of wealth.” This chapter outlines the numerous cases throughout history when a civilization has experimented with a centralized authority seeking to distribute wealth more justly within a society – and why they have all failed.  It usually became “a choice between private plunder and public graft.” The Inca civilization was the longest lasting socialistic civilization.  They point to the current movement in the West toward a synthesis of socialism and capitalism, noting that “The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality.”
  10. Government and History.  They begin this chapter with “…the first condition of freedom is its limitations; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.  So the prime task of government is to establish order….” They look at democracy and its missteps, at aristocracy, how and why it emerged, revolutions in government and the pattern of their successes and failures.  They warn about sharp breaks with the past, noting that “violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it.” “The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.” He describes the democracy of ancient Greece in terms that resonate today, “The middle classes as well as the  rich, began to distrust democracy as empowered envy, and the poor distrusted it as a sham equality of votes nullified by a gaping inequality of wealth.”
    • All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm and more good, than any other form of government.
    • The vital truth beneath its catchwords: that though men cannot be equal, thier access to education and opportunity can be made more nearly equal.
    • The rights of man ar not rights to office and power, but the rights of entry into every avenue that may nourish and test a man’s fitness for office and power.
    • A right is not a gift of God or nature but a privilege which it is good for the group that the individual should have. 
  11. History and War.  War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.  In this chapter, the authors create a mock discussion between a General and a Philosopher – the General arguing for the necessity of war and even some of its many advantages (‘young men need an outlet for their combativeness, their adventurousness, their weariness with prosaic routine..”)  The Philosopher responds with all the damage caused by war, that far outweigh its gains, argues for adequate defense but also nonaggression and non-subversion pacts to lead to world order.  To which the General replies “You have forgotten all the lessons of history,” noting that “natural selection now operates on an international plane. States will unite in basic co-operation only when they are in common attacked from without.”    In other words, the Durants don’t offer much hope for universal peace. 
  12. Growth and Decay.  They state that “On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear – or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams.”This chapter points out how great civilizations have essentially two phases: “centripetal organization unifying a culture in all its phases into a unique coherent and artistic form; the other a period of centrifugal disorganization in which creed and culture decompose in division and criticism, and end in a chaos of individualism, skepticism, and artistic aberrations.”  And they look at the causes of decay, and sadly many of the symptoms they describe we see in America today, especially when “Few souls feel any longer that it is beautiful and honorable to die for one’s country.” And they answer the question, Do civilizations die like individuals?  They answer not quite – they evolve and pass down  their “patrimony to their heirs across the years and the seas.”
  13. Is Progress Real? In this final chapter they say, “Since we have admitted no substantial change in man’s nature during historic times, all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends…Science is neutral: it will kill for us as readily as it will heal, and will destroy for us more readily than it can build”
    • “Our comforts and conveniences may have weakened our physical stamina and our moral fiber.”
    • “Have we really outgrown intolerance, or merely transferred it from religious to national, ideological, or racial hostilities?”
    • “Our capacity for fretting is endless, and no matter how many difficulties we surmount, how many ideals we realize, we shall always find an excuse for being magnificently miserable; there is a stealthy pleasure in rejecting mankind or the universe as unworthy of our approval.” 
    • “If education  is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing.”
    • “We may not have excelled the selected geniuses of antiquity, but we have raised the level and average of knowledge beyond any age in history.”

His concluding paragraph of this chapter, and of the book, is worth quoting in whole:

“To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man’s follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.  The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it;  let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death. If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life. “

My concluding note: Read this book.  And discuss it with friends. Then read it again.  

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The Extended Mind – The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, by Annie Murphy Paul

Why this book:  Strongly recommended by my friend Jay and therefore selected by our Thursday morning discussion group. 

Summary in 3 Sentence:  The author’s thesis is that a huge, and under-appreciated dimension of our cognitive process takes place outside the brain, and is very much influenced by factors outside of our mind. She points out how there is a prejudice for reasoning with just our rational brains and minds, and that this prejudice ignores our intuitive senses which are tuned in to aspects of reality that are unseen by our rational minds. She spends much of the book arguing against what she calls “brain-bound thinking” and points to how psychological tests repeatedly demonstrate that we make better decisions and have better cognitive results when we take context, environment, and our other physical senses, and  and other aspects or our mental/emotional state into consideration when we are expected to deliver our best decisions and cognitive results. 

My Impressions:  I listened to this book which is narrated by the author.   I found it to be interesting and insightful by pointing out aspects of our cognitive and even emotional life affected by factors other than simply our thinking brain. Much/most of what she points out conforms to our intuitive experience, but which our “brain-bound” focus on  logic, thinking and decision making often ignores, at considerable cost to the results we are looking for.  Apart from simply pointing out that the environment in which we are thnking and deciding impacts the quality of our thoughts and decisions, she quotes the extensive research by neurologists and cognitive psychologists that reinforce what our experience tells us.

The book is broken up into three sections: Thinking with our bodies, Thinking with our surroundings,   Thinking with our relationships.  Each of these sections is further broken down into chapters which make the point that when we think and decide, there are a wide variety of both internal and external cues that we are often unconscious of, but which drive and determine what we think, how we think, and consequently what decisions we make.  Her point: Being aware of these factors and even controlling for them will significantly enhance the quality of our thoughts and decisions. 

A very busy reader could get the main points of the book by reading the Introduction, entitled Thinking Outside the Brain, and the Conclusion in which she offers a series of recommendations for enhancing our ability to think by giving attention to how our bodies, our environmental awareness, and our social environment affect and enhance our thinking and decision making.  But the detail and examples are driven home in the chapters and – if one is interested in this topic as am I, they are worth the time. 

Below are some of the points that caught my attention, but the best of the book to me was the third section on Thinking in Relationships which addresses the social environment – for team building and enhanced learning.  

Section One: THINKING WTH OUR BODIESis broken down into three chapters with different foci: Thinking with our sensations, our movement, our gestures.  She references Damasio and Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) as well as many others.  Some of this echoes what I read in The Power of your Subconscious Mind (by Joseph Murphy.)  The author would probably say the subconscious mind is more directly tied to our total body awareness than is our conscious mind. 

  • She introduces a new term or concept to me: “Interoceptive awareness – being aware of and able to use internal signals that indicate to us what our body is telling us BEFORE and below our awareness level and before we have consciously thought about the topic or made a decision.
  • She suggests a meditative practice of focussing individually on our different body parts to better get in tune with what what our body is telling us.
  • She points to a large body of evidence that our body has frequently made well decisions before our conscious mind is even aware of the issue.
  • In the chapter Thinking with movement, she points to how we seem to think best when indeed we are exerting some energy – taking a walk, standing, engaged in light exercise. That is, up to a point – when we are exerting ourselves, breathing hard, heart rate up – when we reach a point of “transient hypofrontality” a state of decreased cerebral blood flow, when the demands of our body for energy and oxygen shut down the brain’s prefrontal cortex ability to reason.  It’s a state of almost meditative neutrality.

Section Two: THINKING WITH OUR SURROUNDINGS is broken down into three chapters: Thinking with natural, built and idea spaces.  In this section she emphasizes and as usual draws on extensive research that shows that WHERE we think – our surroundings – can have a significant, often dramatic impact on HOW and WHAT we think. Again, this statement may be intuitively obvious but she points out how it is ignored at great cost in the designing of office spaces, buildings, and places where people are expected to work and think productively.

  • Feeling connected to nature seems to open up peoples minds – not being distracted by our many demands placed on us by our busy civilized lives.  She suggests going alone and taking walks in natural environments to rest, rejuvenate and reactivate one’s brain and body. And during such walks, new ideas, and broader perspectives emerge. 
  • Being in a space that feels welcoming and comforting is much more conducive to creative thought than the standard cold and impersonal offices and workplaces that were designed in the late 20th century.  She is particularly damning of large, open, cubicle office spaces which create a psychological pressure that drains the mind of energy and creativity.
  • How can work spaces provide a sense of privacy and security while also facilitating social interaction and sharing of ideas?  She points to new experiments in this area.  
  • The “space of ideas” refers to how our thinking is affected by ideas that come from outside us – this is obvious but she points to how creative incubators have been very effective in the opening of minds to new possibilities 

Section Three: THINKING IN RELATIONSHIPS is broken down into three chapters: Thinking with experts, with peers, with groups.  As someone who has spent his life working in and trying to optimize teams and teamwork, this section was most interesting to me and confirmed much of my own experience.

  • She points to how well-integrated teams make better decisions than even the best and smartest experts – as long as the teams are receptive to different ideas and all members feel free to share their ideas, and that the interpersonal dynamics in the team do not suppress free idea expression.  This reminded me of a book I read a few years ago, which made an impression on me:  The Wisdom of Crowds (by James Surowiecki)
  • She gives examples of what she describes as “socially distributed cognition” where the mulitple minds and mental energy in a group fuse to be more than the sum of their parts, with each persons strengths contributing to a greater whole. 
  • She talks about the power of imitation as a source of creativity, in contrast to the archetype of the lone creative genius.  She tips her hat to the lone genius, but points to how even they are often beginning by imitating. Imitation of what has worked before provides a foundation upon which to build new possibilities and even diverge from what is being imitated. 
  • She describes the power of physical or “behavioral synchrony” in building teams – doing physical things together, in synch. She gives the example close order drill in the military and how it can create a sense of group euphoria -which I have experienced doing “command physical training, and running and singing “Jodie calls” in the military.
  • She gives examples of “shared physiological arousal” and the impact it can have on our thinking and our relationships – with examples on the positive side, of groups of sports fans watching their team win (or lose) or being mesmerized by a great orator, and on the negative side, mob mentality.
  • She points to how multiple people focusing on the same thing or issue at the same time brings them together. This shared attention enhances their shared cognition.
  • She discusses giving attention to the “group brain” – how it works, what enhances it, or divides it. She offers proven suggestions for building group brain and therefore enhancing collaboration with shared experiences, learning together, feeling together, eating together. These are all  tools  that good coaches and military leaders have employed for millennia. 
  • She pays particular attention to how much of our traditional  education system ignores the social aspects of learning, by focussing on sitting still during in classrooms and lecture halls, and emphasizing studying alone. 
  • She emphasizes the value of learning by doing, group work, engaging with others in the learning process, the value of “tacit knowledge.” 
  • She says, “We think best, when we think socially.”

I’ve told a few friends that though this book can be repetitive in citing so many studies and research to make its points, it is a book that (I believe) anyone engaged in teaching, learning, or leading should read.  We all need to be reminded that how we think, communicate, interact with others, and that makingdecisions is so heavily affected by factors that are outside the boundaries of our traditional emphasis on brain-bound thinking – paying attention to these factors could only improve the results we seek.  

POST SCRIPT Since posting this, Annie Murphy Paul spoke at a Cleveland Guardians Leadership Speaker’s Series and did a fine summary of her book.  The Guardians put out a summary of her talk, which is worth reviewing: 


  • Conventional wisdom, the mind is in the skull; but the article proposed a much broader perspective – space, people, tools…the world
  • How to operationalize this idea
    • How to carry out our learning
    • How to live our day to day lives
    • Can this be put together in a practical day to day guide

Overview of the book – Thinking with…the Body, Spaces and Relationships 

  • Thinking with the body
    • Interoception- ability to tune into the sensations of our body beyond our ears, eyes, touch – an ability to sense the  stream of internal information
      • Use of a Body Scan to sense your body – to Tune-In; an informal check-in
    • Thinking with Gestures.  Hand gestures are more than communicating with others; they are part of our thinking process
      • Gestures are often a few milliseconds ahead of what we actually say
      • Gestures help us communicate
      • Let gestures become part of your virtual communication as well
    • Thinking with Movement
      • Micro-movements help keep us alert
      • Moderate intensity movement – Kahneman / Tversky vignette of walking together to enhance their thinking
        1. Vignette demonstrates 3 key areas – thinking in nature, thinking with movement and thinking with relationships.
      • Intensity of exercise can dial down the prefrontal cortex a bit and trigger a dreamlike state – can lead to a more creative and associative state
  • Thinking with Space
    • Natural world.  Thinking in nature can be restorative (Attention Restoration Theory)
    • Built space.  Make your space more cognitively congenial by adding queues of identity and belonging – “ambient belonging”
    • Thinking with space of ideas.  
      • Counter the “brain-bound” convention of thinking in our heads
      • “Cognitive Offloading” – get it out of your head.  Sticky notes, white board, duel monitors, in order to reduce cognitive load of remembering
        1. Also allows you to process the information differently
        2. Treat ideas as a 3D landscape of ideas – can move and manipulate ideas
  • Thinking with Relationships
    • Thinking with Experts.  Model of expert teaching novice
      • There is a gap; experts have a different way of understanding or chunking the material.  The novice cannot process the same way
      • Gap of what is explained (expert) and what is understood (novice)
    • Thinking with Peers.  
      • We often separate academic from social; but the brain is fundamentally social
      • We are social all the time; how to leverage the social brain in service of our work
        1. Teach others – no better way of knowing than teaching
        2. There is a social motivation to teach / share
      • Power of telling stories; stories are psychosocially privileged.  More likely to remember and act on the story
      • Power of debating and arguing.  The practice of debating helps us to see things we normally would not see
  • Thinking with Groups. 
    • Groupiness – the kind of state that arises when people are not just an assemblage of individuals in the same place, but actually a group, an entity unto themselves
      • Learn and train together; have intense experience together, and participate in rituals together (all same place and same time)
      • Power of Synchronous movement – i.e. walks, meals, etc
  • Closing.  The Extended mind recognizes the limitations of our Biological brain.
    • We are not robots; we cannot just sit in meetings and grind
    • We need to acknowledge our bodies and how we interact with nature, space, people


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Life Force, by Tony Robbins, Peter Diamandis, & Robert Hariri

Why this book: I’ve always been interested in optimizing health and fitness and a good friend of mine’s wife strongly recommended this book. I looked up reviews, and though I was a bit skeptical of Tony Robbins as a health guru, the reviews looked promising so I decided to give it a try. Really glad I did.

Summary in 4 sentences:  Tony Robbins in conjunction with two of the most highly respected doctors in researching longevity and wellness put together a compendium of the latest research in long term health optimization, disease prevention, repairing of organs, muscles and other damaged parts of the body, and the latest research in almost anything else that may be common causes of sub-optimal health, fitness and well being. He gives separate chapters to different areas of concern, but what is most exciting and impressive is that he outlines the current (as of 2022) state of research into stem cell and other regenerative therapies that promise to extend not only life but wellness well past current norms. While he continues to stress the foundational requirements of optimal health – exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management – he also offers options and strategies to almost exponentially magnify the benefits of these basic good health practices with various bio-hacks, some of which are easily available to everyone, some of which are rather esoteric.  He concludes with classic Tony Robbins appeal to positive thinking and belief in oneself and one’s own responsibility and power to optimize one’s own health and life. 

My Impressions:  Life Force provides a fascinating look behind the curtain of what bio-medical research is exploring for means of optimizing health, recovery, and wellness into the future.  I’ve recommended this book to several friends, each of whom I would grade is much healthier and more fit than the norm for their age, and each of whom thanked me for the recommendation and are taking action based on the recommendation in this book. Some of what he describes in the means for  regenerative health and fitness seems almost like science fiction, but, he tells us – no this is real, and these therapies will be available within a few short years. Ray Kurzweil who wrote and reads one of the chapters, says that if we can stay alive and healthy for a few more years, he expects there will be therapies and bio-hacks available that will then keep us alive and healthy for many more decades to come.

I chose to listen to this book, but partway through, I decided to buy a copy, since it contains so much information that I couldn’t absorb listening to it, and I wanted to be able to review it in hard copy.  Tony Robbins himself reads the first and last chapters, a designated reader reads most of the chapters, and then a couple of chapters are written and read by experts who he called upon to contribute to the book. This book is clearly a collaborative effort with Doctors Peter Diamandis and Robert Hariri clearly contributing their extensive knowledge in molecular genetics and cellular biology, as well as Ray Kurzweil, one of he world’s specialists in longevity research. Many other experts were consulted and their inputs are included – many of the best known names in health and wellness optimization.

Tony supports his points with many examples from his own life, and the experiences of people he’s met and worked with over the years.  One key message of this book – do not automatically trust your doctor.  Do your own research.  While he shows respect for doctors, he emphasizes that they are human, each is limited in their own experience and perspective, and if your health and wellness are at stake, you MUST get multiple opinions and make your own decisions. Don’t outsource decisions on your health and wellness to a single medical professional.  They may not know of the latest research, and they can be and often are wrong in their diagnoses and treatments. 

Life Force is written for the layman and it is easy and enjoyable to follow, though there were a few sections that had some details about molecular biology that were beyond my ability to fully grasp.  But I was able to easily get the point, even if I didn’t fully understand the mechanisms.  I looked forward to my listening sessions, as they were full of amazing information that is relevant to me and my life. Even the sections which may not apply to me, like breakthroughs in treatment of stroke victims, were fascinating.

I perhaps more than most have given attention and priority to long term health, wellness and fitness and I learned many things from this book that I didn’t know. Regarding longevity, I wrote a blog a few years ago that even then stressed that average life and health span are increasing, and that research is advancing rapidly to significantly increase life and health span in the not-too-far-distant future.   Life Force is an update to what I had learned then and so much more. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is willing to take extra steps to enhance their wellness and fitness and increase their life and health span.  

Perhaps the best summary of the scope of this book is to provide a list of the chapters.  


Section 1: The Life Force Revolution

  • Chapter 1: Life Force: our Greatest Gift
  • Chapter 2: The Power of Stem Cells
  • Chapter 3: Diagnostic Power: breakthroughs that Can Save your life
  • Chapter 4 Turning Back Time: Will Aging soon be Curable?

Section 2 Heroes of the Regenerative Medicine Revolution

  • Chapter 5: The Miracle of Organ Regeneration
  • Chapter 6: The MightyCAR T cell: A Breatk through Cure for Leukemia
  • Chapter 7: Incision-less Brain Surgery: The impact of Focused Ultrasound
  • Chapter 8: Gene Therapy and CRISPR: The Cure for Disease
  • Chapter 9: The Wondrous Wnt Pathway: The ultimate Fountain of Youth?

Section 3: What You Can Do Now

  • CHapter 10 Your Ultimate Vitality Pharmacy
  • Chapter 11: Living Pain Free
  • Chapter 1: The Longevity Lifestyle and Diet
  • Chapter 13: The Power of SLeep the Third Pillar of Health
  • Chapter 14: Strength, Fitness & Performance: Your Quick Guide to Maximum Results
  • Chapter 15: Beauty: Enhancing your Visible Health and Vitality

Section 4: Tackling the top 6 Killers

  • Chapter 17: How to Mend a Broken Heart
  • Chapter 18: Your Brain: Treating Strokes
  • Chapter 19: How to Win the War on Cancer
  • Chapter 20: Conquering Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease: Bringing Peace to the Body
  • Chapter 21: Diabetes and Obesity: Defeating a Double Threat
  • Chapter 22: Alzheimer’s Disease: Eradicating the Beast

Section 5 Longevity Mindset, and Fulfillment

  • Chapter 23: Longevity and the Power of Exponential Technologies
  • Chapter 24: Creating an Extraordinary Quality of Life: the Power of Mindset
  • Chapter 25 The Power of Decision: the Gift of Living in a Beautiful State

Your 7 Step Action Plan for Lasting Results

End Credits

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An Immense World, by Ed Yong

Why this book: Selected by my Science Fiction reading group, and though not “science fiction” per se, the science facts it reveals almost seem like science fiction.

Summary in 3 Sentences:  Author Ed Yong takes the readers on a tour of the wide variety of methods by which other creatures from all dimensions – insects, fish, mammals, reptiles even bacteria, spiders perceive their environments. These various sensory methods, from enhanced sensitivities to odors, to different spectra of light, to ability to hear sounds at a wide spectrum of frequencies, to echolocation, to creating electrical fields and sensing disturbances in those fields, to reading the earth’s magnetic field and more – are all adaptations that evolved over millennia  to help these creatures evade predators and find food in their particular environment – what Yong calls their “Umwelt.”  He concludes by describing how most species do not rely on a single sense, but on multiple senses that they integrate to help them survive and prosper, and then how many species have adapted or failed to adapt to human influenced pollution of the sensory environment.

My Impressions: A wonderful book which opens the readers eyes to how limited – anthropocentric – is our perspective on our world.  In fact this book reveals whole “universes” that exist all around us that we don’t perceive but that other creatures do.  It is akin to reading about human cultures very different from our own, and having the scales fall from our eyes revealing the narrowness of perspective that comes from taking for granted that how we perceive the world, is indeed how the world is. This book forces the reader to reappraise our conception of “reality.”   Reading about the capabilities of species of animals from as small as insects, to as well known and large as elephants and whales is almost like a science fiction novel – what these creatures can sense and do is almost magical. 

And Jong describes and writes about these insights in a most engaging and charming way – with enough science and footnotes to establish him as a legitimate scientist, but with a gift for writing in a way that will fascinate the a reader like me.  He writes with a sense of whimsy and fascination (which are contagious!) and sprinkles his book with interesting personal anecdotes from his own exploration of the topic as well as many from the numerous scientists and biologists that he visited and consulted in his research. I was not surprised to see An Immense World on several top 10 rankings of best books of 2022.

Jong begins An Immense World with an Introduction entitled “The Only True Voyage” in which he introduces the reader to his adventure of exploring how other animals live in their sensory bubbles – and thereby revealing how we humans also live in our own sensory bubble, and he explains why he calls this an “Umwelt” (the German word for environment or surroundings.) He explains how in the book he will refer to stimuli  and receptors which are part of sensors which turn stimuli into information. He also admits to the humility of this adventure – that we still know so little and that new details, and in some cases entirely new senses are being discovered regularly, and he notes that our efforts in this regard are biased by our own senses and in particular by our primary sense – vision.  He reminds us that “When we pay attention to other animals, our own world expands and deepens.”  

Up front, he tells us that all creatures senses evolve to support and enhance survival and procreation in the specific environment in which the creatures finds themselves, and those environments are as distinct as the bottom of the deep, blue sea, tropical jungles, or the middle of a blazing desert.  He reminds us that “The first step to understanding another animals’s Umwelt is to understand what it uses its senses for.”  In the course of his book, we are introduced to animals with amazing senses with capabilities that are way beyond those of human senses,  but which suit that animal in its Umwelt – creatures such as mantis shrimp, jumping spiders, naked more-rats, fire-chaser beetles, star-nosed moles, as well as animals with which we are more familiar, such as sea otters, elephants, vampire bats, rattle snakes.

Jong divides his book into thirteen chapters each of which addresses a sense that we may take for granted, and (falsely) assume that other creatures senses must mimic our own.  He divests us of this misconception throughout the book.


  1. Leaking Sacks of Chemicals – Smells and tastes
  2. Endless Ways of Seeing – Light
  3. Rurple Grurple, Yurple – Color
  4. The Unwanted Sense – Pain
  5. So Cool – Heat
  6. A Rough Sense – Contact and Flow
  7. The Rippling Ground – Surface Vibrations
  8. All Ears – Sound
  9. A Silent World Shouts Back – Echoes
  10. Living Batteries – Electric Fields
  11. They Know the Way – Magnetic Fields

He then concludes with

Chapter 12 Every Window at Once- Uniting the Senses 

And finally

13. Save the Quiet, Preserve the Dark – threatened Sensescapes.

Each chapter is a cornucopia of fascinating information about how different creatures experience the world in ways that are hard for us to imagine.  And just as fascinating as what we learn about these very different senses is how biologists ingeniously run experiments to test and learn about how these creatures sense the world.   Then he adds a bit of humility, beginning his chapter on “pain’ by noting that “We can chart how an animal reacts to what it senses, but it’s much harder to know how it feels.  And that distinction becomes especially difficult – and important -when thinking about pain.”

At the end of the book, he describes how for us and for many species, different senses work together, to back each other up, or compensate for miscalculations.  He writes “Each sense has pros and cons, and each stimulus is useful in some circumstances and useless in others. That’s why animals tap into as many streams of information as their nervous systems can handle, using the strengths of ones sense to compensate for the shortcomings of another.  (p323)  One of the most interesting sections was when he described how blind people often learn to use echo-location to compensate for lack of vision – and some become  surprisingly adept at it.

He concludes in Chapter 13 with a cautionary note about our efforts to preserve or enhance the habitability of our Umwelt for humans.  He gives numerous examples of how well-meaning efforts to make our Umwelt more user-friendly for us, can disrupt whole ecosystems for other creatures, whose senses are more sensitive to changes than ours. When we change any aspect of an environment – light, sound, temperature, color, moisture, etc – we may be significantly disrupting an umwelt that other creatures have adapted themselves to over millennia.  He gives a fascinating example of the unintended consequences of streetlights in a parking lot near the Tetons, or streetlights near the beach in Florida. 

There are so many amazing examples and stories in this book. A friend of mine who’d read it told me that when he hears a bird chirping, he now asks himself what parts of its song am he is not hearing, sounds outside of our capacity to hear that communicate with other birds, to tell them of food opportunities, or danger or mating opportunities. 

This will be a book that will change the way you see the world, and  (I suspect) add some very appropriate humility to our view of ourselves as the masters of the world we live in.  


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An Avoidable War – The Dangers of Catastrophic Conflict between the US and China, by Kevin Rudd

Why this book:  I am in a SEAL reading group that read as one of our selections,  2034 – A Novel of the Next World War – which is a novel about a prospective war between the US and China.  Reading that book was disturbing, and after hearing about this book, I wanted to find out HOW we might avoid such a catastrophic eventuality.

 Summary in 3 Sentences:  The author walks us quickly through the history of US-China relations beginning in the early 19th century and brings us quickly into the 20th century, the Maoist communist revolt, and their assumption of power in 1949.  It wasn’t until 2013 however, when Xi Jinping came to power that things started to get tense. Much of this book is about Xi Jinping’s vision for “making China great again,” his antipathy toward the US and the US led international order, his distaste for liberal Western values and human rights, and how he is leveraging China’s economic power internationally, and Chinese Nationalism domestically to enhance his own and China’s power and influence in the world.  

My Impressions:   This is an impressive and eye-opening book that looks at multiple dimensions of the tense and evolving relationship between the US and China.  It current  as of the beginning of 2022.  But most importantly we get this unique perspective from a sinologist and fluent Mandarin speaker who twice served as Prime Minister of Australia, and who has met and worked with Xi Jinping himself and many of China’s top leaders over the last 2 decades. Rudd has lived in China, Taiwan and the United States and knows their cultures well.  Since his last term as Prime Minister, he has been a careful student of the evolving nature of China place in the world order and has served as  an advisor to leaders from many nations. 

This book offers a broad and balanced perspective on the issues that cause tension and competition between the US and China.  Learning about how these two formidable world powers interact is also very instructive on how nations compete and cooperate with each other, and vie for influence and power in the world.  We also learn the impact that the words and actions of these great powers have on foreign policy, trade, economics, ideological issues and the many factors, overt and subtle, that affect the way the international community responds.    He is able to address how he saw things change with US policy as America transitioned from the Trump to the Biden administrations.

Rudd was head of the Labor party in Australia and is clearly no fan of Donald Trump. He makes the  case that when Donald Trump pulled America out of many international organizations and forums for cooperation and discussion, he left the door open for China to fill the vacuum of great power influence in these organization, which they were more than eager to do.  Thereby, Xi Jinping was able to increase his and China’s power, influence and prestige internationally.  America was seen by many as no longer unreliable ally, which gave Xi Jinping and China a significant amount of leverage, and gradually and with small steps, he has increased his and China’s presence and influence all over the world.   Rudd describes how Xi Jinping has courted with money and infrastructure, many countries, especially in the developing world, and they are unable to resist the gravity of China’s huge economy and market for goods and services, all of which give China more power, wealth, and influence. 

Bur Rudd is also very open on where he sees China’s and Xi Jinping’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  He notes that the US is still ahead in many areas of economic and political competition, and that most countries would prefer a close relationship with the US, but China has been more forthcoming with aid, loans and attention.  Rudd notes that the US and Chinese economies are today in direct and almost ruthless competition in areas where there had been a more symbiotic relationship in the past. This he attributes to China clearly and explicitly setting out to supplant the US in power and influence, especially in Asia, but also in Africa, Latin America, and even in Europe.  

Xi Jinping is clearly the central figure in this book.  He reminds me a lot of Putin – having recently listened to Mr Putin – Operative in the Kremlin  I see in Xi Jinping a more cautious and calculating leader than Putin, but equally ruthless and ambitious.  He is not to be taken lightly.  Xi Jinping’s world view, ambitions and his priorities are central to this entire book. Rudd identifies three values that are core to Xi Jinping’s drive for power and influence.  1. He is a Marxist in his ideology, with a Chinese take on traditional Marxism; 2. Economic strength will be the source of his power and influence abroad; and 3. Fostering Chinese Nationalism will ensure his power at home.  He is not unlike President Trump in that regard, but unlike Trump, Xi Jinping is very cautious and deliberate about what he says, and is very invested in engaging with and influencing politically, diplomatically and economically the rest of the world to win friends and influence. Especially in the developing world. 

I listened to rather than read this book which meant I couldn’t highlight or take notes, which made it difficult to review.  The book includes so much content, most of which was new and fascinating to me.  But a list of the chapter titles will give a sense for how comprehensive his approach is.  Rudd’s writing is also very accessible to an informed lay reader – it is not written in economic or political science jargon – I found it easy and fascinating to listen to, and I looked forward to periods when I could give it my attention.

Rudd describes what he regards as Xi Jinping’s top 10 priorities – he calls them circles of importance – the first being the most important, and number ten being important, but less so than the previous nine.  He has bounced this list off of others who know China well, including those in Xi Jinping’s circle and has received general agreement.   He gives each of these circles a comprehensive chapter and goes into detail into how each of  Xi Jinping priorities stacks up against US capabilities.  He examines competition between the US and China and the West in each of these areas and how they affect US  foreign policy.  

After an opening introduction, the book has 17 chapters, ten of which address Xi Jinping’s priority interests, what Rudd calls “circles,” and he conclude with four chapters that tie it all together and a brief epilogue. Here is how the book is organized.

     Introduction: On the Danger of War

  1. A short history of the US-China Relationship
  2. The Problem of Distrust
  3. Understanding Xi Jinping’s Worldview: Ten Concentric Circles of Interest
  4. The First Circle: The Politics of Staying in Power
  5. The Second Circle: Securing National Unity
  6. 6. The Third Circle: Ensuring Economic Prosperity
  7. The Fourth Circle: Making Economic Development Environmentally Sustainable
  8. The Fifth Circle: Modernizing the Military
  9. The Sixth Circle: Managing China’s Neighborhood
  10. The Seventh Circle: Securing China’s Maritime Periphery: the Western Pacific, the Indo-Pacific, and the Quad
  11. The Eighth Circle: Going West – the Belt and Road Initiative
  12. The Ninth Circle: Increasing Chinese Leverage Across Europe, Africa and Latin America, and Gaining an Arctic Foothold
  13. The Tenth Circle: Changing the Global Rules-based order
  14. America’s Emerging Strategic Responses to Xi Jinping’s China
  15. Xi Jinping’s China in the 2020s: The politics of the Twentieth Party Congress
  16. The Decade of Living Dangerously: Alternative Futures for US-China Relations
  17. Navigating an Uncertain Future: the Case for Managed Strategic Competition


The final four chapters are particularly instructive, answering the “so what?” question that may arise out of his discussion of the 10 circles. He offers a multitude (over 10) possible scenarios that he could foresee coming to pass between the US and China in the next decade or so – many of which include war or armed conflict between the US and China, and what he thinks might be the consequences of each of these possible scenarios. 

He concludes by making his case for what he calls “Managed Strategic Competition” -what we used to call “strategic engagement” and the Chinese called “win-win strategy.”  In Rudd’s Managed Strategic Competition, the US and China would acknowledge that they are great powers competing for power and influence, but managing that competition well could serve both nations and avoid war, which many see as inevitable, and the horrific potential consequences that could ensue. Rudd points out how war between China and the US would be a major disruption in the international order, would probably cause untold death, destruction and suffering, and whoever might “win” would still lose. As would the rest of the world.

His compelling conclusion is that the US and China must manage their competition and relationship in such a way as to avoid war and best serve each country’s interests – at least over the next decade.   He makes that case strongly, and after reading (listening to) this book, I am a believer.  The Avoidable War is a great primer not only on US-China issues but on foreign policy and strategy in general. 


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Edges of the Earth – a Man, a Woman, a Child in the Alaskan Wilderness, by Richard Leo

Why this book: I had read this book over 20 years ago and had found it captivating. Much of it takes place in the vicinity of Talkeetna, Alaska, which I recently visited, in large part motivated by having read this book. I continue to be somewhat infatuated with Alaska and wanted to read this story again and see how 20 years of life experience might change how it impacts me.

Summary in 4 Sentences: The book is Rick Leo writing in the first person about his personal experiences after his move to Alaska to build a remote homestead, and how he made a life for himself in the wilderness. He had graduated from Harvard and taken a job as an editor on Wall Street in the late 70s but was very disillusioned with life in New York City, and so, convinced his girl friend Melissa to pack it all up, leave the rat-race and move to Alaska and learn to live off the grid. Their initial year there was spent meeting people, making plans, getting the lay of the land, finding a place to build a home, learning what would be required fo live there, and also having a child and getting to know each other – amidst all the challenges of creating a new life deep in the Alaskan wilderness. Eventually Rick and Melissa realize that their hopes, dreams and needs were not in alignment and they struggled to find compromises that would allow them to raise their son while allowing them each to live the life they wanted.

My Impressions: I loved this book both times I read it, but for different reasons. When I read it 20+ years ago, I was mostly amazed and impressed by Rick’s resourcefulness in how he meet each new challenge and was able to build a home deep in the Alaskan wilderness several hours by foot from the nearest road. That indeed impressed me again in my second reading, but this time, I’m realizing the book is more about the struggles of a husband and wife to work together on this formidable project, to raise their son, and to find a way to keep their family together while being true to each other’s personal dreams, needs and goals.

Rick had grown up in the urban Chicago area and had little background in living as an outdoorsman. He had been a humanities student at Harvard and had graduated cum laude – and his impressive English skills had landed him a job right out of college as a magazine editor on Wall Street. He hated the job, but his skills as a writer, editor, and narrator of his own life and experience are evident in this book. His his story is sprinkled with references to the Western canon of classical philosophy and literature – as well as demonstrating a more than passing familiarity with Buddhism and eastern philosophy.

Early on, there is a tension between Rick’s creativity and resourcefulness in pursuing his dreams, and Melissa’s somewhat s tentative acceptance of this direction for their lives – she became ever more concerned that they may be in way over their heads. She soon realized that she didn’t share Rick’s enthusiasm for this adventure – especially after she became pregnant. Meanwhile, Rick learns to run a dog sled, to build a cabin, and finds a way to make much needed money in Anchorage as a copy editor and a cab driver, sleeping in his car to save money, chartering a helicopter to airlift building supplies to the site of his homestead in the wilderness. All of this being new to him as a man raised in the suburbs of America – he had to figure it out, learning many things the hard way. And as he did so, Rick was happy – almost ecstatic – proud of his ability to rise to the many challenges. He shares the joys of living amidst the splendors of the unspoiled natural world, amongst the trees and the animals, the stars and the mountains, and savors the excitement of introducing all of that to the enthusiastic reception of his and Melissa’s young son Janus.

Melissa did indeed appreciate the beauty and simplicity of life in the cabin in the wilderness, but she simply didn’t want to live there. It was not a life she had bargained for; she needed a social community and a sense of family that included more than her husband and child. Rick did indeed appreciate the value of the social community in Talkeetna, but he came to Alaska to live primarily away from people – in a place he built in the wilderness.

It was sometimes painful to read how these two good people are torn between their love for each other, their dream of making a family, and their very different needs. There are passages in which Rick describes his almost mystical communion with the primeval world he lived in. I admired his courage and success taking on what to me seem almost insurmountable challenges of learning, not only how to survive, but to build a home and a life, and meld with the unforgiving natural world he chose. And there were indeed moments of great intimacy and connection between him and Melissa, but as time went on, these were overshadowed by misunderstanding after misunderstanding and Melissa’s increasing frustration and anger at Rick for not seeming to understand what she needed and how she felt.

So much of the beauty of the book is sharing not only Rick’s growth and evolution in learning to live in Alaska, but also Melissa’s. We also learn from Janus their son. Rick takes Janus with their dog team camping in the winter and he shares Janus’s perspective as a 2 year old, for which everything is immediate, new and exciting, with no overlay of previous biases or expectations. Janus’s perspective is fresh and refreshing, and Rick sees and appreciates that, while he’s teaching him about the world they live in, and how to survive. Janus teaches Rick a new and fresh perspective on that world.

At one point Rick is visited by his best friend from university, Alexander, a thoughtful insightful man, who stayed in NYC and was living the fast-paced world of a single man making a living on Wall Street. Alexander was incredulous that Rick had chosen to live in such a primitive manner. But after a couple of weeks, Alexander came to appreciate the magic of living so close to nature, and dealing with practical challenges of living simply in the woods, as opposed to the complexity and craziness of living in the urban maze of New York City.

So much magic in this book in its many dimensions: The urban American learning to live in the primeval wilderness, the love and tension in the family, and the learning and growth that takes place within that family. I was sometimes stunned by Rick’s lyrical and almost poetic descriptions of the Mountains and wilderness where he lived. But he doesn’t neglect to share the impersonal dangers facing anyone who lives with little support in the wilderness.

The first half of the book is largely about the trials and tribulations experienced by Rick and Melissa getting established in Alaska. The second half is Rick taking on different challenges from his homestead, going into the mountains and with his dogsled visting some of hte most remote parts of the Alasaka outback, while also teaching Janus, and learning from Janus, while Melissa lives in Talkeetna. At the conclusion, Rick shares what has happened to every one who he’s met, and learned from in the book, as of 1990 about 7 years after the story began. Included in “the rest of the story,” he shares that his friend Alexander had died. Several years after Edges of the Earth was published, I sat next to a woman on an airline flight who told me about her son Alexander, who had passed away, but who had had visited a close friend in Alaska, who’d built a cabin in the wilderness and with whom he’d climbed Denali It was she who introduced me to this this story about Rick and her son, and who inspired me to find and read this wonderful book.

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The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt

Why this Book?  Selected by my SEAL Book Club as our Oct 2022 selection. I’d heard about it from others and looked forward to reading it.

Summary in 4 Sentences: The Righteous Mind looks at our human decision making in general, but primarily decision making for issues that we feel have moral content, to include how we vote and where we stand on political issues.   The book is written in three parts: PART ONE makes the case that “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second” -how most of our moral decisions are built upon an emotional, not a rational base, and that we usually use our reason to rationalize responding in accordance with that initial emotional response. PART TWO makes the case that “there’s more to morality than harm and fairness” and he argues for six foundational ethical values that most healthy people share, explains how he came up with them, and explains that our differences are based on differences in the weight we give to those values, since they can often be in tension with each other.  In PART THREE, he explains how “morality binds and blinds” – that we are both selfish and groupish, and describes what he calls our “hive mentality” and how this explains our impulse to fulfill ourselves by turning to religion and membership in political parties and movements. 

My Impressions: An Extraordinary book about who we are, how we make our key choices and why. He says at the end of the book that he took us “on a tour of human nature and human history.”  In the introduction, he says “the take-home message of the book is ancient. It is the realization that we are all self-righteous hypocrites.”  He indeed covers a huge amount of territory and does it in language and form that is accessible to most thoughtful readers. 

PART ONE: Title: “Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second.”  Central Metaphor: “The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.” As a former Ethics teacher at the USNA and at USD, I was fascinated by his point in Part One, that our ethical intuitions are the drivers of our moral decision making. He argues against Kohlberg, Plato and Kant and others who believed that reason is and should be the primary driver of our moral decisions, noting  that he agreed more with David Hume that moral reasoning is more often a servant of moral emotions.  He notes that children learn early the difference between social conventions such as what clothes to wear when, what to say under what circumstances, and moral rules that prevent harm and are related to justice, rights, and how people treat each other. He distinguishes between socio-centric cultures which put the needs of the group and institutions first, and individualistic cultures which put individuals and personal freedom at the center, and makes society a servant of the individual. The US is clearly an individualistic culture.  He notes that “…we cut ethical corners …when we think we can get away with it, and then we use our moral reasoning to manage our reputations and justify ourselves to others.  We believe our post-hoc reasoning so thoroughly that we end up convinced of our own virtue.” p220

He shares his personal experience living in India and contrasts two very different moral codes between the US and India, but notes that though their values were very different from his own, he really liked and appreciated the people he met in India.  In India the moral domain includes many behaviors which we in the West would regard as social conventions.  He also describes fascinating experiments he’s conducted to explore how people view moral issues, bringing in ideas like disgust and disrespect and where they fit into moral thinking. (Is something that we would find abhorrent that someone does in the privacy of their own home and harms no one, immoral, or merely disgusting?) He says that if morality doesn’t come from Reason, then “that leaves some combination of innateness and social learning as the most likely candidates.” And he shows from the evidence that what we would call effective moral reasoning requires an emotional component.

PART TWO: Title: “There’s More to Morality than Harm and Fairness” Central Metaphor: “The Righteous Mind is like a tongue with  six taste receptors.”  Here he talks about cultural differences in morality and develops the acronym WEIRD morality – reflecting how a large percentage of psychological research into morality focuses on a rather small sample size – people from cultures that are primarily of what he calls WEIRD people – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.  “The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and whereas most people in the world see things holistically, WEIRD people think more analytically.” (p113) He notes that in non-WEIRD cultures, relationships, context, groups and social conventions are more important than individuals and their “rights.”  He notes that you can’t study the mind while ignoring culture, because minds function only once they’ve been filled out by a particular culture.  He divides ethics into systems which emphasize three different domains:  Autonomy,  Community, Divinity.

He also gives us a primer on Deontology, Utilitarianism, which he calls single principle, moralities but makes the case for pluralistic Humean approach which gives priority to  naturalist and sentimental (emotion-based) approaches..  He makes the case for six foundational moral principles that are innate in us, but are expressed differently and weighted differently in different cultures.  Each has a positive and a negative valence – a virtue is seen as the positive expression of that principle; sin or moral failure in it’s opposite.  He goes on to lay out what he believes to be the moral foundations of politics.

These are the six foundational values that he believes all humans share, and beneath them their negative sides – what the positive is seeking to avoid.

CARE,         LIBERTY,          FAIRNESS,    LOYALTY,        AUTHORITY,     SANCTITY                        and their opposites:                                                                                                                       >Harm,    ->Oppression,    ->Cheating,   ->Betrayal,     ->Subversion,     ->Degradation.

He argues in this chapter, and elaborates in chapter 12 of Part Three how these foundational values and our relationship to them help explain the differences in political parties and outlooks.  In these three figures, the darker the line, the greater priority that political group gives to that value.   

PART THREE    Title: “Morality Binds and Blinds”  Central Metaphor: “We are 90 percent Chimp and 10 Percent Bee.”   In this part he argues for why, culturally and genetically, we as a species thrive in groups, and that we have mental mechanisms that drive us to promote not only our individual interests, but also our group’s interests in competition with other groups.  “We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players.”  Our social virtues are based on the fact that “people are passionately concerned with ‘the praise and blame of our fellow men.'” Haidt argues convincingly that as humans have evolved, “groupishness helped us transcend selfishness.”

“Man and many animals are social: they live in groups, flocks, or herds.  But only a few animals have crossed the threshold and become ultrasocial, which means that hey live in very large groups that have some internal structure, enabling them to reap the benefits of the division of labor.” p 235  Bees, ants, and humans are examples of ultra social groups.  Then he argues that natural selection favored species, especially human groups,  that have learned to to conform to social norms, and develop what he calls a “vast web of shared intentionality,” with a sense of “we” that extends beyond kinship.  He notes that we are “selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves.”

He has a chapter entitled “The Hive Switch” in which he argues that “human beings are conditional hive creatures.  We have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest  and lose ourselves  (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves.” p258 He goes on to say that “If the hive hypothesis is true, then it has enormous implications for how we should design organizations, study religion, and search for meaning and joy in our lives.”  He invokes the work of Peter Durkheim who believed that people have a metaphorical “switch” to go from self-interest, to a group focus, and natural selection favors both impulses – individual self interest can obviously support survival, but those who are members of the most coherent groups will out-compete and out-survive those in less coherent groups. 

He identifies three ways in which people transcend their self-focus: 1. Awe in nature; 2. Psychedelics and mind altering drugs; 3. “Raves” – music and other events where people’s consciousnesses seem to ecstatically merge.  He also has a section on the biology of the hive switch, including the hormone oxytocin, and the “mirror neuron” which helps people feel each other’s pain  and joy “to a much greater degree than any other primates.”  His chapter “Religion is a Team Sport” is an extension of his chapter on the Hive Switch – he argues that the impulse to religion and to join religious groups is part of our need for a social group of people we can trust, into which we can subsume ourselves, transcend our personal identity, and which makes moral “everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to regulate his actions by something other than his own egoism.”  He says that “Religion is therefore well suited to be the handmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.”

His final chapter “Can’t We All Disagree more Constructively” revisits the value differences between the three political theories that are listed above – Liberalism, Libertarianism, and Social Conservatives.  In fact the pictures I show above are from this chapter.  This chapter has what I believe are some great insights about the sources of the polarity we are experiencing in American politics now – regarding both liberal and conservative perspectives.  As is seen in the figures above, he argues that we all share common values, but the differences are in the priority and weight we give to those values. He states at the end, “liberals and conservatives are like yin and yang – both are ‘necessary elements of a healthy state of political life,’ as John Stuart Mill put it.”

He has a short chapter entitled “Conclusion” in which he admits that his book covers a lot of territory, and he offers an excellent concise summary of the key points he made in Parts 1, 2, and 3 and the entire book.  

This is a fascinating book that has generated great discussion in two of my reading groups that have read it.  I strongly recommend reading it with other thoughtful friends, and discussing the three parts, each separately.  


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