I want to tell you about two things that have been on my mind recently. One is a book, which I’ll get to in a second. The other is consciousness. You may not realize it, but you’re living in a fantasy world, and so am I. Allow me to explain what I mean.
A friend of mine was reminded of a TED Talk while we were discussing a book we had recently read (this is the book I will soon be telling you about) so he sent me the link to watch it. This TED Talk, which was given by cognitive neuroscientist Anil Seth called “How your brain hallucinates your conscious reality” explores the idea of human consciousness and what goes on in your brain that helps to form what you know of as reality (the world around you) and self (your inner world). I encourage you to give it a watch as well.
Without getting into it too much, the idea is basically that our brains ultimately hallucinate what we know of as reality and self (I know, it’s the title! Talk about a spoiler). Anil refers to our brains as predictive engines constantly guessing at what is going on around us, creating a reality that may not be completely accurate. This is what I want to point out, how our realities are not completely accurate. Even if we try really hard to make accurate observations, there will always be areas that our limited brains will fall short in terms of perception. Hold that thought.
Now, the book. It’s called Fantasyland. It was written by an author named Kurt Andersen and I thought it was brilliant. Andersen explores America’s 500 year history, laying out his theory of why America developed a culture that is truly unique in the world today. He starts with the first wave of settlers searching for gold in the new world, and travels all the way to 2017 with Donald Trump as President.
I don’t want to get into the details of the book so much, but I wanted to share with you what both my friend and I came away asking ourselves after reading it. How many Americans would be able to finish this book without getting overly offended? We agreed that a lot of people we know would be challenged by Andersen’s ideas and perspective and may be hesitant to read it. It’s a tough book to finish as it is, being over 400 pages.
Why would people have trouble reading it? What is his premise? Well, in a nutshell, Andersen argues something along the lines that American Culture has developed this idea that we are all free to choose our own reality and no one can tell us otherwise (Remember, the TED TALK from earlier? It’s not exactly what he’s talking about, but you can see how they’re connected). Think “alternative facts” or “my truth” as phrases related to this idea. Basically, he calls out a lot of Americans as living in a Fantasyland where truth takes a back seat to beliefs and facts are a matter of preference.
Like I said earlier, I don’t want to get into the details of the book, but I do think the book had enough merit to try to start a discussion. So, here’s my challenge to you. If this book sounds interesting to you or even if you think you might be one of the people who would be offended by this book, I challenge you to read it. Go ahead, step out of your comfort zone and see what Andersen has to say. I dare you.
Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!
P.S. I wrote this while listing to a station on Spotify called: Chill Lofi Study Beats. Check it out if you’re looking for something relaxing that also feels like being underwater.