The Patterning Instinct

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A few weeks ago, I was browsing Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park and saw a new book called The Patterning Instinct on their Recommended Reading table. Anything with the word “pattern” in it catches my eye, but it turns out this doesn’t have anything to do with the kinds of patterns you and I deal with in the financial markets. Instead, it is an engaging and deeply thoughtful exploration about how culture informs the way we think, live, and engage with one another (and with higher powers).

I’m going to be a lazy bum and just paste some of the text provided by the publisher, with some highlights of my own for emphasis:

This fresh perspective on crucial questions of history identifies the root metaphors that cultures have used to construct meaning in their world. It offers a glimpse into the minds of a vast range of different peoples: early hunter-gatherers and farmers, ancient Egyptians, traditional Chinese sages, the founders of Christianity, trail-blazers of the Scientific Revolution, and those who constructed our modern consumer society.

Taking the reader on an archaeological exploration of the mind, the author, an entrepreneur and sustainability leader, uses recent findings in cognitive science and systems theory to reveal the hidden layers of values that form today’s cultural norms.

Uprooting the tired clichés of the science-religion debate, he shows how medieval Christian rationalism acted as an incubator for scientific thought, which in turn shaped our modern vision of the conquest of nature. The author probes our current crisis of unsustainability and argues that it is not an inevitable result of human nature, but is culturally driven: a product of particular mental patterns that could conceivably be reshaped.

By shining a light on our possible futures, the book foresees a coming struggle between two contrasting views of humanity: one driving to a technological endgame of artificially enhanced humans, the other enabling a sustainable future arising from our intrinsic connectedness with each other and the natural world. This struggle, it concludes, is one in which each of us will play a role through the meaning we choose to forge from the lives we lead.

I’m a little more than halfway through the book, and I am enjoying it thoroughly and highlighting it copiously. You might consider picking up a copy, if the description above grabs you.