1/8/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Prometheus Books, 2004. 363 page enlarged paperback. Price: $21.98 (US), £18.50 (UK). ISBN: 1-59102-246-0.
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com
The sub-title of this book is 'How To Tell The Difference: A Handbook Of Practical Logic And Clear Thinking'. Is author Bernard Patten going to turn you folk into someone like me if you read this book? After digging into the introduction and lengthy opening chapter, that could well be the case. What Patten's book is all about is making you think, application and never take anything for granted. He also demonstrates that many people don't really want to think and asks which do you want to be? He also more than hints that television removes the need for thinking. Considering the number of articles I've written on TV programmes, I think there's probably some room for thinking but you have to do it not just soak it in without question.
For those of us who are more scientifically inclined, Patten explains how even with scientific hypothesis being nearly correct, if something comes along better than most of us are flexible to change. He uses the example of Newton's gravity laws being updated by Einstein's General Relativity but to my mind it's all a matter of scope. Any scientific law faces adjustment as its scope widens and Newton didn't have to contemplate anything beyond the atmosphere. Interestingly, he even questions the basic forces of nature. We know they are there and can record what they do but do we know what they are is an interesting thought in itself.
The examination of over-generalisation is brought home by example. Granted an average or a normality is something no one truly belongs to but even with my understanding of General Semantics, where recognising individual traits is important, needs new terms when dealing with a mass of population even if it's to the point of distribution. The real problem, as Patten points out, is thinking all people in a particular racial grouping should be tarred with the same brush which is clearly erroneous. The fact that in any group you have the full range of good to bad people must illustrate that the colour of the skin is irrelevant.
He also illustrates the dogma associated that works in education against people who question everything. No wonder I had so many problems in higher education as it tends to push learn the lessons rather than ask why something is so. The more I read this book, the more I think this book is describing my way of thinking.
Indeed, the next chapter examining the meaning and application of words does exactly that. With meaning, Patten reflects on words have two meanings. Overt is the literal meaning and covert for the hidden meaning. A lot of people recognise the signs but I doubt, without experience, everyone does. As such, this chapter is useful but the real question is if everyone understands this, will a new set of rules emerge to mask alternative meaning?
Patten seems to be a victim of his own complaint here when he cites all reviewers as being failed writers when I know there are a lot of writers who do both rather well. From my POV, it's an advantage that I do know how to write because I can see the material from both sides of the fence and if I damn something it's for a good reason. Anyone reading as much as I do can quickly distinguish between good and poor writing but a good reviewer will read until the end of the book rather than skimp, just hoping to see what its editor had in mind when commissioning it.
His comments on how society needs non-conformists working against the herd instinct is spot on, especially as advances comes from the likes of us which does draw the complaint again as to why are we held in such distain or held back because we are simply different. Education, even at higher level, requires a level of compliance, especially in the arts where opinion against the accepted mark down-grades you is simply absurd. It probably explains why science subject probably doesn't attract the more imaginative thinkers. The real problem lies with how much latitude people like myself are given, let alone allowed to have.
Patten's indicates that prejudice is an error in thinking by herd instinct is spot on in that you should never decide upon something solely on other people's opinions than your own. That's slightly contradicted if your own opinion is tarnished already but I get the sentiment. Humans like to have order in their life and things that are outside of this, including us non-conformists must really muddle them up. A totally non-conformist society would be chaotic for getting anything done but questioning anything that doesn't seem right or fair would make more people honest assuming we all have the same level of ethics which Patten doesn't consider.
With books such as these, I always have to consider what motivates its writer into such a motivated strong argument and in the penultimate chapter called 'Read Me', Patten reveals he's been a victim of the American media and been not only misquoted but taken out of context. From our side of the pond, we do tend to see a lot of American news as far more manipulative than over here simply because opinion is played against fact a lot of the time. It does make me ponder as to whether Patten might not have been better off attacking media coverage directly as needing reform rather than getting people to assess what they are told against what they believe. After all, by the time people are old enough to read books such as this, most of the real damage is done and breaking old habits is a lot harder let alone anything ingrained from parents, family or schooling that might taint knowledge in assessing what is right or wrong.
His final assessment is an analysis of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice In Wonderland' using the knowledge from his early examination. Considering how much of the rest of the book is steeped in reality, this seems an odd way to conclude. Saying that, Carroll did play around with logic and metaphor a lot so if you look beyond the story aspects, he did question what things were at the time. Whether Alice Liddle and her sisters recognised this at the time, I'll leave you to question. One thing I caught onto early and he affirms here is that both Carroll and Douglas Adams had an affinity to the number '42'. Rule 42 in the literature of the western world represents the number of arbitrary rules and regulations.
I can see all 'Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy' fans racing for this book already. As to the rest of you? Well, despite the occasional criticisms above, a book is only effective as the people it influences when read. I recognise some of my own indoctrines even if they weren't called it but then again, clarity in thinking comes from a variety of sources and how much you're capable of latching on to let alone apply in your life is important. If you come away saying you're learnt something and willing to apply it, then this book is effective so should be considered reading.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA